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October 06 2011

14:49

In the Digital Age, Is Teaching Cursive Relevant?

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Education content is sponsored by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, which offers an intensive, cutting edge, three semester Master of Arts in Journalism; a unique one semester Advanced Certificate in Entrepreneurial Journalism; and the CUNY J-Camp series of Continuing Professional Development workshops focused on emerging trends and skill sets in the industry.

Reading and writing are fundamental to learning. But as more kids read and write via some sort of computing device -- laptop, tablet, cell phone -- how we teach those skills is changing, and one significant change is the decision to teach cursive. When it comes to equipping students with "21st century skills," typing is in, cursive is out.

In part, the disappearance of cursive from the curriculum stems from the Common Core State Standards (now adopted by the majority of U.S. states), which no longer require cursive as part of language arts and writing instruction. According to the Common Core's mission: "The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy." And the global economy, so the argument goes, requires students to be prepared to type, not to write in cursive.

This isn't to say, of course, that handwriting instruction itself is scrapped. Students will still learn to craft their letters, and plenty of kids are still likely to curse the requirements for neat penmanship. But in lieu of requiring students to specifically learn cursive, the imperative now is to teach them to produce and publish their written work by typing and word processing.

An extraneous skill?

Knowing how to type and create documents on a computer is obviously important. And for most people, writing in cursive is a rare event. Typing, once touted as more practical than print, is more efficient than either form of writing by hand. And, as such, cursive may seem like an extraneous skill.

Nevertheless, removing cursive from the curriculum has been controversial. Some have argued that learning cursive isn't simply about knowing how to write efficiently. It's about learning how to write beautifully. It's about fine motor skills. It's about expression. And according to a report in The Wall Street Journal last year, there are a number of benefits to cognition and memory that come from writing by hand.

Some fear that if we stop teaching students to write in cursive, they'll no longer be able to read cursive either, leaving a swath of written materials that will be undecipherable. Arguably, that's something historians and archeologists have long faced; whether it's cursive, calligraphy or otherwise, handwriting has changed immensely over the years.

And without cursive, how will people be able to sign their names, some argue, pointing to the one place where most adults probably do regularly use cursive in lieu of print. Of course, teaching cursive just so we can all add our personalized squiggle to the bottom of official documents probably isn't an effective use of class time.

So is it time for cursive to go? Or should we retain it as part of the curriculum? Share your thoughts in comments below.

Editor's Note: There was a lively debate on the topic of teaching cursive on a Google+ post by MediaShift editor Mark Glaser. Check it out.

Audrey Watters is an education technology writer, rabble-rouser, and folklorist. She writes for MindShift, O'Reilly Radar, Hack Education, and ReadWriteWeb.

mindshift-logo-100x100.pngThis post originally appeared on KQED's MindShift,
which explores the future of learning, covering cultural and tech trends and innovations in education. Follow MindShift on Twitter @mindshiftKQED and on Facebook.

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Education content is sponsored by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, which offers an intensive, cutting edge, three semester Master of Arts in Journalism; a unique one semester Advanced Certificate in Entrepreneurial Journalism; and the CUNY J-Camp series of Continuing Professional Development workshops focused on emerging trends and skill sets in the industry.

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July 28 2011

20:41

Measuring engagement - Newsbeat debuts as robust, real-time Web analytics tool for news publishers

Poyner :: The people behind the popular realtime analytics tool Chartbeat launched a new version today specifically designed for news publishers, called Newsbeat. Instead of e.g. PageImpressions, Visits we're already familiar with, Chartbeat introduced new metrics like "Active Views", "Reading", and "Writing" status, which measure engagement. Newsbeat is an even more powerful tool for understanding your Web traffic, but also comes at a higher cost. The new product shows real-time charts now for every article or page on your site not only for the 20 most active pages.

Jeff Sonderman reviewed Newsbeat's market offering for us.

Continue to read Jeff Sonderman, www.poynter.org

July 06 2011

21:02

How Important Are Writing Skills for Modern Journalists?

When I ask my university journalism students why exactly they want to be journalists, a majority tell me it's because they "like to write."

Considering most of them are in their 20s and grew up with the Internet, this response always surprises me. With a seemingly endless supply of emerging technology and digital storytelling tools at their fingertips, why pursue journalism exclusively for love of the written word?

A love of writing is one of many reasons I chose to pursue journalism, so I understand where they're coming from. But after working as a newspaper reporter from 2000 to 2004, I took a job as assistant editor at an online magazine in San Francisco, where my priorities shifted from words to podcasts and audio blogs. During a fellowship that followed at a national magazine, I took on all sorts of web duties: blogging, content management systems, video, digital audio, and visualized data projects. I continued to write, but it was only one of many daily newsroom tasks. The web was opening the floodgates in terms of how journalists tell stories, and I've been embracing it ever since.

I relocated from San Francisco to London nearly three years ago when my wife took a job here, and I've been lucky enough to take these web experiences and apply them to teaching postgraduate and undergraduate journalism classes at City University London and the London School of Journalism. Because students come to me for classes in online journalism -- in which writing takes a backseat to widgets, HTML, audio, video, live-blogging, tweeting, and data visualizations -- I often feel like telling my students who really love to write: "Sorry, you've come to the wrong place. The creative writing lecture is down the hall."

Writing is low on the priority list in our online journalism classes, not because I want it to be, but because we've got limited time to focus on other things. During two-hour classes, students create individual or group websites and learn how to operate online content management systems. They produce audio slideshows, podcasts and videos. They join online communities or create their own. They gather raw data and use it to create online visualizations. They tinker with HTML and CSS, and dissect their website's analytics, among many other tasks.

By the end of term, students will produce a body of multimedia journalism work and become active participants in an online network throughout which they can disseminate their work. Students complete many of our projects without writing a piece of text longer than an average tweet, which can be a major letdown for budding wordsmiths.

Wait, this is what I signed up for?

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The student journalists my colleagues and I teach are not being trained to be writers; they're being encouraged to become multimedia producers, mobile reporters, hackers, graphic designers, website scrapers, and web entrepreneurs. With these goals in mind, we give them tools to help them get started. But how happy are they about it? Sometimes, not very. This past term, student uneasiness and confusion over the online journalism curriculum became so heated that one large hall lecture was interrupted by a large group complaining that the assignments were confusing and did not benefit their journalism career ambitions. At least one special discussion session with an instructor had to be scheduled outside of lectures to soothe the tension, and I spent several subsequent classes explaining the purpose of the assignments, rather than teaching actual skills.

This incident made me wonder if we, the lecturers, are more excited about the possibilities of web journalism than the students are. Their dream to write is easily deferred by a curriculum that leaves little room for discussion about writing style and technique. We're constantly telling them to write snappier, say what they need to with as few words as possible, and link to the rest, so how can they truly develop a unique writing voice in our classes? They need to do that on their own time or in another class, which inevitably causes some of them to then draw a line between "real" journalism and "web" journalism.

Maybe half of my students are from the U.K., and the others come from Europe, Africa, Asia, and the United States. Their online journalism perspectives vary greatly. Some have already created websites, utilize multiple social networks, can produce digital audio, and know Final Cut Pro. Some do not know what a memory stick is, what acronyms like "CSS," "HTML" or "CMS" stand for or how to connect to WiFi. Some are eager to learn tech skills, but many spend a lot of time asking what all of these digital tools have to do with journalism in the first place, and are eager to get back to writing.

The strange thing is, when I do set aside time to discuss or critique their online writing, I'm surprised at how lackluster some of it really is. Many lack a firm grasp of the Who, What, Why, Where and How. They have a difficult time explaining seemingly simple but important details such as "what has happened?" and "why does it matter?" or "how did it happen?" and "who is affected?" When they do write, it often lacks specificity. For some, this is partly attributed to the fact that English is not their native language. But the majority of them are anxious to throw content up on the web quickly without properly explaining what the content actually is.

Techie or journalist?

Some students, consciously or not, separate "online" journalism from "print" journalism because the former doesn't involve the traditional type of writing they're used to. If my students are a legitimate qualitative litmus test, it's safe to say there's a gap between student ideas of what journalism is, and how we actually train them to do journalism in 2011. Since we, as online journalism instructors, focus on instruments of technology rather than artful prose, there's an element of confusion among students as to what online journalism really is. Is it journalism, or is it technology? For many, the combination of both is jarring, and bridging the gap between the two is a struggle, especially for aspiring writers.

Because of this gap, many students confuse online journalism with information technology or tech support, which makes me think that we need to do more to help close that gap. For example, one of my students, in a recent email request to join their LinkedIn network, included a message that sums up this confusion in one brief sentence: "Hi Gary, I was in one of your IT classes last year. Hope all's well!"

I don't teach IT classes. Or do I?

Written word photo by Jeffrey James Pacres on Flickr.

Gary Moskowitz is a freelance journalist based in London. He blogs for the New York Times and Intelligent Life and has written for TIME Magazine. He teaches at City University London and London School of Journalism.

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February 07 2011

19:26

Rules to write by…

Thanks to Advancing the Story for the 25 Commandments For Journalists.

Tim Radford of the guardian.co.uk newspaer came up with this list when in a panic:

…15 or more years ago to an invitation to do some media training for a group of Elsevier editors. I began compiling them because I had just asked myself what was the most important thing to remember about writing a story, and the answer came back loud and clear: “To make somebody read it.”

My two favorites:

5. Here is a thing to carve in pokerwork and hang over your typewriter. “No one will ever complain because you have made something too easy to understand.”

6. And here is another thing to remember every time you sit down at the keyboard: a little sign that says “Nobody has to read this crap.”


December 22 2010

08:16

How to Be a Better Journalist


In the course of my career, I’ve spent a lot of time asking about the things that appeal most to editors, those gatekeepers of bylines, the masters of purse strings. Every single one has said, in some fashion, that they want a good story.

On the one hand, you’re probably saying, “Duh.” But you might also be asking, “How do I improve?”

Journalism is as much craft as profession. And the only way you get good at craft is to continually practice and polish. For me, that means reading. A lot. Especially at the end of the year, when I turn to anthologies from the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt “Best American” series.

The first time through, I’ll read for the pleasure of reading. But when there’s a particularly striking story, I’ll go over it again and pick out story structure, think about the questions that were asked and the author’s angle, listen for turns of phrase, look for holes.

Approaching the collection so deliberately takes time, which is why it takes me until December to get around to reading books that were published in January.

This year, I’ve collected the 22 articles from “The Best American Science Writing 2010″ on Delicious. (It’ll be mirrored on Pinboard later today.) They’re by some of the biggest names in science writing, which, in my opinion, is one of the toughest subjects to cover for a mass audience, and therefore, the most interesting pieces to study.

Read, enjoy, and tell me which are your favorites and why. If you get really ambitious (or nostalgic), have a look at the 2006 collection. And for something completely different, read “Trying Really Hard to Like India,” a really funny article by Seth Stevenson that was included the 2006 “Best American Travel Writing” anthology.

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May 19 2010

17:18

The iPad as a writing coach’s dream

The tech writer Joel Johnson has a piece on Gizmodo about how he’s shifted to using an iPad when traveling instead of a full laptop. His experience matches my own (I love my iPad more than even I’d expected; it’s taken over 90+ percent of my casual web browsing), but what I was interested in was this paragraph. He’s talking about using an external Bluetooth keyboard with the iPad:

For long typing sessions, I found myself putting the keyboard on my lap while placing the iPad off to the side — sometimes not even in direct eyeshot. For longer writing, there’s a sort of freedom that comes from not even looking at the screen while you type. (My friend Quinn Norton said that on longer writing jags, she sometimes uses her wireless keyboard in a completely different room from her computer, a sort of modern twist on the big-keyboard-tiny-screen experience of early laptops like the Epson HX-20, which were for years favored by some journalists even as laptops with larger screens were commonplace.)

Actually, my first thought was to the Tandy 102. I still have one of those in a box somewhere, saved from being tossed out by The Toledo Blade in the late ’90s.

Obviously, writing journalism without seeing what you’re typing is, shall we say, problematic. But what a fascinating way to change up one’s writing rituals. I’m reminded of Nanowrimo, National Novel Writing Month, the annual November ritual where thousands of people try to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. As I wrote back in 2008, the aggressive word-count requirements and the video-game-like nature of the word-count goal can actually encourage better writing than you think:

In a sense, Nanowrimo has the same appeal as the free writing your newspaper’s writing coach used to recommend (back when your newspaper could afford a writing coach). By releasing yourself from the normal bounds of quality — by killing off your inner editor — you can release yourself from your old habits and really write. Consider it a cleansing ritual for your writing voice.

Needless to say, something like what Quinn Norton is doing wouldn’t work in any but a small portion of journalistic endeavors. I won’t be writing any Lab pieces blind anytime soon. But I can imagine a sort of long essay where an approach like this could be a useful weapon against writer’s block. And I love the idea of acknowledging that our work tools aren’t invisible — that even if we take them for granted, they still influence the work we do with them. I feel like there’s a lesson for news companies that extends far beyond writing tools: being conscious of our tools (and methods, and patterns, and rules), making them visible, and thinking hard about the impact they have on how we do our work.

December 09 2009

15:49

Open Park Spring Internship

Open Park, a new project in collaborative digital media production of the Center for Future Civic Media, is now accepting applications for its Spring Semester Internship.

Are you a full-time student with a creative mind and cool concepts for re-creating collaboration? Do you have in mind an ideal model for digital news and media production? And would you like to work with your own team of collaborators on these ideas, all the while gaining great experience in an interestingly challenging and innovative environment, and a great portfolio to show off at the end? And for credit of course!..

If so, check our application requirements at:

http://openpark.media.mit.edu/node/174

Contact: Florence Gallez
fgallez@mit.edu

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