Deciding what to teach - Reynolds Week 2011

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Chris Roush on 'Deciding what to teach' as a business journalism professor at Reynolds Business Journalism Week, Feb. 4-7, 2011.

Reynolds Center for Business Journalism, BusinessJournalism.org, Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.

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Deciding what to teach - Reynolds Week 2011

  1. 1. Chris Roush [email_address] Jan. 4, 2011 Business Journalism Professors Seminar Deciding what to teach
  2. 2. The syllabus <ul><li>The syllabus should be a contract between the students and the instructor. </li></ul><ul><li>The instructor agrees to follow the syllabus, and the students agree to meet the requirements listed. </li></ul><ul><li>Changes in the syllabus should be in writing. </li></ul>
  3. 3. The syllabus <ul><li>Writing a syllabus is an art. </li></ul><ul><li>A good syllabus effectively spaces out writing assignments, guest speakers and other work so that it’s not bunched together near the end of the semester. </li></ul><ul><li>A good syllabus also builds momentum. It starts out slow, with easy work, and then becomes progressively harder. </li></ul>
  4. 4. The syllabus <ul><li>I’m also a big fan of a syllabus working up to a major final project due at the end of the semester. </li></ul><ul><li>All of the lectures and assignments build up to a student showing what they have learned during the semester into that final project. </li></ul>
  5. 5. The syllabus <ul><li>For “Business Reporting,” syllabus should tell students why this is going to be a great class to take. </li></ul><ul><li>Think about answering these questions in the document: </li></ul><ul><li>What will you cover in this course? </li></ul><ul><li>What won't be covered? </li></ul><ul><li>Why is it worthwhile to study this subject? (What got you interested in this topic initially?) </li></ul>
  6. 6. The syllabus <ul><li>More questions to consider with the syllabus: </li></ul><ul><li>What is your approach to teaching this content? </li></ul><ul><li>How will this relate to the material that was covered in the prerequisite course(s)? </li></ul><ul><li>Is there any other body of content that it will draw on? (For example, a this course might draw on business and economic concepts, even if business and economics courses are not a prerequisite.) </li></ul><ul><li>Are there any life experiences that the student might find it helpful to draw upon ? </li></ul>
  7. 7. Parts of the syllabus
  8. 8. Parts of the syllabus <ul><li>Most syllabuses will include basic information such as office hours, how a grade will be determined, textbooks to be used and when the class meets. </li></ul><ul><li>But there are other things to consider when writing the syllabus. </li></ul>
  9. 9. Objectives <ul><li>I like to list an objective for my sources. </li></ul><ul><li>For “Business Reporting,” it might state something like this: </li></ul><ul><li>“ The objective of this course is to make you comfortable writing stories about business and the economy. My goal is to have each of you call or e-mail me from your first job when you were asked to write that earnings or IPO story, and tell me how easy it was.” </li></ul>
  10. 10. Readings <ul><li>In addition to the textbook, the syllabus needs to explain what is expected of outside readings. </li></ul><ul><li>Most “business reporting” classes require students to read The Wall Street Journal or local business news sections. </li></ul><ul><li>Can also require reading BusinessWeek, Forbes and Fortune. </li></ul>
  11. 11. Readings <ul><li>How do you determine whether students have actually done the readings? </li></ul><ul><li>Can have pop business news quizzes as part of the grade. </li></ul><ul><li>Can also offer bonus points for successfully answering questions about current business news issues. </li></ul>
  12. 12. Readings <ul><li>As far as textbook readings, I like to list what I expect to be read before each class. </li></ul><ul><li>Accomplishes two things: Improves class discussion, and lets you know who has done the reading when you ask questions and they don’t know the answers. </li></ul>
  13. 13. Non-textbook readings <ul><li>Like to give students a book to read during the semester in addition to the textbook. </li></ul><ul><li>Needs to be something that shows them how business reporters do their job. </li></ul><ul><li>A number of recent books qualify. </li></ul>
  14. 14. Non-textbook readings <ul><li>Here are some suggestions: </li></ul><ul><li>&quot;24 Days: How Two Wall Street Journal Reporters Uncovered the Lies that Destroyed Faith in Corporate America.&quot; By Rebecca Smith and John Emshwiler. Harper Collins. 2003. </li></ul><ul><li>“ The Fortune Tellers: Inside Wall Street's Game of Money, Media, and Manipulation.” By Howard Kurtz. Touchstone Books. 2001. </li></ul>
  15. 15. Non-textbook readings <ul><li>Some other suggestions: </li></ul><ul><li>&quot;High and Mighty: The Dangerous Rise of the SUV.&quot; By Keith Bradsher. Public Affairs: 2004. </li></ul><ul><li>&quot;Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron.” By Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind. Portfolio: 2003. </li></ul><ul><li>The Big Short, by Michael Lewis. Norton: 2010. </li></ul><ul><li>All the Devils are Here, by Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera. Penguin: 2010. </li></ul>
  16. 16. Non-textbook readings <ul><li>If you do assign one of these books to your students, don’t make them write the typical book report. </li></ul><ul><li>Hold a class discussion one day about the reporting tactics discussed in the books. </li></ul><ul><li>Or, have the students write about how they may have reported stories differently than the journalists in the books. </li></ul>
  17. 17. Writing assignments <ul><li>Will the writing assignments be done in class, or outside of class? </li></ul><ul><li>Unless you’re teaching in a room that has computers, most reporting classes require stories to be written outside of class. </li></ul><ul><li>Make sure there is a set deadline when stories are due. Make deadlines realistic, but enforce it strictly. </li></ul>
  18. 18. Writing assignments <ul><li>The writing assignments should be assigned at the end of a class, but they should also be marked on the syllabus. </li></ul><ul><li>Discuss the material in class, such as earnings stories. Talk about how it’s reported and written. </li></ul><ul><li>Then, assign immediately, so it’s fresh in their minds. </li></ul>
  19. 19. Writing assignments <ul><li>Also, set guidelines on what the students can – and can’t – do for the writing assignments. </li></ul><ul><li>Can they e-mail or call you with questions? </li></ul><ul><li>Can they look at how similar stories were written online? </li></ul><ul><li>Can they have another student look at their work? </li></ul><ul><li>What type of sources are they supposed to use? </li></ul>
  20. 20. Writing assignments <ul><li>Also, discuss with the class how the writing assignments are going to be graded? </li></ul><ul><li>Are you more interested in seeing that they understand the concepts that they are writing about? </li></ul><ul><li>Do you also want to see good structure and transitions, for example? </li></ul>
  21. 21. The fact error issue <ul><li>It’s vitally important to instill a belief in “Business Reporting” students that getting a number or name wrong can kill their credibility, especially with those they’re writing about. </li></ul><ul><li>How much will you count off for a fact error? </li></ul><ul><li>At UNC, it’s 50 points. </li></ul>
  22. 22. Writing assignments <ul><li>How much should a student’s writing assignments count for their overall grade? </li></ul><ul><li>I like to give 9 or 10 writing assignments throughout the semester. </li></ul><ul><li>Make them at least 40 percent of the grade. </li></ul>
  23. 23. Class participation <ul><li>Will you make part of the student’s overall grade how much they participated in class? </li></ul><ul><li>I’d encourage it, but no more than 10 percent. </li></ul><ul><li>Gets students involved in the discussion about issues and topics. </li></ul>
  24. 24. Exams <ul><li>How many exams you give should be up to you. </li></ul><ul><li>I prefer to give exams that focus on understanding concepts such as the SEC and its filings rather than making them write a story. </li></ul><ul><li>Want to see they understand what they’re writing about. </li></ul>
  25. 25. Exams <ul><li>Give only a mid-term exam, and it counts for 20 percent of the grade. </li></ul><ul><li>Short-answer questions that makes them think. </li></ul><ul><li>Example: “List six reasons why a company would file a Form 8-K with the SEC.” </li></ul>
  26. 26. Using guest speakers <ul><li>I like to use guest speakers to emphasize points made in class, or as a writing assignment. </li></ul><ul><li>Will have CEO and CFO of public company come be interviewed. </li></ul><ul><li>Or, can have sell-side or buy-side analyst discuss reports or portfolio. </li></ul>
  27. 27. Using guest speakers <ul><li>Also like to have a PR person from a local company talk about relationship with business reporters. </li></ul><ul><li>Downside: How do you know they do what they tell the class? </li></ul><ul><li>Upside: Can expose students early to what can be a tense relationship. </li></ul>
  28. 28. Using guest speakers <ul><li>One of the problems I’ve run into with guest speakers is vetting them beforehand. </li></ul><ul><li>If you’ve never heard them speak, how do you know they’re going to be good? </li></ul><ul><li>Sometimes, have to take a chance. </li></ul><ul><li>Stay in class, and direct conversation back on point. </li></ul>
  29. 29. Schedule <ul><li>I prefer the syllabus include a calendar of what will be done EVERY day the class meets. </li></ul><ul><li>Prevents ambiguity. </li></ul><ul><li>Lets students know what to expect each day. </li></ul><ul><li>Lets them know about deadlines. </li></ul>
  30. 30. Final points about the syllabus
  31. 31. Make it available online <ul><li>Having the syllabus easily available on-line will save both you and students time and frustration later in the quarter, when paper copies have been misplaced. </li></ul><ul><li>Make sure students know how to access it. </li></ul><ul><li>Blackboard or personal URL? </li></ul>
  32. 32. There is no length issue <ul><li>Take as much space as you feel necessary to write the syllabus. </li></ul><ul><li>If in doubt, it is usually best to err on the long side, to ensure that important course information is fully covered. </li></ul><ul><li>At the same time, students will appreciate having key information in succinct form on the first page or two. </li></ul>
  33. 33. Show your personality <ul><li>Have some fun with the syllabus. It puts students at ease. </li></ul><ul><li>Showing humor will also help show them that business and economics are not boring topics. </li></ul><ul><li>Example: “ April 11: Bonds. Not James. Munis, government, etc. Chapter 7 in Show me the Money.” </li></ul>
  34. 34. Always look to improve <ul><li>Don’t use the same syllabus every year. </li></ul><ul><li>Find new guest speakers. </li></ul><ul><li>Come up with new assignments, possibly about breaking news in the area. </li></ul><ul><li>Using same syllabus makes instructor bored, and students will notice. </li></ul>
  35. 35. Changes for 2010-11 <ul><li>My big change for last year was swapping places with a business journalism professor from Spain. </li></ul><ul><li>He came to UNC and taught my class for two weeks about business reporting in Europe. </li></ul><ul><li>I taught his students for two weeks about business journalism in the U.S. </li></ul><ul><li>Am going to Spain in March. </li></ul><ul><li>Looking into exchange with London university that has business journalism program. </li></ul>

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