November 22, 2010


iPads get test during election night assignment

A Digital Media class is helping determine how iPad technology might be used to enhance student learning at Emory.

Although today's students are growing up as technology natives, mastering emerging technologies still can be challenging. That's why Emory adjunct Lee Clontz keeps the syllabus for his 300-level Digital Media course purposefully vague, in order to explore the latest reporting tools.

"Today's students are immersed in technology but not necessarily engaged," says Clontz, who is employed full-time at Emory in the IT department, where he manages the University's content management system and local Google servers. "Just like everyone else, they have to get past their fears of trying something new."

For a real-world exercise reporting on politics, Clontz borrowed Apple iPads from the Academic Technologies Group and sent the 16 budding journalists in his class out in pairs to cover election night returns. Students spread out among candidate events, polling places and campus watching parties, reporting on what transpired through tweets, blogs and photos.

Alex Dawson, a senior economics and journalism major, covered the Roy Barnes campaign on election night with Ian Margol, filing articles every few minutes from the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center while Margol handled the Twitter feeds. They later attended a gathering at the home of Darryl Hicks, the defeated labor commission candidate.

"I had never used an iPad before but have an iPhone," says Dawson, who has aspirations of writing sports columns. "The blog was easy to set up and write a report, once I got used to it."

The harder part, he notes, was finding the right "voice" for his reporting. Should the reports be straight news? Is a mix of reporting and humor appropriate? He used different tactics, including writing an opinion piece.

Clontz encourages his students to take those risks, preferring a valiant, less successful effort to "hitting softballs out of the park all day."

Following the election night exercise, he surveyed the students to determine what worked, what didn't and how the technology could be used more effectively. Aside from a version of the blogging application that wasn't stable, students overwhelmingly enjoyed the assignment.

Results of the survey will be forwarded to the Academic Technologies Group, which is determining how and where iPad technology might be used to enhance student learning at Emory.

The class now known as Digital Media has undergone fundamental changes since Clontz became an adjunct in 2000. Then, the class covered not only technology, but also history and ethics. The technology piece was supported by the IT staff.

As the Internet became increasingly important as a news gathering and dissemination tool, the class focused more on that medium and was referred to among students as "the web class."

Now, Clontz focuses on whatever current and leading edge technology is out there, so graduates who choose journalism as a career can have as much experience as possible.

"I want students to understand why things work, and be ready for what's next," says Clontz.

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