Preparing students for the world of digital media

How JMS professors give students the guidance they need to navigate technology in classroom settings and the real world.

One of Professor John Pavlik’s drones that he uses to teach his students about aerial journalism. Credit: John Pavlik

John Pavlik, professor of Journalism and Media Studies at the School of Communication and Information (SCI), came to Rutgers in 2002. He’s known for his research on the impact of technology on our society. This semester, Pavlik is teaching two courses: Digital Media Innovation and Media Ethics and Law.

Throughout his career at Rutgers, Pavlik made it a goal to incorporate the most innovative and relevant technology available today, so his students would be well-versed in these new tools. In previous classes, he integrated drones. He showed his students how to fly the drones with video cameras, and important aerial regulations in the field of journalism. Pavlik also encourages the use of the Canvas mobile app, where students can work on assignments and access modules, all on their smartphone. 

Pavlik has even created augmented reality meetings to show students the possibilities for journalism. To demonstrate the augmented reality, he used a monograph (a detailed text map that can be converted into 3D objects) that he created with a doctoral student years ago. And with the help of an iPhone and the HP Reveal app, he was able to conduct an interactive experience. Students navigated through the classroom on their laptop or phone, as if they were walking around the room.

As new technology becomes more prevalent over the years, Pavlik has seen the Journalism and Media Studies (JMS) department take steps to improve both the variety of classes and the types of content that professors teach their students.

“There are a lot more online course offerings and courses that are hybrids. My Media Ethics and Law class wasn’t originally a hybrid when I came here, but now it is. So I have a weekly face-to-face part where I meet with the students, but there’s also an online component,” Pavlik said. 

Neal Bennett, teaching instructor for the JMS department at SCI, has been actively working on acquiring more camera and audio equipment for students in his digital media classes. When he first came to the JMS department three years ago, he shared a single locker of equipment with another professor. Now, there are a total of four lockers of equipment.

“We upgraded to some GoPros, some additional [Palmcorder] cameras, some new microphones and cameras, tripods, camera support equipment, a light kit. The next thing we’re working on is upgrading computers through IT so they work better with our video software,” Bennett said.

On the flip side, Caitlin Petre, assistant professor of Journalism and Media Studies at SCI, has pulled back on the use of technology in her classes, requiring that students take notes old school style… with pen and paper. Students are only allowed to use laptops if they receive special permission. Although Petre does believe that digital technology offers exciting possibilities, she seems to attribute more weight to the consequences of the medium, rather than the benefits.

“Any of us that have used a digital device know that we can get distracted by these things, even when we have every intention of being in our present moment — of paying attention in class. These devices are actually deliberately designed to be quite powerfully habit forming and grabbing of our attention,” Petre said.

While it’s clear that Pavlik is an advocate for technology, he thinks that it’s still crucial for students to grasp the fundamentals, even in a world that’s so intertwined with technology.

“It’s about getting the story correct, getting the facts accurately, speaking to the truth. Digital literacy skills will be also something that students will really need to master, so they can recognize when something might be false or misleading or just know how to vet it,” Pavlik said.

Bennett agrees, and adds that in the realm of video, it’s important to learn concepts related to storytelling so that content isn’t just ethical and informative, but also entertaining and created professionally.

But as much as JMS students try to stay knowledgeable and hopeful about their future careers, it can sometimes be hard to avoid concerns about the current state of journalism in our country.

“We’re in a moment where I think it’s becoming very clear that journalism is as important if not more important than it has ever been. However, we’re also living in a moment when it’s become very difficult for the market to support the kind of press that we need for our democracy. We don’t know if it’s viable, but we know that it’s vital for our democracy,” Petre said.

Even though the future of journalism may sometimes be uncertain, Pavlik believes that the JMS department at Rutgers will still prepare students with the tools that they need to succeed in the real world. So, despite the issue of the unstable market, students will be able to have value in the workplace.

“We have a curriculum that continues to evolve. We have students learning about media across platforms. We’re not just teaching skills. We’re teaching technical skills, journalistic skills that are so fundamental,” Pavlik said. “With preparedness for lifelong learning, I think students can do extremely well.”