GIFTed Teaching: A Content Analysis of 253 Great Ideas for Teaching Awards in Journalism and Mass Communication Education

Article excerpt

A content analysis of all 253 Great Ideas for Teaching (GIFT) awards presented 2000-2009 at Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conventions found that exercises containing the most effective teaching elements identified in the educational literature were team-based and used in courses involving visual communication, such as photography, online, and advertising. Relatively few ideas incorporated technology or elements of diversity. This exploratory study also introduces a measure for assessing the number of teaching elements in classroom exercises, based on theory from the education field. Other findings and implications for journalism and mass communication education are discussed.

In 1912, Willard Grosvenor Bleyer, a journalism professor at the University of Wisconsin, founded what would become the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC).1 At the time, he called the group the American Association of Teachers of Journalism, seeking to improve journalism education by serving "as a leading source of ideas for teachers."2

Nearly a century later, journalism and mass communication educators still endeavor to develop the best teaching methods to maximize student learning. The AEJMC Web site states that the organization is "dedicated to promoting the highest standards for education." The constitution states that the group's purpose "shall be the improvement of education in journalism and mass communication."3

Toward that end, an AEJMC journal, now Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, has published pedagogical research and teaching ideas since 1944. The Mass Communication & Society Division sponsors the teaching-based Promising Professors Competition, and the Committee on Teaching hosts the Best Practices in Teaching competition. In 2009, two AEJMC divisions, Newspaper and Law & Policy, started their own teaching competitions.

But questions remain: What do educators in journalism and mass communication consider quality teaching? Are the field's most-honored teaching methods pedagogically sound, consistent with theory from the education field, or merely flashy and novel? What teaching methods do we rely upon, and what ones do we ignore?

To answer these questions, this study examines one of the richest collections of peer-reviewed teaching activities in journalism and mass communication: the Great Ideas for Teaching (GIFT) program. Since 2000, the GIFT program, sponsored by the Community College Journalism Association and the Small Programs Interest Group of AEJMC, has honored hundreds of ideas across a broad spectrum of topics with the aim "to recognize excellent standards in teaching journalism and mass communication courses and to provide colleagues with fresh ideas for creating or updating their lessons."4

For this study, the authors analyzed all 253 GIFT awards recognized from 2000 through 2009, identifying patterns in teaching styles, such as lecture, case studies, and hands-on activities, and among different kinds of disciplines, such as print, broadcast, and advertising. We developed an index to measure the number of effective teaching elements included in a teaching exercise, based on hallmarks of good pedagogy identified in the education literature, and applied that measure to identify factors consistent with best teaching practices in journalism and mass communication.

Literature Review

Assessing Journalism Education. For a field that emerged from the teaching of practical trade skills,5 journalism and mass communication has produced relatively little research focused on assessing the effectiveness of teaching exercises. Most scholarly articles and books about instructional design and pedagogy cover classroom mechanics, such as planning a curriculum, craning a syllabus, delivering lectures, leading discussions, and grading. Journalism &· Mass Communication Educator articles address specific content areas of teaching, such as incorporating podcasting into classes,6 testing the effectiveness of ethics courses,7 and incorporating clients into public relations courses. …