Today we welcome to the Mosaic Blog, Elaine Monaghan, Professor of Practice in Journalism and Public Relations at IUB’s Media School. She is our first of many faculty who will be sharing their experiences teaching in Mosaic and traditional classrooms across Indiana University. Below, Elaine, shares about teaching in one of the IU Media School’s Mosaic classrooms.
I first started teaching at IU’s Media School in spring 2015. Diving straight into a classroom after a 20-year career in journalism and strategic communications was no less intimidating than my first forays into conflict reporting. Think bullets are scary? Try walking into a classroom full of 26 journalism undergrads or 10 pointy-headed grads for the first time, knowing you have to teach them everything you’ve learned in 30 sessions without forgetting to change out of your slippers, save your PowerPoint, or fall off your chair more than once.
Yes. That last one happened. The hazards of moveable furniture. I didn’t yet know, that first semester, that those wheels that made my seat roll away from under me at lightning speed, sending me crashing down on my rear with a red-faced bump, were actually my friend. (Media and the Message Makers students, I owe you one for not laughing.)
Still, I knew what I wanted to teach, and thanks to my great Reuters journalism instructors, journalism colleagues at IU, and maybe the teaching gene in my family – I’m talking about you, Bryony Monaghan — more or less knew how I wanted to teach it. But I didn’t understand why some things worked better than others until I joined IU’s Mosaic Fellowship teaching community and started hanging out with pedagogical nerds I wasn’t related to like @TraceyBirdwell and Kelly Scholl @SchollHouseRock.
It was there that I first heard of active learning. The ink-stained cynic in me scoffed, “What other kind of learning is there?”
Easy to say, and of course, it’s far more complicated than that. I feel I’m just at the beginning of my learning curve, but the active learning I experienced myself in the Mosaic Fellowship put rocket fuel in my engines. During group work with my fellow instructors, feeling the frustrations that I now understand my own students feel, and experiencing that amazing high of knowing you’re learning exponentially more through collaboration, and the sheer fun of figuring out puzzles with people you wouldn’t otherwise work with, I was completely sold on this active learning malarkey.
Soon, I was spitting out acronyms that would have my beloved journalism trainer George Short turning in his grave. ALS this, CoLT that… but George, let me tell you, active learning spaces and collaborative learning techniques are some seriously good magic. And now I realize that that’s the way you taught, too. That’s why I succeeded at Reuters. So, like most days, I have to thank you again, George.
Still, I have to let you in on a secret about the life of a reporter, at least the one I grew up with, and a secret that often helps me when the technology gets the better of me, as it inevitably sometimes does: You can do a lot with a pencil and a notebook, or a whiteboard and an erasable marker.
When I covered the Kosovo conflict, my “office” was a crumbling balcony. The technical wizards who ran the satellite truck mostly parked beneath it scrawled the appropriately outmoded phrase “Elaine’s printing parlour” on a bit of gaffer tape and stuck it on the wall next to the creaky laptop I used to send out my stories, relying on material scrawled in curled-up notebooks in the Elaine Monaghan brand of shorthand legible only to me. I heaved a sigh of relief whenever the stories made it through to London, which they didn’t always the first time. I still have that piece of gaffer tape on a shelf in my office.
Of course, this is not the world you experience in Franklin Hall room 114.
It has an interactive video wall, four smaller collaboration screens, three whiteboards on the walls and a two-sided vertical whiteboard on wheels.
You can touch the video wall and make stuff on it move, like it’s a massive computer screen with endless screens and keyboards you can operate with your fingertips. Anyone inside or outside the room can share content on the wall by navigating to a given address and entering a short code.
In this classroom, not only do the chairs have wheels, but the individual tables do, too – and the tabletops are whiteboards. The tables also flip vertically, allowing students to share their ideas with their groups.
That’s what I call active learning. Students do most of the presenting, which is just as well, because they’re far better at making that video wall work! We share ideas we dig up online almost instantaneously. We use a collaborative learning technique where the students split up into groups and become experts on a given topic, then we shuffle the cards and one from each suit goes into a corner with one from every other suit and they share what they’ve learned. They leave traces of what they learned on the whiteboards around the room, or post it to a discussion board on Canvas for everyone to review later.
Students love it. They have complete control over their own content and always feel engaged in the process. And they have precious little reason to get lost in their laptops or phones because there’s way too much other fun to be had right there in the room.
Despite all the technology, I’ll never stop believing that you can report, learn and teach just as well with a pencil and paper – and I learned plenty skills at the Mosaic Fellowship that make me believe that no less.
But a video wall, moveable furniture and seated student groups that can form and reform in about 90 seconds, definitely hold many more possibilities and help everyone learn – and teach – faster.
And more importantly, I’ve not fallen off a piece of furniture in Franklin Hall 114 yet.
Clearly, I am doing something right.
If you are interested in learning more about our Mosaic classrooms, Mosaic Fellows, or are interested in becoming a Mosaic Fellow, please visit us at https://mosaic.iu.edu. To stay up to date with all things Mosaic, including faculty, staff, student, and classroom perspectives, subscribe to the blog and get it sent directly to your email inbox. You can also follow us on Twitter @MosaicIU and Instagram @Mosaic_IU.