Back in the swing of things

The fourth week of classes is in full swing. It’s Wednesday evening and I still have two days ahead of me. As per usual, most of my first three and a half weeks I have solely devoted myself to teaching, prepping, and more prepping. I have to say, though, for all the work I am doing, it’s insanely more rewarding than any lesson prep I did in the past two years.

If you saw my work schedule, then you will understand why I have mentioned the previous statement. I am teaching News Writing to juniors and New Media to sophomores. Since I am a bit rusty on the news writing front and since, well, teaching new media is a completely new concept to me, I have countless hours of info gathering, note taking, website updating, power point creating, and brainstorming assignments. It sounds awful, but in actuality, I am doing myself a tremendous favor and gaining invaluable skills and assets (not to mention resume building!).

So enough of me gloating, let me delve right into what I’ve been teaching and the results of said teaching.

My first week of classes was a mere introduction and course overview. My sophomores did not have any prior experience with new media, except in the same fashion and form as I, as social media consumers and content creators. In order to rightfully prepare myself for talking about new media in a more global context, I created a 微博 Weibo account, a social media site that serves as a hodgepodge of Facebook and Twitter and a blog on SINA, or Chinese Livejournal (not quite as sophisticated as Blogger or WordPress). Additionally, I have tried to be a more active user on QQ, a Chinese instant messaging system that also has a Myspace-like page attached to it (they call it your “QQ zone”). I haven’t even bothered with the Chinese version of Facebook, called 人人, Renren (literal translation: people people). My Chinese language capabilities are beyond hopeless in being able to keep up with all that new and indistinguishable language.

As far as my juniors go, some of them have prior experience writing for the School of Translation’s newspaper, but only in Chinese. The fact that myself and one of the other foreign teachers in the department wrote two short clips for the paper and these were the only two articles that appeared in English, is a clear indication that they have little prior knowledge of English news writing. After being here for two years, it’s also rather evident that the same journalistic structures that exist in Western media, do not even begin to surface here. I would even go so far as to say that the same principles that don’t always, but are supposed to govern journalism in the States, are not even basely considered here. Take objectivity, for instance. Yes, I know, there are many examples of this not existing in the States, but at least it’s a principle, and when not applied, the media organization suffers as a result. Much like many other facets of life, truth is not a compelling force towards reporting the news. Saving face, especially the government’s face ranks rather high in terms of how the news is reported. You also definitely see an overabundance of “happy” news, or as I have called it, much to my student’s chagrin, “harmonious” news, whereas American media has a problem with reporting an overabundance of “bad” news. So, let’s just say that neither model is perfect. The news writing students really got a kick out of me throwing around the word harmonious in regards to the news, mostly because this word is constantly appearing on 微博, mostly as a way to evade the censors and to sarcastically comment on the utter lack of harmony in China’s society (the recent protests perfectly demonstrate that).

Both classes had to complete in-class writing assignments where I learned that either they hate reading the news or they think reading the news is boring. So essentially, they told me they were going to make sure they made my job to rile them up or get them excited even more excruciatingly painful than with my previous students.

After establishing a sense of how much work was going to be involved in their classes, I set to work organizing. Each week has more or less seen the same structure. I prepare a power point, lecture, let them write for 10 minutes, discuss what they have written, assign readings and tasks, and then send them out into the world. News writing students are still very reluctant to get involved in the news gathering process. I think I need to do less lecturing and give them more opportunities for writing. After next week, when I have given them all the adequate information, such as gathering news, interviewing, and brainstorming new story ideas, they will be able to begin the writing process.

As far as the new media students go, many have complained that their textbook’s language is far too complicated for them. I’ve decided that’s too bad and they just have to deal with it. I have shortened their reading assignments, provided notes and a very detailed lecture, especially in regards to simplifying the language so that they can adequately identify the main concepts. Additionally, every week they are updating a personal blog I had them create, in addition to adding comments to a discussion on their class blog. Sometimes, in class, instead of lecturing, I provide them with a tutorial, or step-by-step instruction on either creating new media content or utilizing new media more effectively. So far, this class has proven to be both a delight and a royal pain in my butt, as I am both learning many new skill sets and realizing how little I know about navigating Web 2.0.

To help me in my quest to be more organized and to liven up the classes a bit, I created a class website for both news writing and new media. Students do seem to be actively engaged with them, which is great. What’s even better is that they are free to set up as well as host. When I have more free time, I am most certainly going to set up a professional site for myself, with the hopes that I can get some freelance  work in the coming weeks, months, and year.

I know there was definitely more I wanted to say here, but as the hour is late, and I am also having trouble remembering what other things of note I wished to say here, I’ll update this post when it becomes necessary.

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