Monday, February 25, 2008

CP Style Guide anxiety

This entry is for those of you who have ever used, or still use, the CP Stylebook, or what I like to refer to, with my students at Centennial College's School of Journalism, in Toronto, as "The Bible".
Last fall, during a mock court room trial that we put on in class to prepare students to cover a criminal court case in Superior Court, I had the "clerk" swear witnesses in using the CP Style Guide, and they swore to tell the truth the whole truth etc etc etc by placing their hands on the blue "Bible".
Why so much reverence for the Stylebook? In fact, come to think of it, I don't remember having to use one when I was in Journalism School at Carleton University all those years ago ( 1983 graduate!). And in my 27 year (so far) career at CBC, CTV, and as a foreign correspondent in Europe, and for Vatican Radio, I don't think I ever picked one up. But since I began teaching journalism at Centennial College (2005), I've had to adopt it as part of the required course texts and learn its contents in order to teach print and radio and television journalism.
I know my students fret about the proper way to spell Mafia-- is it with a capital M or a small m? How about Hells Angels? Does Hell's have an apostrophe? What about police chief? These and other questions have become extremely important because we have a policy of deducting 10% for misspelled proper names, and that includes places, names, or things in the CP Stylebook.
Last fall, lots of students lost marks for not writing Mafia with a capital M. This was a result of a guest lecture by Toronto Star crime reporter Peter Edwards, who spoke about various cases he has covered, including organized crime.
The 18th edition of the CP caps and spelling book, page 122, lists Mafia with a capital M. Mafia; Mafioso; Mafiosi, including members, singular and plural.
How interesting that in the last couple of weeks, the exact issue has made its way onto the pages of the Canadian Association of Journalists' list-serve, and a discussion has been going on about why Mafia should or should not be capitalized. One academic says it should not be, since there is no one single entity called the Mafia, especially not in Sicily. Rather, it is a phenomenon and part of a larger social reality. He argues that the media elevates the mafia to Mafia when it adds a capital letter.
The editor of the CP Stylebooks, Patti Tasko, got a lot of publicity a few years ago for putting the F word into the guide. page 82 18th edition Caps and Spelling, fuck. No capitals. Small f. Avoid, it says, with few exceptions.
When the word spread about the F-word being in the latest guide, Tasko told audiences that the word made it into the Stylebook because it's being used so much more routinely now, and that her Canadian Press Stylebooks evolve just as language usage does. Hyphens come and go.
While other news organizations in North American may use different style guides, and overseas newsrooms use still others, by sticking with CP we at least have a standard or a basis to learn from. Using the CP guide trains journalism students to work harder at their writing, to be accurate, and to be careful, and to understand rules of grammar and spelling.
Perhaps the discussion about Mafia or mafia will prompt changes in the 19th edition in the future. Until then, I am sticking with the 18th edition of the CP guide on this one.
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Monday, February 18, 2008

Facebook and the Art of Teaching in 2008

Facebook or the Art of teaching in the Social Networking Era

I first learned about Facebook from my very cool niece who showed us all at a family gathering at my house last summer exactly what Facebook was. At first, I wasn’t the least bit intrigued.

But last fall, when my journalism students started pitching story ideas to me that they’d found on Facebook, I decided I needed to check out this place where young people felt they could use the site instead of the old fashioned ways of finding out about story ideas: such as reading fliers on billboards, perusing a “What’s On” column in the newspaper, meeting friends in a cafĂ©, or seeing an impromptu rally in the local piazza!

So I signed up, opened an account, and found that not only were there events listed for cities all over the country, but also, that folks were organizing groups like “If you Raise Your Hand in Class you are an @$$%^^”, or “Find 1,000,000 people who hate George Bush”.

There were also actual story ideas, too. Like “National Skip School Day” and other events, such as on-line tributes to young people who had been murdered or died in other tragic ways.

In fact, the shooter from Virginia Tech had been identified through Facebook by researchers, faster then police were letting out information through official channels.

At first, it was fun asking my mother and other family members to be my friend. I didn’t ask any students to be my friends, because that would be like stalking, but some eventually found me, and that’s actually cool.

It worked to the detriment of one student though. She was supposed to be in my class, advised me by telephone an hour before that she had to make an emergency trip to the hospital instead, but when I signed on to Facebook that night, I saw this student had had time, while she was supposed to be at the hospital, to go onto Facebook and post a quiz about herself, and also posted that she was sick of school. BUSTED.

But now the issue of Facebook in classroom management has become something that many teachers including myself have to confront on a daily basis. Not as a research tool, but as my competition for a student’s attention.

Many of the labs I teach in are computer labs. If for 20 seconds, the lesson isn’t as interesting as what a student might find on Facebook, then they are clicking away, the classroom rules forgotten.

I have to admit that if I was a student, and had a desk with a computer in front of me, I too would be hard pressed to stop myself from ignoring the teacher, and clicking on my e-mail and checking out the latest news from or when the mood struck me. In fact, I probably would be a Blackberry Crackberry addict if I had one of them. You know, they are the kind of person who checks their e-mail during their child’s holiday pageant at school! I was a student too, and get bored easily myself.

All this to say that I very much understand the siren call of Facebook: if I wanted to, I could find out which of my students has a new boyfriend, which of my cousins is now single, and what my niece wore to her play rehearsal or a cast party. But it’s a whole different perspective when I am on the receiving end of the click-click-click, while I am giving my all up there, teaching. And so, I’ve discovered the Facebook generation requires a whole new set of classroom management skills, and some old ones too.

First of all, we have to set ground rules from Day 1. No Facebook or MSN or E-Mail during class. (except when they are on breaks).

This is tough to forbid when students are waiting for answers from sources, or callbacks or email backs from interview sources. But this is not real life: it’s a simulated newsroom environment in university/college. So they have to learn to juggle assignments, and deal with missed calls. In the real world, they will be able to be on standby for a source to call back.

I do allow laptop students to use their laptops to take notes. But even those students have multiple screens going on. I’ve seen it.

So, second, a teacher needs to be mobile. Walking around the class. In their faces. I’ve seen students click off their Facebook page and toggle to a page of their lecture notes as I walk by. They know they aren’t supposed to be on Facebook and at least when you walk by and stare at their screens, they cut if out for a moment or two. You can’t stay at the front of the classroom anymore and blather on. It just invites students to ignore you. I’ve climbed up on a chair and opened and closed the room lights sometimes, to get their attention. Yelling is one option, but after a while, it doesn’t work. They ignore that, too.

Third, I make students move their chairs away from their desks towards the front of the classroom, especially when we have guest speakers in class. It works for some, especially those students who are also doing critiques or otherwise have to pay attention to what the speaker is saying. But the layout of the room does allow at least some of the hangers-back to access their screens and mouse, when no one is looking.

Fourth, I’ve actually used Facebook in class myself, as part of the show. I screened with them a whole 60 Minutes story about the founder of Facebook this semester, during Advanced Interviewing class. They were riveted to that, as they learned stuff about the young CEO they didn’t know before. And it was part of the course materiel on how well Leslie Stahl asked questions. That was a successful class.
My husband who is a professor at another institution, wisely suggested calmly asking students who are on Facebook to leave the room. I did try that once, saying to the student to go work in another lab.

But, the Facebook/Internet/Social Networking addiction isn’t going away. And not even peer-to-peer pressure from other students seems to be able to cure the behaviour.

And it’s not just Facebook that they are looking at. It’s other course work, e-mails to sources and friends, You Tube clips.

I’ve had a student watch a clip of a dancing monkey while I am trying to teach! Hard to feel you are getting through to the students when that happens!

So now, I’ve decided if you can’t beat ‘em, move them. I should have figured this out a long time ago, and prevented the aggravation. I have asked the administration to find me a new classroom where there are no computers. (Just one for me at the teaching station.)

We shall see how the students react. It might backfire, and they may all fall asleep, or skip the class entirely, (although they lose 10% if they do that during a guest speaker visit).

But it all comes down to this: I shall do my best to make class entertaining, fun, and content full, so the students are getting the best I can give.

BTW, I sometimes give out cookies! And prizes. And we play games like Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, or Hangman. I’ve read them children’s stories, I’ve had them work in groups to make presentations, I’ve had them perform skits, and I’ve had them do treasure hunts around the building to find clues.

But the only Face I want the students to be searching for during my class is mine.

I’ll keep you posted on how it works.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Stolen Cellphone at Centennial College in Toronto

 My personal cellphone went missing Wednesday Feb 13 2007 as I was leaving work at Centennial College's HP campus in Scarborough, Ontario. I teach journalism in one of the classrooms on the third floor. 
I lost it about 6 p.m. 
The next day when I called my cellphone company to say I couldn't find my telephone, they checked to see if any calls had been made, and sure enough, tons of them, starting at about 6:30 p.m. were on the list of outgoing calls. Dozens of calls every minute to several telephone numbers in and around Toronto.
The cellphone finder/thief simply decided to benefit from my cellphone and call all their friends and chat. 
How do I know all this?  The cellphone company gave me some of the numbers that this person had called, and I called them. I said I was from Centennial College. Said I would like them to tell whoever called them on my stolen cellphone last night, to return it to Security, as I was going to the police about it. All the callers I spoke to knew what I was talking about, knew what the caller in question had done, and yet no one had suggested to this person at the time to DO THE RIGHT THING, and turn the phone in to campus security. Instead, they all had a lot of fun with it. 
One of the other people who answered the numbers this person had called last night, wanted to know if her friend would have to PAY for the calls she'd made. Why, I asked? Because, the caller said, the girl who had found my phone and used it, apparently thought that it would be okay to use my phone since it was AFTER 6 p.m.  Well, guess what? I don't have free evenings or weekends on my plan.  So you did cost me. And I have no way of finding out who you are to pay me back.
But that's not the only point.
I do have is personal information stored on that phone, including photos of my family, and other info. I felt extremely violated and my personal space intruded on.
As a professor at Centennial College, I strive to make my classrooms a supportive safe place for students to learn and develop and grow. I guess it's not a two way street, right? It's OK that we professors are there for you students, but you, student-who-used-my-phone, didn't it occur to you to show the same kind of honesty, and consideration back? Not until I OUTED you to your friends, and threatened to call the police, after 24 hours, did you do the honest thing and return the phone to Security. 
  One of your friends told me your name is Christina, that you go to Progress Campus and also take a Gen-Ed course at HP on Wednesday evenings. 
As for me,  I'm buying a big purse with a big ol' zipper. 
As for you, it might be time that you start learning that honesty pays off in life. It's called the Golden Rule, young lady. Even if no one has taught it to you before. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.