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Building a journalism course on learning theory.


The concept of the scholarship of teaching has emerged and is gaining strength among teaching scholars. This approach offered the opportunity to base college-level courses in experiential education theory. In building a photojournalism course, seven elements of an effective learning environment were used. Learning environments should have a process to identify development needs and to encourage initiative, and should allow students to have input into the learning process. In addition a learning environment should provide opportunities to learn new skills, provide feedback, encourage people to use knowledge learned from a variety of sources and to experiment with new methods. After teaching the class for four years, a questionnaire based on Honey's concepts was developed. Class members were asked to rate the best photojournalism class they could imagine and to rate the current class on the seven areas. Overall the current class and the best class were not significantly different, but when comparing single categories, significant differences emerged on two categories: encouraging use of knowledge from other areas of learning and feedback.


Scholarship of teaching is concept that is emerging and gaining momentum in the academic arena of teaching, and it is a concept that I embraced in teaching photojournalism in 1997.

Earnest Boyer set the stage for the research in 1990 with his book entitled Scholarship Revisited, Priorities of the Professoriate. Boyer called for research by scholars to be used to inform their teaching and for the support of such teachers by universities. Boyer's work inspired numerous reformers and researcher to focus on the scholarship of learning. In the past decade, such education reformers as Ernest Boyer, Pat Hutchings, Gene Rice, and Lee Shulman have explored teaching scholarship. In 1997, Glassick, Huber and Maeroff (1997) offered six standards for judging teaching scholarship. The standards include clear goals, adequate preparation, appropriate methods, effective presentation and reflective critique. Shulman (1998) added another dimension that the scholarship of teaching should be public, open to critical review and evaluation and available for change and use by others. Menges and Weimer (1996) linked learning and development theory to more effective teaching practices. They called for a disciplined approach grounded in knowledge important to teaching and learning.

Honey (1992) offered a way for teachers to use experiential education theory to ground a class in theory. He proposed that an effective learning environment should have a process to identify development needs, to encourage initiative and to set objectives and should allow students to have input into the learning process. In addition a learning environment should provide opportunities to learn new skills, provide feedback, encourage people to experiment with new methods and support students' efforts to use learning from other learning situations. Honey's work is part of an old and still growing body of literature in experiential education. Other noted researchers in this area are Dewey (1938), Lewin (1951), Kolb (1984) and Joplin (1985). Dewey, Lewin, Kolb and Joplin provided models on experiential learning.

Experiential Learning Approach Selected

I imbedded Honey's effective learning environment criteria into every aspect of my photojournalism course: career needs, career skills, input, feedback, initiative, learning from mistakes and using knowledge from other courses.

Career needs

To find out the development needs of my students, I ask them to write an autobiography providing any personal information they thought important and to outline why this course was chosen and how the course might help with their career goals. Students were given 10 extra points for this project. Through this assignment, I obtain an understanding of each student as an individual, and use that understanding to help mold the class to meet career needs. I consider the majors of my students and why they might want to be in the class. Some students take the class because of a deep interest in news photography, some because the course is required for their major, some because photography always has interested them and some because they need three hours of credit.

Career skills

To ensure that career skills are included in the course, the photojournalism course encompasses a wide range of news content assignments based on my own experiences, textbooks on the subject and a continuing analysis of photographs appearing in the print media. Projects include assignments of feature, news and sports photos, a three-photo event, and a five-photo story. The five-photo story is the final project that replaces the final examination. In addition, a portfolio of the best seven photos is required of each student. Photo projects replaced major exams so that more time could be spent on practicing what is being learned in the classroom.


The course allows input by students in at least three ways: analysis by the class of individual photo projects, regular class periods in which their participation is encouraged, and through informal and formal evaluations of the course. The formal evaluation focuses on the skills of the teacher and on the course itself. In the informal and anonymous evaluation, students can express their opinions about the course: What they liked about the course and what they didn't like about the course, and they could offer suggestions for improving the course. The informal and formal evaluations have resulted in several changes being made in the course. One student suggested during informal discussions that the order of the single-photo projects be varied depending on the availability of photo types. The suggestion was incorporated in the class. Based on a formal evaluation, the need was expressed for more assistance with photographing the projects and for opportunities to re-do some projects at the end of the semester when skills were at their highest. So students can now re-do two class projects after the middle of the semesters when their skills should be at a high level, and I walk with them to do a first project that teaches them to use the camera more effectively.


Feedback to students comes in the form of teacher evaluation of individual projects in writing and during regular critiques of each student's work in class and it also comes from other classmates and during classroom displays of students work. Feedback during public critiques can be grueling for the students, and I try to offset their apprehension by revealing some of my failures during my career in photojournalism and in commercial photography, as well as sharing the mishaps of former unnamed students in the class. I also preface the critiques by emphasizing that our discussion should offer constructive criticism.


To encourage students to take initiative, I show examples of national award-winning photographs from the Picture of the Year web site of the University of Missouri at Columbia, by showing videos of successful photographers such as Mary Ellen Marks and by showing work of former photojournalism students.

Learning from mistakes

Classroom and individual critiques focus on learning from mistakes made by individual class members and by others in the class. Learning from mistakes will be shown in later projects and also in the two redo projects at the end of the semester. I also share how I learned from my mistakes while practicing the trade. With several years' experience and ample time to make mistakes, I find it easy to help student learn from mistakes. I doubt that any mistake can be made that I have not made already. Mistakes shared include:

* Failing to load the film

* Failing to correctly load the camera so the film does not advance

* Forgetting to rewind the film and opening the camera back

* Forgetting to push the film release before rewinding the film, thus breaking the film

* Dropping a roll of film as I removed it from the camera with cold hand

* Setting the shutter speed too fast to synchronize with flash

* Forgetting to turn on the flash unit.

* Failing to keep my camera and film warm in freezing temperature, thus breaking the film

* Leaving a safe light on in the film processing room, thus destroying images

* Allowing the camera to get wet during a rain, thus causing the light meter to fail

Knowledge from other courses

Encouraging student to use knowledge from other classes is a bit more challenging. I address this by encouraging students in my news photography courses to embrace their instructions from black and white, and color photography courses and by recalling instruction from other classes about ethics and legal implications. These courses could help them to understand the world around them and the environments in which they will be attempting to photograph events of interest or importance.

Questionnaire developed

In addition to trying to focus on all the dimensions of the classroom-learning environment, I carried out a questionnaire survey on the students' perception of the course. Students were asked to evaluate the course learning environment of the "best photojournalism classroom" they could imagine and to evaluate their classroom on a 1 to 5 scale, for its learning benefits. The "Best Class" ought to reflect all of the benefits of an experiential learning environment as laid out by Honey (1992). Seven statements based on Honey's work were generated to test the learning environment.

The "Best Class" measuring scale began with "Thinking of the best photojournalism class possible, how much do you think that class ought to do the following. The scale is from 1 to 5 with "1" being the lowest rating and "5' being the highest rating. See issue's website <>

The "This Class" measuring scale began with "Thinking of about this photojournalism class, how much do you think this class has accomplished the following. The scale is from 1 to 5 with "1" being the lowest rating and "5' being the highest rating. See issue's website <>


With all the statements about the Best Class summed into a "Best Class" variable and all the statements about their class summed into a "This Class" variable, there was no significant difference. On individual statements, there was no difference on five of the seven statements. On two statements there was a significant difference. "This Class" did not do as well on feedback and the use of other knowledge as did the "Best Class" (Significance >.05). T-tests were used to measured differences between the "Best Class" and "This Class" summing across all seven statements and to measure significant differences between each of the seven statements for "This Class" and "Best Class." See issue's website <>


The survey indicates a need to provide improved feedback and to encourage students to use knowledge gained from other courses. In addition to these significant findings, the mean scores for both "Best Class" and "This Class" were below the rating of "4" on providing career needs indicating that more thought needs to be given to the area. The questionnaire will continue to be administered in an effort to provide an environment in which learning can flourish.


Brandon, W. (2001) Campus newspapers: A path into the newspaper industry. College media review. 39(2), pp. 4-10.

Brandon, W. (1997) Journalism learning experiences and newspaper job success. Unpublished dissertation. Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

Boyer, E.L. (1990) Scholarship Revisited, Priorities of the Professoriate. Princeton, NY: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Dewey J. (1938), Experience and education. Englewood Cliffs, NJ:Prentice-Hall Inc.

Glassick, C. E., Huber, M. T., and Maeroff, G. I., (1997). Scholarship Assessed: Evaluating the professoriate. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey Bass.

Honey, P. (1992) Learning from experience: The key to management development. In R.B.

Frantzreb (Ed.), Training and development yearbook. (pp.6.38-6.42).

Hutchings, P. (Ed), (1996), Making teaching community property: A menu for peer collaboration and peer review. Washington, D.C.: American Association for Higher Education. pp. 1-2.

Joplin, L. (1985). On defining experiential education. In R.J. Kraft &. Sakofs (Eds.) The theory of experiential education (pp. 155-158). Boulder, CO: Association of Experiential Education.

Kolb, D.A. (1984) Experiential learning. Englewood Cliffs, NJ:Prentice-Hall.

Lewin, K. (1951) Field theory in social sciences. New York: Harper & Row.

Menges, R.J. and Weimer, M. and associates (1996). Teaching on solid ground: Using scholarship to improve practice. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey Bass, p. xii.

Shulman, L.S., (1998). Course anatomy: The dissection and analysis of knowledge through teaching, in Hutchings, P., (Ed) The course portfolio: How faculty can examine their teaching to advance practice and improve student learning. Washington, D.C.: American Association for Higher Education. p. 5.

Wanda Brandon, Southwest Missouri State University

Brandon is an assistant professor in the Department of Media, Journalism and Film and is adviser for the Southwest Standard, a campus newspaper. She teaches photo journalism and her research area is experiential education and journalism education.
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Author:Brandon, Wanda
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2002
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