Full Throttle

The not-late 2022 Cronkite SUSI scholar pose in front of a complete list of names

It was an energetic start to the fourth day of the SUSI program on Thursday. And I am not yet talking about the classes. The thing is: Argentinian scholar Soledad finally acquired a thermos and was able to drink mate for the first time in several days.

Brief cultural interlude: mate is a herbal hot tea that you drink through a silver or alpaca straw from a round recipient usually made from the carcass of a small kind of pumpkin. It is very common in some South American countries, particularly Argentina and Uruguay. One of the characteristics of this bitter beberage is its stimulating effect. That is why it is a good companion for long study days and early mornings… 

It was definitely the right timing for a mate dose, considering the run of four intense classes that was ahead of us.

Engaged, ready to engage

Energetic might also be an accurate adjective to describe the first session with Assistant Dean Melanie Asp Alvarez. To the rhythm of Missy Elliot, the performance of “Dean Mel,” as she asked to be called (there is a hip-hop name somewhere there: “Mel-D”, “Dean-M”…), had everything from dance steps and body-stretching pauses to several anecdotes and a slo-mo sequence trick to regain attention of the SUSI audience. She offered some thought-provoking reflections on how to overcome the challenge of re-engaging young students that have spent the last two years learning through their screens. She reminded us of the need to understand how their generation thinks and goes about studying, and, overall, that teachers should consider the relationship between them and their students as a “partnership in a learning environment.” It is never a bad time to remember that that is what university is about in the first place: scholars and students working and thinking together to learn the path towards truth. 

The second class, led by instructional designer Ashley Pankratz, provided the SUSI scholars with useful practical guidance on how to apply Bloom’s Taxonomy in syllabus design and some active learning techniques. For someone who has not made use of it before, Bloom’s Taxonomy is one of those resources you need someone to put before your eyes to instantly understand how you have been making things more difficult for yourself than they should be by not using it. Not to say that it is an easy mechanism to master (a few exercises made this clear), but it certainly offers up a range of possibilities for the design, presentation and explanation of new classes. 

Roddy Nikpour, Marianne Barrett, and Juan Manuel Gari chat animatedly about podcasting as Bruno looks on with interest
Roddy Nikpour’s class about podcasting

After lunch, as lecturer Ms. Elizabeth Mays demonstrated her tech savviness and all the potential of online resources for teachers, I could not think of another thing than one of those Swiss knife ads in which the tool has all its multiple components half open. The thing was that this ad in my mind kept growing with more and more tools, getting bigger and bigger by the minute as the class went on and the amount of online resources and apps were mentioned. Community forums, animated storytelling, audio with text and soundwave images, autorespond for emails, syllabus video quiz, teleprompter for classes… Kudos to Ms. Mays for her eye-opening lecture on how to be accessible and make students feel the teacher’s presence close to them in an online, not necessarily synchronous, course. If someone is able to adopt at least ten percent of what she mentioned to their online classes it will probably go a long way. 

Finally, lecturer Roddy Nikpour did a presentation about his online podcast course (and who doesn’t want to talk about podcasts nowadays?). Roddy was generous with his experience as a radio producer, podcaster and teacher and offered several examples of how to carry out a class about one of journalism’s hottest topics. Questions and comments came one after the other, and even snowballed into a discussion about the definition of podcast (“audio storytelling available on-demand on the internet,” to quote Mr. Nikpour).

Such an intensive day of classes and rich discussions deserved the finish it had. In a reception at Cronkite School, Dean Battinto L. Batts, Jr. welcomed SUSI 2022 scholars into the “Cronkite family” and celebrated the presence of a cohort that comes from 15 different countries, which shows, as he said, a “connection that extends beyond the boundaries of countries, ethnicities and all other differences.” Before showing how to do the “forks up” sign of the school, the Dean advocated for scholars to have a “positive impact wherever we go” in journalism and journalism education, an area that faces several challenges. To paraphrase the musical reference that kicked off the day in Dean Mel’s class: it is worth it, so let’s work it.

The SUSI 2022 Scholars give an ASU "Forks up!" salute
“Forks up!” everyone, from the newest group of Sun Devils
– Photo by Roy Jreijiry