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Developing Apps, Developing Minds

Knowledge of technology is rapidly becoming key for journalists, editors, photographers and others. Lucky for University of Iowa Journalism and Mass Communication students, the curriculum is adapting to meet these demands.

In January, the J-MC School introduced two brand new classes, Create an iPhone App and Hot Type, while expanding the Multimedia Introduction class. The new array of multimedia-related classes offer students and faculty the chance to flex their technological muscles and jump head first into the 21st century media landscape.

Create an iPhone App

For the first time, UI J-MC students are working with computer science students to create new programs for the iPhone, a product that emerged on the market less than two years ago.

The new “Create an iPhone App,” class aims to teach students from both disciplines the creative and technical aspects of product development in the mobile industry.

Combining Disciplines Journalism student Kurt Cunning and computer science student Dat Tien Nguyen discuss their restaurant delivery application

J-MC School Director David Perlmutter, computer science Professor James Cremer and Steve Buttry, former editor of The Gazette, developed the course, which is team taught by Cremer and Professor Jane Singer.

Students in the class work in teams which include at least one student from each discipline to research, create, design and develop iPhone applications that pertain to the Iowa City community.

The course will help journalism students learn to work with computer science colleagues and utilize each team member’s unique skills on the project, Buttry explained in an e-mail, encouraging students to sign up for the course.

“Journalism students should be learning about product development, mobile strategy and about the use of applications as publishing platforms,” Buttry said. “Computer science students are learning about the general development of mobile applications and the specific development and coding of iPhone apps.”

Kurt Cunningham (senior, Eldridge, Iowa) said the class is an “an interesting way of looking at how social media and traditional journalism work together.”

Along with his partners, Scott Miller (junior, Kansas City, Mo.) and Dat Tien Nguyen (Ph.D. candidate, Hanoi, Vietnam), Cunningham is developing an application that will make it easier for Iowa City residents to explore and contact restaurants that deliver to the community.

“It is essentially putting all the downtown restaurants into one application and then providing users with their numbers, menus, and other details for people to place carry-out or delivery orders,” he said. Other groups’ ideas range from map applications specific to the UI campus to a journalist’s notebook tool that would assist with on-the-go interviews.

For Cunningham, the most challenging part of the class has been working with his computer science partner, Nguyen, to code the application.

“I am not a computer science student so the technical jargon and learning the new coding is going over my head,” Cunningham said.

Teaching the course has presented Professor Singer with some challenges as well.

“Mobile phones are not a subject I know much about, even in the context of journalism,” she said. “And I know absolutely nothing about the technology behind them.”

Envisioning Applications An iPhone App class student gets advice from Professor Jane Singer and Professor James Cremer

Singer thinks it is fun to work with different groups of students and learn new things, but, to her, the computer science students seem to “speak a different language.”

Even so, “mobile delivery of information is going to be increasingly important for journalists and news organizations, so it is very valuable -- to me as well as the students -- to know a bit about them,” Singer said.

For Nguyen, who signed up for the class to learn the iPhone’s operating system, working with journalism students helps him envision what it will be like to work with normal users.

Despite the language barrier, “I think we cooperate really well,” Nguyen said. “Each of us does the part that we can do best, and is enthusiastic in doing our job.”

Faculty members feel the course will be an important asset to students in the face of the new fast-paced technological climate.

“Mobile is hot,” Singer said. “Media companies are desperate to find a way to make it an economically viable delivery platform for them.”

Hot Type

At first, A class called Hot Type may sound old-fashioned.

But a closer look at the course’s description reveals an important step forward for the J-MC School .

In Hot Type – taught by Adjunct Instructor Nick Bergus, who developed the class with Associate Professor Frank Durham – teams of students take projects from last semester’s J-MC classes and develop them into full-fledged multimedia packages for the titular online showcase.

Visions of Video Hot Type student Justin Mangrich edits video for his project

“Hot Type” refers to a 19th-century style of printing and typesetting. Bergus said he and Durham were both fans of old print terms, and when it came time to title their creation in the J-MC School catalog they thought of Hot Type in just 15 minutes. Plus, Bergus said, they wanted something “a little sexier.”

Among Hot Type’s projects are long-form, investigative stories from an Immersion Journalism class, interviews with female journalists from a Gender and Mass Media class and the Online Journalism “100 Hours” project, in which students from across the campus submitted photos of their lives over the course of one specific weekend.

“I want to respect the original work, but also add to it,” Bergus said. “We are showing what the J-MC School does, what we teach, how we grow in classes and more.”

Bergus and Durham began envisioning the class during the Fall 2008 semester with support Dr. Perlmutter.

Bergus wanted a class that would serve as a platform for students to learn digital media, as well as a way to highlight good student work. Hot Type projects could potentially be shown to prospective students who are curious to see what kind of work is done in the J-MC School, Bergus said.

Tommy Morgan (senior, West Des Moines, Iowa) enrolled in Hot Type after a friend’s recommendation. He said video production skills will be extremely useful when he ventures into the professional market.

“We’re doing journalistic style video, but we’re also experimenting with a more narrative style than typical broadcast news,” Morgan said. “It’s led to some long days of editing, but you don’t get that experience in many other classes.”

Multimedia Introduction

Rule Number One on Nick Bergus’ Multimedia Introduction syllabus: “Don’t be afraid.”

Covering what Bergus described as an entire survey of digital media in just 10 weeks can be a daunting task, hence the above rule. But as the demand for tech-savvy journalists constantly grows, so does the importance of the Multimedia Introduction class.

Multimedia Introduction originated two years ago as a quick, five-week class that Bergus said was simply “blowing through” multimedia concepts. The rushed pace of the class, combined with the J-MC School’s increasing focus on digital media, led to change.

Last semester, Multimedia Introduction doubled in length and is now a requirement for all students entering the J-MC School.

Have No Fear Students get hands on experience in multimedia

In addition to video and audio editing, the class covers topics such as Twitter, basic HTML, Photoshop, blogging and RSS feeds. Hands-on projects are a crucial aspect, as well.

Bergus has taught Multimedia Introduction since its beginning, and currently shares teaching duties with Adjunct Instructor Kristin Shaw. He said that in his class, students are told to find something they personally consider interesting about multimedia packages and dive deeper into that.

Galen Hawthorne (junior, Fairfield, Iowa) said he would have enrolled in Multimedia Introduction even if it was not a requirement for the J-MC School. He became interested in video production about five years ago, and said the skills he is learning in class will help him reach his ideal career in broadcast journalism or music mixing.

Hawthorne’s favorite project involved recording interviews with his peers, but said the more exciting aspect will likely come once his camera stops rolling and editing begins.

“It was fun to interview my classmates,” he said, “but editing will be much more interesting.”

Hawthorne’s enthusiasm is just what Bergus hopes his students take away from the class. He insisted that multimedia knowledge is essential for all realms of the journalism world and presents writers with new tools for conveying a message.

“Digital media is important for storytelling,” Bergus said. “Even if a student’s plan is to be a long-form writer, knowing other ways to tell and to complement a story is key.”

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