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Collaborative Learning: A Global Multimedia Experience

Students at the Knight Center for International Media partner as visual storytellers with students in countries throughout the world on projects about a wide range of social issues.

By Rich Beckman

“My Story, My Goal,” one of the projects created by graduate students at the University of Miami in collaboration with other students around the world.

When a graduate program in multimedia journalism was established at the University of Miami’s School of Communication, the opportunities for projects and partnerships abounded. This happened in 2009, the year after I was appointed to the Knight Chair in Visual Journalism at the school’s Knight Center for International Media. By the next year, students were teaming up as visual storytellers with peers in countries throughout the world.

Here is the story of how these collaborations happened—with glimpses at some of the stories these students worked together to tell.

It begins with the Knight Center’s goal of using digital technologies in ways that MULTIMEDIA STUDENT PROJECTS

University of Miami
Miami’s Silent Struggle
Pricing out the West Grove
Special Olympics Live
enable local voices to join global conversations about the world’s most pressing problems. Bringing multimedia journalism into the mix meant that our students could use a variety of digital media tools to realize this vision.

When I taught at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC), I developed partnerships between UNC students and students from universities in South America, Africa, Asia and Europe to produce multimedia projects. By working alongside their partners, our journalism students had available to them the local language skills and help in understanding the historic and cultural significance of the stories they were setting out to tell. However, the students in other countries often had very little experience in multimedia storytelling so the ability to explore serious issues was limited.

We responded to this challenge by developing the International Multimedia Workshops for Ethical Reporting on the World’s Most Underreported Issues. We held our first workshop for a select group of journalism educators in Hong Kong in April 2009. (Our second took place in South Africa in September 2009.) With a team of educators and practitioners, we spent a week teaching multimedia storytelling techniques to more than 30 journalism professors, who then passed these lessons along to students at their universities.

Once some students were trained, we had an opportunity to work with our new partner schools. It was now the spring of 2010 and Tom Kennedy, who had been managing editor for multimedia at Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, had joined the Knight Center as a resident professional. Working together, we designed what would become “My Story, My Goal,” a multimedia Web site that addressed, using video shot on location, various aspects of the global issues at the forefront of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. The issues include poverty, maternal health, environmental sustainability, universal education, gender equality, HIV/AIDS, and children’s health.

Every story on the Web site was produced by a team of two students from the University of Miami and students from one of our partner universities in Asia or Africa. Each team worked together online for more than a month to find and plan an appropriate story, and then they spent up to two weeks on location to execute it. Once the shooting was complete, our students returned to Miami to create the supporting infographics, photo galleries, and social media elements. They also designed and programmed the Web site. All of the stories are told in the local language and are available on the site with English subtitles.

‘Colorful But Colorblind’

Our multimedia graduate program is an intensive 17-month program that admits students each fall semester. The first class will graduate in December 2010. Students specialize in either multimedia storytelling or in multimedia production and programming. Their first three semesters are spent in classes—both traditional journalism classes including research methodology, communication theory, law and ethics, and cutting-edge advanced multimedia skills classes focusing on reporting, programming, design and usability, and social media. Students also benefit from our school’s partnership with the Online News Association and the school’s cosponsorship of the association’s Online Journalism Awards, emblematic of the best in digital journalism.

The last two semesters of the program feature experiential learning classes. During the second summer session, all of the students work together on a major documentary storytelling project. Each student’s last semester is spent developing an individual multimedia thesis project.

“Colorful but Colorblind” joined graduate students at the Knight Center in Miami with Roma and majority community journalists in Eastern Europe.

This year the class’s collaborative project was “Colorful but Colorblind: Roma Beyond Stereotypes,” a multimedia presentation that was cofunded by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Programme, with further support from the Open Society Institute’s Network Media Program, the Embassy of the United States in the Czech Republic, the university’s School of Communication and the Knight Center. The project followed the model we had developed for “My Story, My Goal,” but in this case, my students partnered with professional journalists—not students—in other countries.

 “Colorful but Colorblind” provided 50 Roma and majority community journalists, 10 each from each Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia, with training in using multimedia to report on minority issues. The training concentrated on developing the skills and techniques to produce professional quality, audio-driven video stories and it covered equipment and best practices for gathering and editing content. There were practical exercises in the classroom and in the field as well as discussions about particular considerations regarding the coverage of underreported peoples and cultures.

Following the training, the participants were divided into groups of three; most of the groups were comprised of one Roma journalist, one majority-community journalist, and one of my graduate students. The collaborative effort produced 25 multimedia stories featured on the “Colorful But Colorblind” Web site in six categories: tradition, prejudice and discrimination, family, religion, giving back to the community, and sports.

For a majority of the journalists involved, this publication represents their first experience telling stories in a multimedia format. The narrative style enables their subjects to take ownership of their stories and provides them with a platform to share with a global audience their successes and challenges. The goal of the project is to promote intercultural dialogue and effect social change.

In most instances, the teams worked remotely and returned to the central newsroom for coaching, or a coach visited them on location midway through the content-gathering process. Each team had to figure out the best way to tell their story. Partnering with local Roma journalists was essential for access, especially since most Roma in Europe live in poverty and confront social exclusion and discrimination. Media coverage about Roma people often exacerbates the animosity felt toward them. Typically, controversial issues are sensationalized with little consideration given to the broader context from which the problems originate.

For my students, there were many challenges beginning with the fact that they were producing a long-form multimedia story in a foreign country and language. And each week they worked with different partners. Then they had to build a Web site that would incorporate storytelling in six languages. Combining these efforts was a true test of their readiness to enter the profession.

For the Knight Center, the project provided another opportunity to demonstrate the importance of building and nurturing partnerships across borders to facilitate local reporting on significant underreported global issues.

Rich Beckman is the Knight Chair in Visual Journalism at the Knight Center for International Media in the University of Miami’s School of Communication.

Assisting in the training and production components of “Colorful but Colorblind: Roma Beyond Stereotypes” were Jim Seida, senior producer,; Candace Barbot, CEO/founder, Pulp2Pixel Media Inc.; Ben de la Cruz, documentary video producer, reporter, The Washington Post; Travis Fox, New York-based freelance videographer; Trevor Green, senior video editor and operations assistant and Daniel Cloud, senior programmer, Knight Center for International Media; and my colleague Professor Kim Grinfeder.