Teaching journalism history online

23 Jan 2021 5:06 PM | Erika Pribanic-Smith (Administrator)

by Kimberly Voss, University of Central Florida

Many universities now have a wide variety of classes offered fully online. It can be a challenge but also a method that can be helpful for students. I have been lucky that most of my students are prepared for virtual learning. They are usually from Florida, and they are required to take fully online classes in high schools.

I have taught an online History of American Journalism class three times a year – fall, spring and summer – for about the last decade. I have about 120 students in each class – a mix of majors, minors and students outside of communication.

For the past few semesters, I have used Rodger Streitmatter’s books (Mightier Than the Sword and A Force for Good). I use weekly modules that include textbook readings, videos and some journal articles. This semester I am adding podcasts from Journalism History.

My assessments are a mix of quizzes and exams plus low stakes crosswords and word searches that double as study aids. I use rubrics for discussion posts. This is especially helpful in the occasional semester when I have a graduate teaching assistant. I am adding a presentation through FlipGrid, which can be used in Webcourses – our online learning system. (My third-grade son also used FlipGrid for his online classes last semester without any training, so it is very user friendly.)

Some overall thoughts about teaching focus:

  • Try to create personality – for yourself and for your students. I ask that students include photos. If they are uncomfortable with using their own photos, I ask them to use a photo of their pet or a favorite animal. (Last semester there were more cats than dogs, and sloths were a big hit.)
  • When possible, tie history to current events. Many of my students are not journalism students who read the news, so I am sure to include links from a variety of sources – and explain why I use CBS News and the New York Times, for example.
  • Have a variety of ways to interact. Each module features word searches and timelines about the topics. These are low risk – for a few points but helpful for studying. I strive for a mix of high and low point assignments.

Some final advice:

  • Give examples and then model the email etiquette you expect. I often remind students that this is the only way I will know them, so email communication is especially important. Tone, of course, can be tricky. I use emojis to compensate for the lack of body language – a smiley face, thumbs up, etc.
  • Get training and look for professional development – it is often free. The technology is continuously evolving. Look for opportunities to learn more.
  • Look for engagement moments. One of my favorite final assignments is getting feedback about which readings they found most interesting and the readings that made the least impact – and why. I have office hours by Zoom by appointment.
  • Define cheating and consequences. My university has been great about creating policies for online academic integrity, and I would be happy to share them.


  • 25 Jan 2021 9:50 AM | Agnes Gottlieb
    I am giving all my students a date in history. Their job is to find the newspaper, report out on why the date is important, share the front page and make observations on how the paper looks different from newspapers today. We will do one or two every class.
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