Guess who’s coming to class?

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I love bringing guests into my classroom. I’ve noticed that I can say something over and over and it falls on deaf ears, but if students hear a guest say it they will finally start to listen. So here are my top tips for maximizing guest speakers in your classes.

1. Admit you’re not the expert.

I know that I don’t know everything about my industry, so an outside perspective helps both me and my students dive deeper into a topic. Guests are particularly important in the classes I teach department-wide, like ethics or intro to mass comm. I hosted multi-person panels for my intro class last fall to talk about journalism, PR and advertising, which helped bring a range of ideas into the room. You can have too many guests are once, but I think three or four is the sweet spot to have a lively discussion.

2. Think outside the box.

Videographers from three different TV stations give one-on-one critiques to my videography students.

A lecture or panel discussion is fine, but sometimes students need more than a talking head. I have brought in videographers from local TV stations to give one-on-one critiques of student work at the end of a semester. I bring in a local makeup expert who does work for ESPN and Fox Sports talent. I created a film fest for my digital communications students, and local journalists served as judges. The experts were able to give constructive comments in a fun venue and the winners took home Starbucks gift cards, just in time for finals all-nighters. I discovered two Happiness Engineers- yes, that’s a real job!- who work in town doing technical support for WordPress, and brought them into my class to give students free hands-on help with their web portfolios. And guests don’t have to visit in person- I use Skype if an expert lives outside of New Orleans.

3. Be transparent about your relationship with guests.

I worked with Roop Raj during Hurricane Katrina. Now he’s an anchor at Fox 2 in Detroit- but he loves coming back to New Orleans.

I’m lucky that I worked for 11 years in New Orleans before teaching, so I know folks in every newsroom in town. Sometimes our history stretches back years, but sometimes the guest is someone I never worked with but comes highly recommended by a former colleague. I always tell my students how I know the guest. This was particularly important when my husband spoke in my ethics class. One semester, I asked at least eight advertising professionals to speak and they all declined for one reason or another. Finally my husband agreed to fill the slot. He has worked in TV ad sales, as well as underwriting for NPR, for more than 15 years so he was pretty qualified to speak. We ended up having a great class discussion about his experience with an advertiser and an ethical problem they had with the NFL.

4. Not everyone should be a class guest.

The flip side of knowing a lot of media folks in town is that some of them volunteer to speak in my classes. And while I am grateful for the offer, not everyone is suited for the gig. In some rare cases I may not respect that person’s work or work ethic. Some guests have talked down to students. Some have spoken negatively about the news industry and its future. That’s not the message I want my students to hear. So if someone offers to visit campus and I’m not sure they will be a good fit, I often ask them to instead serve as a mentor to a student or to provide feedback on student work. I’ve found that for the most part, behind-the-scenes work doesn’t appeal to them so they don’t follow up with me.

5. Former students are often the best guests.

Mary Staes, a former student of mine and now a digital content producer at WWL-TV, and Kiri Walton, the Snapchat lead for|The Times-Picayune, visit my intro to mass comm class.

College students can be anxious about what happens after graduation. Recent grads make awesome guests because they have survived that transition and thrived since leaving campus. And they are much cooler than I am. They also talk more candidly about salaries and shift hours than industry veterans. And students often find them more approachable.

6. Leave time for one-on-one interaction.

B_1-l2TWIAE7GWx|The Times-Picayune photo editor Andrew Boyd gives Loyola mass comm students one-on-one advice about ethical challenges.

It’s one thing to hear someone drone on at the front of a classroom. It’s another to shake their hand and get their business card- and maybe even a selfie. I try to leave ample time at the end of each guest’s visit to give students the chance to ask questions face to face. Sometimes they want specific job advice, or just don’t want the entire class to hear their question.

Loyola digital marketing director Angie Dyer, Deveney account supervisor Katie Fauquier and Spears Group account coordinator Morgan Ballard (and former student!) visit my intro to mass comm class to discuss PR in the real world.

7. Be diverse.

44 percent of Loyola’s School of Mass Comm’s student population is a racial minority, so I work to bring in guests that reflect that diversity. It’s important to me that students hear voices besides mine. So I have built a bench of people who can present not only topical content, but also their viewpoint on that content based on their experience as a person of color or other under-represented group. This allows students to gain a unique perspective on a topic that is different from my position as a white heterosexual cisgender woman.

8. Prep your students.

This student turned a class visit from WDSU sports anchor Fletcher Mackel into a summer internship.

I get the best interaction between students and guests when I spend time preparing the students for the class visit. I will instruct them to follow the guest on social media and show examples of the guest’s work. And I remind them that many guests are looking for interns and employees, so their visit to campus should be considered a job interview for students. Unfortunately I also have to remind students that they should not use their phones or laptops during guest visits.

9. Cast a wide net for experts.

I have found guests at donut shops, on Twitter and holiday parties. I am always on the lookout for people who are doing innovative things with media. And the nice thing about living in New Orleans is that once you’ve lived here, you tend to return, even if you move away. So former colleagues who have moved on to other markets are often happy to stop by campus when they’re in town.

Before the company folded, the New Orleans bureau for Al-Jazeera America visited my advanced journalism class. I used to work with videographer Leonel Mendez and he brought along anchor Jonathan Martin.

10. Say thank you- privately and publicly.

WWNO news director Eve Troeh and Tripod podcast reporter/producer Laine Kaplan-Levenson came to campus with NPR swag for students.

I give all my guests a small token of appreciation. Sometimes it’s a Loyola can koozie or water bottle. If someone does me a big favor I get them a nice Loyola coffee tumbler or Starbucks gift card. If my schedule allows I will take my guest to lunch at the faculty dining room (fried catfish Fridays!). And I make sure to thank them on social media, usually posting a pic from their visit on Twitter or Facebook.

Not Too Old For Snapchat

32487253484_3280ebccd1_oOne of the most fun things I teach is something I was most terrified to learn about. Snapchat is the new hot platform but I’ve learned it’s not just for tweens. This week my students are creating campaigns with Snapchat and it’s been fun to see what they come up with. And media companies want to know what my students love about the app.

I started using Snapchat in the summer of 2016. The goal of my digital communications class is to tell stories on multiple platforms. I knew I would use Instagram and Facebook in the class- but was I brave enough for Snapchat? After all, I was 39 and decidedly outside of the app’s target age range. But I wanted to get a feel for the app because I knew it was making big waves in the social media world. Some of my students told me they got a lot of their news from the app- including a major local story, the fatal shooting of a former Saints star. So I got a crash course from my 25 year old office manager and started snapping.

It was an awkward start. I didn’t know how to use the filters and I didn’t like that the app doesn’t allow you to adjust the camera’s iris. I was used to taking pretty pictures, making them even prettier with editing, and posting them on Facebook for all my friends to see, garnering likes and comments along the way. Now I was blindly taking pictures and getting little feedback. (The app allows you to see who views your snaps, but comments must be made via one-on-one messaging, which also disappears quickly.) It was unnerving.

I started to find my groove when I listened to the advice I give my students- I began telling stories. I started with a trip to an amusement park with my daughters. As we moved from the roller coaster to the carousel, I started to see that I was able to tell the story of our day. I then used the app to connect with my freshman Intro to Mass Comm students. I posted a snap when I posted a test review on Blackboard, and encouraged students to send me messages with questions. Once I figured out how to turn on the message alert (whoops!) the questions came rolling in. It was easier for many of them to send me a message when they were studying (often in the middle of the night) than it was for them to come to my office hours.

Now I try to post a couple times a week, with light-hearted content mixed with updates about class. I don’t have many followers, but most of them are my students. I would love to connect with more peers on the app, but it seems to be a hard sell for people my age.

Snapchat’s focus has always been disappearing photos. When the app launched in 2011 (under the name Picaboo), it was built to be the exact opposite of Facebook- the place where photos live forever. Teenagers wanted a place to be social without the long-term consequences of permanent reminders. So three Stanford students created an app designed to let images be seen and shared- and then deleted. “We weren’t cool, so we tried to build things to be cool,” founder Bobby Murphy told Forbes.

The idea has paid off in a big way. Snapchat went public last week and its valuation was $34 billion on the first day of trading. That’s billion with a B.

So what makes Snapchat so successful? Simply put, young people. In its filings with the Security and Exchange Committee, the company reported that people ages 18 to 24 are the most active among its daily 158 million users. And on its website Snapchat claims to reach 41 percent of all 18 to 34 year-olds in the United States.

Legacy newsrooms are also paying attention. In February the New York Times announced it will launch a Discover channel- the feature that gives Snapchat users news. (It’s largely celebrity-based, but the content is getting more serious.) Kinsey Wilson, executive vice president of product and technology at The New York Times, told the Poynter Institute, “We see an opportunity to experiment with new digital storytelling forms, to reach a younger audience at scale.”


Kiri Walton, Snapchat Lead for|The Times-Picayune, visits my Digital Communications class.

That audience is sitting in my classroom, and news orgs have a lot of questions for them. Yesterday Kiri Walton visited my Digital Communications class and picked my students’ brains. She is the Snapchat lead for|The Times-Picayune, which means she produces all of the newsroom’s Snapchat content. My students told her they like how easy Snapchat is, they check the app “all day” and there is no pressure to post a perfect snap, unlike Instagram or Facebook, which they called “more formal.” Many of them have streaks going with their friends and use the app to chat more than they text. One student called Snapchat “an escape.”



33329962535_1231997788_o|The Times-Picayune uses Snaplytics to track user engagement and produce high-quality content for its Snapchat channel.

Walton showed the class how she uses the paid platform Snaplytics to edit content, add graphics and schedule snaps. It also allows users to upload video longer than 10 seconds, the current time limit for snaps. The site also tracks engagement metrics- how many people open your snaps, watch the story to completion, and screenshot your content.


Walton says the account strives to cover what makes New Orleans unique- the music, culture and art. She tries to snap any event that people will care about- All-Star Weekend in New Orleans, for example, which meant a lot of celebs like Beyonce’ and Shaq. Nolanews has also had success with account takeovers, including Tank from Tank and the Bangas, a local band that just won NPR’s Tiny Desk contest. And Walton said behind the scenes snaps also work well.

Walton says the snaps with the highest engagement are real and authentic, which echoes much of the research I see in my Participatory Journalism grad school course this semester. As my students said, Snapchat is about being casual and fun.

I see lots of opportunities for partnerships between my students and local newsrooms as more outlets launch Snapchat accounts. Finding out what young adults love about Snapchat and bringing those lessons to other platforms could help news orgs grow their audience. But it’s important to note that what works on Snapchat won’t necessarily work on Facebook or Twitter.

Walton said it best when she told my students, “If you always try to make people have FOMO (fear of missing out), you’re gonna win.” Create content that is fun and that you can’t find anywhere else- the audience will follow.

Instagram Lessons

Last week I took over the Instagram account for the Missouri J-School graduate school. I had a lot of fun and learned a lot about the platform. Here’s a look at what I posted and how I shaped my strategy.

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I thought for a long time about the best place to take my “intro selfie.” I knew I wanted to showcase Loyola and thankfully the weather cooperated with an outdoor shot. This photo is from the top of the cloister around Loyola’s “front lawn.”

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I chose this shot to showcase my connection to Mizzou as an undergrad. In hindsight it was kinda boring.

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It was National Love Your Pet day, which was a natural reason to include my dog Truman. He’s named after Mizzou’s tiger mascot (who of course is named for Missouri native U.S. President Harry S. Truman). I knew I wanted to include my dog in my Instagram story but I hadn’t planned to use the photo so early in the week. But it made more sense to use his photo on the “national holiday.” I tried to engage the audience with questions but got crickets.

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Iggy is Loyola’s spiritual mascot and his statue was an easy way to talk about the campus’ commitment to social justice issues. The week I was posting happened to be the biggest week in the run up to Fat Tuesday so Iggy was dressed for the occasion. I actually took a photo of the statue earlier the week prior but he didn’t have any beads yet so I went back for another picture later.

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I wanted to include some personal photos and this shot of my oldest daughter was really topical because we were in the midst of Girl Scout cookie delivery and National GS Cookie week. Plus she looks so cute 🙂 Again, crickets for my engagement attempt.

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I meant to post a shot of my other daughter on the second day of the takeover but I ran out of time. So on day three I moved on to shots from my work in the classroom. This photo is how I spend three mornings a week.

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Our students have spent two weeks live streaming Carnival parades for, which is the digital space for the Times-Picayune’s Carnival coverage. The newspaper has been live streaming cameras from around town during Carnival for more than 15 years. Showing more than 25 parades is a LOT of work and energy, so this year they asked our students to help out. They paid $10 an hour and the kids had to do research on all the parade krewes and be professionals in front of and behind the camera. We benefited from the paper’s massive built-in audience- numbers are still coming in but in years past it’s been tens of thousands of people. We had viewers from Spain, England and Australia. It’s been a fun, unique experiment.

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I meant to post a photo from the parade we covered the night before but I posted so late in the day I was worried it would be too many items too close together. (More on that later in this post.) So instead I used a throwback Thursday pic that just happens to be one of my all-time favorites of my kids.

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The Krewe of Muses is a beautiful nighttime parade and I wanted to showcase that side of Carnival. Then we caught a shoe at the parade from a friend (the members spend all year decorating them with glitter) and so of course I had to post that!

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It’s not the Friday before Fat Tuesday without king cake! I had to make sure my freshmen didn’t miss out.

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I spent part of Friday having a fun lunch with friends in the French Quarter. But I didn’t want to post pictures of cocktails on the school’s account so instead I focused on the beautiful decorations.

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Saturday we went to two daytime parades. People think Mardi Gras is beer, beads and boobs. That’s on Bourbon Street- miles away from where we catch the parades. My Carnival experience is really about families being together along the parade route and I wanted to convey that spirit.

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I realized late in the day that I had yet to show my audience why people go crazy during Carnival- the throws! It’s exciting to catch beads, cups and stuffed animals, but once you lug it all home you realize you need to store it somewhere. Some of it ends up in my girls’ dress-up bin. We’ll recycle most of these beads at the ARC, a group of special needs adults that sorts and resells beads to parade krewes.

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This one is pretty self-explanatory.

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I took some photos along the parade route but it was dark by then and the quality of the images was not good. So I took a shot of my oldest daughter after our long day. I really struggled with the wording- at first I wrote that she had “crashed”- but the night before a suspected drunk driver had driven into a parade crowd (not near us, thankfully) and so I didn’t want to use that word. “Passed out” sounded like my kid was drunk. It wasn’t until later that my brain came up with “wiped out” but it had been a long day 😉

What I learned:

I had an IG account before this assignment but I had not posted in a couple of years because I use Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat so much. So before my takeover started I began posting to my own account again to make sure people knew I was current on the platform. I planned out my posts in a spreadsheet to make sure I was presenting a well-rounded look at my life. I was so glad that I was assigned such an exciting week to do the takeover, but honestly it was a lot of pressure to showcase such a multi-faceted part of my city’s culture.

I also felt pressure to post great pictures. I consider myself a solid amateur photographer with my iPhone- I try to use the rule of thirds and pay close attention to framing and light. But Instagram features such wonderful images that I wanted my work to measure up- and even stand out if possible.

I got a lot of advice from two friends who use Instagram frequently. They told me one to two posts per day was plenty, so I tried to keep it to no more than three. They also helped me understand the power of a topical hashtag, which I think helped bring more eyeballs to the account. They told me my copy was too formal and they hated my use of exclamation points. (My friends are opinionated.) I used a lot more copy than I normally would on my personal Instagram account and it was hard to be informative yet casual and fun. That was probably the hardest part of this assignment for me.

I did NOT like the algorithm changes Instagram made last year. I feel like I only see a few posts from my friends and the feed does not update frequently. But maybe I am doing something wrong.

This assignment did help me get a lot more comfortable with the platform. I tried out Boomerang and a video post (both on my personal account) and I learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t.

I love the things I see on Instagram but four social media accounts is a lot for me. Going forward I may try and post a couple times a week and see how my algorithm works. But the takeover was a lot of fun and I think Loyola should try it with our students. If anyone has managed a student takeover account on the admin side I would love to hear about your experience.

Night Guy vs. Morning Guy

Jerry Seinfeld has this great bit about Night Guy versus Morning Guy.

Basically, Night Guy likes to stay up late, but dealing with a lack of sleep is Morning Guy’s problem.

When I reached the end of my first semester of teaching, I was Night Guy. I had successfully dealt with deadlines and student issues and I was ready for a nice long winter break. I posted my final grades and enjoyed a three week vacation from stress.

But when the next semester started, I had Morning Guy’s problem. What had worked the previous semester? What was a colossal failure? I couldn’t remember a thing about the previous five months- the entire fall semester was a blur. I did have some student evaluations, but they were too vague because they were based on a generic college-wise questionnaire. I proceeded to stumble through my second semester with a mix of wins and losses. It was as if I had learned nothing from the past several months and it was a frustrating experience.

So at the end of the spring semester, I wised up. I wanted to take care of my future self. I needed my own data to figure out what worked and what didn’t in the classroom. I created Survey Monkey surveys to get customized feedback from students about assignments, my syllabi and my teaching. I asked colleagues to critique my work flow. And I wrote Fall Professor Collins a letter so she wasn’t doomed to repeat Spring Professor Collins’ mistakes.

It turns out, it’s very helpful to get down the details when they’re fresh in your mind. (Who knew?!?) I continue to seek feedback from students and stress to them that their course evaluations make a difference. I also take detailed notes throughout the semester about what works and what doesn’t in each class. Sometimes it’s as simple as- “Portfolio photo assignment- pain in the butt to grade; students submitted lots of bad links.” Sometimes it’s an in-depth examination of why I don’t seem to be connecting with students about a certain skill. And I try to fold in successful examples that I find from other educators.

It’s a little more work along the way, but it’s all worth it when I sit down to plan the following semester and I have a roadmap to improve my next class.

Future Professor Collins says thanks.


Teaching Resources

As a new teacher, I often find myself searching for resources to help me communicate in the classroom. Here are some of the places I find the best inspiration for journalism education.

Inspiration from the halls of Poynter Institute, home of Teachapalooza.

Teachapalooza: This annual seminar at Poynter Institute is directed by Al Tompkins, the man behind the wonderful journalism textbook Aim For the Heart. “Teacha,” as it’s known by its devotees, is a conference for journalism educators from universities and colleges around the world. But as the name implies, the conference is anything but formal. I’ve been lucky to attend for the past two years and I always come home with great ideas and tools I can implement immediately into my courses. I got over my fear of Snapchat and Excel at Teacha’16. The year before, I learned about apps like Videolicious and Canva. But even better than the tools are the people. I have made some great contacts and we often swap syllabi and assignment ideas. We stay in touch throughout the school year via a robust Facebook group moderated by Al. It’s a wonderful experience that has helped me adjust to teaching, as well as keep me on the cutting edge of journalism.

Online News Association: I attended ONA in 2013, and it was a great conference- but I realized quickly I was in over my head. All the talk about data scraping and coding was a bit too much for this broadcast journalist. But the ONA Educators Facebook page has been a great place for me to learn and pick the brains of other teachers. It’s also helpful for keeping an eye on what other educational institutions are doing when it comes to “the future of journalism.”

RTDNA: I serve as Loyola’s student chapter advisor and have attended the conference for several years. The association has recently expanded its educational tools and so far the offerings have been strong. I also act as a Murrow judge, which gives me a great view into newsrooms across the country. I feel that the annual conference could be stronger- the programming puts a lot of emphasis on reporting, and I think it could be more inclusive of producers. But I always meet great people at the sessions. And I enjoy bringing students with me to the conference- it’s fun to get to know them outside of the classroom and to see them learn about the news industry.

#EdShift: This community is a subset of MediaShift, which bills itself as a look at how traditional media use digital tools. I’ve been a guest on multiple Twitter chats hosted by EdShift, and I always come away with new ideas for my courses. The site also has a deep library of articles to help me learn about new trends or new ways to engage students.

Other resources: I also get ideas from Poynter, the Reynolds Journalism Institute, and the Nieman Lab. They all offer great industry insight and I use a mix of email newsletters and Facebook posts to get the latest content from those sources.

Some days I feel like I will never keep up with the churn of news and digital innovations. But these resources help me feel as though I have a fighting chance! I hope they give you a place to start finding answers.

What I Learn From My Students

Lit. Bougie. TFW. There are all phrases I understand AND can use correctly in a sentence. Thanks to my position on a college campus, I am on the cutting edge when it comes to the latest and greatest lingo. Of course, students are more than just catchphrases. I’ve gotten quite an education from them about more serious topics as well.

Three of my students and me during a 2015 visit to WESH in Orlando during the RTDNA conference.

Here’s a list of just a few things I’ve learned from my students over the years.

They work hard.

Many of my students have an off-campus job. I assumed that since Loyola has such a high price tag that many of the undergrads would come from wealthy families. I was wrong. Tuition is expensive and many students must help pay the bills. They have to balance their schoolwork with a work schedule. Their jobs include pizza delivery drivers, hotel employees, waiters, and even Walgreens assistant managers. And usually if they have a job they work harder in class. Very few students use their job as an excuse for poor schoolwork.

Some of my students are so sweet, they bring the whole class donuts!

They take social justice seriously.

From prison reform to the environment, my students are involved in a variety of social issues. Loyola has a robust volunteer community and students have lots of chances to give back. One of my students heads a group that visits senior citizens every month. Another is working on a thesis to educate people about Louisiana’s food stamp program. And none of this work is done just to pad a resume. I am continually amazed at how the students engage with the world beyond our campus.

They are individuals.

Loyola’s campus is full of unique young adults. I’ve had students who were deep into cosplay. Others embrace strident political messages. The day after the election one girl came to class with the phrase “F**k Trump” in marker on her forehead. They come from all over the country and 47 different nations. But students respect the differences they see on campus. And they ask respectful questions about their classmates’ backgrounds and cultures.

They help me feel young.

Most of my students are a part of Gen Z- they were born after 1995. Just to give you some context, that’s the year I graduated high school. So to help me bridge that divide they teach me about pop culture. But it’s not all fluff. For example, last year my mass comm ethics class spent an hour discussing Beyonce’s Lemonade video. Sure, it was partly shot here in New Orleans and contained references to Hurricane Katrina. But it was also a jumping off place to discuss diversity, representation and intersectionality. I had so many students trying to speak that we stayed well beyond the class period to share our thoughts. It was an energizing moment that helped the class bond and gave me a deeper appreciation for Gen Z.

10 Tips For New Adjuncts & Professors

So you got the job! Maybe you’re teaching your first course as an adjunct. Or perhaps you’re transitioning to a classroom gig full-time after working in the professional world. In either case, this week I’m offering 10 tips based on my experience to help you get the semester off to a great start.

1. Get some (office) space.

My office and my big, beautiful monitor.

A place to grade and store books, physical files and other items is key to set you up for success. Chances are good you’re replacing a professor who has retired or moved on, so take advantage of the resources they leave behind. If you’re an adjunct, ask for an office- even if it’s a shared space with other adjunct faculty members. It doesn’t have to be fancy but it needs to have reliable wi-fi. You should also be able to hold office hours there.

2. Hold office hours regularly.

One of the biggest complaints I hear from students about adjunct profs is that they’re never around. And if you have a full-time gig outside of teaching, it can be hard to make time for students. But do it. Students will appreciate the consistent availability. The more they get to know you, the higher their engagement with you and the better chance they will succeed in your course.

3. Hang out in your office- and outside of it.

If you hang out at the Loyola Starbucks you’re guaranteed to see at least one student you know in this line!

While I have three days each week set aside for office hours, I often find that students pop in at random times when I’m just working in my office with the door open. They stop in between classes to talk about their internship search, other classes or just to chat. I value that time because it allows me to get to know them better. And once a student drops by once, they often keep coming back.

I also try to seek out students where they’re hanging out. Using the campus Starbucks or gym or just walking through our quad is a way to say, “I’m a part of this community.” Some of my colleagues park right by our building and hurry inside to their office, and I think that’s a missed opportunity to connect with students.

4. Get the right tools.

Ask for a laptop. Even better, ask for a large monitor for your laptop so you have plenty of desktop space to grade assignments and plan lectures. (Remember that professor you’re probably replacing? Ask for their computer!) If your institution doesn’t loan out laptops, ask for a desktop in your office. It’s essential to have the right hardware and software to be successful.

5. Use the campus learning management system.

We use Blackboard here at Loyola, but each campus is different. A LMS is the best way to be transparent with your students about grades and stay in touch with them during the semester. It also provides an easy way to store your files to reuse each semester. But it can be a confusing system at first glance. Contact your campus library to get hands-on training from your LMS expert and spend time getting to know the ins and outs. And speaking of grading…

6. Don’t get behind on grading.

A fellow journalism professor told me this on my first day and it remains one of the best pieces of advice I’ve received about this job. There is nothing like 107 items in your “needs to be graded” queue to make you run to Netflix and find something to watch instead of grading. So stay on top of assignments.

The other benefit to staying ahead of the assignment crush is that students really do appreciate prompt feedback. They want to know that their work is valued, and a major way to do that is to respond to their assignments quickly. I try to grade items within 3 days or less. I don’t always meet that goal, but if I know I’m going to be behind I do my best to alert students- during my busy advising season, for example, or if I’m going to be away at a conference. Students deserve to know when you’ll get to their work.

7. You’re in charge of the schedule and syllabus.

Pay attention to your personal calendar when you set your course syllabus. You don’t want to schedule a major project to be due right when you’re set to host out of town guests or have a conference trip planned. Plan your assignments and due dates around yourself and you’ll find it easier to balance life and work.

One of my favorite assignments- students read children’s books for a more believable anchor delivery.

The same idea goes for your syllabus when it comes to topics, textbooks and assignments. “We’ve always done it this way,” is no reason to keep doing it. Consider using old syllabi for a basic roadmap, but add your own flair to the course.

For example, each semester I send students into a local newsroom to get a feel for the industry they’re studying. Because I know someone in every newsroom in New Orleans, I created a job shadow assignment. Students sit with a producer or go out with a photographer/reporter for a one-day shift and write a paper about their experience. Many of them have never seen how a newscast or a website gets put together, and often the assignment gives them clarity about their chosen future profession.

8. Mine your professional network.

Roop Raj, anchor at WJBK in Detroit, visits campus to give my students advice about the TV biz.

You came from a world where everyone has the skills you’re now teaching. Bring those folks into the classroom to share their industry insights. I have found that I may say something until I’ll blue in the face, but the same comment from a guest speaker will provide a lightbulb moment for my students. In person is best, but Skype is also effective. And it doesn’t have to be a lecture setting. I have asked photographers to give students one-on-one constructive critiques, and asked anchors to give direct feedback about a student’s on-air delivery. A panel of guests is a great way to include multiple viewpoints about a topic and often works well to get a discussion going. I also work to bring a diverse range of speakers into my classroom. And don’t overlook bringing recent grads back to campus. Students are often anxious about what happens after college and alums can give them insight into the job search and life in general post-diploma.

9. Learn the students’ lingo.

You don’t have to use it. But it helps if students see you’re trying to understand their world. They’re coming from a world where grown-ups are the ultimate authority. But you’re preparing them to work and communicate with adults. Help ease that transition by meeting them halfway where they already “live”-  learn about their phrases, causes and motivations. Students like that I take the time to learn more about them than their work in class. I’ve come to know that my students idolize Rhianna and Beyonce’, but they also care deeply about social justice issues.

10. Make a friend at work.

The fabulous Laura Jayne, the Thelma to my Louise. I call her the mayor of Loyola because she knows everyone and everything about the university.

You need someone to help you during this transition. Someone who knows the best parking spots and the arcane rules that come with academia. I’m not talking about a mentor, although that is helpful too. But you need someone who will drag you out of the office for lunch and listen to you vent about frustrating students or co-workers. I’m lucky to have found a great friend in my department and we have co-taught three classes together. I knew we would get along when she bought me a voodoo doll during my first final grading period.


I hope these tips give you a good place to start your new job. Next week I’ll dive deeper into the topic of what my students have taught me over the years.

How I got here…

In March of 2013, I was on maternity leave with my second child. I was the senior news producer at WDSU, the NBC affiliate in New Orleans. I handled the day-to-day operations of the 5 p.m. newscast, plus just about every special project the newsroom produced. I covered the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, was in the control booth when the Saints won the Super Bowl, and survived hours of Mardi Gras live coverage.

Back at WDSU for 2014 election coverage

But being a mom and a news producer was becoming a tough balancing act. I was always the last one to pick up my kids from daycare, and, thanks to my laughable maternity leave policy, I was facing 7 months without any vacation. Plus the news had been grim lately. We were covering several cases of innocent children gunned down in the city. So when I got a call about a job in academia, it seemed too good to be true. Summers off? Never work a Mardi Gras again? I told my husband, “There is no way this is going to happen.”

But it did. My current boss got her Ph.D. at Mizzou, my alma mater. Better yet, my father-in-law, Kent Collins, was her academic advisor. So when she needed someone to replace a professor who was headed to the midwest, she thought of me. But I didn’t have an advanced degree. Thankfully, Loyola considered my 15 years of experience as a newsroom professional to be similar to the knowledge I would have gained from a Master’s degree.

So why was I qualified to teach future journalists without an advanced degree? It turns out there are many lessons in the newsroom that prepared me for the classroom.

The most important things I learned as a news producer were how to manage people and communicate effectively. As a producer you lead a team of anchors, reporters, directors, assignment managers and more to create a roadmap for the newscast. You have to balance many egos, plan for the worst, and get the best performance out of each team member. These skills translated well when I began to work with students with varied skill and maturity levels.

In my role as a producer I often trained our newsroom interns, as well as the “jump teams” that came to town during wall-to-wall coverage. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was laying the groundwork for my role as a teacher. That role prepared me to become a coach for students as they produce newscasts and write and shoot stories.

In Jackson Square in 2010 covering the Saints first home game after winning the Super Bowl

And instead of producing shows, I now produce lectures. At first I was intimidated to teach a freshman-level class with nearly 100 students. But it turns out that years of combining video, graphics and live events prepared me well to be an “infotainer” in the classroom. I consistently have high engagement with my students and my course evaluations have been well above average for seven straight semesters.

One of the best parts about teaching in the town where I worked for 11 years is my personal network of news professionals. Because I have friends in every newsroom in town (TV, radio and newspaper), I can easily call a reporter, anchor or photog to be a guest speaker in my class. I have also asked professionals to give my students constructive criticism on their work. And one of my most popular assignments requires my students to shadow either a producer or a photog at a TV station. Many of my kids have never spent any substantial time in a professional newsroom and the experience is often instrumental in helping them choose a career path.

I did face some challenges when I came to campus. I found it very difficult at first to balance my work with my family life. I was used to leaving work at the office. Suddenly I had dozens of assignments to grade, lectures to write and advisees to advise. It was a learning process to figure out how to manage my time. I was fortunate to have great resources like specialized training for the campus-wide grade submission system, and access to first-class tech tools. My boss also puts a priority on continuous industry training and fully supports my travel to two conferences each year. That helps build my teaching muscle and educates me about the world of academia.

Another challenge, as any college professor will tell you, is the student. I graduated high school the same year many of my first students were born. They are accustomed to technology I only began to scratch the surface of in college. And they tend to be more… how shall I put this… open with their lives. For example, I would have never emailed a professor asking for an extension on an assignment because “I seem to have either pulled a muscle or strained my back in my sleep.” Or their roommate’s dog died. Or they accidentally ate dairy, which triggered severe dietary allergies. You get the idea. I have done my best to strike a balance between giving students the benefit of the doubt and not getting played. It’s a constant struggle.

There’s not a day that goes by without me learning something new about teaching, college students or just how to manage my time. But it’s been a wonderfully rewarding process.

Next week I will dive into some specific tips and tricks that helped me transition from a producer to a professor.