How I Used Video Dramatization to Bring a Case Study to Life in the Online Classroom

I was teaching a graduate course in the Communication Studies Department on conflict and negotiation.  The objective was to teach communication skills that would enhance negotiation outcomes and lead to conflict resolution.  At the time, the course was held in a traditional classroom and during our weekly face-to-face meetings, students would negotiate with one another through role playing simulation based on a case they had been assigned.  Then we would debrief the exercise to analyze the process and outcomes and consider ways to improve for the next time.

When my department chair approached me about taking the course online, I was adamant that the interactive and immersive elements be maintained.  In other words, I still wanted students to experience case studies in a real way that involved scenarios being acted out and discussed, just as they had done in the traditional classroom.  Instructional designer Katherine Klose offered creative and fun solutions to achieve this goal.

The very first exercise I used in the course was a classic case called “The Ugli Orange,” whereby two scientists from different companies meet to negotiate how to divide the last known supply of these rare oranges.  The scientists, Dr. Roland and Dr. Jones, have each been tasked with saving the lives of hundreds of people in two different emergency situations.  The ugli oranges hold the key to producing formulas that will save the vulnerable populations: in one case as a serum to cure a disease and the other as a vapor to neutralize a toxic gas that has been released.  However, there are only enough oranges to produce one of the formulas and each scientist believes they have the most compelling reason for wanting the fruit.

Ordinarily, I had the students pair up and negotiate with one another, with one student as Dr. Roland and the other as Dr. Jones.  After the negotiations were finished we would debrief the exercise as a class and discuss why some pairs had satisfying outcomes and others did not.  To translate the exercise to the online classroom, Katherine envisioned the idea of filming dramatizations of a failed and a successful version of the negotiation.  She had me work closely with instructional designer and film expert Katy Allen to produce videos using actors to improvise these two different versions.

I approached two women on the University of Alabama Speech and Forensics Team with substantial acting experience about playing the roles and they agreed to do so.  It was imperative to me that experienced actors be used to make the dramatizations as realistic and interesting as possible.  I also wanted the actors to experience the case just like students in class, so the action was unscripted and the actors were instructed to improvise the negotiation.  The filming was professionally done as well.  Josh Michael and the Media Services Team located a conference room where the action could take place and they filmed the two versions in one morning.  Because I was not sure exactly how the negotiations would turn out and I wanted to have a failed and a successful attempt, I coached them a bit prior to filming. The first time, I emphasized details in the case that would prompt them to be very competitive with one another and not give in.  When the negotiation ended with an impasse, filming stopped and I then coached them to start the negotiation again, but this time ask more questions of one another and show willingness to listen.  I was pleased when these directions resulted in the successful outcome I was hoping they would reach.

Dr. Roland presents her side of the "Ugli Orange" case.
Dr. Roland presents her side of the “Ugli Orange” case.

Dr. Jones and Dr. Roland discuss the "Ugli Orange" situation.
Dr. Jones and Dr. Roland discuss the “Ugli Orange” situation.

I then reviewed the videos and took notes for a commentary that Katy spliced in at moments that were pivotal to the process and outcomes in the two versions.  In my commentary, I discussed common missteps in negotiation as well as how to negotiate more collaboratively by asking the right questions and providing key information to the other party.

Ultimately, I used the videos to introduce concepts of distributive and integrative bargaining as an introduction to the course.  Students were to watch each video and then use the discussion board to identify specific moments (with times included) that influenced the final outcomes in the two negotiations.

Here is an example of the failed negotiation plus commentary:

Since bringing this course online, I have found that students really enjoy these videos and writing about them on the discussion board.  The Ugli Orange case has a twist that many people don’t realize when they role play the exercise themselves and so watching improvisational actors grapple with the case makes for an exciting introduction to the course.

Video dramatizations are a great way to bring case studies or simulation exercises to life in the online classroom and could be produced for a variety of courses in which demonstrations of processes or human behavior are vital to learning.

Digital Sanctuary: New-Fashioned Hospitality, Slack and More

Starbucks machine on first floor of Hurley Convergence Center, UMW.
Nothing says “welcome!” like a Starbucks machine.

The past couple of days at Digital Pedagogy Lab have me thinking about the confluence of hospitality (a point of southern pride at UA, and perhaps also here in Fredericksburg, Virginia) and the new-to-me-concept of digital sanctuary (introduced by Amy Collier; more below!)

Hospitality clearly means something here at University of Mary Washington.  Beautiful architecture, brick sidewalks and fountains delight the eye; covered walkways provide shelter on rainy days; librarians adorn their outward-facing windows with declarations of “we will help!”  The Hurley Convergence Center offers all kinds of space for gathering and building community (not to mention a Starbucks machine on the first floor).

We at DigPedLab have been treated to a hot lunch every day in the student center cafeteria (even with school out of session!). A “Digicart” is ready to drive us when we need assistance, ensuring that no-one should struggle to be part of this group.  We have been offered pronoun buttons–they/them/theirs; she/her/hers; he/him/his–that help us not only signal easily about our preferred pronouns, but even more fundamentally hold space for any and all to be welcome and comfortable in their own personhood.

Implicit Design Principles: One Does Not Merely Sit

Hello from the Digital Pedagogy Lab (DigPedLab) Institute 2017!  Andrew Richardson and I are here from the Innovation Team, with 7 more faculty* from across The University of Alabama, already immersed in questions and practices surrounding Critical Digital Pedagogy and associated themes such as design, networks, data, and domains.

Inside UMW Hurley Convergence Center
The University of Mary Washington Hurley Convergence Center is full of spaces for small-group collaboration.

We are meeting in a collaboration-friendly, tech-filled space at the University of Mary Washington Hurley Convergence Center.  I especially like the Herman Miller Magis Spun Chairs on the fourth floor, which turn their riders (there really is no other noun for this — one does not merely sit) into human spinning tops — see HM’s spun chair YouTube video for the full effect.

My avatar is a scout with a light saber and fabulous hair — guiding folks down the path, with light, power, tech in hand!

Add to these the Lego™ minifigure avatars we made for one another in an opening icebreaker and you get the picture of DigPedLab as a place where community matters, play and collaboration are encouraged, and we all have the opportunity turn, to spin, to look around (or be twirled!) for new perspectives.

While play might seem to some a non-starter, I find it sets the tone for an open, willing-to-learn attitude that infuses and inspires the whole community. In our lives and jobs we are teachers and designers and administrators; but here, we are learners.  The theme of play also puts me in mind of John Seely Brown‘s keynote at UA’s Online Learning Innovation Summit 2017, in which he showed us how play is essential to curiosity about and engagement with a topic, and thereby critical to learning.

As I moved into my smaller-group track on Critical Instructional Design, I was already in a space of curiosity, eager to play with ideas.  The Design group members come from many backgrounds and experiences, so I was particularly interested to see what people would write on the board for this question: What are your implicit and/or explicit design principles?

Collabothink at DigPedLab: what are your implicit and/or explicit design principles?


It was easy for me to think about the explicit principles that form part of my institution’s approach to design:  clarity, modularity, organization, accessibility.  But I have to be quite honest and say I had never really taken a moment to consider what my own implicit design principles might be.  I quickly realized I had a set of personal design principles around relationship and community, but I felt there must also be others to discover.

My sense of wonderment and possibility took over as I considered these, written on the board: empathy, exploration, affective relationship, agency.  What could the online courses we work on become if a set of implicit design principles were agreed on by faculty, instructional designers, media and innovation teams from the beginning?  They could (and probably should) be different for each course, and would increase our ability to bring online students course material that aims not only to deliver subject matter, but to be an experience–an immersion in the principles, ethos, meaning and implications of that subject matter.

This type of approach wouldn’t be entirely new for our group.  I am sure my instructional design colleagues could offer some excellent examples, and here I’ll share one of mine:   This year, one of the Innovation Team’s projects is a collaboration with Innovation Spirit Scholar Dr. Jennifer Becker, of the UA College of Communication and Information Sciences.  Dr. Becker came to us with this conundrum: when faculty new to online teaching are assigned to teach Interpersonal Communication, they have a very large learning curve just in teaching online, not to mention connecting with online students.  How, she asked, can we help them model positive interpersonal communication as they engage with students enrolled across many time zones, cultural backgrounds, age groups and life situations?  In the terms used in today’s discussion, Dr. Becker’s implicit design principles, as she expressed them to us, include community-building, affective relationship, and empathy. Knowing those, we were able to collaborate on the development of guidance and strategies to help new instructors teach interpersonal communication online not only through readings and activities, but also through embodiment of its concepts in their own, intentionally personalized communication with students.

Clarity about implicit design values could also help us rethink how we engage our online student population.  For instance, what would the implicit value of non-isolation look like for online courses?  How would that value prompt us to think in new ways about familiar ideas like community-building and cohort formation within an online course or degree program?  How could that implicit value prompt us to think about possibilities we haven’t even thought about yet?

I admire what Dr. Becker has done for her online course, and I look forward to conversations with future UA Innovation Scholars and Innovation Catalysts (UA Instructional Designers, it’s a new opportunity for you – stay tuned!) around implicit design principles, relative to their own disciplines and teaching perspectives, to see how those could shape a more holistic way of engaging, enfolding, including online students.

* Angela Benson (College of Education), Kim Colburn (New College/New College Life Track), André Denham (College of Education), Traci Ferguson (ACCESS English), Michelle Hale (College of Human Environmental Sciences), Heather Pleasants (Office of Institutional Effectiveness/QEP), John Ratliff (College of Arts and Sciences/UA Early College)

Innovation Team at BbWorld 2017

I attended Blackboard World 2017 in New Orleans last week, along with seven colleagues from The University of Alabama, including others in the College of Continuing Studies. The two keynote speakers, Jill Biden and Mae Jemison, were fantastic, but I was more interested in seeing what was happening in the Learning Management System that our campus uses. Below is a quick list of things to look out for.

Blackboard Ultra

It has been coming for a while, but the Ultra experience of Blackboard Learn seems to be rapidly approaching readiness for larger institutions. While there is still some basic functionality needed (they’ve just added True or False question types to tests, for example), it’s clear that Ultra is the priority for Blackboard.

Blackboard Collaborate

Collaborate seems to be rebuilt from the ground up. I didn’t attend the road map for this product, but it’s clear that there is heavy investment into (the new) Collaborate. It will be more integrated in both the course and the mobile applications.

A look at the Ultra gradebook.

Mobile Apps

Blackboard has split their main app into two apps:

Blackboard presented an ambitious roadmap for both of these apps, and I’m excited to see where they are a year from now.


Blackboard has opened up their developer program to anyone – there will no longer be a fee to become a Blackboard Developer! This is great news for developers building integrations, whether they work on a campus or in a small ed-tech startup. Furthermore, Blackboard has included the LTI 2.0 spec in some Learn environments, and they appear to be doubling down on their REST API. In theory, these two steps should help to reduce the need for Building Blocks, which are much more difficult to maintain and integrate.

I drove from Alabama to California to meet Jesus. VidCon — a religious experience.

Tote bag with slogan: Be Critical of the Media You Love
A tote bag for sale at VidCon in Anaheim sums up the feeling of the conference, although its go-to slogan is DFTBA (Don’t Forget To Be Awesome).


Wednesday-Sunday, June 21–24, Anaheim, California

Mainstream journalists sometimes balk when I espouse why YouTube as an important news gathering and reporting tool. Yet it has come a long way since it’s first video was uploaded April 23, 2005. This year during VidCon (started in 2010 by Hank Green) released some numbers that back up the need for journalists to take note were tossed out from the stage by YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki. Take this one for example: There are 1.5 billion logged-in users visiting the site every month. Those users spend a over an hour a day watching video on their mobile device, which is staggering in a world of five-second attention spans.

Journalists should remember that YouTube overall, and even YouTube on mobile alone, reaches more 18–34 and 18–49-year-olds than any cable network in the U.S.

Crazy, epic, insane, ridiculous and thrilling are adjectives I’ve heard used to describe VidCon and that’s on point. But it’s also educational, enlightening and mind-opening.

Giant sculpture of "play" button outside Anaheim Convention Center.
The play button sits outside the Anaheim Convention Center and serves as a selfie magnet.


VidCon offer three tracks: Community, Creator and Industry, each a step up in ticket price and professional offerings from the next. While in one track people might be meeting the latest gaming, beauty or comedy gurus, elsewhere a panel on “Navigating algorithm changes in social video” and “Informing people in a post-truth world” are happening. (Sometimes media watchdogs become news at VidCon. This year at one of the panels, feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian — known mostly for #gamergate ––took the stage for a panel called “Women online” only to be harassed, videoed and stalked by her online haters.)

Photo of #YouTubeBlack panel members on stage.
One of the panels I attended was called #YouTubeBlack.

While old-school media grapple with how to reach the demographic that attends VidCon, VidCon offers sessions such as “Jumping the chasm from online to traditional.” It’s a media timeline in reverse.

I’ve been to VidCon twice now and both times was bewildered and awestruck. Not just because a man walked around dressed like Jesus, or that I could get more free candy than on Halloween as a child, but because I was able to learn so much. Yes, the bulk of attendees appear to be in the under 25 crowd, but growth in the Industry and Creator tacks balances things out.

A man in sunglasses portraying Jesus at VidCon.
“Jesus, you’re very big in Alabama, where I am from,” I told him.


VidCon also challenges assumptions about what journalism can be. I met Reid Nicewonder sitting outside the Convention Center at a table with a sign that said “What do you believe and why? 5-Minute Interviews.”

Man seated at a table prepared to record "What do you believe and why? 5-minute interviews"


I’m pretty sure I irked him by turning the tables and asking him tons of questions, although if that’s true, there was no sign of it. He patiently and Zen-like answered them all. “Was he a journalist?” I asked and, if so, what was his end product going to look like?

He told me he is gathering answers for a documentary. Not trained in journalism, he was more interested in philosophy and how people perceive the world around them. His social media handle everywhere is Cordial Curiosity, except on Facebook where he is Civil Discourse Network. When I pointed out that what he is doing could be considered journalism (with the addition of ethics and context) he neither agreed or disagreed.

The man who sat down at the table before me seemed confrontational, but by the time he left the table Nicewonder had killed him with civil discourse and open ears. Disarming nature oozed from his table, the opposite of the comments section on any news story.

Afterward I met up with Jose Gramajo, a reporter for Univision, who taught for a year as a high school teacher in Los Angeles before he found his home in journalism. He was covering VidCon for Univision. He talked about the difference in ethical, credible reporting and media where “anyone with a camera” can contribute.

Jose Gramajo, a reporter for Univision, covered VidCon 2017


Next up on #followmylede series is an L.A. radio station. That city is on fire. (Literally.)

Reblogged with permission from a post by the same title at, published on July 3, 2017.

The mission? In Navajo Nation voices need to be heard. “Who else will tell those stories?”

Monday, June 19

12:30 p.m., The Navajo Times, Window Rock, Arizona

The Najavo Times Chief Executive Officer and Publisher Tom Arviso Jr. in his office June 19, 2017

The Najavo Times Chief Executive Officer and Publisher Tom Arviso Jr. radiates old-school journalist, but with a twist. As the person who oversees the day-to-day operations of The Navajo Times his paper, more than many, has to do double duty.

Not only does it have to cover the necessary societal watchdog issues, such as school boards, the environment and any number of other public institutions and issues, it also must cover tribal courts and tribal-specific issues.

Navajo Times Guiding Principles poster
Guiding principles are posted on many walls of The Navajo Times.

Guiding principles are posted on many walls of The Navajo Times. When I visit on a sweltering hot summer day, we stand in the middle of the pressroom, fans humming overhead. It is noisy and loud.

“I am so proud of these guys,” he said, beaming. “The quality of their work is better than anyone else’s around. They can kick everyone else’s butts. And they’re all Navajo.”

I admit my ignorance to him. As a white girl from Alabama with almost no ties to any tribe (I have Cherokee deep in the family somewhere), I stumble on how to approach a couple of questions. (When he uses the word “indian” I cringe because for so long, I have been taught not to use that word, yet I understand in this context how it’s OK.)

There are two stereotypes of Native Americans in popular culture: 1) Rich, casino-owning people and 2) People who struggle with poverty and (because I have Type 1 diabetes I am aware of this one) diabetes and other chronic illnesses.

Because of the first stereotype, I expect the newsroom to be large and imposing. I have USA Today in my imagination. Yet when I drive up, the newspaper is in a small, unassuming building. I am right at home here. Arviso welcomes me in with open doors. He is a man filled with kindness who immediately ushers me around the newsroom, a welcome change from some media outlets who — though they talk a good transparency game — seem hell-bent on keeping people out.

I meet Arviso’s staff, including Terry Bowman who covers arts and entertainment, among other topics, for the paper. I interrupt him as he is working on a story, and put him on the spot.

As past president of UNITY: Journalists for Diversity, I know Arviso has seen a lot while fighting for equality in newsrooms for people of color. I don’t beat around the bush, and ask him specific questions about diversity and what that means to him and to our countries newsrooms.

I wondered if there was anything specific to the Navajo reservation (about the size of West Virginia) guaranteed to sell more newspapers for his readership. (In my hometown it’s Alabama Football or Nick Saban.) I was surprised at his answer.

Back in the pressroom, the new press foreman Ron Livingston discussed the struggle of printing and distributing papers in the desert, which can reach temperature lows and highs that present problems. (The former press foreman just retired after decades of service, one of several long-time employees Arviso is losing this summer. We talk about the importance of institutional knowledge in newsrooms.) Pressroom know-how is also institutional knowledge that must be handed down from person to person. It’s an art that you can’t go to school to learn.

He shows me the consistency the ink should be, and notes that the temperature — and even water — have to be exact to make it work properly. There is lot of science that goes into making colors on newsprint vibrant and to match what a designer might see on a computer screen before it prints.

Ink and tools at The Navajo Times
Ink and tools at The Navajo Times

Next up in the #followmylede series, VidCon in Anaheim.

Reblogged with permission from a post of the same title published at on June 25, 2017.

The media is disparaged until the public needs information (and a cute teddy bear to keep things light)

Sunday, June 18

3:40 p.m., The New Mexican, Santa Fe, New Mexico

The New Mexican, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Large teddy bear in corner of newsroomEvery newsroom has quirky items sitting around, but The New Mexican is winning so far. A large teddy bear sits in the corner, yet no one can really explain why or where he came from, so he forever languishes in a sun-lit corner of the newsroom.

“No one’s quite sure how that bear got here, but it’s been here for a long time,” reporter Robert Nott tells me. “The bear and the sock monkey are left over.”

I don’t see a sock money, but decide to trust him.

A cascading string of origami birds hangs from the ceiling. A camouflage bowling pin with gold butterflies sits on a filing cabinet, a random reminder that ordinary things can be made extraordinary.

Camouflage bowling pin on file cabinet in newsroomDespite these fun visual cues, the day I arrive the staff is somber, still covering a shooting the day before. City Editor Cynthia Miller fills me in on details after Nott gives me a tour of the building:

Tim Baca and his wife were out celebrating her birthday and struck up a conversation with another man, Christopher Owens, and enjoyed the night until, apparently, the two men argued over a song and Owens allegedly shot Baca. The father of four was dead when police arrived on the scene. This came on the heels of a deadly shooting spree just a couple of days earlier.

Many local newsrooms are quiet on Sundays and this is no exception. The only noise is the police scanner in the background as Cynthia talks. Like many journalists, Miller found the profession through her love for creative writing, but that blossomed into a love for journalism, from crime stories to profiles on college graduates.

“I take it personally when I’m looking at my Facebook feed and I see all of these things about ‘the media, the media the lamestream media.’ I consider us to be fairly mainstream media because we’re a local newspaper. We don’t have an agenda — we do have an agenda actually — we are in a state that struggles with poverty, struggles with education, struggles with all sorts of social justice issues, environmental justice issues and we’re interested in letting the community know why these issues are important, how these issues affect our lives and finding solutions.”

Miller talks about how the media is demonized until someone needs to know information, a common thread I’ve heard in newsrooms I’ve visited on my project trip.

Santa Fe New Mexican City Editor Cynthia Miller talks about working in the news industry.

The Santa Fe New Mexican newsroom, Sunday, June 18, 2017
The Santa Fe New Mexican newsroom, Sunday, June 18, 2017


Reblogged with permission from a post by the same title on, June 20, 2017.

A real-life Clark Kent, Goldfish crackers, hidden alcohol and a sense of service

Courtesy of Steve Southwell and The Lewisville Texan-Journal, video by Christina Ulsh</font size>

Friday, June 16

3:45 p.m., Lewisville Texan-Journal, Lewisville, Texas

Lewisville, Texas is a suburb of Dallas/Fort Worth. It has a dog park, skate park, drive-in theater and rodeo arena.

Although Lewisville is filled with characters, none beat the editor of one newspaper, Steve Southwell, an unassuming man who is a clearly a bit bold. In fact, one of the first things I said to him was, “You’re a litle bit nuts.”

I’m not a great conversation starter.

Back in 2015 when many newspapers were gasping for one last breath of air or had been six feet under for years, he started a print edition to accompany the existing Lewisville Texan-Journal website. When everyone else rushed out, he jumped in with a rudimentray printer and stapled first edition.

When the first editon was complete, he celebrated with a shot from his stash of alcohol from the local distillery. (Something I’ve noticed is that all newsrooms have snacks — goldfish are so popular I often wonder if journalist are all just big preschoolers, except for the other constant, hidden alcohol.) Lewisville has a winery, distillery and brewery and all of them carry the Lewisville Texan-Journal.

The only journalism training Southwell had was a semster of journalism in high school.

By day he is a computer programmer. By night he fights injustice in city hall (and school boards, etc.) through journalism. He’s the Clark Kent of Lewisville.

The Lewisville Texan-Journal website started as a “crappy” opinion blog in 2004 and quickly morphed into a news site.

“We were already writing news, so how hard could it possibly be to put it on paper,” he said, shaking his head, followed by a comment about his own naiveté.

Digital to print is not the traditional way to do it. Then again, Steve is a democrat in Texas. But, he points out, a democrat that poeple in the comunity seem to respect. I asked him about checking his bias at the reporting door. “Life and Liberty in the Lonestar State” is Southwell’s paper/website tagline. He knows he is not always going to popular in the community and he understands that, but Southwell fircely defends his reporters.

“All if can tell you is we’ve done our homework, we know it’s true. Our reporting is from practical sources. If they don’t like it, unlike us. Go away. We don’t care.”

Lewisville is bucking the trend as a two-newspaper town. The Lewisville Leader is the older, established newspaper.

“We work harder because they are there and I hope they work harder because we are here,” he said.

Like any good newsman, he gets a glimmer in his eye when he talks about breaking a news story, such as the gas drilling underneath the lake that serves as a water source for Lewisville and Dallas

“We beat all the outher outlets to it and that was because we had relationships embedded in the community,” he said.

His biggest challenge? “Money and time,” he quickly answered. “If we had more money we would have more time. I am not a sales person. I suck at selling ads.”

The staff of the Lewisville Texan-Journal on deadline June 16, 2017
The staff of the Lewisville Texan-Journal on deadline June 16, 2017


“The mission is not to make money off of ads,” he said. “It’s kind of a necessity that allows us to do our mission. In the business of news they will say, ‘Your readers are your product, not your audience. You’re selling your readers to the advertisers’ and I just can’t get behind that. That’s why our cover price is free.”

He serves the public, and pointed to the necessity of community news covering what matter to people on a day-to-day basis, where political squabbling among politicians must get put aside.

“At the end of the day, budgets have to get passed. They have to. There’s no democratic or republican way to fix a street,” he says of covering local politics.

The Lewisville Texan-Journal is hidden. It is small. You would never be able to locate the newspaper if you didn’t know it was there and, respecting his wishes, I will keep the location secret. However, it looks nothing like a newspaper buidling and is unmarked, just the way the staff wants it. Anyone who has covered community news knows that the death knell of privacy and work flow is constant interruption. And, while he is a staunch defender of Lewisville and its residents and wants to serve them, he wants to discuss issues by mail, email or offsite somewhere.

As he spoke, I thought about the recent death threats the Sacramento Valley Mirror newspaper received and wondered if more newsrooms should follow this policy.


Reblogged with permission from a post by the same title published on, June 18, 2017.

Over 8,000 miles to go: #followmylede continues

As I carried a suitcase heavier than my child down two flights of stairs, through a parking deck to my car in the pre-dawn hours, I cursed myself.

“What. Is. Wrong. With. Me?” I panted, as I tried to lift the comically large suitcase high enough to place it in my trunk.

The answer came back loud and clear: I love journalism.

I get that I’m a little crazy to want to loop the country in an over 8,000-mile long road trip, but we don’t choose our passions. Journalism found me my sophomore year in college in the dingy yet ridiculously fun The Crimson White newsroom on the University of Alabama campus. It’s the same University that — because of it’s Innovation Team — I’m able to take this trip to chronicle American journalism.

Yesterday, I stopped in Liberty City, Texas in the middle of a 10-hour drive. The gas station had four local newspaper choices for towns in and around the city. That’s the dream. The more outlets representing the people, the better.

Newspaper stand in Liberty City, Texas.

Amid the swirling politics and disasters of the weeks before I left for this second leg of my trip, I was reminded that it’s important to chronicle who is bringing us our news. It’s important to document what newsrooms look like in 2017. News outlets don’t usually turn the questions or camera back on themselves, but I will. One of the basic tenets of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics is that journalists should watchdog other journalists.

More than that, it’s my goal to take a peek inside the lives of journalists and why — in such a hostile climate for the profession — they do what they do.

Stay tuned. My next post will feature people in Lewisville, Texas who might love journalism more than I do.

 Reblogged with permission from a post by the same title published on, June 17, 2017.

Spotlight on Tech: Flipgrid

The Innovation Team is always investigating new tools for inclusion into online courses, and we like to share tools that we have discovered or have been introduced to. The tool I want to share today is Flipgrid.

What Is It?

Flipgrid describes itself as a “video discussion community” tool, and that is very accurate. Instructors create a “grid,” (optionally) add an introduction video and topic text, and then copy and paste a link (or code) into their course. Students then click the link, post a video reply, and view each other’s videos.

Why We Like It

Flipgrid is simple to use, both on the instructor and student side. It’s on pretty much every device, and while it does only one thing, it does it very well. Flipgrid’s free version is adequate for many use-cases, and its premium version is affordable.

What We Wish It Did

Flipgrid does not appear to have LTI grade book integration, though you can export activity into a spreadsheet on the paid version. We also wish that full embedding worked on the free version, but we understand why it does not.


You can view more specifics about the features available at each price point on Flipgrid’s website, but as of this post, it costs $65 per year for an educator to sign up for unlimited access for a year. You can also buy a 10-pack for your institution.

Try It Out

I’ve created a new Flipgrid and embedded a link on this page (in the paid version you can embed the entire grid with full functionality). Please read the instructions, watch the short intro video, and give it a shot! You can find Flipgrid and other tools on the Innovation Sandbox page.