Service Leadership Education: Teaching non-Journalism major to interview para-athletes – Chiu Lai Yu Bonnie
In the first semester of the academic year of 2020-2021, the Department of Journalism of Hong Kong Baptist University offered a General Education Capstone course named GCAP 3135 Sports and Disability in the Hong Kong Chinese Media to all undergraduate Year 3 and Year 4 students. It attracted 32 undergraduate students from different majors, whereas only two were from Journalism. The majors other than Journalism were from about ten disciplines: Business Administration, Physical Education, Humanities, Marketing, Chinese, Social Work, Public Relations, Applied Biology, English, Finance etc. It is noteworthy that 94% of the students did not have any journalistic knowledge or journalistic skills whatsoever. These non-Journalism based students took the course because they enjoyed sports in general and found helping the disabled meaningful while also wanting to write a journalistic piece of work that was novel to them. The whole class interviewed 16 para-athletes in Hong Kong and published a collection of interviews written by students. A Facebook fan page was also created to present their interviews by using different formats of their presentation(s), including videos, quizzes, photos to arouse public awareness of athletes with disabilities. A press conference was held to launch the collection of articles. Both students and para-athletes were interviewed, and six major media organisations in Hong Kong covered the press conference and published articles about the course and what students had learnt. This article explains the design, assessment methods, challenges and learning outcome of the course, which involves professional knowledge such as journalism, but is aimed at opening to all students from all majors to take.
GCAP 3135 Sports and Disability in the Hong Kong Chinese Media was a General Education Capstone course under the category of Service Leadership of Hong Kong Baptist University. Students took lower-level General Education courses such as foundational courses and inter-disciplinary thematic courses before taking this Capstone course. The aims of the Capstone course included: to synthesise knowledge from various disciplines and to provide innovative solutions to solve a societal or global problem; value the importance of working as a team for the common good and show what has been learnt in the classroom and experiential environments as it applies to addressing an important issue faced by local, regional and the global community. It was interdisciplinary by nature, focusing on sports and health care, journalism, disabilities studies, management and service learning. It helped develop students from different disciplines who can decipher the importance of leadership practised by sustainable leadership and situational leadership. By the end of the course, students were expected to provide innovative solutions to improve the under-representation of para-athletes in the mainstream media. The course was co-taught by, myself Bonnie Chiu, and an experienced journalist, Mr. Garry Li, who had covered both Olympics and Paralympics in different cities. Both theories and practical reporting experience were incorporated into the course.
The community partner
We worked closely with a community working partner before the commencement of the course, which was the Hong Kong Paralympic Committee and Sports Association for the Physically Disabled (HKPC & SAPD or Paralympic Committee). Their collaboration was crucial to the course which included benefits such as: helping review the course contents and assignments, delivering a guest lecture regarding the history and challenges of the physically and/or mentally challenged in para-sports in Hong Kong while also arranging the interviews of 16 para-athletes for students to complete their assignments. They had deployed special staff members to assist in coordinating and arranging the interviews of para-athletes.
The course began with introducing the definition of “Service Leadership”, the changing concepts of leadership regarding diversity, respect, discrimination and inclusivity. “Disability” in historical and cultural context, sustainable leadership and situational leadership were highlighted. Sports science was also introduced. It continued with professional training in journalism, major reporting and filming skills and the analysis of the ecology of social media. The distinct lack of “para-athletes”, namely, a sportsperson with a physical and/or mental disability, in the mainstream media regarding both domestic and international participation at major sports events for para-athletes was also explored and ethical issues considered by media executives, sports coaches, athletes in para-sports reporting were examined.
Both individual assignments and group projects were arranged for students. Regarding individual assignments, every student needed to write an essay examining journalism ethics regarding the reporting of para-athletes. For the group project, four students formed one group to work together for the entire semester. Every group had to submit a proposal for conducting interviews of para-athletes requested by students. They also needed to conduct two interviews of para-athletes, and then converted the contents into a social media format or a personal profile-style of journalistic writing piece, which was done in a video or text-based format. Both award-winning and non-award winning para-athletes were arranged for students to interview by the community partner. All the interviews were either published as a publication called the “Collection of Students’ Articles by HKBU Student: Hong Kong Athletes with Disabilities”, which was distributed to targeted NGOs and members of the public or uploaded to a Facebook fan page named “Hong Kong Athletes with Disabilities” for public viewing. Another group assignment was that students needed to find a target audience group, which could be primary school, secondary school, university students or young people from other groups, to present the learning outcome of the entire course in a seminar or workshop format. Lastly, they also delivered a presentation and a final report to the class with a peer review assessment.
As this was a brand new course for both instructors and students, the expectation of both instructors and students were managed during the whole semester. It was the first time for instructors to teach non-Journalism major students with diversified backgrounds and to collaborate with a community partner at the same time. Due to the influence of COVID-19 on face-to-face teaching, it was also the first time for the instructors to teach a course by mixed-mode, namely both online Zoom and face-to-face teaching simultaneously. The two colleagues had regular weekly face-to-face or telephone conferences regarding the implementation of the course and students’ feedback in lectures and assignments so as to make certain adjustments during the semester.
Regarding students’ expectation management, the overall expectation of the course and a General Education Capstone course varied significantly from different students. Some expected to acquire in-depth journalistic knowledge and skills from this course but some did not. Students also had different expectations regarding assessment methods and the number of assignments. For example, some non-Journalism major students hoped to learn theories, filming, editing, and mobile device-based reporting in one course. Some students did expect the logistical arrangements of interviews and the organisation of seminars to be more comprehensive with more assistance from instructors.
Measures taken to assist non-Journalism major students
In the first lecture of the course, instructors talked to students individually on their expectation of the course and clearly explained the course’s objective, assignments, and projects. Secondly, instructors conducted weekly teaching evaluations and invited students to fill them in to let instructors know their thoughts in their feedback. This proved to be very useful and effective rather than solely relying on the term-end teaching evaluation exercise. Thirdly due to COVID-19, instructors arranged extra Zoom meetings with students to replace face-to-face meeting sessions upon students’ request. Fourthly, instructors sought help from colleagues to teach filming skills upon the special request of some students because not all students wanted to learn significant technical skills in this course. Finally, instructors arranged student helpers to communicate with students to compensate for the skills missing but required for the publication of the collection of articles written by them, such as the layout design skills.
The learning outcomes
“Collection of Students’ Articles by HKBU Student: Hong Kong Athletes with Disabilities” was written in a personal profile format by students and were collectively compiled as a publication to demonstrate the learning outcomes. A Facebook fan page called “Hong Kong Athletes with Disabilities” was created. Sixteen students chose to upload their video content, quizzes of Paralympics history, and knowledge to the said fan page. The fan page attracted 206 followers and 190 likes during a 3-week period of uploading time with many positive comments left by followers. Some articles will be published in Sports Road (體路), which is a local sports news online media.
The collection of articles was published in the form of a booklet (first run 500 hard copies) for the community with a press conference with the presence of journalists, para-athletes, students taking the course and other General Education instructors. Both para-athletes and students shared their views of the course and what they had learnt from the course. Six major Hong Kong local media published articles regarding the students’ feedback on the course, which was highly positive. It was also a chance for students to contact professional journalists and being interviewed by them.
The students’ feedback below illustrates their learning and experiences in the course:
Student 1: incredible experience in interviewing the athletes and got some basic knowledge to prepare for the interview.
Student 2: It is great to learn from disabilities through interviewing. The lecturers are patient and helpful. Guest lectures are resourceful.
Student 3: Teach me some knowledge in journalism and build up a sense of teamwork
Student 4: Well-prepared course content with impressive guest lectures
Student 5: The lecturer is good and help students to solve the problem together
Student 6: Good to experience to become a reporter
Student 7: It’s a meaningful course
The teaching experience
From the pedagogical perspective, designing a course with professional knowledge and skills such as journalism for non-journalism major students is a great challenge. The contents of the lectures and the types of assignments have to be flexible. For example, we included all of the basic journalism and reporting theories in the course, in addition to sports and disability. For the design of assignments, we added both “individual” and “group” elements to students, preparing them for the interview assignments. We also offered them options, such as writing a significant personal profile of disabled athletes, filming a video, or taking some pictures. These options encouraged students to present the same content in a more creative way.
To design a General Education course with a Capstone element, it is extremely important to have a consensus with the designated community partner and discuss with them the course contents and the role of the community partner before the commencement of the course. Constant reviews of the course and maintaining contacts must be kept so that flexibility can be brought to the course. One instructor communicated with the working partner weekly, and we updated them on the progress of the course.
Moreover, managing students’ expectations is crucial. It is because students from different disciplines outside of the Journalism major had different expectations of the course. Some expectations might not be met because of the duration of the course (usually just 13 weeks), students’ different levels of skills acquired before the course, and their different levels of motivation towards the study of journalism related courses. We were of the view that monitoring their evaluation more frequently is of paramount importance. Our initial plan was to use four to six extra hours on a weekly basis to communicate with students on their problems, which was about three times more than a major-related course we taught before. We were flexible to adjust the course contents, the number of guest speakers, and the number of assignments during the entire course to fit the students’ ability, performance and feedback. For example, we cut down the number of interviews they needed to do from three to two because they showed clearly that they managed two interviews much better than three interviews. The instructors also sought extra resources for technical support, such as teaching some students more advanced filming skills upon individual student’s request.
To conclude, teaching non-Journalism major students on courses with professional knowledge such as journalism can be very challenging. However, it was worthwhile because media literacy can be further promoted outside Journalism major students.
Special thanks to Hong Kong Baptist University General Education Office and Professor Kara Chan of the Department of Communication Studies, who encouraged the author to design the course.
Students showing their learning outcome in a press conference with the colleagues in the General Education Office of Hong Kong Baptist University and some para-athletes
Students and para-athletes interviewed by Hong Kong major news organisations about the course, their learning and interview experience of the GE Capstone course involved.