What’s Old Is New: Using Real-World Experiences to Engage and Meet the Expectations of 21st Century Students

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A National Symposium

November 16–17, 2012

Dillard University and Xavier University of Louisiana
New Orleans, Louisiana


In a global community dominated by evolving media technologies, professional skill development and preparation are critical to every media discipline and career choice. Successfully engaging and teaching students who may be stretched thin by many commitments both inside and outside the classroom is a challenging yet critical task not only for educators of the 21st century student but a major concern for instructors in a undergraduate mass media arts program.

Hockings, Cooke, Yamashita, McGinty & Bowl (2008) suggest that students who make connections between ideas while drawing on the ideas, experiences and knowledge of others are the most deeply engaged. Zepke and Leach (2010) encourage teachers to create rich educational experiences that challenge students’ ideas and stretch their academic abilities.

Included here in the excerpt from our panel discussion, “What’s Old Is New: Using Real-World Experiences to Engage and Meet the Expectations of 21st Century Students” are three experiences designed to better equip 21st century students for work in the real world. Students who engaged in these experiences tended to gain a better understanding of their strengths, goals and interests. Additionally they developed a better understanding of a future work environment and how they might fit into it. These three approaches for successful student engagement explored networking as professional skill development, internship as media literacy, and performance as an effective teaching strategy.

A Real World Experience: Producing Presentations

Creating workplace experiences in the classroom to teach professional skills help students see the connections between what they are learning in the classroom and real world job skills. The classroom can help students see the “Big Picture” to understand workplace responsibilities that may be required in their future career. Setting up the classroom for students to use workplace skills provides an opportunity to model and practice workplace behaviors where mistakes do not cost too much. In these situations, the instructor functions as coach and mentor providing technical assistance, supervision and feedback. An undergraduate media topics course, Film Producing I, created such a situation.

In this course, students were assigned a specific film crew position to research. This crew position was identified as a necessary component for the successful production of a motion picture. Students were required to make a presentation to the rest of the class about the position (e.g., education requirements, duties, compensation, etc.), and then invite a working professional representative to the class to discuss his or her work and career. Most students were quickly engaged in this process. One student thinking outside the box located a top Hollywood special effects (SFX) coordinator and asked if the presentation could be made via Skype demonstrating savvy producing “chops.” Students gained real-world producing experience as a result of this assignment including (but not limited to): becoming familiar with and using the state’s film production guide; making cold-call invitations; demonstrating industry etiquette; and establishing networking opportunities and relationships with real-life film professionals.

A Practicum Experience: A Media Production Model

The power of the moving image is such that contemporary history is composed not of events but of pictures. This power is evident across media platforms, genres, and format, including film, radio, television, Internet, video, documentary, commercial, corporate industrial, and other digital formats and genres. It is also extremely compatible with the industry’s current trend: more independently produced content being the commodity in the work place of job opportunities. In an internship course the use of a media production-based learning model increased media literacy by incorporating technologies such as new media in the course curriculum. This model included a practicum component that taught workplace skills, connected these skills to academic competences, and evaluated professional level competencies in the implementation of real-world projects.

A Simulation Experience: That 70’s Audio Store

Previously, a demonstration method was used to teach the proper setup for remote radio productions. The hope was that by watching the instructor students would comprehend the operational setup for mixers, playback machines, CD players, etc. However, when tested on proper setup technique, students fell short and didn’t remember the process. This observation led to an innovative teaching strategy–“That 70’s Audio Store”–that allowed the students to test themselves in a simulated real world experience. Students reported to class as usual and were instructed to perform a remote production setup without the presence of the instructor. An empty table in the classroom contained all the needed equipment EXCEPT the connecting cables. Missing equipment mimics radio remote situations that students may one day encounter. In another room was a “70’s” themed audio store, complete with “70’s” music, décor and a clerk (the instructor) dressed in an “Afro” wig and fashion of the era. Students had to interact with the clerk to obtain the needed connectors. Embedded in this relaxed and fun-filled situation was a test of proper cable/connector proficiency. Students who asked for the wrong items jeopardized their team’s production and their own grade when the instructor returned to the classroom as his modern-day self to evaluate the effectiveness of the remote productions.


The approaches discussed here empowered 21st century students to become independent providers and producers of media content across platforms as well as empowered educators to use innovative, relevant and practical experiences to reach today’s students in an academic settings.


Hockings, C., Cooke, S., Yamashita, H., McGinty, S., & Bowl, M. (2008). Switched off? A study of disengagement among computing students at two universities, Research Papers in Education, 23(2), 191–201.

Zepke, N. & Leach, L. (2010). Improving student engagement: Ten proposals for action. Active Learning in Higher Education, 11(3), 167 – 177.

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Spring 2013: New Faces, New Expectations