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The University of Alabama

Lasting Impressions

CIS students don’t just learn by the book.

By Deidre Stalnaker

Visions of higher education often conjure up students furiously writing down notes while a professor, most likely garbed in corduroy, lectures from the front of a grand, tiered hall.

If you were to peer into certain classrooms in the UA College of Communication and Information Sciences, you could see that scenario.

But you are more likely to see students in action – focusing a camera, conducting interviews and editing video, photographs and copy.

Hands-on assignments are not only a way to teach students about the craft and theories of communication and information; they are also great ways to give back to the community, often fulfilling the University’s missions of teaching, research and service in one venture.

Dr. Dan Albertson, assistant professor of library studies, and students have created and tested instructional modules designed to teach basic computer literacy and Internet competencies to people with intellectual disabilities in Tuscaloosa.

Preliminary results of this project support the theory that service learning projects can tie together many lessons from the curriculum into outside student experience.

While the main benefits and goals of service learning are student-centered, they also have a broader impact on the profession and professionals within their communities.

In the fall of 2008, 22 students in a persuasive communication campaigns graduate class taught by Dr. Bruce Berger, professor of advertising and public relations, created Literacy Is The Edge with the goal of improving literacy rates in West Alabama.

The class project grew into a recognized UA student organization. Continuing to be successful, members of LITE use advertising and PR theories to campaign against illiteracy in West Alabama with some 700 volunteers recruited and more than 200 of them receiving training as tutors last spring.

“This is a wonderful response by our students to a compelling need in the community,” said Berger, who continues to be the LITE adviser. “LITE’s campaign highlighted the power of one individual to make a positive difference in the life of another. These many new volunteers will help build bridges to better lives for others in West Alabama.”

Using the research and theory learned in a telecommunication and film course, a group of students designed a five-module media literacy “crash course” for implementation at a local Tuscaloosa high school last fall.

Small groups of college students worked with small groups of high school students over a period of three days, focusing on several key media literacy skills such as critical thinking, understanding of the processes of mass communication, awareness of the impact of media on the individual and society and the understanding and appreciation of media content.

The goals of the project included training the stu-dents to recognize point of view, commercial connections, target audiences, the differences between text and subtext, and construction techniques.

Each of the small groups of CIS students designed an interactive activity for their module to implement in the small group setting. This training course was also used as an opportunity for the TCF students to get hands-on experience with experimental research.

And they are not the only CIS students working with local school systems. Two journalism students worked with Tuscaloosa City and Tuscaloosa County elementary schools in helping launch fourth grade newspapers. Journalism students are reporting on communities in Alabama in partnership with two newspapers, The Anniston Star and The Tuscaloosa News. They are doing “hyper-local” coverage both in print and online through graduate and undergraduate classes.

Groups in Dr. Carol Mills’ communication studies class developed communications programs and materials for UA and community organizations. One group created a conflict management program for housing residents on the UA campus that included a video and pamphlet, and another group worked with children at the Boys and Girls Club on conflict. The last group created a training packet for coaches and parents at the YMCA for youth sports.

A great deal of the experience a CIS student can gain does not happen as part of a class. Each year, more than 100 students receive hands-on instruction in news and sports production with WVUA -TV. Graduating students who have completed the upper levels of training have achieved 100 percent placement in the field. The opportunity for commercial station-based experience plays a significant role in the College’s recruitment of students interested in a broadcasting career.

CIS students play an integral role in the work of the Center for Public Television and Radio, where those with commitment are nurtured and valued as professional partners alongside full-time staff. There are hands-on internship opportunities for production experience that may also offer course credit or pay while building industry references and a professional sample reel.

These hands-on learning opportunities are logically designed to reinforce theories and practices taught in the College of Communication and Information Sciences classroom and help students get the most out of the college experience.