A Longitudinal Study of Experiential Learning in Sports Journalism

The rise of sports journalism-specific education at four-year American universities is relatively new. As far as I know, Ashland University's [Ohio] sports communication program, started in 1996, was the beginning of what-would-be an explosion of such programs in the United States.

This puts us in a unique position. We can watch this type of education grow and systematically analyze it, but we can also then shape it – all while it's still in its infancy.

This attention to sports journalism comes at about the same time as the Teaching Hospital Model's rise in journalism education overall. The Teaching Hospital Model was a response to "a sense that journalism was in trouble," but that American journalism schools were not adequately answering this call by producing better-trained journalists. To simplify, the Teaching Hospital Model approaches journalism education like a profession, where college students, professors, and professionals work together to create innovative content that benefits the community. According to my colleague, Eric Newton,"a fully built-out hospital does more than report the news. True teaching hospitals engage with their communities. They invent and test new things. They are connected with the rest of the university and teach open, collaborative, creative teamwork."

The Teaching Hospital Model is rooted in a larger theory, Experiential Learning Theory, which is, according to Morris T. Keeton and Pamela J. Tate, "learning in which the learner is directly in touch with the realities being studied. It is contrasted with the learner who only reads about, hears about, talks about, or writes about these realities but never comes into contact with them as part of the learning process." Think of it as "hands-on" learning, like internships, field work, and, on a larger scale, the Teaching Hospital Model.

There's a whole body of literature on Experiential Learning. There are countless scholars who have studied its components, like the importance of approaching learning as a process instead of an outcome, drawing on students' previously held conceptions of a topic and actively examining them, and integrating multiple senses into the lesson, to name a few.

The Teaching Hospital Model has elements of Experiential Learning in it. But not all Experiential Learning is the Teaching Hospital Model, if that makes sense. Take intermediate-level sports journalism students, for example. These students are mostly sophomores. They are new to this. Most of them are not yet producing professional-quality work. (Nor would we expect them to do so.) Yet, a key component of the Teaching Hospital Model is working with community professionals to create innovative, publication-ready content.

Arizona State University's sports journalism major began in the fall 2015, which was also my first semester here. This course was to be the "sports equivalent" of JMC 301: Intermediate Reporting and Writing. Besides teaching writing and reporting techniques, the course's Experiential Learning-rich objectives were for students to identify a beat they’d like to cover, contact an editor at a local news publication and pitch the beat, and publish the stories they wrote in JMC 302 in that local news publication.

Beginning that semester, up until the fall 2017 semester, I administered questionnaires to the JMC 302: Sports Reporting students to bridge this gap between creating experiences that are "genuinely educative" for novice students, and the objectives of the larger Teaching Hospital Model. In those two years, a lot happened. The types of publications students sought in 2015 were vastly different than what they sought in 2017. This created a bottleneck that the "non-sports equivalent" class did not face to the same extent.

My study, Practice Makes Perfect? A Longitudinal Study of Experiential Learning in Sports Journalism, was just published in Teaching Journalism & Mass Communication. It's my first published pedagogy paper. It's extra special because of the 198 students who participated in it, giving me their opinions about their publications, their satisfaction with their relationship(s) with their editor and sources, their publication requirement, and if someone covering their beat should have a car (and the implications of that on our larger university expectations). I hope you'll check it out. I learned a lot.

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