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Home on the Plains: SJMC students adapt Urban Plains multimedia capstone to respond to COVID-19

APRIL 28, 2020

Urban Plains Feature Portrait with Rainbow

Urban Plains GraphicDespite the move to online classes for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester, Drake University faculty are finding innovative ways to engage and connect with students virtually.

Take, for instance, the School of Journalism and Mass Communication multimedia capstone. In a typical semester, the capstone manages and produces rich, immersive, multimedia stories for the digital media brand Urban Plains. The class essentially functions like a media company with the students (all graduating seniors) serving as the staff—writers, copy-editors, audio and video producers, photographers, and graphic designers—while the instructors serve as the publishers. The class is conducted as a series of staff meetings, with the students working together to produce content that showcases the Midwest experience.

However, after the University’s decision to move classes online, the class had to quickly alter its work environment, and Associate Professors Catherine Staub and Jill Van Wyke, the capstone’s instructors, recreated—and even enhanced—the classroom experience virtually.

The students swiftly moved staff meetings online, began collaborating through a project management app, and figured out how to maximize camera stability without a tripod. In addition to adjusting its operations, the class launched a new series called “Home on the Plains,” a response to COVID-19 upending the last half of the seniors’ final semester at Drake.

In a letter to their readers, the students explained, “As the spread of COVID-19 continues to affect our communities and those far from the Midwest, we hope to be a source of information, entertainment, and positivity. We hope to be a place to find peace of mind, and a platform to document our experiences during this unprecedented time.”

“The series is a beautiful expression of how creative and resilient our students are,” said Staub. “Ultimately, they will come out of this semester—and their time at Drake—with a skillset that positions them to be successful in their chosen profession, and they are adding more tools to their toolkits now more than ever.

According to Staub, the students are not only running productive virtual meetings and collaborating remotely, they’re adapting to less-than-ideal reporting conditions. “They’re interviewing sources by phone rather than in-person, producing impressive video stories on their iPhones, and recording quality podcasts from their bedroom closets, if necessary.”

Staub and Van Wyke said they’ve had nearly 100% participation in every virtual class meeting.

“Our virtual environment may have changed the way in which we’re working, but ultimately our students are incredibly engaged, supportive of one another, and still producing impressive content,” said Staub.

On a more personal note, both professors said they, “miss their students like crazy.”

“Understandably, seniors have struggled to come to terms with what they’ve lost: Their senior spring semester; Drake Relays; spring formals; commencement; saying goodbye to their Drake family; and so on,” said Van Wyke. “Without those rituals, it can be hard to feel a sense of closure of their years at Drake. I hope they all know they made Drake a better place, and I’m grateful for that.”


Finding creative ways to maintain connections remotely >>