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Looking for classroom miracles


My classroom experiment in teaching journalist the secrets of sports reporting is underway at the University of Maine. Everybody wants to know how it’s going, so I thought I would share my first 10 minutes in front of the white board.

I’ll admit right up front,  this is not a “Dead Poets Society” story.

My class, CMJ398, has a full complement of 20 students, mostly juniors and seniors. We meet in Dunn Hall, a boxy, old brick building that served as a four-story dormitory for students in the middle part of the last century.

I teach in the basement. The corner room has small window blocks near the ceiling. The windows are frosted, because, you know, you wouldn’t want to let in too much natural light. The place smells kind of funny too, like maybe the restrooms were moved when the building was converted from student housing.

But I’m not complaining.

The room is fantastic and led to what I hope was a memorable first day for my students.

Here’s what happened: About an hour before class started I picked up a key and was led into the basement by a veteran journalism professor. All the student desks – workstations actually – had flat-screen computer monitors. The student computers were all connected to the teacher’s monitor. He gave me a quick tutorial on the system and then handed me a remote control stick.

It was a remote control to an overhead big-screen TV projector.

“Anything you call up on your computer can be shown on the screen,” said the professor.

Really? They didn’t have these kinds of classrooms in 1985.

He punched a few buttons, a projector started to whir and we had the Google logo shining  three-feet high and four-feet wide in front of all those empty workstations.

Wow. I didn’t know I would get to run a big screen TV.

It was like someone put me on the radio and said: “Play whatever you want.”

I planned to start class the way all college classes start: Write my name on the board, take attendance, hand out the syllabus, start lecturing….but suddenly that seem ridiculous.

Now I had the Internet, a remote control, a big screen TV…and 20 kids who had to watch whatever I showed them.

My old newswriter instincts kicked in like a printing press on a Sunday morning: You gotta get the news up front, hit readers over the head with your first sentence, grab their attention right away or you’ll lose it.

My first journalism teacher, Dick Youngblood, brought his class to attention by guzzling coffee, chain-smoking at his desk and using some choice profanity at critical times.

I think there are state laws against at least two of those techniques now.

Youngblood had the outrage, the passion and decades of reporting from the trenches under his slick silver hair and cheap polyester sports coats. But I have YouTube.

The student slowly filed into the classroom, sat down at their workstations and waited for me to write my name on the white board. I didn’t do that.

“Welcome to CMJ398 Sports in Journalism,” I said. “Since this is a sports journalism class I thought I would start off by showing you the greatest moment in sports history.”

I hit the button and rolled highlights from the 1980 U.S. Men’s Hockey Team win over the Soviet Union.

Everyone watched.

You gotta believe in miracles.

  1. David Ferrara permalink

    Very nice, Professor Nick!

  2. Jake Koller permalink

    A lot more exciting than my first lecture in Oral Pathology where they looked at a diagram of a cell on the big screen followed by close up photos inside peoples mouths.

  3. Brad permalink

    My 4th grade class never tunes in like that. More coffee, cigarettes, and profanity I guess.

  4. Diane permalink

    I looked at how long the clip was and said, “I’m not going to watch all of that.” I watched all of it.

  5. janell permalink

    That is awesome. I bet most of those students had no knowledge of that Miracle on Ice. You set the stage for a great course. Maybe I’ll make it up to observe a class. Felix doctrina.

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