Gen Y JACs it up

JACdigital is evolving into a student portal. Following a design overhaul in 2009, the aim now is to make the site a one-stop journalism portal for University of Queensland journalism students.

Dubbed JAC and the Y Project, this will be the site’s third iteration and will focus on developing student participation and contribution – things  students are not so keen on unless there is a grade attached.

The goals of the project are to:

  • Improve student storytelling and production skills
  • Encourage creativity
  • Encourage contributions and build a journalism community

I’m hoping they will use the site to experiment more with digital storytelling and understand the strengths and weaknesses of the medium. They should leave the school with a portfolio of published work.

Meet JAC

JACdigital is the website of the University of Queensland’s School of Journalism and Communication. It, along with JACradio, showcases student work and enhances the learning experience by providing a publishing platform.  The site gives students the opportunity to use a content management system and learn how to develop content to set production requirements. It is a key tool in equipping graduates to enter the workplace armed with the skills to create rich digital media.

JACdigital is tied to the capstone journalism course – now called converged production – and was originally designed to facilitate a news production and publication process.  When I took over this course in 2009 I took on responsibility for website.

JACdigital consists of:

The site has been running since 2008. Initially its navigation and functionality was similar to many news websites and it was used solely for the second semester journalism production course. Sections included local and international news, sport and campus events. Website content relied heavily on news stories produced by students as part of coursework. For the rest of the year the site changed little.

However in mid-2009 it was agreed that it should be redeveloped to better meet publishing and teaching needs. This included creating multimedia packages and incorporating interactive stories.

Under the restructured production course, the major output was a mixed media package. The aim was to create a site that showcased work and could act as a portfolio for students as they entered the workforce.

We looked to multimedia storytelling sites for inspiration, these included MediaStorm, Interactive Narratives and DuckRabbit. The portfolio nature of these sites appealed. By changing the focus away from news, which was difficult to produce regularly,  we could instead highlight the best student work. The change in format also added a strong visual element – a key part of the journalism curriculum, and an increasingly important aspect of digital storytelling.

Since the redesign we have continued to add features and functionality. The site was soon opened up to submissions for all journalism and communications students, a forum was added and there are plans to establish a student blogging team.

Timeline

June 2008 JACdigital lauched
June 2009 Redevelopment of JAC website
Oct 2009 Opening up to submissions from students
Feb 2010 Increased promotion and encouraging first-year students to begin publishing asap
Apr 2010 Launch of JACforum
June 2010 Launch of JACblogs – expected

Platform

JACdigital is built on free, open source Joomla software. It was developed in house by Matthew Petersen, one of 10 industry consultants at the school. Joomla is among the most widely supported and most flexible of the free content management systems available.

One of  the key attractions was the large number of third-party extensions available for the core code. These make it easy to extend and modify the core functionality of Joomla 1.5. We have so far added extensions for a forum, social media feeds, a slideshow and thumbnail generator, among others. As part of the redevelopment a new template was installed and design work commissioned.

A key requirement for the new design was a homepage slideshow, so student work could be showcased. We chose the Affinity template and added the RokStories module. This allowed us to create an animated content preview pane, similar to that seen on the multimedia sites we researched.

The background design was created by Third Cache. We wanted a look and feel that appealed to the Gen Y audience and was in line with JACdigital’s sister site JACradio.

Content

Text stories are the main type of content on JACdigital although students are encouraged to tell stories in text, sound and vision and to use interaction when appropriate. To be published on JACdigital, stories must meet some basic requirements. They must be:

  1. A piece of journalism that answers who, what, where, when, why and how
  2. Properly sourced and well constructed
  3. In line with the SJC style guide and JACdigital production requirements

The website accommodates both work for assessment and independent submissions. Stories produced as part of assessment must meet the course requirements. For stories submitted outside of assessment there is a submissions process that works a bit  like a media organisation:

Pitch idea  >  produce the story  >  edit by industry consultant  >  rework  > publish

It is up to students to do the production work on their stories. It is part of the learning experience that they understand how to meet production requirements: consultants / lecturers provide feedback and approve stories for publication. Through this process students should be able to practice their reporting and production skills, try out techniques, and be given feedback on whether it worked or how to do it differently next time.

Showcase

This animated content module dominates the website’s homepage and gives the website its ‘portfolio’ characteristic. For stories to be added to this section they need an eye-catching, landscape picture. Stories not in the showcase section are published in categories including news, events, topics. More categories can be added as needed.

Forum

JACforum is the latest edition to JACdigital. It is a place where students can find out about jobs and work experience, get story ideas or help with an assignment. It is hoped students will contribute to the JAC community by posting ideas or helping others. The forum is open to all SJC students and is accessed via a login. Students can build a profile and upload an avatar.

Social media

JACdigital has profiles on Delicious and Twitter, feeds from which are embedded on the website. JACdigital on Delicious is a collection of links to learning resources such as articles, blogs, literature and tutorials. Materials from all SJC courses can be added to the feed. The @jacdigital profile is used to alert followers of updates to JACdigitlal and JACforum and related news.

JACblogs

JACblogs is currently in development. The plan is to create a team of student bloggers and editors/moderators drawn from both the journalism and public relations streams. Students will decide the topics and content of the blog and will hopefully become more familiar with medium as a storytelling and communications tool. We hope to launch JACblogs in mid-2010.

Evaluation

JACdigital uses Google Analytics to track traffic, which is tied closely to coursework and increases significantly when assignments are due.
It is hoped the Y Project will result in more consistent visits to the website. There has been a steady rise in traffic since the launch of JACforum and as new content is developed this trend should continue. Visits increased by more than 300 per cent between March 1 and May 6.

By tracking visits over time we hope to get a strong idea of the type of content students use and consume.

A key measure of success will be the quality and quantity of content submitted by students. It is hoped that by having a relatively free hand in what to create, students will experiment with storytelling techniques and learn to use the mediums to their best advantage.

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