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When the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, shifted to online learning last spring at the beginning of the pandemic, Gerald Witt, a lecturer in the School of Journalism and Electronic Media, was teaching 15 students in a digital news reporting class.

Lecturer Gerald Witt
Lecturer Gerald Witt

“I was told by a few students that the transition to online teaching in my class was the best they experienced,” he said. “Some of that is built into the class, because I teach students how to write stories and shoot photos and videos for online journalism and social media platforms. That means the students are submitting all their work online. I structure the class like a professional newsroom, and they all have beats.

“As we went into spring break, I figured class wouldn’t be coming back to campus. I prepped students on my expectations and answered questions they had about the switch. I also made sure they had a plan for the rest of the semester. Finally, I met with each student a couple of times for individual Zoom sessions. We also had times in class and online during which we discussed our general feelings toward journalism and the world at large,” he added.

“Despite spending half a semester apart, the students produced some top-notch work. Some even got published and scored internships.” Ashley Depew had a profile of a muralist published in the Maryville Daily Times. Elijah Hunt has been interning for a website dedicated to gaming. Kamryn Burgess’s final project, a blog profile with photo portraits of artists J. B. Somers and Jonathan Shockley, has gotten a lot of attention. And Rebecca Winiarski had her photos of Knoxville protests picked up by Knox News.

Another lecturer in the school, John Shearer, found a unique way for the students in his multimedia writing class to stay connected to campus. “When we first started meeting online and I gave them an assignment regarding having to stay at home and how they and other students were adapting, I could tell a lot of them longed for the UT campus and being with fellow students. So I started having us end each Zoom meeting by singing ‘Rocky Top.’ I think they enjoyed it, although I think my horrible singing voice may have been the dominant one!”