Reports: Media Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Learning Rebus Community

This is the first in a series of reports filed by Donna Langille, a practicum student who joined us for the spring of 2019. We’ll be releasing each chapter as a blog post weekly. Find the complete text at Rebus Community Reports.

Read Media Innovation & Entrepreneurship edited by Michelle Ferrier & Elizabeth Mays

An Innovative Approach to OER

Like their open textbook, Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Michelle Ferrier and Liz Mays are all about being responsive and creative in the face of a changing digital landscape. The book is a valuable resource for communications and journalism students, addressing both the mindset and practices that are needed for success in today’s media markets. What is more, the process of publishing the textbook—and continually updating it—exemplifies what is both possible and necessary when it comes to online content creation.

All those who have worked in journalism and communications over the last decades are aware of the disruptive influences of the internet—in both positive and negative senses. The media industries must continue to innovate, as do the people who work in and around them. Today, “media” is often synonymous with innovation and entrepreneurship, and because of this constant change, educational tools must also keep up. This is one of the key benefits of creating an open textbook for the field, and perhaps a factor in the success of Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship. As new ideas and scholarship emerge, the open, digital format allows the authors to refine their content.

As a former managing editor for multiple publications, as well as an educator and marketing professional, Liz Mays is a “get-stuff-done” type of person. She is the former marketing manager for Rebus Foundation and currently works in sales and marketing for Pressbooks (largely because she loved using the platform so much herself). In 2016, in her adjunct professor role at Arizona State University (ASU), Liz was asked to reshape a journalism course to focus it more on media and entrepreneurship. The difficulty of finding the right textbook for the class, and her prior involvement with the Scripps Howard Journalism Entrepreneurship Institute at ASU, helped her realize that there was a dearth of high-quality teaching resources that could be used for the growing number of courses related to journalism entrepreneurship, the business of journalism, and media innovation.

Like many things entrepreneurial, the timing worked out well in several ways. Rebus Community was gearing up around the same time, creating an ideal platform on which to develop open textbooks. Michelle Ferrier managed a Facebook group with educators teaching media entrepreneurship and had posted that she was interested in creating a similar resource. Michelle had been been a participant in the inaugural Scripps Howard Journalism Entrepreneurship Institute at ASU and had been conducting research on the skills and knowledge necessary to teach as part of the emerging media entrepreneurship curriculum. She had also worked for several years teaching media entrepreneurship as part of the now defunct NewU entrepreneurship fellows program. Now Dean of the School of Journalism and Graphic Communications at Florida A&M University (FAMU), Michelle is very well known in the field and co-hosts the annual Scripps Howard Journalism Entrepreneurship Institute (alongside project lead Dan Gillmor). Having met at the first Scripps Howard event, the two eventually decided to collaborate on an open-source, editorial project. They shared the labour (along with numerous community members), divvying up tasks that played to their individual strengths.

View of Media Innovation & Entrepreneurship team on the project home.

As lead editor, Michelle acted as content editor and subject matter expert. Liz took on the more operational roles of editorial management and proofreading. For both, the aspect of collaboration was key, not just with each other, but with what would become a much more extensive and diverse group of contributors and participants. That group ultimately included 28 other authors, 12 faculty beta-testers, countless student beta-testers, and more than a dozen peer reviewers.

The two had meetings with a wider group of stakeholders at the beginning of the project, which included journalism educators, media entrepreneurs, student entrepreneurs, business educators, and others. They co-created a table of contents and framework for the book that would serve both their needs in the short term and those of other instructors teaching related subjects over the longer term. Ultimately, they structured the textbook for a 15-week course, but in such a way as to make it highly modular. This allows faculty in a variety of courses and contexts to use individual chapters as needed. It also allows students to refer to chapters, as needed, in the development of their startup ventures. Importantly, the structure provides more flexibility when modifying the content over time, given the rapidly changing realities of digital media and the potential for entrepreneurship.

As they developed the table of contents and identified potential authors, Michelle and Liz kept collaboration and inclusion front and centre. It was important to both that the people who would be using the textbook were the ones making the decisions about the content.

In keeping with the spirit and practice of co-creation, they also made sure to leave space for including plenty of sidebars in which entrepreneurs and others might share their first-hand experience. In order to enable student entrepreneurs to visualize themselves in future business ventures, they kept these essays in the first-person voice. These sidebars allowed the editors to introduce concepts such as freelance journalism, while featuring voices from recent graduates who had become entrepreneurs, as well as others with diverse experience in the field. They also kept a watchful eye on style and tone (less formal and more conversational), so as to make the textbook an accessible workbook and reference tool.

Beyond good timing and an ethos of collaboration, there was another fundamentally entrepreneurial characteristic that Michelle and Liz brought to the process: lots of hard work. The two facilitated a weekly call with all of the contributors to beta-test the first version of the textbook. These meetings—running from February to November 2017—included educators who were using the book in their classes for the first time. During the first part of the call, authors and editors provided feedback on a given chapter; during the second part, contributors brought up teaching-related questions. Michelle and other faculty provided answers, as well as suggestions for creating effective deliverables and other pedagogic innovation. Participants also offered coaching and advice to other instructors who were beta-testing the book-in-progress in their classroom. This real-time testing and feedback cycle significantly enhanced the usability and success of the resource, so that by the time it was released for the first time, it had proven its effectiveness as a teaching tool. On top of all this feedback from faculty, the book had been beta-tested by students in 12 classrooms across the United States, with feedback delivered via the markup tool, through a Google form, and during the weekly calls. Almost 200 significant changes were incorporated (all meticulously tracked in a shared spreadsheet).

As with nearly all OER produced with Rebus Community, this open textbook underwent multiple forms of peer review, beyond the classroom-based beta-testing and weekly feedback sessions. A whole set of industry experts and dedicated peer editors provided input and critique on each chapter and the full book, and the book underwent an additional round of peer review when it was added to the Open Textbook Network Library. MERLOT also reviewed the book and provided feedback.

Eventually, Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship was released on the Rebus Press in January 2018. Since then, an updated version was released in summer 2018, which included a chapter on product management, sidebars on process engineering and student media innovation, and an expanded chapter on entrepreneurship abroad. The book was updated again in summer 2019 to include sidebars on ‘slow news’, recent media industry developments, formative quizzes, and improved glossary functionality. Still, in order to avoid being too disruptive, Michelle and Liz have been sure to implement editorial changes only at the end of each semester.

Given the editors’ own immersion in their field, it is perhaps not surprising that their open textbook was created in a way that is consistent with its very subject. What is exemplary about this case, however, is that it illustrates the importance of process when it comes to open publishing. Openness is not just about cost and accessibility. To be open about innovation and entrepreneurship means taking what is best about creativity, problem-solving, self-motivation, co-creation, and inspiring others, and then building on that with a great spirit of community, collaboration, and coherence.

Snippet images from the new Rebus Community project home have been included in this post. To view the complete project home for Media Innovation & Entrepreneurship visit Rebus.Community.

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