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Sparking Innovation: The Scholar

Author: perkinsk | Image: perkinsk

*Jan Lauren Boyles, assistant professor in the Greenlee School, encourages students to explore new possibilities in data journalism.*

By Maria V. Charbonneaux

Whether they land at legacy media or launch new endeavors, Assistant Professor Jan Lauren Boyles encourages students to embrace a startup mindset.

For Boyles, who studies innovation and experimentation in digital newsrooms, that means challenging them to hone their writing, reporting and editing skills—and delve into the world of algorithms and code.

“One of the greatest joys that I have as an educator is showing our students just how much the news industry is rapidly evolving,” Boyles said.


Recently, Boyles has studied how hackathons, events in which people from across disciplines, including journalists, coders and consumers, come together to collaborate on products—such as apps, databases, websites or interactive maps—for the delivery of news using code.

She believes experience in developing digital products can give students an edge, so she recreates the experience in her Communication Technology and Social Change (JL MC 474) course.

“We do a design sprint where we sort of simulate over two or three classes the steps you would walk through if you were going to do this sort of prototype development,” Boyles said.


Because of her work in these areas, Boyles was selected for a Disruptive Journalism Educator fellowship by the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism for the 2017-18 academic year. Designed for leadership in journalism curriculum innovation among university faculty, the program’s fellows have varied expertise and are all dedicated to “ensuring students succeed in the ever-evolving news space.”

Last October, Boyles and 16 other Disruptive Journalism Educators met at the Online News Association conference in Washington, D.C. to share teaching ideas and discuss how to advance journalism education. For this group, media entrepreneurship can mean teaching journalism students how to freelance, launch and monetize a venture, think like business people, go into business for themselves, use all tools available to tell stories or identify a problem an audience has and build an media solution or service to solve it.

Through a Facebook group and shared resources, Boyles said the group’s focus is to bring these concepts to j-schools.

“It’s a joy to bring the latest advances from industry back to Greenlee, particularly how students can integrate media entrepreneurship and data skills into their future careerss,” she said.

Boyles notes these skills are currently embedded in many Greenlee courses, including her technology class and Computational Communication (ADVRT 497J), taught by Jay Newell and Sherry Berghefer of Greenlee and Wallapak Tavanapong of the Department of Computer Science.

The school hopes to continue to grow its offerings —perhaps through a course on media entrepreneurship or an interdisciplinary partnership on campus.

Until then, Boyles urges students who are serious about entrepreneurship to look for mentors beyond the classroom.

“Greenlee alums who are successful media entrepreneurs want to help out the next generation. So I encourage my students to also find a mentor beyond the academy, someone who can guide their career path. Together, we are constantly working toward our students’ success,” Boyles said.