The students made their final project presentations on Monday and the moment was bittersweet for me. I was happy to see how far we have come as a class and sad to see our time together was coming to an end. And there is so much work yet to be done in answering the question about air quality in San Diego!
It was great to watch each presentation today and find out what the students learned, what challenges they faced and what they felt were the most interesting aspects of the course.
Overall, many of the students addressed similar points in their presentations today that I thought I would sum up here:
*The power and pitfalls with sensor technology: Sensors can be empowering and provide a new way of understanding the world around us. Yet, open-source sensor technology is still in an early stage and there is much to be done in terms of data consistency, calibration and quality of the information that can be obtained with this technology.
*Sensors and the news gathering process: Sensors can provide new questions about the environment around us and help us ask why is it that way? Why does the data show that? As we went along this journey, we would get one sensor observation and have more questions about where to go next and what to do.
*Using data to tell unique stories about a community: This project enabled the students to reference several different datasets including our own sensor data and explore the many facets of data-driven journalism. They learned several valuable data journalism skills from Joe Yerardi this semester (e.g. averages, ranks, medians, etc.) that will help them to think differently about how they cover a community in the future.
*Data is only as strong as the human element to the story: Data can only be one part of a story. You need a person behind each data point. What does poor air quality mean to the elderly man, young child and young professional in a community? How does the air that they breathe day in and day out impact how they view their environment around them? The students learned through extensive interviews in different communities what people thought about air pollution and air quality in San Diego.
*Visuals such as maps can make a difference in showing versus telling in a story: Several of the students mentioned in their presentations how much they enjoyed learning ARC GIS from Kevin Robinson this semester on how to create a simple map and embed layers in a map to show information geographically. Second, the students mentioned how much photos and videos helped them to show versus tell in their stories about the location of places, businesses, and people and how this combination communicated a lot about air quality in a certain area of the city.
*The enriching world of science: The students mentioned they learned a lot about scientific concepts tied to air quality and air pollution; the weather and climate; and the role humans, businesses and nature play in air quality. Several of the students mentioned how they were given many foreign concepts over the semester but came away with new knowledge and an appreciation for science.
It was rewarding to hear how the students felt they were pushed outside their comfort zones throughout the course, they were thrown into a subject without any prior knowledge and came away learning so much, how they learned to adapt and pivot as their stories changed and our sensor technology ebbed and flowed, and how important they felt their work was in informing the community about air quality in San Diego.
In the days and weeks ahead, we will be publishing the students’ stories and their sensor observations and data. It has been one heck of a ride and I am glad we have taken this journey.
I am already getting ideas about how we can continue to explore air quality in San Diego and take our sensor journalism to another level. Stay tuned!
And lastly, I would like to give a thank you to some special people that helped us to make this class and project possible:
Kevin Robinson, Co-Teacher and Geologist guru; David Kimbrough, Director of the Department of Geological Sciences; Lorie Hearn, Executive Director and Editor of inewsource and Collaborator on this project; Joe Yerardi, Data Journalist at inewsource and guide on our data journey; Steve Birch, Sensor Consultant and guide on our sensor journey; Cyrus Saatsaz, Research Assistant and social media guru; Dr. Jenny Quintana, Professor in the Graduate School of Public Health; Dr. Bey-Ling Sha, Interim Director of the School of Journalism and Media Studies; Joyce Gattas, Dean of the College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts; Stanley Malloy, Dean of the College of Sciences; and Cathie Atkins, Associate Dean of the College of Sciences.
And a very special thanks to our funders for this project: Online News Association with support from Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Rita Allen Foundation.