Welcome to Lebanon! Teaching Web Journalism Without A Net

I started out my first week as a Fulbright Professor at Notre Dame University in Lebanon trying to get an exemption from the university’s ban of social media on campus computers for a new class I was introducing into their curriculum, "Web Journalism."

I had already been told the journalism skills classes were not taught in labs, which is quite different than in the US, but in lecture halls with a computer for the professor at the front to demonstrate. And then there was this block, which includes Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube and Facebook, among others. This meant I wouldn’t even be able to project Twitter (now being called "the newspaper of the future") on screen from the professor’s computer. The university is concerned about overwhelming their computer system’s capacity, not to mention the ways social media can distract students. With the BBC reporting last fall that the country had "one of the slowest internet connections in the world," they certainly had their reasons.

But I thought this was important. If the class flops, then these students may see social media as a toy and not as a key to journalism’s future and their own future in the profession.

I asked my enlightened dean and the head of international studies for help getting an exemption, and in the meantime feverishly worked to find holes that might allow us to wiggle onto certain sites. For example, there’s a way to post to Posterous Spaces that the blocking software doesn’t seem to recognize – (please don’t rat me out! And in case you are wondering, this post was actually from a campus computer via email.)

Much to my surprise, late this week the block was officially lifted for my two classes (Web Journalism and a graduate reporting course). When the Web Journalism class met and I clicked a link to show a YouTube video about using social media to report elections, the students all told me it wouldn’t work, don’t bother, this is Lebanon. Even I was holding my breath waiting to see what would happen. The clip appeared! Then it stuttered, the stream pausing long enough for one of the students to shout the ironic refrain heard so often around Beirut, "Welcome to Lebanon," then it kept on streaming.

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10 thoughts on “Welcome to Lebanon! Teaching Web Journalism Without A Net

  1. Hi, Melissa. So happy to hear you’re on a Fulbright in Lebanon! So exciting to be in the Middle East now, I’ll bet!

    Here’s a tip: Log into your USA university’s VPN. The Internet then “thinks” you are back in the United States. It may not work inside your Lebanon university … but … it might. It works for streaming U.S. TV shows in foreign countries. πŸ™‚

    Something else I do when the Internet will be unreliable or unavailable in a venue: Make screenshots (lots) and show them in a Powerpoint. Similarly, you can do a video screen capture of a whole sequence of activities on a SM site and then play that in the classroom. For both still and moving screen captures, I use Snapz Pro X for the Mac.

  2. Great info – thanks. Ironically, I was thinking about showing one of your Slideshares on social media uses by news orgs (looks like Slideshare can be accessed) πŸ™‚

    Aren’t you in Indonesia? We should have a feed of Fulbright J Profs.

    Yep, good time to be here.

  3. Someone asked me about the slow Internet speeds: Lebanon did make improvements to its internet in late 2011 and they are saying more are planned including hooking up through Cyprus in the future. I haven’t had those sorts of problems on my campus, though it varies in cafes and restaurants (many of which supply free wifi).

    Other people in other parts of town have told me they have a 24-hour download for a movie on Netflix (I think that’s their at-home use) but I have access to plenty of bad American movies on cable so I haven’t gone that route. So, my issues have been about the block on certain types of online content that are crucial to what I’m teaching.

  4. Yes, I’m in Indonesia on a Fulbright until late July. I have good (not great) broadband speed in my apartment here, but the price is as high as U.S. broadband (which is faster) — a ridiculous fee in a country where 50 percent of the people earn $2/day or less.

  5. Hey Dr. Wall,

    So you are already making your mark…so cool! Keep pushing. I agree that if you don’t teach them that social media can be a tool, they will always think of it as a toy.

    Take care…we miss you!

  6. It’s the Sultan Hassan Mosque in Cairo. I think Obama visited it when he came to Egypt. Very beautiful.

  7. My symposium poster took third place! Working on the lit review for the AEJMC submission next. Benavides will shepherd me through the project. Meeting my thesis committee members on Thursday to review my progress.

    So you went to Egypt? Wow! I’m really jealous…

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