This semester I’ve been working on a demonstration project to show people what a Center for Mobile Media might do. Students with different interests and skills have worked in a team on a mobile media project. I sought journalism, advertising and public relations students to work with computer science and design students. I wanted them to learn teamwork, entrepreneurial skills and presentation skills.
An added incentive was that their work would be presented to editors and publishers at the annual meeting of the Nebraska Press Association.
Because the Ford Foundation funded this semester’s work, the students and I decided to focus on creating a mobile project that we all hoped could be used by Ford Foundation’s “Social Justice” grantees anywhere in the world.
The students worked on a mobile app that could be used particularly during elections in developing countries or in countries with authoritarian regimes. They wanted to create a way for the people to express their opinions and for others to see the true expression of public opinion unmediated by government control of the media. Here’s the team’s presentation to the Nebraska editors.
Their solution was a mobile app that could be used by feature or non-feature phones to create and tag comments that would be aggregated geographically or topically. Users would easily see what people in a given area or country say are the top three issues in their country. They also could read a scroll of all the comments, respond to comments and upload photos and videos. Additional features include background information about the country, its people and government, as well as information about upcoming events like elections.
I started too late to make this project a class or an independent study, so everything had to be extracurricular work. The good thing about extracurricular projects is the students who participate are truly dedicated. The bad thing is that it takes a while for the dedicated students to self-select, and it’s really difficult to schedule meetings outside of classes with 8-10 incredibly busy students.
The project presented to Nebraska’s editors, called Human Hustle, started out as a mobile media “hackathon” in the fall semester. But it didn’t attract the number of students we needed. So we rethought the whole process. Throughout the spring semester, we didn’t use the word “hackathon” to advertise our project because we didn’t want to make students think the project only was for computer science students. We told students they would be learning new skills employers want. And we worked with another campus group, The Hive, to break the new-product development process into separate Saturday meetings about entrepreneurial thinking, creative thinking and project development.
The editors liked the project and realized how it could be used in rural Nebraska communities as easily as in developing countries. Additionally, the editors loved seeing students working on projects like this and were thrilled to realize that they could take their own new-product development projects to the students and could work jointly with them. That was perhaps the conference’s biggest success: editors realized we were setting up a way for them to work with students.