User Story: Jonathan Rogers on the joy of engaging students in journalism with technology


What is the greatest class for a high school student? Journalism is the answer of Jonathan Rogers. From what he has seen and heard, the class gives students the opportunity to take responsibility for producing stories and to get their own voice heard. This amazing empowerment has given courage to many students to pursue their aspirations in college and later in life. In Jonathan’s own case, he was involved in IHSPA (Iowa High School Press Association) since his high school days. Then he became a journalist and now works as a journalism adviser at City High School in Iowa City and president of IHSPA.

Journalism enriched with digital technology


Having been around for 90 years, IHSPA is one of the oldest scholastic journalism organizations in the United States with an utmost mission: to inspire and nurture interest in journalism. For Jonathan, embracing new technology is inevitable in this undertaking. Digital technology does not only add novelty to traditional journalism but also facilitates the connection between students and their peers.

Through his work advising the newspaper, magazine, yearbook and the website for Iowa City Highschool, Jonathan has been encouraging students to use multimedia elements, including infographics, to enrich their content.

“A lot of times I make it mandatory that you have to make an infographic for your story. So if you’re writing a major story for the newspaper on a long format website, then you’re required to make an infographic with it.”

The tool of choice of most students at this point is Piktochart. A program Jonathan had encountered and adopted since its early days.

“It was at a journalism conference where we talked about how hard it is to make good infographics and the different programs that were available. Then someone recommended Piktochart to me. That’s how we started using it 3 years ago. We’ve been really happy with it and the students really love using it. It worked out pretty well for both print and for the website.”

Joy in creation, development and validation

It has been very exciting for Jonathan to see how warmly the students receive Piktochart and run away with it.

“The tutorials on the website are nice. We watch some of those and just learn as we go. When the students made a research project, they looked up things in the news and statistics and made infographics out of them. There were sport stories, water pollution stories and many different things. The students really love using Piktochart to make nice, clean, good-looking infographics out of their stories or anything they have numbers with. It’s a lot more fun than your standard written research project.

It’s also really fun to watch the students. You show them how to use the program and some of them just really take off. Olivia Parrott just loves Piktochart and she spends hours making infographics and she’s becoming one of the best here. And I think that’s a great thing about journalism: if they keep doing it over a year or two, it’s fun to see how they really get a whole lot better at it.”

River Pollution in Iowa – made by Olivia Parrott

The more skilled the students become, the better their stories get to be. The time and effort Jonathan’s students put in their stories paid off famously.

“Being able to use infographics in the students’ stories makes them look really nice and takes them to the next level. We do Google Analytics and I definitely think when there are infographics and videos on there, they get a lot more hits. The publications also won a number of awards, including The PaceMaker (regarded as the National Championship of high school journalism) last year. So that was a really nice award for the students for a lot of hard work. And I definitely think that Piktochart helped them win that award and be a better high school publication out there.”


J is for doing the stories justice

In Jonathan’s personal experience as a visual learner, he appreciates the use of infographics to see the big picture and understand what’s going on.

“I remember the was one infographic on the front page of a newspaper that had the shootings of schools over the United States. I think visually seeing that instead of saying ‘There has been 80 shootings’ is much more powerful. Students looked at it and could see: ‘Oh my god! It’s happening all over the country and these are all the different places that have the shootings!’”

The impact of telling stories visually is what Jonathan wants to inspire his students and the reason he counts on Piktochart as the medium to get there.

“I love working with creative students. It’s always exciting to see what they come up with and challenge them to do really good stories and work. I also enjoy the technology side of it, like Piktochart and the new web tools that students can use to help tell stories in a digital journalism world. I think it’s exciting for education in general and also in journalism.

What the students like most about Piktochart is the ease of use. Some of the other infographic programs are pretty hard to make and take a lot more time, you can’t get a high resolution image or an embed code either. With Piktochart the students can get a high resolution image or the embed code to put it on a website pretty easily. Just reaching readers, especially online, is a really nice feature. I think that’s why they’ve chosen to use Piktochart over some other programs.”

For new users of Piktochart, Jonathan would like to give a ‘small’ advice.

“My advice would be to watch the tutorials, start small, make small infographics. Don’t try to make a giant one to start off with. Always think about your audience and how you can convey the information and make it powerful to them and easy to absorb. One thing I tell my students is don’t try to make it overly complicated. It should be easy. The best infographics I think are really easy to understand but also really powerful. Just keep doing it, just keep making them then the program gets a lot easier to use. Then you’ll be able to do more and make better infographics.”

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