From News Anchor to Professor
I traveled the short drive up the bluff that houses the campus of Loyola Marymount University for my first classroom observation. I had arranged to watch veteran CNN anchor Carol Costello's journalism class, an experimental six-week course combining students from LMU and Kent State University in Ohio, Carol's alma mater.
The class will spend half the time in Los Angeles and the other half in Ohio. Given that LMU is in a blue state and Kent State is in a red one, the students are bound to discover many differences when they talk to people off campus.
The course is titled "Project Citizen: Transforming America." The goal is to expose the stereotypes and false assumptions of people on the West Coast and the Midwest.
Carol had been a news anchor for many years, including roles at CNN and HLN. Her husband is the president of LMU, and she is the First Lady. She told me this is the first full year the university has offered a journalism program, and they are hoping to add more courses as they get more funding.
There were 11 students in attendance. One of the students must not have shown up for class.
Carol opened with a discussion about stereotypes. She noted that when the students offered examples of stereotypes, they all had negative connotations. Are stereotypes only bad? The students then agreed that while some stereotypes may paint entire groups of people in a positive way, they are inherently harmful because the groups no longer control their own identity.
It was interesting for me to observe the classroom dynamic in terms of discussion. There was one painfully shy individual, and when Carol called on him to introduce himself, he could barely whisper his name. He never raised his hand and looked uncomfortable in the group setting. On the other hand, there was another student who would raise his hand and talk after each and every discussion question – to the point where it was starting to be evident to the other classmates that this individual liked to dominate the discussion, even if the points he raised did not relate to the topic at hand.
I was impressed with how Carol tried to steer his comments back to the original topic or to try to move on so that he wasn't derailing the discussion. She is very skilled at that, and I think her years of anchoring on live television and interviewing guests who can go off the rails gives her a unique gift in this classroom setting.
Vangelisti, Daly, and Friedrich (1999) mentioned the physical setting of the classroom and the impact that the seating arrangement plays in creating a conducive physical environment to learning. I really liked this room. It was very modern and sleek, and the tables were in a u-shape, so everyone had a good view. There was a large dry-erase board at the front. Carol controlled her presentation from a podium off to the side.
A discussion about President Trump ensued and how he puts labels on people through his tweets. Carol played a clip from SNL, which mocked Joe Biden for being "touchy-feely." People in the class observed that they didn't understand why this would even be an issue when Trump is credibly accused of 23 cases of sexual violence.
She then broke the students into three groups so they could start to hash out their plans for their final video. In preparation, they were going to record each other for a mini-assignment to practice the skills needed to complete the final project. She wrote some prompts on the dry-erase board for questions they might ask one another:
What is your first impression of Los Angeles (or Ohio)?
What do you hope to discover in this class?
The class was scheduled for three hours, so two hours in, she had the students take a 15-minute break. I liked how she mixed things up in various formats during the session (large group, small group, etc.). Later, she related to me that teaching was a lot like producing a newscast – and creating a rundown. The only thing she was missing was a good producer!
After the break, Carol's co-instructor from Kent State, Kevin Dilley, passed out cameras to each of the groups.
This was only the second class of this six-week course, and I enjoyed the level of engagement the students displayed. These kids were juniors and seniors, and they were smart and well-spoken. Carol had introduced me as a CNN colleague, and at the end of the class, several of the students asked me for my advice on how best to complete the assignment. I offered some pointers and gave them an example of a similar story I had field produced that provided a chance to look at the political divide in America.
Teaching is not easy, but I think Carol made it look effortless. Her years in front of the camera have given her a relaxed and comfortable style, and she was not intimidating to the students. I think this gave her a lot of credibility, which Dannels (2015) described as "not only how much you know about a subject, but also how much you show you care about and empathize with students" (p. 24). As a teacher, Carol was very similar to how she was as a news anchor – curious, caring, and kind.