The University Area Community Center is a multipurpose facility located near USF's Tampa campus. The Learning to be Reporters projects occurred over two consecutive summers with the elementary-aged students at the center, and the pre-service teacher cohorts from USF. Researchers from USF's Contemporary Literacies Collaborative taught two back-to-back sections of Undergraduate Literacy methods courses (Teaching Writing and Linking Literacy and Assessment) at the Community Center. The methods courses were taught with an overlap, so that the students in the two courses could collaborate in their tutoring of the elementary students. The tutoring took place in stable groups across the 10-week experience. From the perspective of the methods course content, undergraduates were taught procedures, approaches, and techniques that are associated with these two courses. What is unique to these two projects is that the undergraduates learned literacy methods and media methods while doing them and in the context of a real literate community. From the perspective of the elementary students, the project was about news production. They created video newscasts or web-based e-newspapers about self-selected topics. Each group of pre-service teachers and their elementary partners produced either a short video that was shown in a film preview or an electronic news item that was posted on a "newspaper" web page.
This was an early, exploratory study. The research questions were descriptive in nature, as we wanted to know: What happens in university methods courses when pre-service teachers are taught in the context of creating media-based products with real kids? While some members of the CLC group taught the methods courses, others collected field notes, recorded video data, and interviewed undergraduates and elementary students. Class presentations for the undergraduate reading and writing courses were also observed and documented. Data sources were systematically analyzed, and researchers also participated in weekly debriefings. We found that the undergraduates were variable in their abilities to simultaneously learn and teach literacy through multimedia. Pre-service teachers' differences with media expertise created differentiated roles for their participation in class. The pressures that pre-service teachers felt for creating media products with the kids while simultaneously completing the course requirements for their professors caused them to experience stress. Some of the class groups of pre-service teachers and elementary students completed media and course requirements with little disruption, while others experienced several moments of conflict. The qualities of media products and course participation were only marginally related to cohesive group functioning.