Brett Oppegaard

A photo of Brett Oppegaard

Title: Associate Professor
Department: Journalism
College/School: Social Sciences
Showcase Course: Jour 481 / Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Each cycle of truth-seeking leads to deeper understandings, broader conceptual boundaries, more complex curiosities, more complicated inquiries, sharper technical skills.

Click to read more about Brett’s Teaching Philosophy

At its best, learning about Journalism and multimedia production is about doing something important – intellectually but often also physically, going places, talking with people – reflecting upon what was done in each moment and then doing it, again, only better this time. Over and over. In similar contexts and also in different contexts. Each cycle of truth-seeking leads to deeper understandings, broader conceptual boundaries, more complex curiosities, more complicated inquiries, sharper technical skills, etc. For my part in this process, I have few controls over the starting position for students, when they arrive in my class. Some are experienced storytellers, or photographers, or just adept in social situations and good at talking with people. Some aren’t. Some have given the class topic little thought before the first day of class, so I think my first job is to get everyone oriented, engaged, and motivated to do something special.

Mobile and Motivated Learning: Combining Students, Smartphones, and Journalistic Storytelling

Showcase Video

Teaching Practice


This capstone class in the program is designed to let graduating students showcase what they can do with journalistic storytelling in any medium but particularly with multimedia packages. In addition, and this is the pedagogy being emphasized in this application, I ask them to approach these projects through entrepreneurial and innovative new forms. In this context, I approach the class through the familiar processes of traditional journalistic training but then challenge the students to think about what media of the 21st Century will become during the next 50 years. Then, I ask them to build that future … now. In this particular case study, of Jour 418 in the Spring of 2019, students in this class took this opportunity to investigate complicated social issues and in teams (i.e., Clarissa Gonzales, Mark Ladao, and Tyne Phillips’ “Crime Cameras in Waikiki,” which was published in an online student-media organization call Hoa Oahu, which also was created by me specifically for this class). Students in this class playfully combined forms into multimedia packages (i.e., Shannon Manamtam’s “Tour Through Hawaii’s Simulated Moon Habitat,” also published in Hoa Oahu). And they also created freelance articles for various local media sources (i.e., Eunica Escalante’s “Written in the Stars” in Flux magazine). But my focus in this application is on the interactive and locative mobile-media stories that they produced as well (the academic term is locative media), which is well beyond the leading-edge of the industry.

Here is how we did it:

Step 1: Setting the Stage – On the first day of class, along with the syllabus, I shared with students the “Making Multimedia Stories” assignment guide as a way to establish the big-picture expectations. Students were required to create at least two significant journalistic stories, using multiple forms of media, developing their writing proficiency in nonfiction narrative style (per the WI designation) but also pushing them to try new ways to make Journalism.

Step 2: Refining the Ideas – I do not assign story ideas, because I have found over the years that students do their best work when they feel like they have agency to create what they want, how they want, and I guide them. Structurally, I use two primary techniques to help students generate and develop their ideas in this class. To begin with, I ask them to generate a lot of ideas (many more than they can finish in a semester), using this Story Idea generation guide, as a way to get many choices, from a diversity of perspectives, and to encourage mindful choices. Once we get a prioritized list of Option A, Option B, Option C, etc. (inherently creating back-up plans as well), I ask students to develop ideas further through my Seven-Step Development Worksheet.

Step 3: Pitching the Ideas – After the students have worked with me on their ideas, and we both feel comfortable that they are positioned for success, we have a public and a private pitching process, in which the student will first pitch the story to me and classmates, using this Story Pitch guide, and get feedback from us all, including fielding questions, and then the student will write a formal Story Pitch to me, integrating that feedback. This stage is passfail (with fail just meaning it needs to be done again). I rate the formal pitch document on a five-point scale, which puts the pitch into perspective about its perceived quality but also provides a checkpoint for the student.

Step 4: Producing the Mobile Stories – As a way to simulate the mostly independent job environment in Journalism, the student then is asked to develop the story further each week following the university’s credit-hour standards for out-of-class work (which currently is two out-of-class hours for each hour in-class), in a process I call the Deliverables. The Deliverables guidelines explain the details, but, in short, the student is expected to spend accountable time working on the story each week (whether that is conducting interviews, taking photographs, analyzing documents, etc.) and then to account for that time through a Deliverables worksheet (like an annotated timecard), which describes what they did, how they did it, how long it took, and what tangible media product was created from the effort. This form allowed the students to clearly communicate to me what they were working on, and how that was going, and it also allowed me to track student progress and help them on individual obstacles.

Step 5: Testing the Mobile Stories In-Situ – In the case of the Manoa Public Art app, we envisioned the audience as students, faculty, staff, and visitors exploring the UH Manoa campus and surrounding areas. So we needed to think about what they would be interested in learning about, and how we were going to give them that journalistic information through a smartphone. We therefore spent time at the delivery site (where the art was) and talked with people walking by the area, including asking them what they wanted to know about this piece in this place. We made the work (samples provided), and then afterward, we tested them on real users at the site locations.


This novel process I followed in this class – while intense – generated some of the best student work I have seen, which also led to several notable outcomes. For example, 11 of the 18 students in this class were honored for the journalistic work produced in this class, some multiple times, including for the Manoa Public Art stories, by the Hawaii Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in its annual contest. That meant competing against – and beating – traditional student work done by staff at Ka Leo, the other journalism classes in the program, and also pieces by paid summer interns from large mainland journalism programs, who were serving in Hawaii for their internships. In turn, most of the students in this class were hired to work in the field, shortly after graduation, including landmark placements of one graduate at CBS News in New York and another at The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, which hadn’t hired one of our graduates directly out of college for more than a decade. The excitement generated by this class – although hard to establish directly as linked – was followed by a ~30 percent increase in majors in our program in 2019-2020.