The student assignments on Journalist’s Resource are specific to each policy study. The studies can be accessed through the Policy Studies tab.
The main page for each study provides a brief overview that summarizes the research findings. The overview includes a link to the full study, as in this example:
By 2030 electric usage in the United States is projected to grow by more than 30%. Fossil fuels and nuclear power currently produce the lion’s share of our electricity, but in a carbon-constrained world, renewables will have a greater role to play.
A 2009 study by Harvard University and Finland’s VTT Technical Research Centre, Global Potential for Wind-Generated Electricity, indicates that considerable potential exists for the growth of wind power.
Researchers used data from NASA and built their analysis on conservative assumptions. They conclude that:
- Wind could supply more than 40 times current worldwide consumption of electricity, and more than five times total global use of energy in all forms.
- In the contiguous United States, wind has the potential to supply as much as 16 times total current domestic electrical demand.
- When required, new power transmission lines add appropriately 10% to a project’s cost, and consequently are not prohibitive.
- Wind-energy potential falls below demand only during the summer months, when winds decrease and electrical use rises.
At the top of the study’s page, there is a “Teaching Notes” tab. Clicking on it will take you to the page containing suggested assignments for that particular study.
The first set of assignments you will see is titled Analysis Assignments. Reporters can only write clearly on a topic if they understand it. They need to sort out where experts agree and disagree and where the evidence is incomplete, inconclusive, or conflicting. Only then can reporters accurately and seamlessly pass on what they’ve learned.
The following is an example of an analysis assignment:
Read the Harvard and VTT Technical Research Centre study titled Global Potential for Wind-Generated Electricity.
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study’s key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study’s limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study’s data or research design?)
Each study also is accompanied by a set of Newswriting Assignments. These assignments are designed to teach students to do what journalists are routinely required to do: make the unfamiliar familiar to a lay audience and to do so in ways that do not distort it. The following is an example of a newswriting assignment:
Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. (Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?)
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.
For some of the studies, the material includes a press release that accompanied the public announcement of the study. In these cases, a Press Release Assignment is included among the assignment possibilities. The purpose of this assignment is to show the student the distortions that can result if a story is based only on a press release, as in this example:
Read the press release titled “Study Finds Wind Power Could Meet Larger Share of Energy Needs.” If you had written an article based only on the press release, what would have been its main shortcoming(s)?
For some of the studies, the material also includes a news article based either on the study or on the issue that the study addresses. In these instances, an Article-Related Assignment is included among the assignment possiblities. These assignments enable students to read and evaluate news reports that have appeared in leading outlets, as in this example:
Read the study-related New York Times article titled “Study Suggests Wind Power Potential Is Much Higher Than Current Estimates.”
- Evaluate what the reporter chose to include and exclude from the study. Would the audience have acquired a clear understanding of the study’s findings and limits from this article?
- Reporter’s use of other material: Assess the material in the article that is not derived from the study. (For example: Does the reporter place the study in the context of other research and to what effect? Does the reporter include reactions to the study from other researchers or interested parties [e.g., political groups, business leaders, or community members] and are their credentials or possible biases made clear?)