A Practicum in Collaborative Media

Saratoga Springs High SchoolACASE, and the SMARTACUS Creative Group (SCG) are embarking on a Practicum in Collaborative Media aimed at engaging the Saratoga community in the production of high-quality, content that supports economic and cultural development. This November, students in the SSHS journalism class taught by Jill Cowburn will embark on interviews with leaders in Upstate New York's creative economy.

To start, all students will be invited into the SMARTACUS Content Engine in Basecamp. We'll ask them to upload photos of themselves into their profiles and ask them to add the Basecamp app to their phones. Then, over a period six weeks, we'll ask them to perform the following Eight Assignments.


Students will select the individual they most wish to interview from our Inventory of Interview Subjects, in development here. We’ll ask them to:  

  • Give Three Reasons they wish to interview this individual

  • List Three Questions they wish to ask this individual during the course of their research

  • Define the Story Focus they see early in the project.

In this exercise, students will learn the essentials of using Basecamp. They'll also confront and apply the concept of "pre-writing" -- conceptualizing a feature story from the outset and developing a plan to research and write it. Writing Coaches will provide students feedback in an additional comment or series of comments in an online discussion. 


Students will connect directly with the Subjects they choose to interview. Using the content they produced in their First Assignment along with relevant background they gather in researching their subjects on the web, they will write story proposals to share with the Subjects. This will give Subjects the opportunity to shape the focus of the story and outline the areas they most wish to discuss. Students will produce their Proposals in Basecamp, where Coaches can easily provide feedback. 

Writing Coaches will be copied on both the Student's email and on the Subject's response. When the Subject responds, the Coach will answer with a friendly note that demonstrates a professional communicator is supervising the process. 

Students will learn to create a document in Basecamp and to apply basic principles of good writing in producing a business letter. 


Think of your Discovery Draft as a palette to which you continually add information as you write your story. It starts as the key background you need to frame questions for the written interview you'll conduct with your subject and will grow as you add your Subject's responses and do further research.

In its earliest iteration, your Discovery Draft is just a collection of interesting links and copy that you've found on the web and pasted into your document. As you conduct your interviews, you'll add your Subject's responses, group your material into major sections, and write your story.


Creating a new document in Basecamp, Students will draft a minimum of 20 questions to pose to their Subjects, sharing them first with their Writing Coaches. Twenty questions is a lot to generate for your Subject, but it's doable, especially if you give yourself a few days to think on it. To produce this many questions will force you to consider the story you're developing from multiple angles, any of which might take you in an interesting direction or yield a compelling anecdote.

Interview Subjects will be asked to whittle the 20 questions down to their ten favorite. Students will create accounts in Typeform and learn to post questions in an interactive Typeform document. Students will send the ten questions to their Subjects as a Typeform link.We’ll ask them to devote at least 60 minutes to answering them.

Students will be challenged to think through a strategy for obtaining useful information from Subjects, framing questions in a way that optimizes the quality of the content they receive. They also will learn how to create, share and retrieve results for a Typeform survey. 


Students will write Subjects a letter of thanks with additional questions they'd like to ask to flesh out the piece. A time for a 30-minute interview to be conducted in Zoom will be established. Students will further apply the essentials of good writing in a business communication. 


Students, Subjects and Writing Coaches will meet in Zoom for a half-hour review of the Students' questions. Students will devote up to two hours transcribing the interviews and organizing their content for incorporation in their stories. Writing Coaches will review the transcripts for completeness. (Note: These need not be word-for-word but should capture the Subject's main thoughts and best quotes.) 


We call this the "First Draft" because it's the first the Student is able to write with complete information from the Subject and the first the Student, after a thorough review and edit by the Writing Coach, will share with the Subject. Criteria for completion include:

  • The purpose/focus of the article is clear.

  • The article must open with a clear and engaging feature lead

  • The article is written in feature style

  • The article is driven by quotes and facts

  • The writer uses transitional phrases and paraphrasing to set up quotes. 

  • The writer's tone complements the subject

  • No first person! The reporter is not part of the story.

  • Storytelling does not reference the interview or reporting process.

  • Avoid passive verbs.

  • Every word counts (meaty verbs, no unnecessary words).

The Student will copy the draft from his or her Basecamp document and paste it in Word, then email the Word document to the Source with a copy to the Coach. Students will invite Subjects to mark it up their drafts. Whatever the Subject returns will be considered, with minor additional edits, the Final Draft, suitable for posting, assuming the Subject signs off on it. Should the Subject decline to sign off on it, the Coach will step in to offer more assistance toward making the story "web-ready." 


Given their own accounts on the SMARTACUS site in Squarespace, students will be shown the essentials of publishing in this popular content-management tool, posting their pieces as SMARTACUS Lead Stories. Subjects will be invited to forward favorite photos of themselves. Should a photo provided by a Subject be of insufficient quality to merit posting, some provision will be made for taking a photo, perhaps by an SSHS student if such an arrangement can be made. 


  • Stories may be published in The Lightning Rod, the SSHS student newspaper

  • Students and Subjects alike will be invited to share published stories in their social media spaces

  • Students will be invited to create LinkedIn profiles. For those who do, Subjects will be able to write Recommendations

  • We may start a series of podcasts focused on those whose stories we publish


Benchmarks for students' progress will be developed with a focus on the following two Common Core standards: 

  • Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that probe reasoning and evidence; ensure a hearing for a full range of positions on a topic or issue; clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions; and promote divergent and creative perspectives. More  

  • Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives; synthesize comments, claims, and evidence made on all sides of an issue; resolve contradictions when possible; and determine what additional information or research is required to deepen the investigation or complete the taskMore 

Students will be evaluated by the Learning Goals listed here