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UNLV Professors Think Outside the Box and Get Creative With Classes

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Special topic classes offered at UNLV give students an alternative to traditional classes by focusing on a wide variety of topics.

These specialized classes are similar to traditional classes in that students meet for lecture during the week, complete assignments and receive grades. However, they do not have a set syllabus from semester to semester.

“Anybody could propose a special topics class that covers a unique or particular subject,” said Dr. Greg Borchard, associate professor and graduate coordinator for the Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies.

Special topic courses are usually approved when there is ample enrollment or a high demand for the subject being taught.

This semester, Spring 2013, a special topics course is being taught with a focus on print journalism. The course is a journalism workshop (JOUR 490). Instructors for this class are journalism veterans Tom Gorman, executive editor of the Las Vegas Sun and John Glionna, a bureau writer for the Los Angeles Times. They have 75 years experience between them.

Students meet every Thursday from 7:00 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. in GUA 1126. It is an open lecture where students feel free to share ideas, brainstorm and fine tune their writing skills with the help of seasoned professionals.

Students sit poised with pen and paper or open laptops ready to participate. Open editing takes place where students and instructors take turns critiquing articles written by classmates. Other activities include proposing ideas, one-on-one time with instructors and semester project preparation; the semester project being their biggest story of the semester.

This course is entirely focused on journalism by way of newspapers, news writing and current events with a few fun personal stories and anecdotes thrown in to keep things fun.

Students are required to pitch ideas, stick to deadlines and work at selecting topics for articles that are likely to get published.

“It feels like how a real newsroom should feel, everyone is equal and pulls their own weight,” said Alison Saclolo, a journalism student currently enrolled in the course.

The course is designed to provide a mock newsroom environment in order to better prepare seniors for the job market.

“Students will get a very real dose of what would happen in the newsroom,” Gorman said.

Gorman and Glionna plan to teach this class next spring and are currently lobbying to get it approved for fall as well, however, in the future this course will have prerequisites to ensure students are properly prepared for the class, enabling them to get the most out of it.

In order to enroll, students are required to have taken Journalism 101, 310 and either 411 or 486.

Another upcoming special topics class which will be offered in fall is “American Gonzo,” taught by Dr. Greg Borchard.

This class will focus on the works of Hunter S. Thompson, specific to Las Vegas, as well as writers who preceded him beginning with Horatio Alger.

Originally the idea for this class came from a partnership between Carol Harter, former UNLV president, and Borchard focusing on a Black Mountain Institute symposium on Hunter Thompson. The symposium has since been put on hold but Borchard plans to go forward with the class.

This class can be fun for those interested in the topic, however Borchard wants students who are thinking of taking the class to be informed that there will be a focus on serious writing and journalism throughout the course.

Special topics classes often reflect the varied passions or interests of the professors who teach them which allows instructors to focus on a relevant topic or introduce something innovative to the department.

“It allows faculty to customize the type of classes that we offer from time to time,” Borchard said.

Faculty hope to garner more student interest in special topics classes in the future.

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