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Britten wins AEJMC teaching award

Britten works with student at Media Innovation Center Bob Britten works with a student in the Media Innovation Center. Photo by David Smith.

Bob Britten, a teaching associate professor in the WVU Reed College of Media, was awarded the Dr. Sandy Utt Excellence in Teaching Award from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC). He received the award earlier this month during the Innovation in Teaching panel at the AEJMC conference in Washington, D.C.

Each year, AEJMC recognizes instructors in the visual communication field for their innovation, excellence and contributions. Britten is the second recipient to receive the award after it was renamed in August 2022 for Utt, a long-time active AEJMC member and Reed College of Media alumna, who donated a portion of her retirement funds to the competition.

Although Utt does not play a role in the selection process, she was pleasantly surprised that this year’s award recipient was not only from her alma mater but was also someone who shares her love for news design.

Britten has been working in journalism and news design since his junior year of college when he was promoted from movie reviewer to managing editor of his campus newspaper at Allegheny College. Since he joined the Reed College of Media in 2007, he has served as the faculty advisor for the student-produced Mirage Magazine, advised students at The Daily Athenaeum, worked to improve teaching practices through WVU’s Teaching and Learning Commons and taught courses on fact-checking, editing and curation, visual journalism and data and design.

In his classes and advising roles, Britten emphasizes the importance of one’s target audience and how best to reach them. Utt believes the same is true when it comes to being an excellent teacher.

It’s important to understand that not everyone who walks into your classroom is as excited about the material as you are. Your responsibility is to try to teach them in a way they’ll understand. Dr. Sandy Utt

Britten believes this can be accomplished in a few ways: being willing to adjust your lesson plans to the students’ interests, lecturing less, engaging more and finding ways to have the class apply the day’s material before they leave.

“Every faculty member needs to take a look at what they’re doing and make sure they’re doing it because it’s the best choice, not because it’s the way they’ve always done it,” Britten said.

Each applicant for the teaching award was required to submit a class syllabus that highlights innovative practices in visual communication. Britten submitted the syllabus for Data and Design, a class he developed and teaches that focuses on a mix of traditional and new skills in information visualization.

“Information graphics is not always well understood, and it’s a skill that can help students get jobs,” Britten said. “Even if the students don’t become graphics people, having that skill sets them apart from others. I think it should be incorporated into every journalism program’s curriculum.”

A professor emeritus at the University of Memphis, Utt’s gift provides both encouragement and recognition to journalism educators.

“As a professor, you can really have a huge impact on students,” said Utt. “I’m passionate about students and teaching, so contributing to this award is one of the best uses of my resources.”

Utt earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism from WVU in 1968 and 1974, respectively, and her doctorate in mass communication and journalism from Ohio University in 1981. Prior to joining the University of Memphis, she taught at Texas A&M University, Ohio University and Norfolk State University.

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