By Alexandra White, Mass Communication Graduate Student

Cindy Royal teaches web development and coding techniques in the PhDigital Bootcamp. Photo by Sean Smith

The School of Journalism and Mass Communication hosted the first ever PhDigital Bootcamp May 14-20 in the Media Innovation Lab. This program, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, recruited mass communication doctoral students and early career faculty from across the country to improve their digital skills and prepare them to lead innovative curriculum. Prior to the Bootcamp, participants engaged in a ten-week, online program to introduce session topics, which included digital product management, web development and coding, data journalism, virtual reality and 360 video, drones, digital scholarship and more.

Cindy Royal, director of the Media Innovation Lab (MILab), conceived of and led the PhDigital Bootcamp. She recognized that doctoral students in the mass communication field were not gaining adequate digital skills and insights in their academic preparation and wanted to explore ways to improve this emphasis.

“I looked at faculty job postings on the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication website and found that many schools were seeking faculty with knowledge of digital skills and concepts, things like coding, virtual reality, social media and analytics,” Royal said. “I also surveyed doctoral students and found that many of them felt unprepared for these requirements.”

After conversations with the Knight Foundation, the program was approved for funding to host the Bootcamp and explore the idea of the “digital scholar-educator.”

Participants of the PhDigital Bootcamp were able to fly drones and learn about the certification requirements of the Federal Aviation Administration for professional use of drones. Photo provided by Cindy Royal

Royal was joined by SJMC Faculty in the Digital Media Innovation sequence, including Dale Blasingame, Jon Zmikly, Daniel Carter and Kelly Kaufhold, in developing the online modules and in-person sessions. Support for logistics of the program was provided by Lisa Westerbeck, research coordinator in the C3 Center, and graduate assistant Sean Smith.

“I am exceptionally proud of the DMI faculty and staff who contributed to the workshop,” Royal said. “I am fortunate to work with such a skilled and dedicated team.”

Several professionals and educators joined the instruction in person or via Skype, including Aron Pilhofer from Temple University, Talia Stroud from University of Texas, Amy Schmitz Weiss from San Diego State University, Daniel Kreiss from University of North Carolina, Jake Batsell from Southern Methodist University, Jessica Pucci from Arizona State University, Matt Waite from University of Nebraska, Carrie Brown from City University of New York, Sandra Gonzalez representing Google News Lab and Tony Elkins of Gatehouse Media.

In addition to lessons held in the MILab, participants had the chance to tour the Texas State campus and San Marcos Square, went on a field trip to the Texas Tribune in Austin and met with SJMC alumni who work at HomeAway, Umbel, Spredfast and other digitally focused organizations.

Amanda Bright, a PhDigital attendee who is a recent Ph.D. graduate from Indiana State University, plans to apply concepts learned in the Bootcamp in her new faculty position at University of Georgia.

“Each of the modules during this Bootcamp will be put to use in my new academic role,” Bright said. “Without a doubt, this was a booster shot that allowed me to craft better content for the courses I will teach and the tasks I will take on as a journalism faculty member.”

Marina Hendricks, who got her Ph.D. from the University of Missouri and now teaches at South Dakota State University, feels the Bootcamp topics should be more broadly represented in doctoral programs.

“Ideally, every doctoral program would include a seminar on digital journalism scholarship and curriculum,” Hendricks said. “This Bootcamp serves as a model that these programs could look to when developing their own courses.”

The program emphasized practical concepts as well as the relevance of emerging topics to research, which participants recognized as a natural integration in mass communication.

“Through direct interaction with technologies, this Bootcamp makes me realize that both theoretical and practical explorations are important for researchers and educators who study technology and digital culture,” said Qun Wang, a doctoral student at Rutgers University. “These two types of explorations are inseparable.”

The Bootcamp used product management and design thinking concepts to encourage participants to conceptualize new curriculum strategies. Photo provided by Cindy Royal

Participant comments from final evaluations emphasized the strong value received and need for more programs of this nature.

I wholeheartedly enjoyed meeting everyone from all over the country and especially from different institutions. The most important part was the team you put together from Texas State! Everyone was so willing to help and knew their stuff, which made it easier for me to learn, especially at an accelerated pace.

I loved my week with all of you at TXST and the experience you provided. It was the sort of experience that lights/rekindles energy and interest, something I think was true for most of us. As we discussed on several occasions, it can be hard to be the only person, or one of only a few, who feel a certain way about curriculum, purpose, or pedagogy. It was energizing to know there are others out there who see the importance, benefit, and potential of conceptualizing new ways of approaching our field’s study and teaching.

The name itself says it all. PhD students in most universities do not have the opportunity to hone their digital media skills, but end up with very incomplete plans of what to do. This Bootcamp has helped provide us with a roadmap on learning about the emerging trends and also how to work digital media into the curriculum. Given the pace of change taking over the world of communication and technology, newly minted doctorates are considered as a desirable hire only when they know how to work with the emerging media trends.

In August, PhDigital Bootcamp graduates will participate on a panel at the AEJMC Conference in Washington, D.C. to discuss outcomes of the program. More information can be found at

Participants got the chance to shoot and edit 360 video. Photo provided by Sean Smith

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit

About the Media Innovation Lab
The School of Journalism and Mass Communication opened the Media Innovation Lab (MILab) in Fall 2016. The MILab provides Texas State University with a central point for a broad range of digital media activities – scholarship, curriculum, courses, faculty development, community networking and events. Users are able to experiment with 360 video, drones, sensors and other emerging technologies and receive training in a range of web development and social media techniques. MILab faculty are committed to continuous learning and staying on the cutting edge of the intersection of technology and communication.

About the School of Journalism and Mass Communication
The School of Journalism and Mass Communication, housed in historic Old Main, offers a nationally accredited curriculum that introduces graduate and undergraduate students to the broad framework of mass communication, emphasizing what is fundamental to advertising, journalism, public relations, electronic media and the newest degree in digital media innovation. The mission of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication is to pursue excellence. Our programs strive to cultivate strong professional, research, theoretical, critical and ethical skills in a diverse and engaging environment that prepares students to be socially responsible media professionals, scholars and citizens.