Dennis Dunleavy, associate professor of communications at Southern Oregon University, lectures Thursday to students during “Cyberia,” a freshman seminar focusing on how technology shapes lives. The students plan to use every technology available to them to chronicle the general election Tuesday. - Jamie Lusch

SOU students plan election-night coverage

Southern Oregon University students surreptitiously scroll through menus on cell phones and tap out text messages as associate communications professor Dennis Dunleavy leads an animated discussion on how information technology has boosted productivity, empowerment and social interaction.

But in a freshman seminar titled "Cyberia" that focuses on how technology shapes lives, the glow from the screens of digital devices of all sorts is part of the curriculum.

And on Nov. 4, Dunleavy hopes that his students — with their blog posts, text messages, YouTube videos and other computer-generated civic action — will help light the way toward a new kind of journalism for a new kind of community.

At least 80 students from the Cyberia seminar and classes in journalism writing, photojournalism and video production plan to fan out across the SOU campus and the rest of the Rogue Valley to chronicle the election.

They will send details via text message and e-mail; post photos on Flikr, a photo-sharing Web site; report election results on a blog — — and Facebook; spur discussions through instant messages and online forums; and report live on RVTV's community access station, starting at 7 p.m. on Election Day.

"We are going to take what we are immersed in every day for our social lives and turn it on its head," student Ben Holden said of the new media and technology.

Instead of just tracking friends and looking for photos from the last football game or other campus event, students will share political discussions, get informed and get involved, even if that wasn't their original intent when they first logged on, he said.

"This is huge, participating in this way in one of our most historic elections," Dunleavy said.

The generation now coming of age, often called "millennials," has a reputation of growing up "wired." They use technology that was unimaginable just a few years ago constantly and instinctively. However, the students in Dunleavy's class clearly combined old and new forms of communication as they prepared for their first run at voting. They cited a gamut of sources for information, from printed voter's pamphlets and newspapers to celebrity videos on YouTube.

Advertisements and recommended political stories are ubiquitous on Facebook, a popular social networking site, but they also are easy to ignore, said student Forrest Brooks. He also mistrusts mainstream media, especially cable news.

"As a first-time voter, I don't have a political background," he said. "I suppose I'm absorbing stuff from the Internet, but it's harder to find valid information."

He likes online, but he also likes talking to people, such as Dunleavy, who have experience in sorting through facts and voting.

Fellow student Amanda Brooks said she gathered information from voter's guides prepared by the state and various interest groups, conversations with co-workers and teachers, and televised debates.

"We have to form our own opinions and see how the issues relate to us," she said.

Technology helps them share their views, too. The class has made two short videos encouraging young people to vote and posted them on YouTube.

They hope to draw more people in with their election coverage. After the election, they hope to use the same online tools to attract attention and even sway opinion to other issues that matter to them, such as the environment, education and the economy.

"This is an example of using up-and-coming technology to our advantage," Forrest Brooks said.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail

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