Where in the world is VCU? Teaching in China

During summer of 2014, Jeff South, associate professor at the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture, taught in northeast China as a Fulbright Scholar, an international exchange program which connects students and teachers to universities all over the world. This summer, South was invited to return to China to teach at both Xiamen and Fudan University.

Where in the world where you this summer? xiamen city

From June 29 through July 3, I taught an intensive course in data journalism and data visualization at Xiamen University, in southern China, across the strait from Taiwan. The course was super-concentrated: We had only one week, and we had to squeeze in a full semester’s content. So we met six hours a day (and on top of that, I had six hours of lesson prep and grading to do each day). The class website shows what we did each day.

After teaching at Xiamen, I went to Shanghai, where I am teaching at Fudan University — one of VCU’s global partners. I am on the faculty of the Fudan International Summer Session — a month-long series of courses that attracts students from all over the world. We have about 260 students enrolled in FISS — 200 international students (from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K., Singapore, Malaysia …) and about 60 Chinese students (mostly from Fudan but also from other Chinese universities — and even some advanced high school students).

What did your students do?

The students worked really hard and accomplished a lot. I had 17 students — all of them Chinese students majoring in journalism or communications at Xiamen University. I taught in English (although I do speak some Chinese) and the students wrote their news stories in English. For their capstone projects in the course, students worked in small groups (of two or three) and did a complete story using data journalism techniques. We published the stories as a zine — an online magazine — at:


xiamenEach reporting group obtained a set of data — from an international agency (like the World Health Organization), or a Chinese government agency (like the National Bureau of Statistics of China), or a private agency (like Transparency International). The students analyzed the data, found some newsworthy trends and supporting statistics, did additional research, interviewed people and then wrote their article. Every article included at least two “data vizes” — visualizations, or interactive charts. They appear as embeds or links at the end of each story, such as:




The class was a lot of fun and I think the students enjoyed seeing their work published.

What kind of classes does the Fudan International Summer Session offer?

The FISS faculty includes several Fudan professors as well as a handful of international faculty members — from Australia, Scotland, Mexico and the U.S. They teach a range of course: history and culture, society and politics, business and economy, global issues of the 21st century. My course is on social and mobile media journalism. My class started July 6 and runs until July 31. Right now, we’re studying and comparing the major social media platforms around the world. Students are doing group presentations to show, for example,how similar Facebook and its Chinese counterpart (Renren) are. Next week, students will be creating social media content and promoting it via WeChat, Weibo and other platforms. We’ll do something similar to what my students at Northeast Normal University in Changchun did: a series of photos essays that represent “A Day in the Life of Shanghai.”

General impressions from your experience?xiamen3

China is fascinating. Every day is an adventure; every day is a learning experience. To really understand the world today, I think you need to understand China — its good sides, the ability to get things done, like health care or big capital construction projects, and its bad sides, like censorship of the media and people’s free speech and political repression.

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