The University of Arizona

Mobile App Showcases Student-Produced Science Stories

By Shelley Littin, University Communications | July 25, 2013

The interactive science magazine iPad application showcases projects created by UA journalism students in a multimedia storytelling class.

Produced by students of Carol Schwalbe's multimedia science journalism course, the Scientific Tucsonan is the UA School of Journalism's first interactive iPad application for a science magazine.
Produced by students of Carol Schwalbe's multimedia science journalism course, the Scientific Tucsonan is the UA School of Journalism's first interactive iPad application for a science magazine.
Jason Davis, a first year master's student in the UA's School of Journalism, spearheaded his class's project to create the school's first interactive iPad application for a science magazine. (Photo by Ben Manvell)
Jason Davis, a first year master's student in the UA's School of Journalism, spearheaded his class's project to create the school's first interactive iPad application for a science magazine. (Photo by Ben Manvell)

A new iPad application created by a University of Arizona journalism class showcases students' coverage of science news on campus and across the state.

Jason Davis, a graduate student specializing in science journalism, spearheaded the School of Journalism's first multimedia project to create an iPad application for a science magazine. The recently completed Scientific Tucsonan magazine app is available to download for free.

Early in the spring semester, Davis stood up in his science journalism class, "Multimedia Storytelling: Science and Technology," and said: "We should create something to feature our work."

The idea appealed to the other students in the class and to his instructor Carol Schwalbe, an associate professor and director of graduate studies in the UA's School of Journalism.

"I'm all about using technology,” said Davis, who holds a bachelor's degree in information technology. "I suggested a website first and then my professor suggested maybe a magazine application. It just evolved from there."

Davis agreed to take the lead on creating an iPad application for a science journalism magazine that would feature students' work over the semester.

"I thought it would be a really cool project just for the sake of doing it," Davis said, "but I also really wanted our work to find a larger audience."

Davis thinks the application will appeal to Tucsonans and Arizonans interested in science.

"It's fun and it's Arizona-centric," he said. "The science stories are interesting and it definitely showcases science at the University."

Using the app is "just like reading a magazine on an iPad, flipping through pages, but it also has integrated video and pop-up photos," Davis said.

"This class was about composition of photographs and video in addition to science stories," Davis said.

One student compiled a photo narrative of hawks in flight at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum for an assignment to tell a story using only five images. The collage is featured in the magazine.

Another student created a video for the magazine documenting the town of Oatman, Ariz., a former mining town in the Black Mountains, in which wild burros still roam. The film is accompanied by a feature story describing the history of the small donkey population in Arizona.

"The class is actually open to all majors and all grade levels," Davis said. "We had not just journalism students; we also had science students that were interested in learning some journalism and multimedia skills. It gave a good mix of people in the class."

"Everybody in the class had some contribution to the content," he added.

The process of creating the magazine was a learning experience in itself.

"I was the first to stand up and say 'yes, let’s do this,'" Davis said. Then he realized that he didn't know the first thing about creating an iPad application.

Davis used Adobe's InDesign software to create the application, but adding the content was more complicated.

"When it comes to the interactive elements, such as if you want to tap a photo and bring it up full screen on the iPad, then you have to do a lot of additional steps that resemble programming," Davis said. "I was just learning as I went along. It nearly drove me crazy."

Davis credits classmates Drew McCullough and Christa Reynolds for their assistance with design ideas for the application, and also Schwalbe, his faculty adviser for the project. "She’s a tough editor," Davis said, "and that’s a good thing."

Schwalbe teaches the multimedia science journalism course every spring, in addition to a complementary science journalism course in the fall, focused on writing.

Now, faculty in the School of Journalism have become interested in learning to create similar applications for their own classes. Davis has been asked to present his iPad app project at a School of Journalism faculty retreat before the start of the fall semester. He is also hoping to discuss the app at the UA's Mobile Matters Symposium in September.

The project is a tangible step toward the goal of those in science journalism: ncreasing science literacy and education.

It also gave the students a chance to expand their skills beyond writing and delve into the technical aspects of creating tools for digital media. The experience and skills the students gained likely will make them better prepared for careers in modern journalism, which rapidly is evolving to incorporate multimedia technologies requiring skillsets beyond writing, Davis said.

"Most of the major magazines have iPad editions that offer content that goes beyond what's in the print version," he said. "We drew on examples from Time magazine and also National Geographic."

"Everything is going digital, so as you're reading a story, why not be able to interact with it? You could bring up maps and infographics as you're reading along to help you understand the story."

The Scientific Tusconan is not quite that advanced, Davis said, but expanding the range of capabilities of such apps is an idea he’s keeping in mind for the future. "And I’m still very proud of it," he added.

"It's the future of journalism."