So you are going to include drone journalism instruction in your journalism courses. Now what?
First, you have to train the trainers…
When I first started as a journalist, if you wanted aerial shots, you had to hire a helicopter or an airplane. Many of my colleagues had much the same experience. Years later we are now teaching the next generation of journalists but few of us have a background in using drones for newsgathering. That left us with a bit of a quandary!
The answer, of course, was training. Indeed, when we embarked on the journey to set up the Canadian Centre for Drone Journalism Excellence, training faculty was one of the first things we decided to do.
But what kind of training? How would we find someone to train us? And (the all-important question) how much would it cost? Here’s what we learned.
What kind of training?
At a very basic level, faculty need to know that in Canada, drone pilots have to obey the rules set out in the Canadian Aviation Regulations. These regulations apply to all drones flown in Canada weighing between 250 grams and 25 kilograms - which would incorporate anything that a journalist or journalism student would pilot. (You’ll find links to Canadian drone regulations here.)
Transport Canada offers both basic and advanced drone pilot certificates. You’ll find more information about that here. I’d recommend you use this as your baseline reference, when you are when deciding what kind of training faculty will need.
No formal training/self-taught
Journalism students must know that in Canada drone pilots must be licenced and their drones must be registered…they can’t just fly anywhere at anytime.
If all you are going to do is mention the use of drones in a class or two, it’s easy enough for faculty members to read up on the highlights of Canadian regulations. This shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours, but you’ll also need to update your knowledge from time to time. This website is designed to allow journalism instructors to do just that, so check back frequently as we add more resources, ideas, examples of drone journalism, and drone journalism news each month.
Radio operations, airspace management, flight planning, aviation industry standards and safety practices, ethics and privacy issues are just a few things that are important to know if you intend to venture, in your faculty training, beyond just a basic knowledge. And, of course, if you are planning to show students how to fly a drone, then you’ll need to know how to pilot it yourself first.
For this, you might want to consider bringing in someone to train faculty for a few hours. Dozens of schools across Canada offer such expertise, and you’ll find a list here.
I’d recommend that you attach a goal to this medium level of training: have one or several faculty members write and obtain Transport Canada’s Basic Certificate - Pilot Operations. Having a goal like this, in my experience, forces faculty members to learn a fair amount about drones and general aviation regulations in order to pass Transport Canada’s Small Basic Exam. Consider meeting this goal time well spent: if you teach, then you know students will test your knowledge!
At Seneca College, we decided early on that if we were going to do this - we were going to go big. We allowed any journalism professor to join a course that would allow them to obtain Transport Canada’s Pilot Certificate - Advanced Operations. Eight faculty members signed up.
We discussed bringing in a trainer to meet with faculty for several weeknights or weekends, but in the end we decided to go with a combination of online, self-directed training followed by field instruction with experienced drone pilots to teach us how to use drones and record video.
The flight school we chose offers a mixture of self-directed online modules and webinars. It represents about a 20-hour commitment per faculty member. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you are trying to squeeze in teaching, lesson preparation and marking assignments, as well as everything else in your life, I recommend setting aside at least 4 - 5 months for faculty to complete this. (We initially gave ourselves 2 months, only to find that we had to more than double the time needed.)
As someone who has done this training, I’ll offer this advice: prepare to work hard. Topics like air law, navigation and meteorology can be complex and take time to learn.
I mentioned eight faculty members signed up, but not all of them completed the training. This is also something to consider when you are deciding what level of training will best serve your needs. Advanced training is harder than it looks, and it does consume precious free time.
How do you find someone to train your faculty?
I’m indebted to my colleague Andrew Mair for the following, as he was tasked with finding a flight school to train our faculty members. His advice is to do what journalists already do so well: research.
Research the kind of learning they offer. Is it in-person, classroom teaching? Would that work for your journalism school faculty? As Andrew puts it, it wouldn’t have been easy “getting [our faculty members] in one room for a couple of weekends” so right away we decided Seneca would look for an organisation that offered a fair amount of online training.
Research the quality of the instruction they offer. Andrew suggests starting with a good look at the flight school’s website. Is it impressive? Have they put some thought into it? Are they ‘cowboys’ who just started offering training? Or, as Andrew says, are they experienced drone pilots with a clear track record who “are trying to do right by the industry”? Next, check to see who is listed on the website as instructor staff. What are their credentials? Finally, check to see if the flight school partners with flight firms. You want to make sure that flight schools are working with the latest equipment and technology - otherwise you are likely wasting your money.
Research to find previous clients. Once Andrew had narrowed down his search to a short list of possible flight schools, he then sought out testimonials. You might find these on the website itself, or you can ask the flight school for references.
You’ll need to do all the above, because training isn’t cheap and as we all know - education budgets are slim!
How much will it cost?
To give you a benchmark figure: we paid $4500.00 to train 8 faculty members. That includes access to online ground school training modules to prepare us to write Transport Canada’s Small Advanced Exam + 1 day in-person field training to show us how to use the drones to gather video so that we can then take the flight review. This does not include fees for faculty to take Transport Canada’s online exams and the flight review. (Much like the process to get a driver’s licence; Transport Canada requires that you pass a written and a field exam in order to obtain a Pilot Certificate - Advanced operations).
I hope the above information is helpful.
Feel free to contact us with questions, or to pass along your own training tips and information. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Professor of Journalism
Seneca College School of Media