There are several controversies related to teaching newer media and journalism, one of which is that schools focus too heavily on teaching skills. I can teach a student online and broadcast skills that give them an edge when applying for a position. However, have I prepared them to become a leader in that changing field? Journalism graduates burn out quickly because pay is low and hours are long. This means that there is a good chance that future graduates will question their future.
I believe that we should teach them enough skills to understand how to use technology to engage people through words, social media, and visuals. However, we must also cultivate leaders who continually inspire change. I don’t just want to teach them a skill so they can emulate it. Because all they will know is how to follow, not lead. The abilities to think, be flexible, and problem-solve are traits that make employees invaluable to an organization. I want my students to be creators, not consumers. If they lose a job, I want them to think about starting their own companies or be wise enough to look to other types of organizations for work. I want to train my students to adapt and think of journalism as a career for life. This is why I believe journalism programs should expand beyond skill-building to provide classes that connect technology to bigger issues. So I spent this evening instead of grading thinking of ideas for new undergraduate classes not always found in journalism programs.
Digital Sandbox (freshman)
The class encourages students to express their creativity by using whatever digital technology they have to tell stories in text and in visuals for online display. Friend and colleague Bonnie Bucqueroux invented this class concept as a way to encourage learning through structured play, before students are exposed to rigorous journalism school training. De-mystifying technology by focusing on fun also helps reduce pressure and stress on students.
Online Multimedia Journalism (sophomore/juniors)
This class teaches students to understand how to communicate visually, how people process information in the visual and online realm, and how to create visual content for the web. If the digital sandbox class was adopted, students would learn to express the skills they acquired at a professional level.
Entrepreneurship and Online Journalism (juniors/seniors)
Prerequisite: Online Multimedia Journalism
This class teaches students how create a Web site, develop a business plan for that site and use social media tools to market the site. The class would encourage students to work together to launch one or more Web sites into the marketplace.
Online Organizational Behavior and Change (juniors/seniors)
Prerequisite: Online Multimedia Journalism
This class teaches students to view journalism from an organizational perspective. Students would be teamed with information organizations to identify the problems they face and develop a plan to address those problems. Students would not only have the opportunity to job shadow, but they would be participant observers in helping organizations make the most of the online environment.
Citizen Journalism (sophomores/juniors/seniors)
Students in this class would each be assigned to cover one community. Students would use online media to report on a community and would also recruit members of that community to contribute content to the site on issues facing that community.
Data Mining, Creation and Visualization (juniors/seniors)
Students in this class learn how to mine the internet for information. They not only learn how to find, evaluate, and aggregate sources of information and data, but they also learn how to present information graphically and visually. The class encourages students to do more than present information visually, but to also think critically, select samples, and to use social science research methods. This class reflects some elements of a class designed by Phil Meyer called Precision Journalism.
Defining and Envisioning Journalism (juniors/seniors or masters)
The class would address fundamentals such as the history of journalism, how journalism has evolved, how journalism functions to promote or limit democracy, what journalism is and who journalists are, news quality, and constraints on journalism. The class would also encourage students to envision how the field can retain the best from the past as we move into a digital future.