Just What are They Teaching Future Journalists?

asked 10,000Words.net

Friday, December 26, 2008

One of the biggest complaints about modern journalism schools is aren’t equipping the next wave of journalists with the skills they need to compete in today’s newsrooms. So what are they teaching students? The online course description for several J-schools were run through Wordle. Here are the results.

http://www.10000words.net/2008/12/just-what-are-they-teaching-future.html

We’re supposed to be challenging our students’ assumptions. It’s a cherished learning objective, a must-have “outcome” on all of our syllabi. And yes, watching students crack open new ideas, rethink old ones is a most excellent way to spend one’s time. But I wish I had me a dime for every time a teacher’s assumptions were challenged.

When I arrived to teach New Media at Oregon State to New Media students, I assumed all of my students, every last one, would be technologically savvy, up on the lexicon of technology, and delving daily into all of the latest widgetry.

Nope.

Yes, most have Facebook pages. They made me get one, and now I can’t stop, which is a topic for  another post.

Two or three had blogs. And there are always three or four who are most excellent at video editing and film technology. But other than that, many of my students, 20-something years younger than I am, were starting at about the same level as I was. How could that be? I was telling THEM about del.icio.us and Twitter?? You should have seen their faces when I asked them if anybody was FARKING with any regularity.

The cool thing about that was we learned together. This past year has been an extraordinary learning curve for me and most of my students. We rode it together. It was incredibly frustrating and depressing sometimes, especially my maiden voyage Winter Term for the multimedia class, NMC 301 Writing for the Professional Media. I worried constantly about how much time we were “wasting” on technology versus content. Some of my students were like, how can you not know this?  I was like, how can YOU not know this?? I was depressed for us all at the start. What chance do they have? I brought in fantastic reporters from The Oregonian and the local paper, The Corvallis Gazette-Times, who told us they, too, were learning multimedia skills on the job. This was another surprise to us all. The G-T reporter, a woman in her 30s, brought podcasting to the paper! How did she learn it? She did the free tutorials. She then helped train some of her colleagues. 

This made us all feel better. And worse.

It was a curricular riddle: How do I teach a writing course when I’m supposed to get them up to speed on everything from video editing to the ethical dilemmas of journalists being bloggers?

All I could do was call it out for my students. Here we are, I’d say. Here’s what we knew before. Here’s what we need to know to do this assignment. I’ll show you this. You get the rest outside of class and report back. Meanwhile, I’ll fumble around and see what I can learn, too. 

That was how we began. Check out how we ended by looking at the final projects of both classes, Winter and Spring terms of 2008 on the blogroll.

By the end they’d blogged themselves silly, explored the ethical, journalistic and societal implications of New Media, written old-school news stories, heard from a wide range of New Media folks doing a wide range of jobs in the field; for their final projects some created  documentaries, others designed and wrote a magazine, others did online journalism, podcasts and video newscasts. All over multimedia map. The mindblowing part of me was how much substance they were able to retain (some excellent, thoughtful interviews, marvelous story ideas, lots of sources and follow up).

I’m still grading everything so my face is too mashed up against the window to see clearly, but I’m looking forward to reflecting more on what happened this year as I get some distance.