By: Jessica Patterson
As TAs and contract instructors, we’re busy teaching, grading, responding to student requests, and holding tutorials and office hours. Amid the hubbub, however, there is also a clear need constantly to rethink, revitalize, and update our teaching and curricula to keep up with developments happening in the outside world, and educational research can help us with that. Exposure to recent research into innovative teaching practice can help us all to reinvigorate our outdated teaching practices and curricula, regardless of discipline.
One criticism of my discipline is that the distance between academic practice and the real world is growing ever larger (Salkin n.pag.), and journalism schools that don’t adapt “risk becoming irrelevant” (Finberg, n.pag.). While the forecasts for print journalism are dire, this revolution could have happened in any industry or academic department that faced the tumultuous change journalism did over the last 20 years.
The slow pace of change in academic curriculum presents challenges for instructors eager to keep pace with real world working conditions and practices, across disciplines. Thus, I would argue that we should all be rethinking our curricula with a focus on keeping up to date with our respective industries. For my purposes, a fourth-year newspaper workshop in the journalism school serves as an instructive case study to explore the need and possibilities for updated teaching practices and curricula.
The current workshop is based on the “teaching hospital” model, where students are guided through production of real journalism for a community in the city of Ottawa. Several weeks are allotted to each issue of the newspaper, over which time students find story ideas, interview sources, write and copy edit stories, and lay them out on the page. Real newsrooms at weekly newspapers are much faster-paced, and not only do reporters find and write stories and design news pages, but there is a focus on keeping up with digital practices as well. Reporters engage with audiences online, promote and find stories, and shoot their own photos and video. Recent research on innovative practices to foster student learning offers interesting and relevant insights into change, including being able to think digitally, experiential learning, and incorporating digital games into curriculum.
Instead of just reporting for one platform, students in the newspaper workshop could also be reporting for a newspaper website. This is something real newspapers do. As Folkerts notes, “everyone must be able to think ‘digitally.’ What this means is that we need to reorganize our teaching about how to report and produce a story across platforms” (73). Despite having a few of the students segregated into producing news for the workshop newspaper’s online site, not all students have this multimodal experience over the course of the workshop. Academics argue that to learn twenty-first century competencies, the curriculum would have to be restructured (Erstad 409).
Another practice that may engage students learning and update the curriculum is to incorporate digital games. Aayeshah argues that digital games could be a source of learning in journalism education: “Digital games have attributes like interactivity, power of engagement, provision of immediate feedback and ability to develop problem-solving,” (Aayeshah 29). One limitation of this avenue, however, is the time and resources necessary to develop or maintain a journalism game: “The time, money, expertise and the level of collaboration required for an effective game are simply too much to ask from an academic, who already has an immense workload” (Aayeshah 36).
A third approach that could foster learning through innovative practice (and would revamp the curriculum entirely) is something called experiential learning. Parks argues that experiential learning is “essential to journalism education” (137). In a 2015 study of a course at the College of Education at Michigan State University, two journalism professors melded their four course hours together and called on students to produce a live online news report, “with news stories, a Q&A, a photo story, a poll, and a graphic” (Parks 126) from events they found happening at their university centre. Parks suggested the experimental, experiential course integrated practical learning and content production using digital mediums. However, one limitation to this approach is that it may not be as easily replicated to fit the university’s journalism program, given current workshop sizes.
Each of these innovative approaches offers a possible spark for reinvigorating outdated teaching practice, and each is an idea that has worked in different situations. Each of the examples outlines, to some extent, a strategic rethinking of the curriculum, one that, as Finberg argues, “probably means letting go of some of the current thinking about what is taught in the classroom and what journalism education is” (n.pag.).
Research into innovative teaching practices can apply to a range of disciplines at the university level. Beetham and Oliver found that academics don’t often have opportunities to reflect on how digital technology impacts their field, “and those opportunities that exist, for example, around curriculum validation and review do not always foster an open and innovative approach” (167). Perhaps not surprisingly, a review of the literature on innovative learning practices in higher education highlighted the “need to cultivate the feeling of staff ownership towards innovative practices” (Smith 178). However, by restructuring curriculum to encourage more digital literacy and an ability to “think across mediums” (Folkerts 73), faculty would not only be helping students prepare for their careers, but would also foster renewal throughout the department by reminding students and instructors alike that we are all involved in a collective process of learning.
Aayeshah, Wajeehah. “Playing with News: Digital Games in Journalism Education.” Asia Pacific Media Educator 22.1 (2012): 29-41. Web. 02 Oct. 2015.
Beetham, Helen and Martin Oliver. “The Changing Practices of Knowledge and Learning.” Rethinking Learning for A Digital Age. Eds. Rhona Sharpe. New York: Routledge, 2010. 155-169. Print.
Erstad, O., et al. “Challenges to Learning and Schooling in the Digital Networked World of the 21st Century.” Journal of computer assisted learning 29.5 (2013): 403-13. Web. 02 Oct. 2015.
Finberg, Howard. “Journalism schools need to adapt or risk becoming irrelevant.” Poynter. 9 Aug. 2013. Web. 02 Oct. 2015.
Folkerts, Jean. “Credibility Resides at the Core of Teaching Journalism: The Challenge Involves Adjusting to the New Rigors of the Practice and Getting Students to Think in Digital Ways.” Nieman Reports 61.3 (2007): 73. Web. 02 Oct. 2015.
Parks, P. “A Collaborative Approach to Experiential Learning in University Newswriting and Editing Classes: A Case Study.” Journalism & Mass Communication Educator 70.2 (2015): 125-40. Web. 02 Oct. 2015.
Salkin, Erica. “AEJMC 2015: How Research Is Leading to Better Journalism Education.” MediaShift. 13 Aug. 2015. Web. 02 Oct. 2015.
Smith, Karen. “Lessons Learnt from Literature on the Diffusion of Innovative Learning and Teaching Practices in Higher Education.” Innovations in Education and Teaching International 49.2 (2012): 173. Web. 02 Oct. 2015.