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Education and media in a new world

Last week I had the chance to participate in a Dean’s advisory board committee for the Scripps College of Communication. The College is preparing itself for arguably the biggest transition in its history, as it has to balance the university’s switch from quarters to semesters, and also physically move into a new building that will house all five schools in the college.

And during all of that, the College of Communication is trying to find ways to not only stay viable in the ever-changing media market, but to lay new ground for the future of the industry.

Talk about a challenge.

I came to the committee meeting—which included some distinguished alumni and current college administrators—with four other students to talk about the future of media and offer our ideas about what we think the college should do to best prepare its students.

We shared our experiences in the media and proposed some ideas on where we saw the industry headed, but we spent most of the time trying to answer some tough questions facing media educators throughout the world…

What should be taught? What shouldn’t be taught? What are some ways to collaborate across platforms? How do we utilize the skills of so many students? Are professors teaching students to innovate? What should they change? How do business skills relate to the media? Are you learning to build your own brand? How are you doing that?….

The answers for all these questions are somewhat disguised, difficult to find and often surrounded with uncertainty. And even when the answers seem obvious, educational institutions are slow to change and often miss the opportunity to cultivate innovation.

That sounds awfully similar to the media.

Universities are supposed to inspire creation and push students to explore new ways of seeing the world. Professors should challenge students, and collaborate with them to determine why things are the way they are, and what can be done to improve them.

Similarly, the media are supposed to bring accurate information to the masses, in ways that people can easily use that news and apply it to their lives. The media need to inspire communication, interaction and creation by allowing the consumer to engage in all aspects of the process.

The media-consumer relationship needs involvement from both parties, at all levels, and does not value one side more than the other.  Just like the professor is no more valuable than the student, a journalist is no more valuable than the consumer.

Well, that is how it should be.

But institutions rarely seem to buy into that mentality, and often view the professor or the journalists on a higher scale. That should change.

As universities and media outlets head into the future, the thinking needs to shift from the passive consumer model that has dominated the education and media world.

Instead, universities and media outlets should seek out ways to allow the students and consumers to engage in the process. In academia, students are not just part of the process, they are the process. They want to create and collaborate to shape their education, and universities should provide ways to make that happen.

Jeff Jarvis, one of the most forward thinkers in a new-media world, argues that, “Just as journalists must become more curator than creator, so must educators.”

In a speech he gave at the TEDxNYed conference, Jarvis argued that educators and the media need to provide unique value. In an age where people can learn nearly anything on the Internet, the traditional suppliers of information (educators, the media) must do more than simply regurgitate facts.

Educators must add value to basic information they provide.

More importantly, educators should not only teach what has been in the past, but they desperately look for opportunities to discuss and wrestle with topics and ideas that are emerging today.

That changes the education system from a passive model where the student takes in information, to a model where conversation becomes the dominant mode for learning. The professor is no longer the expert passing off information to the students.

With this model, the professor is on the same level as the student, sharing ideas and adding perspective to the discussion, but not re-enforcing the professor-student divide through a traditional lecture.

Maybe that isn’t a bad thing, Jarvis argues.

“We need to move students up the education chain. They don’t always know what they need to know, but why don’t we start by finding out? Instead of giving tests to find out what they’ve learned, we should test to find out what they don’t know. Their wrong answers aren’t failures, they are needs and opportunities,” he said.

In my college career I have taken one class that truly adopted this model for teaching, where students drove the curriculum and the professor acknowledged he was as much a student of the topic as we were.

The class focused on the future of the media, and it had just nine students, from different schools across the Scripps College of Communication. It was all discussion-based, with supplemental readings to provide historical context and perspective to what we discussed.

In class, we talked about emerging forms of communication and how they might alter the media landscape. We also talked about what kind of communication systems and technology might come in the future, and how we might use that in our careers.

Instead of learning what already is—like most college courses—we pushed ourselves to discuss technology that doesn’t even exist yet. We were creative. We encouraged innovation. We did what you are supposed to do in a college course.

The professor provided a starting point for the discussion, and would interject with ideas and his thoughts on the topics, but he never lectured. The students were never passive. Note taking was not the essential way to have success.

There was no midterm. No final. No vocab quizzes. In fact, grades were never an issue. If students did the work, challenged themselves in discussion, and gave an obvious effort, then they got an A.

The class was a little unconventional, but that is what made it great. It was the best course I ever had in college, and it is the kind of class I think universities need to emphasize in the future.

As we head into a new age of communication, where the news consumer is as much a creator as the traditional journalist, and the student is as much an educator as the professor; this is exactly the kind of class we need.


Category: New Media Thoughts

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