Journalism education: matters of principle(s) from WJEC

Some discussion has been emerging about the journalism education principles (full text here) that were issued at the WJEC — in a few blog posts and comments etc such as those by:

Mindy McAdams (Teaching Online Journalism blog, University of Florida)

Martin Hirst (Ethical Martini blog, Auckland University of Technology)

Rebecca MacKinnon (RConversation blog, University of Hong Kong) — more WJEC reflections here

Guy Berger (Conversant blog, Rhodes University) — article in the SA Mail & Guardian

It was good to meet the latter three at the WJEC.

I have mixed feelings about the declaration itself. It’s more descriptive than aspirational or, indeed, inspirational — an opportunity missed?

More positively, the principles emphasise the importance of journalism practice, “a strong vocational orientation” and “experiential learning” (principle 7), and “strong links to media industries” (principle 8). And “journalism educators should be a blend of academics and practitioners” (principle 3) — although I’m not clear whether this means every individual or collectively.

However, there is no reference to freedom, democracy, human rights, freedom of speech or of the press, censorship, media ownership etc. Perhaps this is not surprising, given the diversity of the organisations involved, including associations from Africa, China, Europe, North America and Russia, and of the political and cultural context in which they operate. I gather that the phrases “civil society” and “public service” dominated the discussions to agree the declaration — and neither appears in that form.

In part, the declaration probably reflects the ‘lowest common denominator’ effect — and key phrases such as “the effective and responsible practice of journalism” “serve the public” and “public interest obligations” are left open and undefined, and thus open to different (even divergent) interpretations. If you’re feeling cynical, try inserting “whatever that means”… (to add to the “where practical” phrases already present in places).

I would have liked it to say more about the teaching and learning of journalism. It can make a huge difference, and tends to be neglected — the focus being mostly on the content. Both need to be seen together, I believe.

Having said all this, it’s quite an achievement to pull together a statement of this kind, however imperfect. Work in progress, you might say.

Another factor is the purpose of the declaration, of course — and when he presented it to the WJEC session, Guo Ke from Shanghai International Studies University emphasised its role in representing journalism education to others. He’s pictured (right) with a slide making this point.

I wonder who will be using the declaration, and how. Some at WJEC suggested it might be of most use to journalism educators in developing countries and emerging democracies, particularly where they face state controls and other constraints. Guy Berger from Rhodes University suggests it could help to “reinvigorate journalism teaching and improve its effects on African media”.

In my situation, I don’t envisage using it much. The priority for editors and employers (of my students) will continue to be questions such as “are you turning out students who can do the job?” and “have they got a solid grasp of news, reporting, writing and interviewing?”

As for the position of journalism in the university world, I suspect academics in other disciplines would look more to what’s going on in practice (outcomes) rather than descriptive statements. But there was plenty of interesting discussion about that at WJEC — a subject for another post sometime.

Finally, a modest prediction for where the WJEC declaration will crop up: look out for journal articles referencing and/or discussing the principles. As well as blogs, of course!

Journalism education principles from the World Journalism Education Congress (WJEC)

Here’s the full text of the declaration issued at the World Journalism Education Congress (WJEC), which took place at the end of June in Singapore. It includes a list of the 27 associations involved in the WJEC, whose representatives agreed the declaration.

I’m putting comments and other links in a separate post above.

Declaration of Principles of Journalism Education

World Journalism Education Congress
Singapore, June 2007

We, the undersigned representatives of professional journalism education associations, share a concern and common understanding about the nature, role, importance, and future of journalism education worldwide. We are unanimous that journalism education provides the foundation as theory, research, and training for the effective and responsible practice of journalism. Journalism education is defined in different ways. At the core is the study of all types of journalism.

Journalism should serve the public in many important ways, but it can only do so if its practitioners have mastered an increasingly complex body of knowledge and specialized skills. Above all, to be a responsible journalist must involve an informed ethical commitment to the public. This commitment must include an understanding of and deep appreciation for the role that journalism plays in the formation, enhancement and perpetuation of an informed society.

We are pledged to work together to strengthen journalism education and increase its value to students, employers and the public. In doing this we are guided by the following principles:

  1. At the heart of journalism education is a balance of conceptual, philosophical and skills-based content. While it is also interdisciplinary, journalism education is an academic field in its own right with a distinctive body of knowledge and theory.
  2. Journalism is a field appropriate for university study from undergraduate to postgraduate levels. Journalism programs offer a full range of academic degrees including bachelors, masters and Doctor of Philosophy degrees as well as certificate, specialized and mid-career training.
  3. Journalism educators should be a blend of academics and practitioners; it is important that educators have experience working as journalists.
  4. Journalism curriculum includes a variety of skills courses and the study of journalism ethics, history, media structures/institutions at national and international level, critical analysis of media content and journalism as a profession. It includes coursework on the social, political and cultural role of media in society and sometimes includes coursework dealing with media management and economics. In some countries, journalism education includes allied fields like public relations, advertising, and broadcast production.
  5. Journalism educators have an important outreach mission to promote media literacy among the public generally and within their academic institutions specifically.
  6. Journalism program graduates should be prepared to work as highly informed, strongly committed practitioners who have high ethical principles and are able to fulfill the public interest obligations that are central to their work.
  7. Most undergraduate and many masters programs in journalism have a strong vocational orientation. In these programs experiential learning, provided by classroom laboratories and on-the-job internships, is a key component.
  8. Journalism educators should maintain strong links to media industries. They should critically reflect on industry practices and offer advice to industry based on this reflection.
  9. Journalism is a technologically intensive field. Practitioners will need to master a variety of computer-based tools. Where practical, journalism education provides an orientation to these tools.
  10. Journalism is a global endeavor; journalism students should learn that despite political and cultural differences, they share important values and professional goals with peers in other nations. Where practical, journalism education provides students with first-hand experience of the way that journalism is practiced in other nations.
  11. Journalism educators have an obligation to collaborate with colleagues worldwide to provide assistance and support so that journalism education can gain strength as an academic discipline and play a more effective role in helping journalism to reach its full potential.

This declaration was agreed by representatives of the following organisations:
African Council on Communication Education
Arab-US Association of Communication Educators
Asian Media Information Centre
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (USA)
Association for Journalism Education (UK)
Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication (USA)
Broadcast Education Association (USA)
Canadian Commission for Education in Journalism
Chinese Communication Association (US-based)
Chinese Journalism Education Association
European Journalism Training Association
Latin American Federation of Social Communication Schools
Brazilian Society of Interdisciplinary Studies in Communication – INTERCOM
International Association of Media and Communication Research
Journalism Division, International Communication Association
Israel Communication Association
Japan Society for Studies in Journalism and Mass Communication
Journalism Education Association (Australia and New Zealand)
JourNet
Korean Society for Journalism and Mass Communication Studies
Latin American Association of Communication Researchers
Philippine Association of Communication Educators
Russian Association for Education in Journalism
Russian Association for Film and Media Education
Saudi Association for Media and Communication
South African Communication Association
Trans-African Council for Communication

Teaching and learning for digital (multimedia) journalism

Reflections from a syndicate at the World Journalism Education Congress — I’ve been part of a group of journalism lecturers discussing adapting journalism education to a digital age. Guy Berger from Rhodes University has blogged about this (and other points from WJEC).

The content of what we teach and what students learn (including skills) has formed a large part of discussions — but today we’ve also focused on how: teaching and learning strategies (hooray!).

I argue that teaching and learning needs to reflect more of the characteristics of digital journalism (and Web 2.0). This involves plenty of approaches and methods that have much to recommend them on proven pedagogical grounds, such as:

  • collaborative and interactive student-led group projects
  • open-ended assignments that foster exploration
  • peer feedback and assessment
  • enquiry- (or problem-) based learning (EBL/PBL)
  • students negotiating their own assignments and assessment criteria
  • students as fellow-explorers (even teachers)
  • lecturers as facilitators of learning
  • learning to make decisions on the basis of incomplete information
  • business models for journalism (and ‘new media’)
  • entrepreneurship skills and understanding.

I hope some of this makes it to the final session at the WJEC…

Making every comment count: effective formative feedback to journalism students

This is the theme of my research paper at the World Journalism Education Congress — abstract below, and available here as a PDF.

Making every comment count: effective formative feedback to journalism students — Abstract

Effective formative feedback plays a crucial role in student learning, but it has received relatively little attention. Guidelines on policy or quality have rarely addressed formative feedback in depth, yet quality reviews have consistently highlighted concerns about it, as have student surveys. In addition, trends in assessment imply an increasing emphasis on lecturers providing formative feedback to students, as do other developments in policy (eg professional teaching standards) and practical concerns (eg staff workloads, student diversity).

A number of factors make the topic of feedback comments particularly pertinent to journalism educators.

First, journalism students often produce a high volume of work (as journalistic articles) compared to other disciplines – an approach that serves to replicate professional practice in the newsroom as well as providing the opportunity for intensive experiential learning. This makes for a high volume of work for lecturers to read and comment on.

Second, this work often requires detailed scrutiny, because accuracy and succinct writing are rightly emphasised as essential elements in journalism. So assessment and feedback in journalism arguably demand more time and more detailed comments than in other disciplines.

Third, many journalism educators (almost all in higher education in the UK) are journalists by profession and may not have much background in formal education. Despite the growing professionalisation of university teaching, some lecturers may thus lack in-depth prior experience and/or training in the provision of feedback to students.

Fourth, the application of a scholarly approach to journalism education, as a form of scholarship of teaching and learning in the discipline, appears to have been slow to develop.

This paper presents the findings of a study of the content and quality of formative feedback, which involved the development of indicators that were then used to categorise and analyse a sample of written feedback comments to postgraduate journalism students.

The research identified areas of good practice, as well as suggesting some gaps, which can grouped under four themes:

  • How far does the feedback make clear to students why/how they are succeeding or failing?
  • How far does it link students’ work with their wider progress and the module/course curriculum more generally?
  • Does the feedback encourage dialogue?
  • Does the feedback engage students with the content and with their own learning?

The research also raises questions about the availability of suitable tools to review feedback, for both individuals and institutions. More systematic reviews and support for good practice in feedback might help; encouraging lecturers to keep copies of feedback on which to reflect critically, for example, perhaps using indicators such as the ones from this project. They could discuss with colleagues what is often an individual process rarely seen by others. Some established institutional processes could take more systematic account of feedback, too, including programme evaluations, external examiners‚ reports, and student evaluations.

Using a blog to encourage critical reflection

This is the theme of my presentation to a Best Practices in Teaching workshop at the World Journalism Education Congress (WJEC).

The project has involved using a blog not for students to publish their journalistic work but for them to reflect on their practical journalism — primarily as a tool for enhancing their learning.

Notes from my presentation are available as a PDF here — intended particularly for those at the WJEC teaching workshop. I’d be particularly interested in having your comments, whether you came to the WJEC session or not — please add them below.

World Journalism Education Congress (WJEC) 2007

World Journalism Education Congress (WJEC) 2007 logoThe first such gathering of journalism educators is taking place next week, in Singapore. It should prove an interesting gathering — with scope for some great discussions with those involved in teaching journalism from all over the world.

There is potential for some intriguing culture clashes (intercultural exchanges?), reflecting not only the different approaches to journalism in different countries but also how it is taught and learned. For each country, I suspect these approaches are influenced by the practice of journalism, of course — plus the tradition of training, education and recruitment in the industry or profession (there’s another debate — ‘sector’ might be more neutral), and the educational system(s) involved. Plus a few other factors…

The WJEC programme (pdf here) lists the many papers and sessions scheduled. It looks like an intensive week!

I’m contributing to a ‘best practices’ teaching workshop with the theme ‘Teaching Journalists in an Age of Ambiguity’ — discussing how I’ve been using a blog to encourage journalism students to engage in critical reflection — and presenting a research paper on formative feedback to journalism students.