“Journalism faculty should be the most prepared for this kind of move:” Why you’re probably doing better than you think you are in teaching during the corona-pocalypse

My department had a video-conference faculty meeting on Friday, combining my two least-favorite things: buggy online video chats and meetings. This one was more productive than most because we were examining the good, the bad and the ugly we faced during our first week of online-only education in the wake of the corona-pocalypse.

The common theme seemed to be this: We’re doing better than we thought we would, and our students keep telling us we’re doing better than all of their other classes.

This seemed to be a common theme among the various educators’ social media groups I’ve been watching and joining. The more “general” groups have a ton of chaotic, the-sky-is-falling, holy-hell-we’re-all-gonna-die-doing-this posts about things like taking attendance in class or proctoring exams. The journalism groups had more of a “OK, how do I get X to work in Y environment so the kids get the best experience?” vibe to them.

Thanks to an expert in the field, I realized this wasn’t just a self-serving observation.

Maksl1_web_400x400Late last month, we had an interview with Adam Maksl on the blog, where he talked about how best to operate in this online-only, COVID-forced environment. Maksl, an associate professor of journalism and media at Indiana University Southeast, is currently serving as a Faculty fellow for eLearning Design & Innovation in IU’s Learning Technologies division (a unit within its IT organization, University Information Technology Services).

Here was his take on journalism and education in an online environment, as well as why you are probably doing better at this than you think you are:

You mentioned to me that you saw education moving to online is somewhat similar to what journalism saw in its move online a few decades back. Can you elaborate on that a little bit and explain what you think we can all learn from that previous experience as we engage in this one?

“Both journalism and education have traditionally been the gatekeepers to information. Neither industry is like that any longer. The same forces – technology and markets – affected and continues to affect both sectors. The difference is that journalism was more exposed to the market earlier. Education is where journalism was maybe a decade or so ago, so we as journalism educators should be especially willing to adapt because, frankly, “we’ve seen this movie before and we know how it ends.”

“If you really think about it, modern journalism, distributed through online channels, is very similar to education, especially digital/online education:

  • Teachers are to students as journalists are to audiences. Teachers/journalists create content that their students/audiences engage in and find value in.
  • We work for similar pro-social goals. We create content and opportunities for engagement to help people improve their lives and interact with the world around them.
  • The tools are often the same. Good teaching is often good storytelling, and online teaching uses the same technology tools as digital journalism.

“Journalism faculty should be the most prepared for this kind of move. Also, this rapid move online can actually be an opportunity for journalism faculty to model to their students the lessons we emphasize in our classes and the adaptability students must have as they enter the workforce.”

In addition to Maksl’s points, I’d like to chip in one more:

WE IMPROVISE, ADAPT AND OVERCOME EVERY DAY: Most fields expect the best and plan for the worst. Journalism is almost the exact opposite, except we don’t really get “the best” in most cases.

Sources we need won’t return our calls. What someone told us at 9 a.m. turns out to be “not quite accurate” at 9 p.m. Art falls through, committees table things we planned for our leads, computers crash on deadline and more. This is what we are expecting on any given day. Even more, those “perfect” days in which everything falls into place are often the most stressful because we’re constantly thinking, “Yeah… This won’t hold…”

We have been trained to understand that the broadcast will start at 10 p.m., the newspaper will go to press at 1 a.m. and failure is not an option. We can’t run a blank spot on page one, throw a box of crayons in the bag and tell the readers, “Here. Draw your own damned news. We couldn’t get it done.” We don’t have anchors tell us, “Our top story fell through, so John and I are going to bullshit for three minutes until the meteorologist finds his pants and get to the set.”

Making it work is what we do, and this isn’t going to be any different.


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