Monday, May 5, 2014

Start From Scratch?

If you were to build a journalism curriculum from scratch, how would you do it?

This is no mere intellectual exercise (though mere intellectual exercises are what I do best, along with drinking coffee and striking professorial poses). The Department of Journalism at UGA will merge with the Digital and Broadcast Journalism section of the Department of Telecommunications. All those proper nouns strung together essentially means the journalism and broadcast journalism folks are combining and we start the process this summer.

Step 1: Form a Committee

This is how we do things in academe. First we form a committee or working group to attack the problem, and then we have meetings. Okay, maybe attack is a bit strong, but you get the idea.

Step 2: Bitch About Committees

This is a necessary step. Once completed, we can then ...

Step 3: Core Competencies

While any of us can sit down and scratch out on a cocktail napkin a curriculum, it's probably a good idea to sit and think first about what skills or competencies students need to have. Some of these are painfully obvious: reporting, writing, visual, ethics, law, and more reporting. Data. Fact finding. And more reporting. Lots of visual stuff, from stills to video to graphics. And coding, a little coding wouldn't hurt. Anyway, we'll hack away at a list. And of course some folks will insist their pet competencies be included. For me, coffee drinking is a competency.

Step 4: Bitch Some More About Committees

This one, maybe not. The dean says he'll buy beer if we'll work on curriculum this summer. With enough beer we'll probably bitch about something else.

Step 5: From Competencies to Curriculum

This is the hard part, from abstract (writing, thinking visually, ethical decision making) to concrete (actual classes). Here's where politics becomes an uncomfortable part of the process as folks work to protect and defend their own classes, especially faculty who don't want to be made to teach outside their comfort zone. We also have to decide on specialties, whether they should be majors or merely emphases (yes, it matters). What we don't want is to weld broadcast news unto journalism and just add another emphasis (broadcast) to our four existing emphases (public affairs, magazine, visual, and management). We get few chances to really change a curriculum. This is our shot. I hope to God we don't blow it. As far as I'm concerned, there will be no class with the name of a medium on it (i.e., magazine writing). As far as I'm concerned, writing and reporting will dominate the early curriculum (a class in fact finding, a class in writing across media). And as far as I'm concerned ethics and law should come early, not late, in the curriculum. I'm open to dumping our mass comm law class and offering one earlier that focuses on the tension between law and ethics. Not saying that's gonna happen. See comfort zones above. But what separates us from others is finding stuff out and telling stories in an ethical manner.

Step 6: Facing the Faculty

Everything goes back to the full faculty. Some of them occasionally teach. All will have opinions based on their vast experience in our curriculum (not really, not at all, but funny how they're the loudest, the ones that barely teach).

Step 7: The Vote

At some point we vote. Curriculum issues are the one place where faculty, not the administration, has final say.

Step 8: Implementation

If we're lucky, Fall 2015.

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