Yesterday, in the first part of this series, I talked about how changes in the news industry were reflected in changing journalism education. In this second part I want to look at an area which is discussed much less: how education itself is reacting to changes in information – and how educators, like journalists, are no longer gatekeepers any more.
Part 2: Education and the information environment
The internet did not play any role in my time as an undergraduate. That meant that lecturers performed a ‘gatekeeping’ role very similar to journalists: acting as the main source of feedback on work, and the people who determined what books and journals were stocked by the library.
Information on the journalist’s craft was limited to a few mass market books; a couple dozen textbooks equally limited by their potential markets; what students picked up on their own work experience; and their tutors.
Just like journalism, the information environment in which education takes place has changed utterly.
Students can read a hundred blogs by journalists in an enormous variety of roles and industries that would never catch the eye of a book editor. They can contact journalists much more easily – and read the results of other students’ contacts with journalists.
They can gain feedback on their work not only from general news reporters, but specialist correspondents, from experts in the field they are covering, community members, and anyone else with an opinion.
They don’t need to book out a camera or visit a darkroom (as it was then) to take photographs; a camcorder to film; a marantz to record audio; a studio to broadcast.
As educators we are no longer the gatekeepers to information, the gatekeepers to people in the industry, or gatekeepers to the means of production and distribution. We can provide all of these things and make all the arguments we want about the quality of that access – but, like the news industry as a whole, are no longer the only ones.
The only thing we are gatekeepers to, in fact, is accreditation of individuals’ learning.
And yet journalism education – and training too – is still framed within that gatekeeper’s offering.
More importantly, many journalism students come into higher education with the same expectation, instilled during earlier schooling: that education consists largely of having gates opened for you by experts, and clearing the hurdles to walk on through.
From gatekeepers to gatewatchers
When higher education – and information – was limited to a small part of society, that may have been a valid expectation. But as first higher education access was widened, and then information access, this has become unsustainable.
We are operating in an information-rich environment. And so, like the news industry, we need to reformulate what role we play in that: moving from gatekeeping and transmission models to one involving aggregating and curating, challenging and verifying, and providing platforms for connection and investigation.
Like the news industry, our role becomes less that of transmitting information and more one of saving time, improving accuracy and guaranteeing quality. What Axel Bruns called gatewatching.
The first step in that process involves debunking the transmission myth that students arrive with. There’s a reason why I’ve used ‘information’ throughout above, because ‘knowledge’ and ‘understanding’ are things that higher education can act as a gatekeeper to – if you have good educators. But they are also things that the student has to play an active role in. It is not just a transmission; it is an exchange.
There’s a further change emerging that also mirrors developments in the news industry: just as journalists are having to operate across multiple platforms where once they only needed one, so educators are having to operate beyond chalk and talk and the classroom as a platform for learning.
If I look back at how my own teaching has changed over a decade I see this playing out year by year: email has become more widely used, of course, and universities have formally added VLEs (virtual learning environments) like Moodle and Blackboard. But over the years I have also started ‘delivering’ learning across an increasing number of informal platforms: student blogs; team content management systems; my own blogs; wikis; Facebook groups and pages; podcasts; and, of course, Twitter – which works particularly well as a classroom feedback system (where appropriate) as well as a way of coordinating students out in the field.
When I started running a course through distance learning it was like dropping a print edition: the week-by-week rhythm that traditional teaching (and room booking) dictates was not necessary. Structure was still needed – but it was particularly liberating to be able to advise different students to study different areas in different orders, based on the projects they were working on. It was particularly interesting to hear Howard Finberg, at the EJC anniversary, refer to research that suggested such a hybrid approach “works”.
In fact, the experience has informed my room-based teaching too: now I use each platform for what it’s best suited for – including classrooms (which are best for practice and questions, not transmission).
In the next post I tackle a final change resulting from the changes in both industries: the relationship between industry and academia. Comments welcome on how these changes are playing out where you are.