Posts about Education

A good oops

Nicholas Lemann, dean of Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, accidentally sent his class his self-evaluation intended for the university provost. No harm done, though. It’s an impressive document — it helps to hire New Yorker writers to pen memos — that sets out Lemman’s accomplishments and worldview. Here’s the bit, toward the end, that interested me:

I cannot be sure how long our school can continue to thrive if the profession it serves is not thriving. We have many advantages, including our financial resources, our location, our worldwide reputation, our strong relationships with employers, and the quality of our faculty and curriculum. We do not have the advantages almost all other journalism schools have: a large and not very job market-sensitive undergraduate student body and low tuition. In the short run, we are benefiting from journalism’s replacing older reporters with younger ones, but in the long run we must be as attentive to recruiting and to placement as possible, and we must teach our students to be journalists in ways that are as broadly applicable as possible geographically and across the different media.

I certainly agree that students must learn to apply journalism broadly — across all media, in other words.

But the larger question raised here is whether journalism schools should serve just professional journalists (that is, those who work, full-time, for journalistic institutions) — and, for that matter, whether schools can afford to do just that.

I haven’t blogged about this yet but I am coming to think that if, as I believe, N percent of journalistic effort will be undertaken by amateurs, then shouldn’t it be the mission of journalism schools to devote N percent of their education to helping those new practitioners do what they want to do better?

This is just my opinion — I’m by no means speaking for my school — and I haven’t thought through what this means. But I believe that like every other institution and industry in the Google Age, education will become more distributed, more open, less of a product and more of a process. More on that soon.

Lemann continues:

I don’t think I have been nearly effective enough in persuading either our own Journalism School community, or other journalism schools, or the wider world of the profession, that the professional education of a journalist should include intellectual content. The primary orientation of journalism schools, including ours, is toward conferring skills associated with entry-level practice; almost the entire discourse in journalism education is internal to journalism and concerned with professional norms and practices, rather than with how to understand the world we are supposed to cover.

This has been Lemann’s crusade: to bring professionalism — which I now read more as intellectualism — to the craft. I don’t disagree that this can be a worthy goal. What’s fascinating about Lemann’s memo is the glimpse it provides into his ambition: He wishes he could have transformed the Columbia program along these lines — changing the existing master of science program rather than adding a master of arts program — and that he could do likewise to America’s journalism schools.

It’s a proper question that I’ll oversimply, as is my blogger’s habit: How do we make reporters smarter about what they cover? Putting aside debates about which should dominate journalism education — skills or intellectual rigor — here, too, I wonder whether the coming distributed architecture of education will make a difference for journalism students and practicing journalists. What should specialized and continuing education look like in a period of more rapid change and broader opportunity? What should our ethic of education be? Should we expect that reporters covering, say, business learn the fundamentals of accounting and make it easy for them to do so?

These are the sorts of issues raised in Lemman’s memo and so I’m glad he sent the wrong file.

: Lemann and I had a distributed dialogue about some of this, which started with his New Yorker essay, about which I blogged; he and I then wrote about this at Comment is Free (links to both here).

Davos07: Voices of the future

Next session: a panel of six of 60 young people from around the world who gathered in Greenwich to come up with a message from the future for the machers here. They set their priorities as education and “active global citizens.” They push the leaders to start a global fund for education, saying that the global funds to fight AIDS and malaria have made great impact. The fund would be focused on quality teacher training, decreasing absenteeism, and class size. I wonder how large such a fund would need to be to have an impact. Gordon Brown says the total cost of educating all the world’s children is about $10 billion — not much (because we pay teachers so poorly), so he argues that a fund can make a difference. The fund’s second focus would be on creating curriculum to nuture global citizens, arguing that this will save lives lost not to disease but to ignorance. Brown argues that if we do not support education, others may and we will see more extremist madrases teaching hatred and terrorism.

At Web 2.0, John Battelle brings in a panel of young people every year to talk about their media usage; it’s a feature that other confabs, such as the Online News Association, has added and it’s educational and eye-opening to hear directly from them. Unfortunately, this is not what WEF has done with this panel; once the young people are done reading their prepared spiels, we end up hearing only from the old guys on the panel. Next time, I hope they hand over the control of the stage to the young.

There goes the class system

This is too damned sad:

Teachers are being urged to stop using the word clever and talk about successful children to curb school bullying. Union leaders said hundreds of children were being targeted because they were considered clever, and some bright students were refusing school prizes for fear of being picked on by classmates. . . .

Last year the conference heard calls from members to delete the word “failure” from the educational vocabulary and replace it with the concept of “deferred success”.

PC is spreading faster than bird flu.

Overdue recommendation for Will Richardson’s book

This is criminally overdue: I got a copy of Will Richardson‘s excellent book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, but I’m embarrassed to say that I misplaced it in the mess that is my office and my life. It surfaced like an iceberg of knowledge and I have to tell you that it is very good: clear, concise, useful. A far more important critic than I likes it, too. I apologize to Will and to you for taking a few weeks too many to recommend the book. But if you’re planning to use these tools in classrooms — or other organizations — I’d buy it.

: LATER: Another far more important critic, Howard Rheingold, likes it, too. Like me, he’s taking Will’s advice for the college classroom, not just elementary and high school. I’d say it works in any learning environment — which should mean companies, too.

Who does what

Richard Sambrook, the visionary director of global news at the BBC, blogs about the role of citizen journalism but, more interesting to me, he codifies what professional journalists do in a distributed world:

So if information is commodotised, and the public can tell their own stories, what’s the role for the journalist? I came up with three things – verification (testing rumour and clearing fog), explanation (context and background) and analysis (a Google search won’t provide judgement). And journalists still have the resources to go places and uncover things that might otherwise remain hidden. Citizens can do all of those things, but not consistently, and with even less accountability than the media. Brand still matters.

I would add that the professionals also have to add a few new roles, both of which require a new level of openness and generosity: They need to share their knowhow with citizen journalists (I dare not say “train” them but rather let their reader-colleagues know how to avoid libel or get access to records or doublecheck a source). And they need to share trust (that is, find out who knows their stuff and link to them, since the professional journalist can no longer pretend to cover everything). [via David Weinberger]