Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Designing a master´s degree and becoming an academic

This month I think I have finally resigned myself to the fact that I am becoming less of a journalist and more of an academic.

For the past several months I´ve been meeting with a committee of about 10 academics within the University of Guadalajara´s Virtual University, their distance-learning unit, to design an online master´s degree in digital journalism.

This is a fairly innovative program. There are maybe a dozen digital journalism master´s programs in the U.S., and I don´t know of any of them that are completely online.

There are only one or two similar programs in the Spanish-speaking world that both teach digital journalism (how you practice journalism in the multimedia world of the Web) and do it online. So it´s a stretch for all of us.

Meetings of the minds

The University has its own processes and values that have to be understood and respected, just as a newsroom does.

To begin with, you design a degree program as a response to a series of "problematicas" in society. Basically needs, gaps, problems. Then you describe "intervenciones" which your courses are supposed to provide to satisfy those needs, fill those gaps, solve those problems. This took a couple of weeks.

These interventions, if you will, are courses. Most of the participants in the committee are experts in education, online course design and pedagogy. Two are journalism professors with some professional media experience but little experience with digital journalism.

Words matter

I spent a lot of time just describing to the committee what is happening in the world of journalism today, which is a revolution on the scale of the invention of the book.

They needed a context to understand why I wanted to have courses on multimedia storytelling, citizen journalism, ethics in the online world, new business models for journalism, writing for the web and so on.

Then the hard part. Each course has to be justified by the "competencia" (skill) that the student has to demonstrate upon completion. And each of these skills is described in terms of abstract nouns whose meanings even in English are not always clear to me and often seem to overlap.

For each course we have to describe what conocimientos (knowledge), habilidades (abilities), actitudes (attitudes) and valores (values) are necessary to achieve the competencia (skill).

Into the home stretch

So after a series of six or seven three-hour meetings over the past months, we had the basic map of a master´s program, with individual courses, hours and credits described.

For the last two days, my team and I have been writing up detailed course descriptions with all of the habilidades, actitudes, valores etc. spelled out along with a description of course units and a bibliography. I did most of the 16 course descriptions that you´ll find listed on the left side of this wiki of the master´s program

Then we need to write up a formal document that describes the program in academic terms and get it approved by various committees of the Virtual University.

Tuesday we have a teleconference with a University in Santiago, Chile, to discuss offering our program jointly with them. They have a master´s in digital journalism, but it´s not online. (In the photo above, Arturo Catalán, who directs the program in Chile, visits one of our meetings.)

The goal is to get all of this done before my fellowship ends in December.

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