Monday, December 04, 2006

The Student Manifesto

(I just submitted this to the Spartan Daily Blog. I hope they allow it on the site.)

The Problem

This will probably turn into a master's thesis, but here it goes. For the future of SJSU, I hope the administration is reading.

Disclosure: I am a student in JMC163, the New Media Class taught by Cynthia McCune and Steve Sloan. It would be an understatement to say the class has been successful. In reality, it has drawn the praise of countless blog-readers, authors, and webzinites from several countries.

This is why I was so surprised when Steve Sloan announced on his blog that the University is planning to reshape the class into a more technical course on InDesign, Photoshop, and Dreamweaver.

If you remember from the article in the Spartan Daily or the San Jose Mercury News, Steve Sloan and the bloggers from JMC 163 were the leading forces behind the push to keep Skype on campus at SJSU.

We drew the attention of people as far away as Indonesia. Robert Scoble blogged about us several times. A photographer from the Chronicle of Higher Education even sent a photographer for an article written on the class. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. I could go on and on.

With all the positive feedback and praise, why then would the University consider dismantling the class? Good question. But I digress...

What Have We Learned in JMC163?

First off, InDesign, Photoshop, and Dreamweaver are all important programs to learn. No student in JMC163 would say otherwise. But the current class is not technical, nor is it designed to be. The fundamental question it poses to students, "WHY is New Media important," is far more crucial to our futures than the tools we need in today's markets.

Instead of technical expertise, for the most part we study the trends and causes that have pushed the decline of print news and the rise of online markets, while experimenting with social networking, blogging, and metaverse traversing, as a way to understand the concepts of New Media.

To put it another way that fellow journalists might appreciate, we assume that the acquisition of true understanding cannot be supplemented by technical skills - true education cannot exist without fundamental understanding - understanding, itself, is the motive that drives us to learn the technical skills we need.

Therefore, it is to the detriment of students that the opportunity to gain insight into WHY the world works as it does may be taken away by the University. Any reasonable mind can figure out Photoshop in a day or two, or spend a couple hundred bucks and a weekend to get certified.

How often do you get to Skype David Weinberger, co-author of the Cluetrain Manifesto (one of our course books), or to interview Phil Wolff, A-list blogger from Skype Journal? How often are you lectured from Ryanne Hodson, from Node101, or from Steve Sergeant of WildeBeat?

Cluetrain Manifesto and The World is Flat are our course readers.

Some critics have stated that there's isn't a future for Web 2.0 technologies and New Media in the journalism industry. The explosion of online journalism, citizen journalism, and leaks to bloggers discredits this argument though.

Others have said that without the proper tools (InDesign, Photoshop, and Dreamweaver), a basic understanding of New Media will come to nothing. I agree.

What We Should Do: A Solution

I propose a complete overhaul of the journalism curriculum at SJSU, starting with the development of New Media as a concentration. Print and Broadcast are fast becoming niche markets as consumers more often than not are reading hard print and watching the TV AFTER already seeing or reading it online. The Long Tail is gaining a larger viewer and readership than traditional media.

It is true that we need specific tools, but we also need theory and core journalistic values. A core GE specifically for journalists must be established, which should include an introduction to Dreamweaver, InDesign, and Photoshop, as well as stressing objectivity, fairness and truth-seeking.

After completion of this GE, journalism students should be able to concentrate in Print, Broadcast, or New Media.

In this new concentration, students could then delve into the concepts and software that make Web 2.0 technologies, podcasting, and vodcasting work.

What We Lose By Waiting

The media markets are rapidly evolving, and SJSU does not currently equip journalism students with the skills and understanding they need to compete. As the world progresses with more digital enterprises, SJSU risks not only losing its edge in the technology markets by failing to offer such courses, but its image as a leader in innovation.

Silicon Valley was built upon progressive thinking; the need to think critically and restructure antiquated paradigms has never been greater. The risk for not acting soon to ensure our competitive advantage in the new media world far outweighs the cost of providing extra classes to students.

For the future of the valley's economy, SJSU, and its students, I strongly urge the University to keep JMC163 as it is, and to rethink the role of New Media in education.