Monday, May 09, 2005

Web teaching for the world’s media

We have come to believe, or at least be told, that the sky is the limit when it comes to what the web and the larger internet can do for us. There remain, however, significant gaps in what “can” be done and what “is” being done, and global media education appears to be one of them.

The US Government, through the US Agency for International Development, has spent millions of dollars attempting to provide journalism and other media “training” for people in the developing world. Private foundations and other governments and governmental organizations have done a great deal as well.

Some of this has been successful and most of it has been helpful.

Debates continue to occur over whether it is better to conduct such training programs in the countries where the “students” work, or whether it is better to bring those students to the US or to some other country for the classes.

So, too, in some circles there remain important discussions about whether a media person, most often a “journalist”, is better served by learning the “tools” of the trade or whether that person is better off studying the subjects he or she might be asked to “cover”.

Somewhere in the midst of all this spending, all this organizing of travel and conferences and training sessions, as well as teaching philosophies, the internet appeared.

If one were to look at the internet’s impact on all this global media training, one would see a number of changes. The organizers, as well as the “students”, are able to communicate using e-mail, descriptions of courses and programs are available to prospective participants in an easier to access fashion than had been the case. Some materials for the classes can be moved between and among people and locations more efficiently using the web and e-mail. Even some collaboration among “instructors” is possible today in new and innovative formats.

The same is arguably true for journalism and media education in the US and in some other countries. There, too, internet-based technologies have made it easier to do a number of things between and among instructors and students.

What seems NOT to have happened is that there has been no traceable burst of actual courses available online in which “students” can enroll regardless of whether they are across town from a university with a media program, or on the other side of the world.

The opportunity is significant. The reasons for it not being exploited are unclear.

I had thought that by now that if someone wanted to take a course on “effective reporting on the environment” or on “successful uses of the web by media organizations in the developing world” that Google would bring them to the screen in front of me.

Alas, I find virtually none.

Yes, there are a few schools, like the University of North Carolina and a few institutions like BBC Training, that offer some courses online in this field. A quick check of schools and a number of web searches bring up very few others.

If there were more, it would be possible to concentrate on more of the content of these courses, some of the critical language questions, for example, and many other matters of quality. Instead of recreating the virtual “wheel” each time a course is considered, one would be able to combine “on the shelf” courses with other material to tailor a program to a country or to a group of “students”.

The people who produce these courses deserve the opportunity to be compensated for their work, of course. And where that compensation is sought, the web ought to be able to provide a means to address the need to pay, or to finance the project in other ways, including through advertising.

A study of this area seems in order and a plan ought to be developed to produce some type of clearinghouse for the programs that exist and a project undertaken to encourage more, based on the demands of the marketplace.

The alternative is a patchwork quilt of programs, some of which are undoubtedly very good. The resources that could be saved are large, and the value of their redeployment into quality teaching tools and content could be immense.

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