Teaching Web Design in Journalism and Mass Communications Programs: Integration, Judgment, and Perspective

Article excerpt

The Internet is being implemented for many educational and academic purposes, and departments of journalism are no exception in integrating technology into the curriculum. The presence of the Internet in education is causing many educators to reconsider, reevaluate, and modify their teaching methods to meet the needs of a new media environment. But this presents many challenges. Should the focus be on theory or practice? This paper is a case study of a Web publishing course that covers the basic skills of Web design, graphics, animation, and multimedia, and how it has evolved over time to broaden its focus to include integration, judgment, and perspective.

Introduction

The Internet is being implemented for many educational and academic purposes, and departments of journalism are no exception in integrating technology into the curriculum. Traditional courses in journalism use the Internet to supplement instruction, many courses use Websites to communicate syllabi and lessons, and Internet technologies are being used to deliver distance education.1 New media are being studied critically and theoretically in disciplines as varied as communications, liberal arts, business, law, policy, and computer science. Web publishing courses, teaching students to create and maintain Web pages, are a popular course offering in many disciplines as well. The presence of the Internet in education is causing many educators to reconsider, reevaluate, and modify their teaching methods to meet the needs of a new media environment.

In a broader context, it is necessary to consider the role of a university education. Should the focus be on skills or theory, or some mix of the two? And if a balanced approach is implemented, how should these issues be weighted? Particularly in the journalism discipline, the issues of teaching the journalistic craft versus critiquing the role of media in society are constantly being reevaluated in the curriculum.

The new media environment adds to this pressure. In a curriculum that is already full, with this precarious balance of skills and theory stretching existing resources, how does a program implement a new area of study around hypertexts, multimedia, interactivity, Web design, Internet searching, and online credibility? Journalism departments at major universities around the country are grappling with the ways in which new media can be integrated into their existing curricula or developed as a unique sequence. In some cases, programs are reconsidering their entire approach to media around the idea of convergence, or the melding of media, in which students are exposed to skills that are relevant across media types.2

Regardless of the approach to the multimedia environment, university journalism departments are offering Web design skills in a variety of courses. A Web search of journalism and mass communication departments' course offerings revealed the following titles: Web publishing (The University of Texas), Web design (University of Miami), multimedia design and production (University of North Carolina), new media basics (University of Missouri), or Website design (Virginia Commonwealth University). Skills in these classes can include Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) or Extensible Hypertext Markup Language (XHTML) coding, Web editing software, graphic design, animation, and audio and video editing. But, relevant to other journalism skills-interviewing, copyediting, writing, and reporting-what is the role of the university beyond teaching skills necessary for employment? Is there a responsibility beyond teaching a specific skill set that can aid in providing students with judgment and perspective on their environment?

Many community colleges and technical schools teach Web design. Topics in these classes are similar to those mentioned above taught at the university level. Typically, the focus in technical schools is in-depth comprehension of individual Web design skills or applications. …