Library and Academic Collaboration: A Case Study in Teaching Media Communications
Williamson, Dugald, Australian Academic & Research Libraries
Media and communication studies have expanded greatly in Australian universities. Many courses in this field are offered within a liberal arts context. Those designing and delivering these courses face the familiar higher education challenges of teaching larger and more heterogeneous cohorts with reduced resources and preparing students to follow different trajectories in modularised degree programs. Crucial to meeting these challenges is the integration of training in library research skills and disciplinary learning strategies. The following case study illustrates the use of library information systems at the first year undergraduate level in media and communication studies to embed skills of information literacy and independent learning in the curriculum.
At Griffith University, where the project discussed here was undertaken, the Arts Faculty has maintained an interdisciplinary course structure in which students undertake some first year key area subjects that lead into different majors and combined study fields. Within the Faculty, the School of Film, Media and Cultural Studies has responsibility for several majors. Some of these, like Film and Media Studies or Cultural Studies, have a generalist focus. Others, such as Journalism and Screen Production, have a more vocational orientation. Most students taking media subjects are enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts but many are embarking on named degrees in Communications, Screen Production, Law/Arts, Science and Media and so on.
A problem faced in this context is how to equip students of diverse backgrounds and prior skill levels with the capacities to use new information technologies effectively and independently. One initiative undertaken was to introduce a first-year subject called Media Communications Research in 1998, on the grounds that advanced competencies in research, analysis and writing are important to majors in both media studies (theory, criticism and history) and media production (screenwriting and audiovisual production).
In developing this subject, the aim was to help students develop the information management skills and study methods needed to explore the institutional, industrial and policy contexts of media communications. Over time, in introductory subjects, it had proved difficult to teach this type of contextual analysis, in contrast to approaches such as textual analysis, the practice of critically deconstructing individual texts that has become a mainstay of secondary and tertiary media education. The relative difficulty of teaching the institutional contexts of the media has been noted more generally in the literature on media and communication studies.(1) Engaging students in the exploration of these contexts requires access not only to the media product but varied types of documentation that reflect the processes of production, distribution and reception. These include communications policy literature, information about industry practices, interviews with practitioners, publicity, reviews, news and debates in the mass media and specialised publications, and online materials produced by government and media industry organisations. In our first year context, collaboration between academic and library staff was seen as essential in providing students with access to these materials and the disciplinary techniques relevant to studying them.
It is worth noting that, whilst the library is the main campus gateway to traditional and new information sources, the connections between academic and library functions are not always clear in the area of teaching and learning. John Arfield has suggested that there is often a gap between library training in resource access and academic course delivery.(2) Flexible or resource-based learning places increasing demands on library staff but their knowledge of how students actually use the library is not routinely taken into account in the planning and revision of courses. …