Curricula Go High-Tech

Article excerpt

Schools adapt their programs to address technological changes.

Emily Hiser and three other new media graduate students at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism gathered around a computer in the basement of Fisk Hall in early June to size up the results of their capstone-course multimedia publishing project, complete with Flash, Dreamweaver and wireless technology.

It goes like this: A major league baseball season ticket holder heads to the stadium with a hand-held wireless 8-by-12-inch sports e-tablet. With one tap, the fan enters a virtual environment with easy access to a "tour" of the stadium, game previews, real-time audiocasts of the latest home run, player statistics and links to Sports Illustrated and other publications.

Lost track of who is winning? Just access the real-time score. Message a friend across the stadium. Watch interviews with the coaches and team. Hungry for popcorn or a beer? Enter your credit card number. Trade your pitcher for a second baseman in a fantasy league game. Planning dinner later at a local restaurant? Check out a recent review. Want to customize your tablet? For a Chicago fan, just set your home page to the Cubs. (For more on the class projects, visit www.medill.northwestern.edu/ inside/2001/newmediadigitaltablet.html)

The purpose of the New Media Publishing class in spring quarter, according to Medill's new media chair Rich Gordon, an associate professor who formerly headed the Miami Herald's online operation, was to design and create prototypes for commercially viable portable electronic products with multimedia content for audiences not now served.

The 17 students in the course, working in teams, also developed an electronic replacement for travel books, a device for golfers that measures distances to the pin with global positioning technology and an iCook kitchen tablet to replace multiple cookbooks that also allows family members to message each other with post-it notes.

The students "had to think about the niche markets ... create the content ... and come up with some good thoughts on how these devices could be distributed and where the money would come from;" Gordon said.

"The course and (new media) program is a perfect combination of the Internet, business and writing that I envision" in a career, said Riser, who is scheduled to complete her master's degree in August and hopes to work as a Web designer or content developer for the online operation of a news organization.

Medill, which began offering its new media program in 1998, is part of a transition that began in the 90s and has accelerated in recent years in journalism and mass communications education. More and more schools are redesigning curricula to incorporate technology and add new media or online journalism. Some are going so far as to overhaul existing courses or degree programs.

The schools are responding to demands of the news industry and media companies for graduates who have a strong traditional journalism/mass communications education but also are equipped to work with converged media and adapt to rapid change in the way news and information is delivered.

Among the issues - and pressures - facing the nation's 450 or so schools that offer journalism and mass communications education are funding for technology and new programs and facilities, faculty development, the continuing re-examination of curriculum and the upheaval that can accompany change.

But while the challenges are substantial, so are the opportunities. Journalism/mass communications programs are aggressively creating new initiatives and partnerships, building converged newsrooms and online operations and providing students with additional professional experience and more career choices in the media marketplace of the 21st century.

"No one has found the magic bullet" as to where the redefinition of journalism education is headed or "how much technology to teach" said Paul Grabowicz, new media director at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley. …