Experiential Learning: A New Research Path to the Study of Journalism Education

By Brandon, Wanda | Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Experiential Learning: A New Research Path to the Study of Journalism Education


Brandon, Wanda, Journalism & Mass Communication Educator


ESSAY

Introduction

Journalism education has been examined from numerous frameworks during its 131-year history, and every step of the way there have been discourse and debates about its nature from educators, professionals, journalism program graduates and administrators. Nowhere in these debates have the characteristics of the learning environment been examined. Ignoring the study of the learning environment in which journalism education takes place is a fatal flaw, and needs to be corrected as we begin the next century and a new millennium. Instead of traveling the same research paths again and again, journalism researchers need to take paths that break new ground.

Applying the theory of experiential learning to journalism education offers one such path. Experiential researcher P. Honey proposed characteristics of a learning environment in an article in a book entitled Training and Development Yearbook in 1992.1 Before laying the groundwork for a new research area, I would like to consider historical perspectives of journalism education.

Historical Perspectives

The first classes started at what is now called Washington and Lee University of Lexington, Virginia, and during the first twenty years, journalism classes focused on teaching students to be printers, A. A. Sutton said in the book Education for journalists in 1945.2

During the 1888/1889 academic year, Cornell University offered writing courses. Other universities followed with such courses, and departments were organized. The University of Missouri started the first journalism department in 1908.

The teaching of writing courses set off a debate about whether journalism students needed to study writing, a debate taken up by T. Campbell-- Copeland in an 1893 book entitled The Ladder to Journalism.3 Many thought journalism was best learned on the job.

Historians have left a trail of discourse in the form of articles and books on the developments in teaching journalism. Those researchers include W. Schramm, who wrote an article in 1947 titled "Education for Journalism: Vocation, General or Professional," and published in Journalism Quarterly, W. D. Sloan, who wrote an article in 1990 entitled "In Search of Itself: A History of Journalism Education," which was included in the book Makers of the Media Mind: journalism Educators and Their Ideas; 5 and Frank L. Mott, who wrote a book in 1962 entitled American Journalism: A history 1690-1960. 6 Journalism courses grew to include principles of journalism, ethics, newsgathering, editorial writing, the law of libel, history, newspaper administration and comparative journalism, advertising, public relations and reporting. The instructors were professional news people.

Practical training was the norm until Joseph Pulitzer funded the School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York, resulting in a radical curriculum change that brought liberal arts and the sciences and the beginning of Ph.D.s teaching in the classrooms, according to R. T. Baker in the 1954 book The Bicentennial History of Columbia.' The issues became whether the liberal arts and sciences were needed, and if they were, what kind of balance there should be between journalism and the liberal arts classes, and whether Ph.D.s should replace professional people. The next change in journalism education brought theory into the curriculum, and this change brought more debate between those who favored practice and those who favored adding theory to practice.

In the early 1900s, schools, departments and programs were formed, and the issue became whether the programs should focus just on journalism skills and related courses or should include a broad base in the liberal arts and sciences.

Other issues have been raised over the years-issues such as the centrality of journalism to the university setting, who should teach journalism courses, what skills and competencies need to be taught, whether journalism should be merged with other communication programs and whether a journalism program is better if accredited. …

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