Digital Communications: A Modular Approach to Curriculum

By Thompson, David R. | Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, Autumn 1995 | Go to article overview

Digital Communications: A Modular Approach to Curriculum


Thompson, David R., Journalism & Mass Communication Educator


The media workplace of the future will be an information technologies theme park, where technical distinctions among the attractions will blur and everyone will speak the same language-digital. --Janis (1991)

Dutch Fork High School in Irmo, S.C. has an online edition of its newspaper, The Renaissance.(2) High school students are applying digital technologies to traditional newspaper skills.

Will college journalism and mass communication programs attract and accommodate today's high school students? This paper presents a concept that may help increase enrollment by attracting computer-literate students.

At the Raleigh (North Carolina) News Observer, "digitized information skills for using computers, databases, online services-are becoming standard for nearly everyone in the newsroom."(3)

And a concept called "team journalism" is enabling multimedia projects. In 1994, the News k Observer created a 16-week series that "ran in the paper, aired on local radio and television, and was uploaded onto the Internet via NandO, the paper's online service."(4) During this project, "newspaper" reporters conducted videotaped and audiotaped interviews intended for broadcast.

Will employers, such as the Raleigh News & Observer, recruit today's journalism and mass communication graduates? This paper presents a concept that may improve an academic unit's service to a communications industry that is digitizing its newsrooms.

New positions have been created to staff new online services. Boston Globe Electronic Publishing, a subsidiary of The Boston Globe newspaper, has announced employment opportunities for "developing news, advertising and information services for consumer online distribution, the Internet, and other emerging interactive platforms."(5) The positions included: development director, advertising manager, editorial manager, marketing coordinator, graphics/design coordinator, and content developers/entrepreneurs,

Houston Chronicle Interactive has announced employment opportunities.(6) The positions included: content developers, electronic media wire editors, communications coordinator, electronic media producers, marketing services specialist, member services coordinator, audiotext coordinator, software developers, systems technician, and system administrator.

Do current curricula reflect these organizational developments?

This article presents a curriculum called digital communications, an idea that synthesizes current developments in the structure of academic units, the structure of media organizations, and emerging media routines.

As Dutch Fork High School's nameplate suggests, a renaissance has begun. Whether it is called a communication, information, or technological revolution, rapid changes within the U.S. media system coupled with new ways of thinking about communication processes and content challenge media educators to rethink curricular structures and what and how they teach. This challenge calls for flexible, integrated, and innovative media courses and curricula; it means a movement away from narrowly conceived media-specific sequences based on industrial configurations toward broad-based, cross-media, integrative models; the teaching of ideas and skills that transcend the narrow occupational focus of specific, entry-level, job-related protocols; "demassifying" the concept of communication to incorporate the study of intrapersonal and interpersonal communication and their relationship to "mass" forms of communication distribution; and, finally, rethinking how people teach and how learning environments can be enhanced with the use of technologies.(7)

Blanchard & Christ(8) describe a curriculum for a "new professionalism" in media education programs. To grossly oversimplify their work, they propose a core curriculum based on conceptual perspectives and knowledge--including what they call a "conceptual map" of communication processes and their context within "historical, legal-ethical, institutional, social, economic, and other social systems. …

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