Ohio Journalist

Curriculum changes to give students more academic freedom

Megan Krause and Kelly Kettering

(May 14, 2010) — Today’s changing media world, in which audiences interact with media and Twitter is used professionally, calls for a re-evaluation of journalism education. In the case of Ohio University, that means a new curriculum that will take effect in the fall of 2012 with the university’s change to semesters.

Current sequences within the journalism school include advertising, public relations, news editing, magazine, broadcast and online, but the administration decided those were no longer applicable. Instead, students interested in advertising and PR will be funneled through the program on a track called Strategic Communications, while other students will follow the News and Information track.

Professor Mary Rogus discusses the new curriculum for the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.

The process
The journalism faculty was broken into committees to rework courses to fit the new format. Craig Davis chaired the Strategic Communications track and Mary Rogus chaired the News and information track planning.

The new curriculum will be similar to the current course plan for the magazine sequence. Students will have a tremendous amount of choice in the classes they take, said Dr. Robert Stewart, the associate director of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.

The change to semesters will also reduce the number of courses students take before graduating, with only eight 14-week semesters compared to the current twelve 10-week quarters. Typical journalism students at OU take 48 to 50 quarter-based courses before they graduate, Stewart said. Under semesters, it will be reduced to about 40 courses. This requires some flexibility in courses in order to ensure the average student graduates in four years.

Professor Craig Davis discusses the new curriculum and the merge of the PR and advertising sequences.

The courses
The new plan divides the journalism curriculum into three equal parts: core, intermediate skills and elective courses. Students will take 12 hours from each level. Core classes will be completed during freshman and sophomore years.

Four courses will make up the core of the journalism curriculum. All journalism students will be required to take the core courses. They include an introductory journalism class focusing on the future of journalism, a multi-platform reporting class in which students learn basic news reporting and video skills, as well as media law and media ethics classes.

The new core eliminates the requirement to take introductory courses in grammar, graphics and information gathering. The goal, however, is for students to learn those skills in the core courses. The 14-week term will allow professors to spend time teaching the basics to students in classes that were previously 10 weeks.

After the core courses are completed, students will choose one of the two tracks. They will then take three intermediate skill level courses specific to their area of study and a capstone course. The capstone will involve production of media. Students from all areas will enroll in the capstones, creating a staff with varied skills that simulate real-world work environments.

Students must also complete four journalism electives. Of the four, two elective courses must be issue-oriented classes that teach theories, not skills. To meet the remaining elective requirements, students may choose to take a course in the School of Visual Communication or the School of Media Arts and Studies, as well as one additional journalism course.

The three different areas of course work will give students a great deal of freedom to shape their education, Stewart said. Some may choose to take a broad approach and graduate with a basic knowledge of every form of journalism. Others may come to Scripps knowing they love radio, for example, and focus their time on broadcast classes. “Students are going to define the education they get to a much greater extent,” Stewart said.

All journalism students will still be required to take courses outside of the school to meet accreditation standards. Students will choose classes according to their interests and graduate with a specialization in one or two areas.

The transition
The implementation in 2012 will be the hardest part of the transition to the new curriculum. Incoming freshman will register without a sequence and remain unlabeled until the changes are in effect. All in all, it is a pacing issue, Stewart said. He assures students they will get the education they came for.

The change in course structure inevitably means a change in class sizes. However, skills classes will remain small in order for Scripps to meet accreditation standards. The Scripps College of Communication will be centralized in the old Baker Center building currently under construction. The remodeled building will provide the extra seats needed to accommodate students in larger classes.

The move to the new building will occur in two phases and begin in December 2012, Stewart said. Scripps Hall will be used by the College of Communication at large after the move. Lasher Learning Center, for example, will be transformed into a creative space for students. Stewart refers to it as a “sandbox” that can be used for anything from producing a magazine to broadcasting at TV show.

Between remodeling buildings and revamping the curriculum, the journalism faculty has had a lot on its plate. Stewart says it has been tricky. “It’s a bit like juggling crocodiles and someone throws you a bowling ball,” he said. But overall, everything has gone smoothly. “We were encouraged to think change, change, change, and I think we did a pretty good job of that.”

Name Index