Challenging the media curriculum

By Keith Radley
Keith is currently on a part-time secondment teaching Journalism

The 21st century continues to question new concepts and impose demands on the way higher education curricula is delivered. In 2001 Prensky wrote about how the needs of today’s student learner have radically changed, demanding more emphasis on the use of digital technology within the curriculum. Traditionally in media and journalism subjects, theory takes priority over practice, with the view that theory plays a fundamental role in underpinning the learning. However, in the developing world of digital communication for students to be successful in their future chosen subjects, as well as understanding the related theories, they must be able to master the technologies that enable the creation and publishing of digital formats.
The world of Public Relations, Journalism and Media are at the forefront of our changing world in digital communication technologies and some new approaches to curriculum delivery are in demand. Consumer needs are shifting to a more online environment embracing RSS feeds and instant micro blog newsbreaks, rather than watching or listening to scheduled broadcasts. Similarly newspapers are shifting from the paper platform to the online web and blog environment.  The impact of global distribution has led to the notion of the citizen journalist which has become a serious reality, demanding a more portable, instant on-the-spot approach to the process of capturing unfolding newsworthy events.  Moreover, the introduction and use of more affordable portable equipment, such as flip video cameras the size of mobile phones offer a high quality yet simple digital recording capability.  While fundamental principles are still valid, the way they are applied may have changed (due to shifts and emphasis on technology and student expectations) requiring a rethink of the ‘learning plan’.

“It feels like a new era has been thrust upon us — an era of enlightened anxiety. We now know more than ever before, but our knowledge cre­ates anxiety over harsh truths and puzzling paradoxes. What is the role of the storyteller in this epoch? How will an informed, connected society help shape it? How does the world look when news and information are part of a shared experience?” 
— Dale Peskin
Co-Director, The Media Center

What are we doing?
I am currently working closely with colleagues in Media and Communication; together we are exploring ways of bringing theory and practice closer together to create a more holistic understanding of how media production works in a more harmonic and complementary way.  Making Media is a semester one level four core module that introduces basic theoretical concepts then follows through with practical exercises. Basic theories are introduced through key lectures that cover topics such as writing the news story and understanding the language and meanings of the moving image and sound. The aim is to provide the new student learner with a more dynamic learning experience that offers a core understanding of how to produce what we read, what we hear and what we see.

How are we doing it?

The key lectures are followed through with 2 hour practical hands on workshops that expand on the practical aspects of the topics in the lectures. One major underpinning factor is the focus on IT skills and digital fluency.  In the world of media related subjects the understanding how files and folders relate to each other and how they should be managed is absolutely essential. For this reason more time is spent during the workshop sessions on practical IT skills. Mobile technologies are also featured in the workshops. The end result provides student learners with a good overview of basic underpinning theories, new technologies, digital fluency, and media IT skills. It’s also worth mentioning that students have welcomed this approach.
This also offers a stronger potential for development in semester 2 where students follow thorough with their chosen options, also impacting on their development at levels 5 and 6.

Digging a bit deeper
Surprisingly many students enter at level 4 with poor or minimal IT skills in this area, whilst the relationship between media practice and theory is more clearly understood by students who have taken media studies as their chosen subject at A level.
Early evidence suggests that Making Media enables students to develop a more autonomous approach to their learning and to articulate their ideas with greater sophistication with heightened visual direction. They also have a greater command of data management and improved generic IT skills.
One tension regarding students who undertook the first run through of this module is the fact that they are now questioning the theoretical context at level 5 as well as the teaching and assessment methods.
Ongoing evaluation is taking our research into secondary schools to find out why student skills differ in digital fluency abilities.
In particular have those students who studied media studies at A level developed stronger digital fluency skills compared to those who have not?
Overall the conclusions show that students are not the ‘digital natives’ that academic staff anticipated, and that the majority have had little experience with practical projects.
Making Media students are demonstrating growth in personal confidence and comprehension of how and why theory and practice matters in the world of media.


Prensky M. (2001) On the Horizon (MCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants [online]
Last accessed 14th January 2010 at:,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

Bowman S. & Willis C. (2003) We Media, How audiences are shaping the future of news and information [online]
Last accessed 14th January 2010 at:


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