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Opinions Sun, 29 Sep 2019

Online journalism and our educational administrators

The development of an academic course for Online Journalism (OJ) in Ghana has been fraught with serious problems.

At the School of Information and Communication Studies, University of Ghana, Legon, which is the foremost graduate level mass communication school in Ghana, the course is not taught.

Some private universities are fast developing and teaching OJ.

Interestingly, whilst UG has not started the course for whatever reason, GIJ that it mentors teaches a course with very similar content at the masters level under the brand name “Multimedia Journalism”.

Some educational administrators of an undergraduate OJ course have complained to a course lecturer, “The students say you are not teaching them Online Journalism, only Blogging.”

But a masters graduate from the GIJ course says “We created a blog and explored how we can use multimedia tools to make the blog active.”

The objective way then of assessing if the course is being taught correctly is when external examiners visit to moderate an exam paper together with the course outline – but this will only be after the fact.

To forestall this, educational administrators have a strategy of asking students “how the course is going”.

Now is that not ironical?

If the students complain, then the lecturer is in trouble.

For private universities where student fees are a critical factor, this could sway the decision to retain the lecturer and or discontinue the course.

So the question is: How do you develop a new course for a university such that it conforms to best practice, and hence is free from shaky starts?

An online search shows that course development is not rocket science.

“Successful courses require careful planning and continual revision.

Consult with colleagues who have taught the same or similar courses to learn from their strategies and their general impressions of the students who typically take the course.

If you are team-teaching, you and your teaching partner(s) should begin meeting well in advance to discuss course goals, teaching philosophies, course content, teaching methods, and course policies, as well as specific responsibilities for each instructor,” reads part of the Washington University guidelines.

The University of Cape Coast which is now developing a course in OJ sends out moderators all the time to assess the course outline of mentee universities.

The parameters evaluated include list of references and exam questions to ensure they are focused on the synopsis of the course as advertised.

Thus peer-review is indispensable; it helps lecturers improve themselves and promotes internal regulation.

So what can educational administrators do to improve the teaching of a relatively new course such as OJ in Ghana?

There should be encouragement of written critiques of the approaches to teaching, references listed for the course and assignments given to students.

For OJ in particular, referencing across academic disciplines should be encouraged.

After all, what is OJ if not the same old Journalism that we know delivered through the convergent media?

Again my mentor has got it right, “The theory and practice cannot be divorced from each other”.

For the record, if ghana radio stations are streaming live their morning shows and other programmes on Facebook, it does not mean they are practising Online Journalism.

Otherwise then all those thrashing about on YouTube are Online Journalism practitioners.

Obviously, we need a theoretical framework, models, ethics and standards.

The good thing is that all of these can be clearly delineated, effectively taught and properly understood.

There is no place for hubris; it only leads to a cul de sac.

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Writers and Shakespeares Ghana Limited exist to be a moral and intellectual guide to the best practice of PR and integrated communications around the world, beginning with Ghana.

Columnist: Isaac Ato Mensah