UNESCO Publishes Handbook on Teaching Journalism Online

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Ms Audrey Azoulay
Director-General. UNESCO

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has published a new handbook aimed at providing journalism instructors with the resources to improve their teaching in digital spaces, describing it as “a valuable resource for any journalism teacher using technology to amplify their reach.”

The 118-page publication titled “A Handbook for Journalism Educators: Teaching Journalism Online” is in response to the challenge of how instructors should convey knowledge and teach skills in online course delivery formats as well as in an informative and engaging way.

UNESCO noted that the challenge was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and that the trend can be expected to continue, saying:  “Journalism education, being heavily focusing on experiential learning and face-to-face interaction, is particularly challenged when it comes to remote teaching and learning.”

The World Journalism Education Council, under the leadership of its Chair, Ms Verica Rupar, a professor of journalism at the School of Communication Studies in the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, oversaw the initiative, which resulted in the handbook. The initiative was implemented with funding support from UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC).

Issues covered by the manual includes:

·         Planning a new online course from scratch or transitioning an existing face-to-face course to

·         online delivery,

·         Strategies to curb academic dishonesty in online courses,

·         Creating a student-centred learning environment,

·         Ways to support diversity in the virtual classroom,

·         The future of online journalism education, drawing on what the pandemic period has taught.

The “Foreword” to the handbook was written by Prof. Guy Berger, who served from 2011 to 2022 as Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development and later as Director for Policies and Strategies regarding Communication and Information at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris.  He was also secretary to the IPDC from 2011 to 2022. The handbook was produced with contributions by about two dozen experts in journalism and communication studies across the world.

In his Foreword, Prof. Berger noted that “COVID-19’s long tail continues to impact journalism and journalism education, not to mention the effects on audiences for news and on students as journalists-in-training.”

According to him, “The pandemic precipitated deep changes in media production, including in the economics and technology for collecting and distributing news. Journalists, often facing cut-backs or even retrenchment, had to risk the virus

as frontline responders in many cases, and many also found themselves having to work from home in makeshift offices, servicing audiences hungry for reliable news but who also needed to use connectivity for multiple other purposes.”

In a gloomy picture of the current state of journalism and journalism education, Prof. Berger remarked that: “The realm of journalism education, itself disrupted by the pandemic, has also had to adapt to these wider dramatic changes in industry and in society – or face irrelevance. Long a drawcard for students, educational programs in communications have now become more pertinent as people’s lives have gone more online and become increasingly reliant on digital communications companies. Yet, journalism teachers, long aware of the already declining job market for entry-level journalists, are now faced by the pandemic’s devastating impact on news enterprises. The few graduates able to find employment – sometimes in downgraded positions vacated by the exit of exhausted veterans – find themselves in very choppy waters. Other grads are condemned to unsteady, precarious and freelance work spanning a range of communications functions – or to seek out completely different careers.”

Quoting Dr. Emilly Comfort Maractho, director of Africa Policy Centre at Uganda Christian University, he said:  “Now no one wants to go back to the old ways entirely. Some good aspects of the old ways will be retained, but most of the new discoveries in training as we figured things out will be our mainstay. In that sense, Covid-19 has changed journalism education for the better.”