The Neiman Journalism Lab recently collected a number of opinions on interesting trends in online journalism. You can read the whole set here, but for those too lazy to click, here’s my own contribution.
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are widely believed to be revolutionizing education. But I think they also suggest some really interesting futures for journalism. In particular, I’m excited about the online discussion forums that accompany the MOOCs. These forums transform students from passive consumers of information into a community of inquiry who are actively engaged in asking questions and collaboratively working out answers. We need the same in journalism.
Too often, the forums hanging off news sites are troll-filled wastelands, where the best content one can hope for is a particularly well crafted putdown. In contrast, the MOOC forums exhibit high quality discussion where questions are asked, answers proposed and critiqued, and conclusions drawn in a style that supports and encourages other students. We’ve even seen the emergence of student leaders who are particularly adept at guiding others to find or construct needed information.
For most people who’ve finished school, journalism is probably the primary source of new information. What can we do to improve the news consumer’s “education”? Can the news “anchor” become the course “teacher”? With current events as the source material, what kind of MOOC in foreign affairs or government policy could be taught by a big-name journalist? Driven purely by interest in learning, thousands of MOOC students are doing “homework” to improve their knowledge, exercises that are graded by the computer and essays graded by peers in the class. What assignments could the journalist create to enhance a student’s understanding of a foreign country or a difficult budget or policy question? What would it be like if readers could submit peer-graded essay responses instead of grouchy complaints about biased media? Could this student-authored content actually start contributing to the news?
Journalism and education are siblings: if you’re informed but not educated, you have no context to interpret the information you’re getting; if you’re educated but not informed, you’re living in an ivory tower. In MOOCs I see the beginnings of a trend that might draw these two information-delivery mechanisms together in a powerful way.