If university learning was like working in the job you’d want

Sometimes it can feel like you’re battling aliens.

With 48-hours to go, over consecutive years, the nervous tension, gush of oxytocin knowing you’re about to present to senior executives at the BBC World Service, Google, ITN and Sky, hits you.

To get to a level of confidence and competence, you and your colleagues death march — a relentless check-loop of your presentation, coding and figuring out flaws throughout the night.

If you’re using slides — fewer words that reinforce your narrative is ideal. Your failures through product testing are equally as valuable as the successful outcome. It tells the employer how you resolve problems. Facts matter with robust credible citations but tell a story — that’s the route into people’s emotions.

It’s the stuff of industry, being replicated within the walls of academia. The acronym is TDB. Till day break. At 2.am before I turn in, I’m fielding that email. “We’re in the library. It’s going well”. Consecutive years the students have won praise and constructive criticisms to hone their ambitions in real world.

It’s a way of learning that is not unfamiliar to many of you reading, but the emphasis here is how in Uni/varsity you capture the spirit of work world and some. Yes, you could do an apprentice, forego uni, or treat the MA as a year of mirth and jolly.

There is no one answer and educationists have argued through out the years of the superiority of one system after another. From books like The Idea of the Digital University: Ancient Traditions, Disruptive Technologies and the Battle for the Soul of Higher Education by Frank Bryce McCluskey and Melanie Lynn Winter which argues a rethink of unis towards the utility of students and aligning with latter day tech industries.

Howard Rheingold, behind Smart Mob, posited a change to the layout of lecture halls, and The The New Digital Age by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen puts its faith in the Khan Academy modular learning project and critical thinking that will become key for 21st century students and beyond.

All these and more are worthy. Their knowledge guides us, allows for experimentation and critically evaluating our own results. The manner in which artificial intelligence is roboting at speed itself through professions, we’re told, the idea of a teacher in advance economies could sometime soon in the future become a thing of the past. A previous Vice Chancellor of my university swears by the need of the superstar lecturer — as seen in Tom Hank’s character in The Da Vinci Code (2006).

This year however, we’re putting into practise what Donald Schon calls the Reflective Practitioner. All the book reading, theories of this and that in academic qualifications are a patch on this. The practitioner is you after 20 plus years in the game, whether you’re a motor mechanic, parent or doctor.

Through humility, hard work, experience and your own internal critical feedback loops you’ve learned something. That teacher Mr Penwood or Ms Davies whom you have fond memories of, who made you pursue your dreams as an alto-ego guiding you, when they always had an ear for you — that’s the reflective practitioner at work.

Too often in our world of tech, we’ll hear references like design thinking, community centred reportage or lack of, or why media uniformly fails to perform its function. What often is lacking in these discourses is a reflective assessment of previous systems buttressing the new that may be alien to a generation.

Hence, for instance I argue that the framework of design thinking is a natural cognitive behaviour of inquisitive souls, or that the idea of community reportage which we practiced with the launch of the UK’s first community news network 23 years ago aptly demonstrated practically that news as a product is flawed in many ways as a primary focal point for output. London Live, the most recent London centric station found that out to their cost as well. There are frameworks for what is news, but it’s a construct. It’s why Fox differs to CNN and CNN and the Guardian will take different steps to storytelling.

The influence of advertising, corporate sources, PR outfits and commissions shapes news and storytelling in ways that often exist outside of the everyday discussions. That proprietors should be able to protect their investments and therefore be free to conduct their papers as they wish, was the Royal Commissions in the UK asserted its view in 1949 about the British Press. The commissions rhetoric may have changed, but the pragmatics of barons running their outfits to reflect their politics is an accepted feature of press ownership.

In Power without Responsibility: Press, Broadcasting and the Internet in Britain by scholars James Curran and Jean Seaton, the detail the transformative carapace of media. From first flushing out the poor in having a voice to a business that generates capital. Altruism, or working towards the philosophy of impartiality has rarely, if ever been their quest. They are organs of one ideology or another.

Over the years I have learned some, still learning, that there is an approach to MA studies that relies not on what nominally universities would regale in via chalk and board — though sometimes that’s unavoidable, but through games and game theory, deep wading, death marches, humour, critical thinking, philosophy, modelling, and experimenting — much like a chemistry Lab would function. The same, in a way lab I once did occupy as an undergraduate studying applied chemistry.

Knowledge is not pre-packaged, but derives from the experiments we conceive and an underlying philosophy that sometimes we’ll be wrong, but when we are we’ll endeavour to find a solution.

What then if we could apply that to the edges of the spectrum of storytelling in this morphing political economy?


Students at Channel 4 News
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