Connecting the dots

In the Columbia Journalism Review, Mitchell Stephens writes a fascinating analysis of how the availability and immediacy of news on the web is changing mainstream newspapers.  It strikes me that many of his findings have implications for our teaching and our students.

“News now not only arrives astoundingly fast from an astounding number of directions, it arrives free of charge. . . . But the extra value our quality news organizations can and must regularly add is analysis: thoughtful, incisive attempts to divine the significance of events — insights, not just information. What is required — if journalism is to move beyond selling cheap, widely available, staler-than-your-muffin news — is, to choose a not very journalistic-sounding word, wisdom. ” (emphasis mine)

As students become more able to educate themselves via the web, long-distance learning, networking, etc., it seems to me that this analysis and wisdom is the added value that we as teachers contribute.

The article goes on to quote Simon Kelner, editor of the Independent(U.K.): ““The idea that a newspaper is going to be peoples’ first port of call to find out what’s going on in the world is simply no longer valid. So you have to add another layer: analysis, interpretation, point of view.”

Mike Levine, editor of the Times Herald-Record(Middletown, N.Y.), comments: “We’re not the infantry anymore. . . .We don’t just go out to board meetings and take dictation. That’s not really much of a contribution to the community. What are needed are journalists who can connect the dots.” (emphasis mine)

When we ask students to do research, write a paper, or do homework, are we asking them to “connect the dots” or simply rehash what is already known?  Are we really understanding that they can “find” the five W’s online in a matter of minutes, and are we asking them to analyze and ask why?  

I don’t want to generalize because I know many times students are asked to probe more deeply, and I do know the projects students really respond to ask them to do this, but in this changing environment, are we asking students to do this often enough?

It requires a focus on our part on what we want students to achieve from any given research assignment and what good practices we want them to walk away with from the experience. 

So many web 2.0 tools allow us to help students connect the dots and be more reflective about their experiences.   When students create a wiki about their research, or blog with students from another campus about a project, or create a video about a research assignment that they post on Google video for comments–all of these are ways they can synthesize, reflect and connect the dots.  

Ideas or comments?   Part two of my reflections on this article later….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *