Category Archives: Eightfold Path

Mindfulness strategies explained at Asian Media conference

By MARK PEARSON

Our work on mindfulness-based meditation in the journalism education pedagogy was presented to the Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC) conference in Bangkok last month to an enthusiastic audience.

Here is the abstract of our presentation for interested blog readers.

“Mindful journalism in action: applications for resilience, learning and ethics”, presented at AMIC Bangkok, June 17, 2019

Mark Pearson, Griffith University

Cait McMahon, Dart Centre Asia Pacific

Analise O’Donovan, Griffith University

The term ‘mindful journalism’ – coined in 2013 (Pearson, 2013) and theorised in 2014 and 2015 (Pearson, 2014; Gunaratne et. al, 2015) – shares some features with other modern ‘journalisms’ (‘solutions’ (Solutions Journalism Network, 2016), ‘peace’ (Lynch, 2010) and ‘inclusive’ (Rupar & Pesic, 2012)). However, it is distinguished by the fact that it includes elements of secular Buddhist approaches to mindfulness-based meditation and ethics (Pearson, 2014; Gunaratne et. al, 2015).

This paper uses a recently released conceptual map (Pearson et. al., 2019) to explain the potentialities of mindful journalism to strengthen journalism students’ resilience, deepen their learning, and shore up their moral compasses as they enter occupations where their work can expose them to trauma (Drevo, 2016) and industry disruption can subject them to stress, burnout and other mental health challenges (O’Donnell, 2017). It details some key ways mindful journalism (and mindfulness-based meditation) have been introduced to the curriculum and pedagogy in a media law course, with a strong emphasis upon emotional and situational analysis of media law dilemmas, as an alternative to a black-letter style of teaching media law cases, legislation and topics (Pearson et. al, 2018). The approach offers a useful extension to problem-based learning and provides the tools by which educators can encourage their students to engage in ‘reflective practice’ or ‘reflection in action’ by which they can purposively reflect upon their learning when confronted with new ethical or technological dilemmas  (Schön, 1987).

Students and journalists are equipped with a toolkit of techniques for inward reflection which they can use to assess their thought processes, emotional state, situation, ethics and learning. The approach is in accord with the research on metacognition in psychology and education (Flavell, 1976; Tarricone, 2011) which has found that reflection upon one’s thinking, knowledge and experiences can deepen learning and – we argue – in a mindful journalism context can help engage in professional conduct with both wisdom and compassion. It also builds on the research in a range of occupations showing the potential for mindfulness-based meditation in improving resilience which can help minimise the risks of post-traumatic stress disorder, stress and burnout (Chaukos et al., 2017; Hölzel et al., 2011; Keng et al., 2011; Trammel (2015)).

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2019 – the moral right of the author has been asserted.

 

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Vale Shelton Gunaratne

By MARK PEARSON

Esteemed journalism education colleague Emeritus Professor Dhavalasri Shelton Abeywickreme Gunaratne died in Minnesota on March 8.

Emeritus Professor Shelton Gunaratne

Many journalism educators knew Shelton through his active membership of the (then) Journalism Education Association during and after his term at Central Queensland University from 1976-1985, where he had been the founding lecturer in journalism at what was then known as the Capricornia Institute of Advanced Education (CIAE). He was later appointed professor of mass communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

Shelton was an active member of numerous international journalism and communication organisations, including the AEJMC, ICA, IAMCR and AMIC – which in 2016 awarded him the AMIC Asia Communication Award for 2016 in recognition of his “ground-breaking scholarship and intellectual contribution to Asian media and communication research.”

I am particularly indebted to Shelton for his mentorship on the relationship between journalism and Buddhist ethics and phenomenology, which he introduced to the literature with The Dao of the Press : A Humanocentric Theory (Hampton Press, 2005) – a deeply theoretical and cerebral exploration of the inter-connectedness of all things, modelling the media’s role in that process.

He kindly invited me to co-edit (with his former PhD student Sugath Senarath) our book Mindful Journalism and News Ethics in the Digital Era: A Buddhist Approach (Routledge, 2015). That project continues, and I acknowledge his input into my work as my mentor and friend.

The author (right) with his mentor, Emeritus Professor Shelton Gunaratne, at the AEJMC convention in Minneapolis in 2016

I spoke on the phone with his widow Yoke-Sim who had loyally nursed him through the final stages of Parkinson’s Disease. She reported that Shelton was sharp to the very end.

Shelton believed strongly in the ripple effect of one’s actions upon others, and I know his intellectual outputs will have a lasting impact upon journalism and mass communication scholarship, educators and students.

For the information of US colleagues, a memorial service has been organized for March 15 (Friday) at Minnesota State University Moorhead, Comstock Memorial Union 205 between 6-8 p.m. An almsgiving (dania) will be held at the Gunaratne residence (3215 Village Green Drive, Moorhead, MN 56560) on March 16.

RIP Shelton, and thanks for your legacy.

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2019 – the moral right of the author has been asserted.

 

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Building journalists’ resilience through mindfulness strategies: article published in ‘Journalism’

By MARK PEARSON

Our article on the potential applications for mindfulness-based meditation in journalism has now been published in the top-ranked international academic journal Journalism.

The publication is the fruit of more than two years of project collaboration with my colleagues from Griffith University (Professor Analise O’Donovan) and the Dart Centre Asia Pacific (Dr Cait McMahon OAM). Co-author Dustin O’Shannessy provided valuable research assistance and co-authorship.

Here is the abstract for the article, with the full text available via the Sage site (best accessed via your library if you are a student or academic):

Pearson, M., McMahon, C., O’Donovan, A., & O’Shannessy, D. (2019). Building journalists’ resilience through mindfulness strategies. Journalismhttps://doi.org/10.1177/1464884919833253

Mindfulness-based meditation has earned its place in a variety of settings after studies reporting the benefits of mindfulness-based interventions for the treatment of a range of psychological and health disorders and for building resilience and well-being in a variety of occupational groups. In the field of journalism, the realities of journalists’ exposure to trauma while reporting have been well documented. This article is the first to link those areas of research – suggesting that mindfulness-based meditation offers promise to help journalists build resilience to post-traumatic stress. It also presents a conceptual map to theorise the broader potential benefits of journalists using mindfulness-based meditation, including help with industry-related stresses such as job insecurity, coping with emotions and battling potential ‘moral injury’ in reporting. It explains that pedagogical approaches for equipping journalists with mechanisms for working with their emotions, thoughts and professional values have been lacking. Some media organisations and universities have experimented with meditation practice for a range of reported reasons, but evidence-based research into the efficacy of such programmes for journalists is overdue. This article bridges the knowledge gap that brings together mindfulness-based meditation practice, journalists’ resilience and well-being, and the potential for enhanced work practice.

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2019 – the moral right of the author has been asserted.

 

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Mindful journalism featured in MediaShift article

By MARK PEARSON

Journalism education colleague at  the University of Tennessee, Melanie Faizer, has had a second article on mindful journalism published – this time in the leading media-technology outlet MediaShift.

In it she profiles a fascinating experiment at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism in Toronto where a course in mindful meditation and journalism is being launched in January.

Faizer writes:

Practicing mindfulness may help journalists better withstand the unrelenting stresses of the job. …And although mindfulness can help reduce human suffering, Ryerson’s mission is really about creating a methodology for young journalists that helps them resist falling into the storytelling traps of negativity and sensationalism.

Faizer’s first article on the topic appeared in Columbia Journalism Review and can be viewed here.

Her quotes from me for both articles stem from this interview we conducted over Skype in May:

Our book Mindful Journalism and News Ethics in the Digital Era: A Buddhist Approach (Shelton Gunaratne, Mark Pearson and Sugath Senarath eds; Routledge, NY, 2015)  explored the possibilities of applying mindfulness techniques to journalism practice.

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 3.08.59 pmI  penned an article on the “Right Speech” aspect of mindful journalism for the International Communication Gazette titled ‘Enlightening communication analysis in Asia-Pacific: Media studies, ethics and law using a Buddhist perspective’. Its abstract and link to the full article is available here.

The article backgrounds important critiques of the Western approach to communication  studies, and considers how globalized communication and media studies has become, before exemplifying how a secular Buddhist perspective might offer 2,500 year-old analytical tools that can assist with media analysis, law and ethics.

I’ve also written a shorter account of the basic principles of mindful journalism in the journal Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics, and the editors have been kind enough to make that article available for free viewing as a feature item on their website here. You might also want to explore some of their other fascinating articles on media ethics here and perhaps subscribe.

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Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2017

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A ‘Mindful Journalism’ Approach to News and Emotion

By MARK PEARSON

The News Reporting and Emotions conference was held at the University of Adelaide last week (September 4-6 2017) and I presented a paper titled “A ‘Mindful Journalism’ Approach to News and Emotion”. Here is the abstract, along with the audio and Powerpoint slides for the presentation if you are interested.

A ‘Mindful Journalism’ Approach to News and Emotion

Mark Pearson, Griffith University

Awareness of – and systematic reflection upon – emotions in the news enterprise can be beneficial for all stakeholders – including journalists, their sources and their audiences. ‘Mindful journalism’ is a secular application of foundational Buddhist ethical principles to the news research and reporting process, where journalists are encouraged to engage in purposive reflection upon a range of factors that might influence their story selection, angle, language and behaviour.

The approach is premised upon Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path, invoking journalists to invest time and meditative effort to consider their intent, actions and communications when planning and pursuing a story; to reflect upon how it sits with their conception of their livelihood; and how it might use wisdom and compassion to minimise suffering and acknowledge interdependence.

Such reflection upon the emotional implications of a work of journalism might take the form of a timetabled session of meditation (self or guided) or (in acknowledgment of the pressures of time and resources) as little as a mini ‘reflection-in-action’ – a pause for a few breaths to check in to the journalist’s own emotional state and the potential impact on the emotions of others.

This paper positions this emotional reflection and calibration in the body of the author’s recent work on mindful journalism, including a co-authored book and several journal articles and suggests that, while journalists might not be expected to adopt the lotus position in the news room, a systemised routine of reflection upon their ethics and practices might improve the calibre of their work and minimise the suffering it might otherwise inflict upon themselves and others.

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Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2017

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Interview Part 4 – Strengths and pitfalls of online courses

By MARK PEARSON

This is the fourth and final edited transcript of my interview with Griffith University doctoral candidate David Costin, who recently interviewed me as part of his research into engaging with the online environment in higher education.  Over the past three installments we have discussed my design of an online / on campus course in media law (Part 1), how principles of ‘mindful journalism’ have influenced the course design (Part 2) and some suggested strategies to embed online learning (Part 3). This week we explore the strengths and pitfalls of online courses.


Q (David Costin):        What are the gaps and barriers that you see that hinder you as being an effective online operator? You’ve mentioned one about rules, about the boundaries of …. of the uni itself, but what other gaps are you seeing, or barriers?

A (Mark Pearson):         Time is a barrier, the time element, because the ideal, the face-to-face environment commits you to so many hours in the classroom, the students know you will be there, certain consultation hours, they know they can come to see you. The online environment is meant to be amenable to the learner, but it doesn’t necessarily sit with the teachers’ availability. So you know, whatever the learning problem, whether it’s just a technical thing with the quiz not working or whatever, the online student might encounter that at 3:00 a.m. because it suits their schedule, but to maintain one’s own sanity and life balance, one can’t be available 24/7 to online students. And sometimes they’ll get frustrated that they’ve had to wait to get a response. That doesn’t happen very often, but nevertheless, the ideal would be for them to get immediate responses to such problems, but that’s – until we get teaching bots – that’s some way away.

Q:        Yeah, yeah.

A:         So that springs to mind as one constraint. Another is, I mean I talked about institutional barriers to the design, but there’s also the industrial labour issue of teaching online. And (my School) … has been very good with this and I have online tutors that are compensated comparably with the on-campus versions. For academic staff, there is the workload issue and that’s looking reasonable at the moment for online development, but it’s, you know, the risk is trying to force fit online to traditional models and to under-allow for all of this development and nurturing and engagement that has to happen for online to work, to undervalue that in workload and in rewards within the system.

Q:        Okay, so you’re saying so therefore part of that is I suppose a lot of your work is developing that relationship with students, but that’s not really fixed into any particular workload or that you could put a monetary value on it or anything else like that.

A:         Well it is, it’s so many hours of workload per week that you would devote to that and the jury is out as to whether that’s enough to cater to that many online students, isn’t it? I mean teaching is somewhat of a calling and you suffer angst if you think your students are being underserviced, but the more hours you put into it, the lower your hourly rate becomes, you know, for whether you’re a casual worker on so much per hour, you’ve done your hours that were allocated, but there’s some student crying for help. You know, what do you do? Your calling tells you, you offer the help.

Q:        That’s right.

A:         You then become a volunteer and that’s nice for you and me at this stage of our careers, maybe we can afford to be volunteers a little bit, but the struggling young mum or dad that’s trying to feed the family on sessional …

Q:        Yeah, wages.

A:         … rates or whatever, it becomes a – I believe if it’s managed poorly and it’s undercompensated, it’s an exploitation of people in those situations.

Q:        Well it becomes an ethical type of practice I suppose.

A:         Mm.

Q:        You mentioned before, you’ve done a couple of courses within . about supporting – about the development of online. What are the support structures that you’ve found have really helped you in the development of your online course?

A:         Workload allowance for the development. So I mean academic workload is done on a formula that changes regularly within institutions. It’s a points-based formula at the moment, but it’s meant that I haven’t had to teach a full load of classroom teaching in the semesters that I’ve been developing or … revising the (online) courses. So the institution’s been willing to take a full professor out of the classroom to invest in the design and then the offering of such courses.

Q:        Okay.

A:         The other – not so much constraint but important impediment – in this area is the fact that a lot of work is done in the establishment of online courses, but there has to be, just as in vehicle maintenance, there has to be a schedule of service maintenance updating, freshening. And unless that is allowed for in the budgetary and workload approaches of the institution, what you get is what sadly has become the fate of online distance correspondence courses through the ages, is that you just get people who may or may not care about it anymore and the course is just getting rustier and rustier, the readings getting older and older, the technology is being further and further behind the state-of-the-art at the moment and this obviously is going to impact both enrolments but more important on the learning that’s happening in the course – rusty courses.

Q:        It’s a good term, I like that term, ‘rusty courses’. And I’ll go back to – and this is, of course, I suppose one other question I was going to ask, you mentioned at the start you believe there was more courses adapted to the online environment. In your opinion, what do you think, is it more, like this particular course is more gravity, more orientated towards online? Are there other courses you think are more orientated towards the online than others, in what you’ve experienced so far?

A:         The term ‘hybrid courses’ or ‘hybrid learning’ is bandied around.

Q:        Yeah.

A:         I haven’t seen a very strict definition of it. For some people it seems to mean some online components to a standard course. To others, it means a course that can be undertaken fully online or on campus. With this one, it is the latter and I’ve tried to make it so that it is as valuable a learning experience to the online student and also that opportunity is fully available to the on-campus students.

Q:        Flexibility, yeah, comes through all the time. And I suppose, you know, this kind of comes on to the last question in that in the course that you’re developing for the online, but you’ve taken your own thinking processes and you’ve I suppose looked at where you want the kids to be, the students to be, but what other things do you do that strengthens your own skills in that teaching and learning environment, the students’ environment?

A:         What do I do that strengthens my own skills?

Q:        Mm, what do you do? Obviously you reflect upon your teaching.

A:         Yes.

Q:        Which is one of those – knowing things that work.

A:         Yeah.

Q:        But do you depend on – do you go and talk to your other colleagues about other strategies you can utilise or do you go and experiment on a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) and come back and incorporate those things?

A:         Well I’ve done both of those things. I write about some of these experiences and practises in the academic literature. I maintain a blog, which I’ve been doing for about five or six years now, with – it varies, but with like a monthly contribution, but there’s been two in the last two weeks, you know, it’s just according to time and what happens, called Journlaw, which has a mixture of things to do with commentary or snippets about media law, abstracts and excerpts from my writings or articles, just referring people to those things. And when I do those guest interviews, I’ll throw them on there, so there’s sort of a central place where students and others can go there. And I’ll do mini reports or live blogs of conferences with relevance to that area, so instead of just going to sleep as a delegate at a conference, I’ll keep myself awake by taking a couple of photos and writing a news story about the presentation and whacking it onto the blog, those sorts of things. So there’s that, there’s the academic output. I have done a few of the MOOCs as you mention. What else do I do? The academic’s life, I’ve noticed, the pressures and demands over many years has become more intense in recent years than it was in the earlier stages of my career. So I don’t do as many sort of learning and teaching grant applications, writing about learning and teaching in learning and teaching sorts of journals or got to many of the seminars for staff and that sort of thing, just because there’s only so many hours in the day and certain priorities, KPIs you’re rewarded for.

Q:        Yeah, so what you’re saying is you’re prioritising what you believe as part of the important strategies that will help you through the parts of your course.

A:         Yeah and I do some leisure reading about it. In other words, if I’m an airport bookshop and there’s a – I mean that thing with the formative quizzes and repeating the question just came from some random popular book on embedding learning that I found in an airport bookshop and I was interested in reading about, but it’s not something – I mean the thing I do read a lot about at the moment is Buddhist ethical principles and mindfulness and that kind of thing, so that is influencing me a lot at the moment.

Q:        But you’re adapting too.

A:         Yeah, whenever I do those things, I think is there a way that that has relevance to either my research or my writing. And I build some of the principles into the research. So we did a big ‘Reporting Islam’ project which is just finishing up now. I finished in December, but it’s about a $900,000 over three years that we’ve just done. It had many dimensions to it, but part of it was developing this app …. And so my colleague has continued with the project, is negotiating with future hosts for it and everything. But associated with this were a lot of training courses we developed for journalists, a handbook on Reporting Islam, a newsroom handbook that is there in PDF version as well as we printed a few copies for our expert panellists and so on. But I guess my point is, this thinking around the online stuff has also led to a very practical research project which has academic outputs but also newsroom and social application. [Calls up www.reportingislam.org ]. So you start to get, like I recorded this interview with (journalist Peter Greste) – I didn’t record it, I took a cameraman to report it and it talks about the importance of reporting upon Islam accurately, basic information about the religion and things that get commonly confused, some basic myths about some of the common things like the different types of headdress or whatever. And then so going from that, basic terminology and then putting it into practice with a checklist for journalists to identify, like a little quiz on how inclusive their newsroom is, basic reporting tips, protocols they should follow when reporting Islam and the voices of journalists who are respected from a range of media about pitfalls in misreporting of Islam. Then very importantly, driving home with students the effects of misreporting …

(Audio visual playing)

A:         … the impact on people in the community and what bad reporting or negative reporting, associating them all as terrorists and whatever can have. And so this is taken from another body of literature with permission with our actors’ voices talking about their focus group.

(Audio visual playing)

Q:        Okay.

A:         But we had actors and photo stock images to capture the person that’s said those things in those research projects. And I have recorded these interviews with different experts about the research.

(Audio visual playing)

Q:        Mm.

A:         So journalists and students can get that actual research base to the effects and then similar to what I’ve done in the media law thing, we’ve developed scenarios that actually have all of the components here for practice reporting on a Muslim issue. So the scenario is explained, there are tasks that they have to do within a two-hour class, you know, council papers about a proposed mosque, tips that they would follow in reporting some images that we’ve had taken that they choose from for it and a selection of quotes, including some of which are actually live acted.

(Audio visual playing)

A:         That kind of stuff and a similar one on a terror arrest, because that’s a commonly misreported scenario with an actual court case following it and so on. And then a list of resources and people, journalists can go to. So that was quite an achievement, but the reason I mention it is a lot of these same principles have gone into there. So there are the mindfulness principles, – what’s my intent with this story?, why am I going to cover in this?, what’s the language I’m going to be using?. All of that’s built in to some of the resources.

Q:        It’s also that lived experience, isn’t it?

A:         Mm.

Q:        You’re there, so from where I sit, you’ve got that lived experience of what you’re seeing. You’ve got your background as to that journalism component, plus the ethics coming in on top of that, plus the mindfulness.

A:         Mm.

Q:        So it comes together in a product, one way, that can be practically and which people can then access and I suppose that end point for where they want to be.

A:         That’s the idea of it. We won the Queensland Multicultural Award last year for media, communication.

Q:        Wow, well done indeed. Well thank you very much for your time.

A:         Alright, okay, absolute pleasure.

Q:        I’ve enjoyed it.

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Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2017

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Interview Part 3 – Strategies to embed media law learning

By MARK PEARSON

This is Part 3 of my interview with Griffith University doctoral candidate David Costin, who recently interviewed me as part of his research into engaging with the online environment in higher education.  Over the past two installments we have discussed my design of an online / on campus course in media law and have examined how principles of ‘mindful journalism’ have influenced the course design. This week we explore some strategies to embed media law learning.

Q (David Costin):  Obviously you’ve thought about that end point [of students applying their media law knowledge in the workplace].

A:  (Mark Pearson) … I have the opportunity and the good fortune as a consultant to be able to train some journalists in the workplace … and I’ve done that for more than 20 years …. That feeds back into the loop because quite often in the class are my own students from these classes and it’s interesting to see what they do or don’t remember, although I haven’t actually formally tested that. So what niggles away at me, at this late stage of my career, is that I haven’t seen many of my graduates – I can’t recall my graduates getting into actual legal trouble and that would be one sign, but nevertheless, I sort of say ‘there but for the grace of God walk I’, you know, because you do know there are those 50 per cent students and they might have been away the day we did defamation (although it’s very unlikely, there’s a fair bit of it in the course).

Q:        Yeah.

A:         And these days they’re often, you know, going to be contractor workers rather than fully employed by an organisation, perhaps running their own blog. And so in the area of contempt, jail is a possibility, a substantial fine, certainly professional disgrace and in defamation there’s huge damages; they can lose their family home. And thankfully I haven’t seen that happen to my students, but it’s an area where if they were away the day they did one of those important things, then it’s a risk. So what is the retention of this knowledge in the workplace? That would be a wonderful research project to go back and revisit some of these people years on or whatever. I mean you know, media law training session only last year I had one of my students from 20 years ago at another institution, you know, so there are people there that would provide data for it I suppose.

Q:        Yeah, yeah.

A:         But I mean maybe I’m half scared to do so because it’s a worry, the extent to which they may not actually retain much of that knowledge (laughs).

Q:        But you know, I can see, you know, that again, that reflective stance drives, you know, I suppose where you want and it’s also updating that course at the same time, because as you said, you know, this area’s changing so much all the time.

A:         Mm.

Q:        And I suppose it also feeds into the question of, you know, what do you see is effectiveness in this environment.

A:         Mm.

Q:        So what you just indicated a student from 20 years ago, came back and came on the course, but is there other things that you see, other than the stats at the end of every semester, as being effective in this environment when you’re teaching in the online environment?

A:         Well I remember an earlier lecturer I worked with in my career talked about seeing the ‘whites of their eyes’, you know that expression?

Q:        Mm, yep, yep.

A:         And there are moments where you see that, that you know the knowledge at least for that one student is deeply embedded and has made a real difference. And from time to time you get that – I had that only yesterday, right? It was only a very small moment, but I’m very conscious of mindful practice being dismissed or being looked at sceptically as sort of some new age thing or being dismissed by other academics or whatever or students thinking I’m pushing some religion on them or something like that. So when I tell them about that, I frame it in terms of both the Buddhist principles – meditation and mindfulness – but also (Donald) Schon and reflective practice, but I’d also introduce them to a term that rarely any of them have ever heard of which is form the psychological and educational literature called ‘metacognition’. And I talk about that as either thinking about your own thinking or reflecting upon your own learning, depending on whether you’re looking at it from psychology. So in this particular class yesterday, I had an African law student in the class and I’d done that early in the – like week one or two of the semester – and yesterday (in the final week of revision) we were just talking about something, I can’t even remember what the topic was, and she said, “Ah yes, that’s metacognition. I’ve just practised metacognition.” And so to me, that’s a success, that’s just a skerrick of evidence of someone having learnt something in the course.

Q:        The ah-ha moment.

A:         Yeah, yeah. But the very important change we’ve made with the course this semester meant that I was getting that feeling a lot yesterday in my lectures as well and that’s because I’ve gone from, partly through very pragmatic and practical reasons, I’ve gone from a sit-down final exam in a lecture theatre – open book but handwritten into exam books – … I’ve gone from that to a take-home finale difficult problem, take-home exam over 10 days; 1500 words, written in exam style, loosely referenced but just so as answering those same basic questions, but a finale problem. And they submit it via Turnitin, plagiarism detection and all of that. And in the lectures yesterday, it hit home how important that is. Because I read somewhere some time ago that there are all pros and cons to, you know, obviously there’s security issues with take-home exams …

Q:        That’s right.

A:         That may happen. But in the lectures yesterday, here was a fully engaged class, many of whom I’d never seen before. They may have been following it on Lecture Capture or whatever, but here they were, for Professor Pearson to walk them through the take-home exam problem and to speak – I spoke in what you might call cryptic or code terms about the issues that were arising and highlighting on the screen the things that they might identify, without spoon-feeding them and giving them all the answers and reinforcing the fact that the students who had engaged in all the learning activities will know what I’m talking about here, that this word, confidential source here means certain things, it means things from different parts of the course, (etc). Well, they were just fully engaged because they had a vested interest in embedding this material for 40 per cent of their overall grade for the course. Now the difference is that the sit-down exam tests the level of knowledge that they know at that point for whoever knows how long afterwards, that they may have crammed for that two hours in week 12 or 13 or whatever it happens to be. This one is – if they’ve done the course, it’s designed so they shouldn’t take more than a day to do it, but some of them have the chance to actually engage with all of that over those 10 days, if they’ve never even come to a class, and I’ve got much more hope because the test mainly drills defamation and contempt, which are the two big ticket areas and it’s my way of being a little bit reassured that people would get over the line with their final take-home exam are at least familiar with those terms and understand a bit of their operation in a hypothetical newsroom environment.

Q:        Okay.

A:         So there are pros, there are cons, but I could see learning happening in a traditional lecture yesterday, which is somewhat unusual, sadly.

Q:        Unique.

A:         Yeah, yeah.

Q:        Okay, so two questions. You’ve established then your own benchmark, using that process, you’ve got your own type of benchmark in the back of your mind, as to what you want the students to achieve using this process?

A:         The take-home exam?

Q:        Yeah, yeah.

A:         Yeah, well yes, we still have to have a final moderation meeting for the tutors for the marking of the exam, but the pass point will be a demonstrated ability to identify those key issues of media law and to come up with a plausible navigation of those issues in such an environment and showing a basic knowledge of some key laws and cases that would inform that decision.

Q:        Okay. So then the other part of the question is, where did you come across this idea or have you adapted along the way or it’s been an experience, you know the take-home exam experience has been something that you’d wanted to try, or you’d read about it or you’ve adapted it before over the period of time?

A:         Well as long as I remember, there have been take-home exams in some university courses and I’m wracking my brain, thinking of one I’ve ever done myself as a student. I can’t think of one right now. It’s a small extension of a more intense newsroom exam situation that I’ve run at an earlier institution with my media law students, which was the sit-down open-book exam where it’s actually given to the students and then they can either sit there or go away, phone a friend, do whatever they like, as a journalist would do in that environment and come back in two hours with their answer. So it’s an adapted version of that which I hope is actually going to work better. But a point I was going to make earlier about the design of online and everything is that there’s a lot of pragmatism and there are a lot of sort of constrictions or institutional boundaries that you have to work within while you’re still trying to engage with students and enhance their learning and cover the appropriate content. And I mean luckily journalism doesn’t have some industry accreditation as well, you know, because I’d hate to think in accounting or law you’d also be managing those external – or psychology – you’d be managing external requirements as well. So the design of such courses is kind of its own cryptic crossword because for every decision you’re making about a certain format or learning tool, you’re having to think, is this going to work on the Nathan campus, is it going to work on the Gold Coast campus, how does it operate with OUA, what are the online students going to be able to do with this, what are the institutional rules around this? Because the institutional rules have things like no more than 20 per cent of online assignments in the course, you know, that kind of stuff. And so how do we navigate all of these things but still come up with a coherent, meaningful curriculum and pedagogy that’s actually best practice? That’s the challenge, I mean I don’t know whether I’ve achieved it here, but it’s a work in progress.

 

NEXT WEEK: Strengths and pitfalls of  online courses

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Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2017

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