Monday, January 21, 2013

In Mexico, innovative selection process for entrepreneurial journalism

Third in a series on entrepreneurial journalism programs at universities and media organizations.

The University of Guadalajara in Mexico has just recruited a class of 18 students in its second year of offering an online master's degree in digital journalism.

Manuel Moreno Castaneda
Rector, Virtual University
University of Guadalajara
This may be the only master's degree program in the developing specialty of entrepreneurial journalism that is completely online. It is offered through the Virtual University (Sistema de Universidad Virtual), whose rector, Manuel Moreno Castaneda, is recognized internationally as an authority on distance learning.

The two-year, four-semester program has a design similar to programs at American University and the City University of New York, but it also has an innovative selection process.

Three-week selection course

Before being admitted, the applicants must propose a project to develop in new digital media. A preliminary selection of 35 applicants then must take a three-week online course in which they watch videos, read articles, complete assignments, and receive feedback from faculty about their proposal. They are then interviewed by telephone. Only the best from this preliminary group are accepted. (Disclosure: I helped design this program while director of the Digital Journalism Center, Centro de Formacion en Periodismo Digital, at the University.)

Rosalia Orozco, director of the master's program and the Digital Journalism Center, said the preliminary course helps identify which students are most likely to thrive in the program, which requires 15 to 20 hours of online work a week. The time commitment is a challenge since applicants must be working journalists.

Online course content

As with other online programs, this one makes use of readings, videos, webinars and online forums where students can comment on each others' work and professors offer guidance. 

Half the course credits in the program are dedicated to refining the capstone project. Courses include a market survey, competitive analysis, technology assessment, management of online communities, a marketing plan, web design and usability, and a business plan. Along the way, the students get feedback and revise. Another one-fourth of the credits are dedicated to developing the capstone project with a professional journalist as mentor.

By the midpoint of their second year, the students must have a working version of their project on the web.

Enthusiasm for master's

Rosalia Orozco
director of master's in
digital journalism
The University announced this online master's in digital journalism late in 2011. About 130 people registered with the school's website and asked for information. Of that group, 35 took the screening course, from whom 20 were selected. Classes began in January 2012.

After one year, 11 of the original 20 are still in the program. One student is working on a website to distribute scientific information more efficiently. Nine are creating new local news media, one for web radio in the community of Ciudad Guzman, another for Chetumal, in the Yucatan Peninsula. One is planning a redesign and restructuring of the online journal where he works.

As for the dropout rate of 40 to 50 percent, this is typical, Orozco says, not just for online courses but for public universities generally in Mexico. The relatively low cost of the program may be a factor. Although the application fee is steep at $290 USD, tuition for Mexican citizens is $920 a semester, or $3,680 for the entire program.

International students, professors

The second class of 18 has just been selected, including four international participants from Ecuador, Peru and Colombia. Classes begin in January.

The program draws professors from within the university and beyond the borders, such as Esther Vargas of Peru, who runs a popular journalism training website, Journalism Classes (Clases de Periodismo), and teaches the unit on managing communities and social networks; Stacey Pastor of the U.S., who teaches the marketing and advertising unit; and Hector C. Farina Ojeda of Paraguay, who teaches courses on financial journalism and internet design for usability.

Effectiveness of online training

Howard Finberg, who created the Poynter Institute's e-learning platform, NewsU, said in an interview, "If you understand the strengths and limitations of online teaching, the results can be as good as or better than the results of teaching in the classroom. Better only in the sense that the people you have in your online program should be people who are truly interested in doing this and who are truly invested in this process of learning and self-discovery and are willing to invest the time and energy into developing their skills."

The key factor in online teaching is designing activities that reinforce the teaching goals. "The most effective training is getting people to do something," Finberg says. "Activity-based teaching has the highest retention rate."

NewsU offers its own series of online courses on innovation and entrepreneurial journalism and is developing a certificate program.

Challenges

Orozco said the first year has been a learning experience. The professors are making adjustments based on student feedback. The hardest thing has been to find professors with both professional multimedia production experience and at least a master's degree. The University requires that teachers in a master's program must have a master's.

Another difficulty has been identifying professional journalists to work as mentors for the capstone projects. Orozco is trying to get approval to offer them a small honorarium as an incentive.

From a budget standpoint, the program is slightly ahead of break-even. Four participants from the first cohort are university employees and pay nothing. Those who are paying cover the basic costs. The university is not really trying to make money.

Another challenge is expanding the program. Without adding one or two more professors, it will be impossible to accept more students from Mexico and the rest of Latin America, Orozco says. The program's effectiveness depends on the one-on-one coaching of participants. 

***

University of Guadalajara, Master's in Digital Journalism
Duration: two years, four semesters
Schedule: Asynchronous online work divided into weekly segments and assignments
Students: Working journalists
Cost: Mexican residents $3,970 for the total program; international students $7,300



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