Supervisors: Professor Allan Bell, ICDC Director and Dr Richard Smith, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technical University, Singapore.
Ruth has a long interest in learning and educational methods, particularly as they apply to the teaching of journalism.
For her doctoral research, she constructed a model based on the discourse analysis methods of van Dyjk, Bell and Fairclough, in order to closely examine the methods used to teach students to become professional journalists.
Her thesis explores the writing of 20 students throughout a year-long training programme, aimed at producing professional journalists.
She also considered the students themselves and the cognitive aspects of their learning through retrospective protocol analysis, where the students tape recorded their thoughts on their own writing.
It was found that the methods used for teaching journalism have become outmoded, particularly with the pressures on modern tertiary institutions and that the students, using the present methods, failed to develop independence and initiative and become self-regulated learners.
Ruth came to AUT after a 20-year career managing and editing community newspapers both in Wellington and Auckland.
She completed a Masters in Education with honours in adult and tertiary studies at the University of Auckland in 2000, while working at AUT as the programme leader for the Graduate Diploma in Journalism. She commenced her PhD in 2001 while continuing to teach journalism.
Her research activities and outputs have been directly linked to improving journalism education. The New Zealand curriculum is set by the New Zealand Journalists Training Organisation and AUT is one of 11 tertiary institutions accredited to teach unit standards.
News reporting is taught by a method of one-to-one correction of student copy with the emphasis on skills-based training. This method, known as “subbing” replicates the method used to standardise copy in the media industry.
It is both time-consuming and costly as journalism tutors spend considerable time with individual students. It also leads to the perpetuation of industry practices which may or may not be in the best interests of the students and the development of the media.
Her M.A. research, which linked journalism studies and a study of adult education and self-regulated learning, was the basis for the design of a successful journalism introductory course for more than 200 students at AUT.
In a first of its kind study I followed 20 students at two different schools throughout a year-long training programme.
It used two methods to gain a deeper understanding: a discourse analysis of their news stories written at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the year, and retrospective protocol analysis, to provide insight into their thinking processes, through their taped reflections.
The research found that journalism education controlled by the New Zealand Journalists Training Organisation still resembles that of 20 years ago, despite increasing numbers of students learning journalism as part of degree programmes.
Students are trained for the media industry through learning by doing. They receive basic instruction and then are expected to perfect their skills by practising their writing and to learn the conventions and routines of the media industry through socialisation and work experience.
In the first half of the year, the students developed some skills in writing the traditional inverted-pyramid news stories. However, by the end of the year, their news writing showed technical signs of regression.
Their reflections confirmed these findings, suggesting some stress and disillusionment. The students could “declare” what they knew about writing a news story but could not put it into practice.
They blamed their failure to write high quality news stories on the pressures of the course, the deadlines and high volumes of stories. The gaps in their journalism education were also revealed through what was not mentioned in their taped reflections: in particular, they failed to mention the importance of news values in making their stories more appealing.
The major influence at first was the students’ tutors, followed by work experience and the “real world” of the media industry.
The concentration on job skills and gaining a job coupled with a lack of knowledge and discussion provided the students with an incomplete understanding of the pressures of the media industry they were entering.
The study recommends more debate about journalism education and more research, as well as a change away from “learning by doing” to a more critical, reflective approach.
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