Wednesday, 16 March 2011

What's the point of a degree?

Earlier today I stumbled across a student of mine expressing some doubt as to why, as a Sports Journalism student, he should be studying "audience research about batman"[sic].  Given that he clearly tagged his post with the module code (MAC201), I'm of the impression that he wanted me to read this post and and wanted a response - after all, as the module leader I'm responsible for the management of the content. I responded via Twitter but the character limit is a little restrictive, hence this post.  I need to make it clear that this module is in no way orientated around the study of Batman. Rather it is a module that deals with two distinct themes:
  1. The production of media content (in this case, the creation of news and its implications as a constructed form of discourse)
  2. The consumption of media content (in this case, the ways in which discourses around engagement with cultural forms have been mobilised)
In fact, this is what the module guide states:
Content SynopsisThis module aims to develop the concepts and approaches introduced in MAC101 through an analysis of non-fictional television texts and discussion of a range of perspectives on media consumption. It consists of two sections:
Television Texts: news and documentaryThis part of the module explores concepts such as ‘realism’, ‘discourse’, ‘ideology’, ‘objectivity’ and ‘subjectivity’ in their application to contemporary developments in television news, current affairs, documentary and ‘reality TV’. The relevance of work on narrative and genre to these areas of television is explored, and the significance of the production and institutional contexts is assessed. Throughout, you are encouraged to engage in close textual analysis in developing your arguments.  
Media AudiencesThis unit begins by examining early work on media consumption within ‘mainstream’ mass communication research, before going on to explore issues raised by more recent work in the cultural studies tradition. A range of academic and industry perspectives on media consumption is considered, and you are invited to reflect on appropriate theory and method in audience research. You are also introduced to debates about specific cultural audiences for contemporary media output. 
In relation to the second half of the module, what a tutor or a student chooses to focus on by means of illustrating the arguments emerging out of audience research is going to be context dependent: it may be audience research about the reception of Batman, it may not.  It could easily be about audience research into BDSM practices, music consumption in economically deprived urban areas, violent video games, football consumption by hooligans or the middle classes, etc.  Focussing on the topic under analysis is to miss the point, but this can be forgiven at this stage, as the student above is responding to the first session in this section of the module.

What example is being explored is peripheral to the main point of the module - how is knowledge about these kinds of audiences produced (ie how does the approach and method impact on the kind of data generated?) and what are the implications of these approaches (ie how do we situate knowledge about any given example socially?). The point here is that students should complete the module familiar with the ways in which knowledge is produced and under what contexts and what limitations. It's very rare that any knowledge production is problem free.  

As students on a UK-based degree programme, it is expected that when they graduate they will be some of the brightest and articulate people in the country, capable of thinking laterally, being critical, interrogative and methodological in their learning, after all, not everyone is suited to Higher Education.  Let us not forget that a UK-based degree is one of the best in the world. Graduates should be able to understand the complex ways in which the world is constructed and recognise their place in that - especially if they choose a career which involves communicating information about the world to a wider public. One hopes they will never be uncritical of the information they are required to employ.

Reading for a degree should be intellectually challenging - it should force students to 'think outside the box' - or else, what distinguishes a degree from any other training qualification?

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