Defend Truth


When teaching media studies, hybrid thinking means flexibility and freedom


Glenda Daniels is associate professor of media studies, Wits University and is Sanef’s Gauteng convenor. These views are her own.

Life is never as simple as the old dies and the new is born just like that, in binary fashion. This is also true with media for – and with – the public, or with teaching Media Studies at universities.

Today, we still have radio, the cheapest and most used medium in South Africa; print, which started in the 1800s; television, which we have had since the mid-1970s, and there is growth in online news sites and social media.

The pandemic is at the tail end, but probably what will linger is that we will get vaccinated once a year for the rest of our lives. All good; that’s a sort of hybrid end to the pandemic.

Teaching Media Studies, mainly face to face from this week in 2022, means serious hybrid thinking. Hybrid doesn’t mean just blended learning – some online and some face to face – it also means flexibility in approach, content, delivery and assessment. It could mean more freedom from old ways.

But just as with journalism, where the basics matter, i.e. fact-checking and accuracy, which can’t go out of fashion, because this is what counts more than anything else, likewise in teaching Media Studies, the basics of applying theory to cases, and cases to theory, will remain. Even though some theories we teach to debunk them, for example the hypodermic needle theory – the one-way street transmission of communication (Harold Lasswell in the 1920s, about media’s power on the audience). You receive information, absorb, believe it, i.e. the political mass propaganda model which worked in Nazi Germany. Of course, we teach this to critique it.

Now there are more than one-way and two-way streets – there are many-way streets, and interactions are the norm. But there are also downsides: with more engagements online comes more vitriol too. And we must interrogate what we read, especially on social media.

Delivery of lessons, however, will mean one needs to extend oneself beyond what many did in the past: present PowerPoint slides and have some discussion or ask, “Any questions?”

The end of, to borrow from Georg Hegel, the “master-slave” relationship of lecturer talking and students absorbing – one-way street – was taking place anyway, and participation was happening. Then the pandemic happened. And technology was the life-saver.

First and second year of lockdowns: how tech worked and didn’t work

Let’s take the honours class Media and Politics course. In the first year of lockdown 2020, I found that students hid – literally – behind a name they registered for a class and they didn’t show their faces, except for two or three confident ones, out of a class of maybe 20. I had one student who registered on the Zoom lecture for the whole hour but when I asked him a question about what he thought, there was no answer. I said: “You’re on mute.” One of his friends must have told him that I was trying to engage with him. Later he apologised and said he had to take his mom to physio, where sadly there was no WiFi. He must have left his phone behind, registered as he was for the class.

In 2021 icebreakers on “So what was your experience of pandemic online learning?”, I was expecting more sorrowfulness about loneliness. Surprise: most of them cited conveniences such as saving on transport costs to Wits and being anywhere, for example in your car, on your phone and accessing the lecture.

By 2021, we introduced continuous assessments and students themselves talking first, for half the lecture, as in a discussion of a reading, five minutes each. They learnt a lot more.

Other things I’ve heard. There are some academics who prefer continuous assessments, as exams are “emotional violence”. And there are others who say open-book, take-homes are “exams”? Seriously, what kind of gauge is that of knowledge? Yet all MAs and PhDs are “open book” and some do dissertations and theses extremely well and some do not.

In this nearly post-pandemic period, I’ve learnt a few things. It’s definitely the end of Hegel’s master-slave relationship – although there will always be remnants of this lagging behind. A hybrid moving forward.

Now we will definitely have to extend ourselves in teaching, as visual, sound, jokes and humour, satire and music all matter, almost as much as words and theory.

Because we did this during online teaching, this may now become the norm. It’s not about going back to normal now but about incorporating what one did that worked, and incorporating this into the “hybrid model”. We will now do live face-to-face lectures, and also post them on the online sites.

For sure, it’s the end of the master-slave relationship: me the expert, you the learner and empty vessel absorbing everything. As Brazilian educationist Paulo Freire said: “Liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferals of information.”

What I learnt in 2021 is that unless you insist on participation, through assessments or presenting a reading, students hide; they register that they are there and then slip off in a dream world or to do other important things, like household chores or taking Mom to physio.

It’s also a fact that most of us can’t concentrate on listening to someone droning on for more than 45 minutes. For me, hybrid means flexibility and freedom. In content, delivery and assessments.

But presenting in fun ways is critical regardless, and so is relating the theory of Media and Politics to everyday matters locally, continentally and internationally.

Media Studies students don’t talk much about journalism as future career paths. They do mention academia, public relations and events planning.

While teaching, we advise on how to do research. But more practical things are needed to bridge the gap between the university and industry. A few years ago, I discovered that students were taught for years about how terrible journalism was; they learnt that journalists deliberately “sensationalise things to sell stories, to make profits for the media companies”.

I organised visits so they can see and hear for themselves how the news is made. The Sociology of News Production is a second-year course, but by honours level they had never even been in a newsroom.

Pre-Covid, two years in a row, I took the whole Media and Politics honours class to various TV, print and radio newsrooms. This was linking reality back to theory and theory talking back to reality. But it also debunked a lot of previously held views about how the news was made. A broader education, meeting with industry, also brings about freedom.

The students loved it. They had never heard of a daily “news conference” before, never mind sat in one, to hear how stories are chosen. Education, through media too, can bring about freedom. What doesn’t change is that freedom to think and to have a different view will always remain intrinsic to learning. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.


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