As a relatively young school of journalism and media studies, the Hank Greenspun school has made a number of attempts over its seven-year history (formed in 2005 after a split from Communication Studies) to NOT be what other schools of journalism around the country have been: tied to outdated platform-specific writing, producing, and reporting. In the fall of 2011 we solicited data from several focus groups made up of journalism students. We wanted to know what they found useful, and—more importantly—what they found to be needless. In a months-long rewrite, the Curriculum Committee of the journalism school, made sweeping changes to the program. These changes serve a number of purposes, including (but not limited to) a more relevant element of experiential instruction for all of our students, a new core of courses that will make sure our graduates under the new curriculum have the base knowledge in journalism and media studies that any university graduate from our major should have, and putting faculty into the advising mix for both new and returning undergraduates.
The school has, essentially, abandoned the “track” system in which students have found themselves for decades. We went from a five-track program at the split from Communication Studies (print journalism, broadcast journalism, broadcast production, advertising, and public relations), to a three-track program a few years ago (journalism, integrated marketing, and media studies), to our new program that is trackless. As a committee and faculty, we made note of the level of integration media of all forms has in our society and how people—particularly students—are using those media. The focus groups we held with students confirmed what we were seeing, so we went to work to get rid of the barriers to understanding the interrelated nature of mediated messages; both how to understand those messages, and how to produce effective messages for a more fluid media audience.
To ensure that our graduates –who could now chart their own path through our major—came away with knowledge we consider to be important for all our students, we extended the core of courses that all our majors must take to graduate. Courses in media and First Amendment law, media history, media ethics, media research, visual literacy, and global media now form the core of our curriculum. Some of these courses had been required in the past, but in our new curriculum they all are required.
With our university’s major re-write of the general education core and requirements, our departmental committee felt it was time to separate advising in our major from advising for a complicated new set of general education requirements. We wrote into our curricular plan a requirement that all students in our major would see both an academic advisor and a faculty advisor during a student’s first year at UNLV. The academic advisors are the “official” advisors, working with students to help them meet their general education requirements, as well as being the keeper of records for each student. The faculty advisors would help students plan a path through the major that is coherent, even though it may fall between some of old barriers or silos of the old days. The goal is not to put the maximum number of students into our own classes, but to make the major open enough to accommodate the contemporary realities of media production and understanding that cross disciplinary lines. The hope is that we can help students see more clearly the interconnectedness of many bodies of knowledge available across our campus—and within our own unit—so they may be better communicators upon leaving UNLV.