We know the media has been sharply influenced by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we also need to take notice of the worlds’ future journalists, who are going through their own unique experience right now.
Here at UA Little Rock, the School of Mass Communications has decided to follow all campus guidelines regarding masks and social distancing to make sure the school is safe for students, all while trying to teach them journalistic skills. The department has also faced some challenges in recent months, having to move multiple courses online, including several skills-based courses that had never been offered as an online class before. Course enrollment caps also had to be lessened, affecting students and teachers alike, with the interim department director Timothy Edwards claiming at least 1 class also had to be cancelled due to the pandemic.
Edwards has faced some unique challenges as department head under covid, especially since learning about media is such a hands-on experience.
“It certainly has forced us to think outside the box in terms of how to gather news in this environment,” Edwards said. “It probably has helped journalists overcome their fears of technology as well.”
The department also has a challenge in renting out equipment and lab time to students, specifically for film classes. This department, led by the Instructional Lab Coordinator Eric Pardoe, had to try something new, starting an online reservation system for equipment and lab time. Students can now pick up equipment at their designated time, which reduces the amount of traffic around the department and ensures social distancing.
Although the new system has been successful, Edwards sees the silver lining in some of the issues the department faces.
“I would urge students to hone their skills and practice those skills as much as possible through unconventional ways,” Edwards said. “Use your cell-phone and open source software to practice your video production and editing skills. Practice interviewing by using family members as sources. Watch documentaries and listen to podcasts featuring professionals in the field that interests you. Volunteer to work in your church’s media or communication department/ministry for experience. Remember there are multiple ways of learning and doing. Just think outside the box and be creative.”
Film professor Christopher Robinson has played a role in the development of the reservation system, and is teaching his media production classes under the new scope of the pandemic.
“This has been a stressful time for students, faculty, and pretty much everyone else in general,” Robinson said. “While we have all been affected by the pandemic, dealing with some of the hands-on, labor intensive production classes that need a lot of in-person meetings has been a particular challenge. At least for Intro to Media Production, we’ve moved the class to a large classroom and capped the class at a size where we can meet. It’s all a work in progress, but I think we’re getting there in terms of offering students a decent experience which, while not as satisfying as classes with no pandemic, comes pretty close. The current situation is not ideal, but we are doing what we can and trying to maximize the experience under the circumstances. I’m not going to pretend that things are like they were before the pandemic, but I think we’re doing okay as compared to just sitting at home.”
Robinson and Edwards both see some improvements in the department due to the pandemic.
“I am pleased with the changes we have put in the lab and equipment room this fall,” Robinson said. “While it might have been easier for equipment to let people just drop by and pick up stuff, I think that a reservation system allows people to better plan their shoots in advance, as they should be doing anyway — now one can be sure that you will actually get the camera when you need it. I think this is a great improvement in the system, and I am told the department has received compliments from students who are happy with the new system. If this continues, I do think we are more prepared for it now, and have made some strides in terms of developing best practices moving forward in the situation.”
Edwards sees more opportunities for advancement of the program.
“[The pandemic] has allowed us to explore how we can offer more courses in the online environment to increase the flexibility of our curriculum,” Edwards said. “With these new course offerings online, we may be in a position to grow our brand new online degree. [In the future], we can increase our enrollment through targeted, but aggressive recruiting. We can continue to develop curricularly and offer innovative, one of a kind programs, and we can adapt to changes in the ever evolving media landscape.”
Edwards has hope for any despairing students who are worried about missing out on media experience or their future careers.
“We all know that the one certainty in life is change occurs,” Edwards said. “Sometimes that change is planned, other times it is very unpredictable. Embrace the changes and learn and grow from it. Having an open-mind will often lead to unexpected, fulfilling outcomes.”