Will journalists soon have to learn how to code their own apps? Some professors think so.
“We will make everybody uncomfortable.”
That is Robert Quigley’s goal for a group of 20 students who venture outside of their traditional roles next spring and work together to create mobile news apps. It will be quite a flip-flop: computer science students learning social media and content creation and journalism learning how to write code.
Quigley, a senior lecturer in the School of Journalism at The University of Texas at Austin, will be teaching a new mobile news app design class in January. Working with a local iPhone developer, students will be split into teams of four to see their app through from the idea stage to the finished product.
Quigley hopes to have five student-created apps in the Apple’s app store by the end of the semester.
“The world has changed and journalism students can’t pretend that math isn’t important… instead of just using the tools, we should learn how to build the tools,” said Quigley.
Austin, a blossming tech hub that Dell calls home (and where Facebook has an office), seems like the perfect place for such a class. Quigley hopes that by offering an app development course he will start to bridge the technology gap between the journalism industry and journalism education — a gap where education seems to always be two years behind.
Other universities have offered classes that bring journalism and computer science students together to collaborate — Columbia School of Journalism even offers a dual journalism and computer science graduate degree.
Amy Schmitz Weiss, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State University, taught a mobile news app design class last year.
With a grant from the Knight Foundation, her class created a mobile news app called AzteCast. The app allows students to see what events are happening on and around campus, as well as a Google-Maps powered geo-tagged location of the event.
“Student would normally turn in a paper and it would never see the light of day,” said Schmitz Weiss. “Now these students were given the opportunity to create something that will actually be used.”
She said that collaboration between journalism and computer science students is one of the biggest benefits to students seeking a career in the changing world of new media. Working across different disciplines — designing, coding and content creation — gave her students a full understanding of a website from start to finish.
“Employers want computer science majors who can communicate and journalism majors who aren’t afraid of technology… knowing how to do both can really set you apart,” said Michelle Chu, a senior multimedia journalism and management information systems student at UT-Austin.
Chu will be enrolled in the mobile news app design class in the spring, and she hopes to gain the experience of working with other students who have complimenting skills sets.
In a traditional collegiate setting, with the exception of general liberal arts classes, students with different majors are normally separated and isolated within their major. Chu hopes that this class will be a good look into how the “real world” works.
“Everyone can learn how to code by themselves; everything is online,” said Chu. “But the process of ideation to execution is an important thing that most classes do not teach.”
Quigley’s ultimate goal is not to create the perfect programming journalism student, but developers.
“A developer is somebody who just knows how to go through the entire process. From coming up with the idea, to executing it, marketing it and understanding the business side of it,” said Quigley. “If you come out of a class and say that you were part of a development team who got an app in the iPhone store — the sky is the limit for you.
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