Two weeks ago I handed in my final project for the MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University. The course took one year and was quite different from what I had expected, for various reasons – but in a positive way. Taking this course was the best decision I could have made. I’ve probably never learnt so much in one year. Moreover, it wasn’t just an additional qualification, but lead me in a direction I wouldn’t want to miss anymore. But more about that later.
First of all here’s some details about the course and the School of Media at BCU, for everyone who’s interested in the program. There’s quite a lot to say about this intense year, I’ll try to sum some things up:
The course structure
The course consists of two modules each in the first two terms and a final project in the end. I started in September 2011 (starting in February is also possible, as well as distance and part time learning). In each of the two taught terms you’ve got an Online Journalism module and another course (Enterprise + Production Lab). All of those modules are very practical and based on independent study and work. If you’re expecting to sit in the lectures, listen and write an exam about that in the end, you’re wrong. The lectures are the basis and it’s up to you what you make out of it.
In each course you’re working on projects, but there’s one huge difference from what I had experienced until then: What’s most important is what you learn from working on those projects, that you explore the area, try new things out and learn through all of those experiences – failure is fine (something that was hard for me to accept in the beginning – but it made total sense).
I really liked that approach, which was implemented by every lecturer. It makes you rather try new things, as you know you won’t only be marked on the final piece, but also on the whole way on which you got there, your efforts, your approach, what you’ve learnt, how you’ve developed your skills etc. – absolutely new to me, but something that I really appreciated.
When I had a first look at my schedule, I thought they must have made a mistake. Two lectures a week was not really what I had expected, I was a little bit disappointed and signed up for more lectures from other programs. Well, I dropped them all. Those two are indeed more than enough to keep you busy. An important part of this course is independent study where you build up on the stuff you’ve learnt in the lectures.
I didn’t expect this year to be an easy going studying/holiday – mix, but it was still much more work than I would have thought. So if you’re planning to take this course, be prepared to work some extra hours – it’s all worth it though.
The course leader
I have to admit that I didn’t really know much about my award leader Paul Bradshaw before I came to Birmingham. It turned out that I couldn’t have had a better one.
Paul’s knowledge in this area seems to be endless, I didn’t want to miss a single lecture as each of them was highly interesting, helpful and informative, so were the resources Paul offers with the lectures.
However, Paul isn’t a only a lecturer for the one day a week you get together, he’s doing that 24/7 – that’s at least how it seems. He’s regularly forwarding emails about projects you can get involved in, upcoming events, conferences, as well as job offers etc. Paul’s also highly supportive, I always knew I could get back to him whenever I had questions or issues arised. Moreover, he’s coming up with a lot of ideas on what you could work on, try, improve etc.
What I appreciated a lot was that Paul is really interested in the development of each student: Instead of “just” teaching, he’s giving you advice, pushing you to try new things & find the area you want to specialize in and supports you to develop your skills there. He’s giving feedback apart from assignments and is always looking out for anything that could help you regarding your professional development. This was just an amazing support that had a great influence on what I got out of this course.
BCU School of Media
I loved the whole atmosphere here. Everyone’s very helpful and open for questions even if you’re not on their course. I always knew that I could contact other award leaders if I had any questions that they might be able to help me with – which is not self-evident. I really appreciated that. Diane Kemp and Caroline Officer for example helped me a lot when it came to videography questions (permissions in the UK etc.). Dave Harte gave a fab social media skills course in the first term and Annette Naudin supported me a lot with a video project I was working on for BCU.
In general I never had the feeling of me being the “tiny student” compared to the lecturers. I was rather used to the “almighty” prof, standing in front of the students, sharing his knowledge to them. Sure, the lecturers on my course also shared their knowledge, but it’s a different way of doing so, much more a mixture of workshop and conversation.
Apart from that, the way you communicate here was just a whole new level for me – after some time it became normal, but at the start I couldn’t believe that students and lecturers were communicating on Twitter – with course own hashtags or the possibility to ask questions (Dave Harte truly is the word record holder in replying tweets). Moreover you can keep track on what lecturers and fellow students are up to. Twitter is an essential tool in the department and I loved that. That’s one of the things other unis could learn from (as well as the above mentioned focus on the student’s development)
I didn’t have a very good impressions of Birmingham before I came here, the images I saw on the internet weren’t really promising. However, what ever you see or hear: Explore it yourself and you’ll see that Birmingham is a really cool place. I really like the city, especially the coffee shops and the area around the canals.
Moreover Birmingham offers so many possibilities linked to the course. There’s a huge hyperlocal blogging as well as social media scene and a lot of interesting meetings are taking place there, like the monthly Birmingham Social Media Café.
For everyone from abroad: It’s in general great to study online journalism in the UK. In my opinion the media scene is much more developed in this area than in other countries, amongst them Germany.
And finally my very personal review (the short version):
I expected to learn how to work online as a journalist, I saw it as an additional qualification that would enhance my skills in a changing media landscape, which I found very interesting. However, I would have never imagined that I would learn so much on this course, neither did I think that my professional development would be influenced that much by it. When I started this course I had just finished my VJ-trainee at a TV station. I already loved the internet and spend quite some time with it, however didn’t have a clue about online journalism, I didn’t even know much about Twitter ( I remember when Paul sent me a dm on Twitter and ask me why I kept my tweets private. I had no idea what he was talking about…)
One year later, Twitter and other tools are a normal part of my daily routine, I’m excited about all the possibilities given in working as a journalist online (not only regarding video) and I couldn’t imagine to go back to where I was before I started the course. It wasn’t just an additional qualification. If I compare my skills, interests and ambitions before I took the course, there’s a huge difference – the course has clearly changed my whole professional development and I’m even more in love with this job than I’ve already been before.
There’s so much more to say about this course, but one thing I’ve learnt is that people are not really willing to read long texts online… So I’d better stop and if anyone should ever want to know more details, please get in touch.
Just a final statement:
Without hesitating I can say that I would take this course again and can recommend it to anyone. If you want know how to work online as a journalist, this is in my opinion the course to choose.
And here are some tips for new students on the course:
Don’t plan to become an expert on everything.
There’s so much stuff you are learning on this MA, but don’t expect to get out and be able to rock every single discipline. That’s just not possible. Think about which area interests you most and you want to specialize and work in later. Surely don’t ignore the other areas, but don’t plan to become a community managing data journalism expert, who’s creating online videos including fab motion graphics and knows all about SEO.
One of the main lessons I’ve learnt on this course: To value the power of networking. Get in touch with people, go to events, chat about your projects and keep in touch, e.g. via Twitter. You’ll see how import and helpful a network is for projects, jobs etc. – and also help you to learn more about each certain area of interest.
Set up a blog and publish posts about your work, research and area of interest. Get in touch with others in the field, interview them or/and try to get some conversations going on your blog.
Be curious, ask questions and try new stuff.
Don’t just sit and listen, ask questions if you want to know more or something’s not clear. Explore the field, put as much time in your own professional development as you can and also:
Don’t be afraid to fail.
It’s more important to learn from experience than to produce a fab piece. If you’re already great at producing podcasts, it doesn’t make sense to do exactly this because you hope to get a good mark from it (you probably won’t as this is not all that counts). You’re doing that course because you want to learn more, so try new stuff, build up on your skills and don’t stop because you are afraid to fail. This will get you much further than sticking to things you already know or just going the safe ways.
Make the most out of this course!