Understandably, students in professional writing really expect/hope that their coursework will lead to a career in writing. What kind of career? Lot’s of different kinds: editors, journalists, novelists, writing teachers (on to grad school), new media content development, public relations, etc. So I guess I’m thinking all the time about the changing workplace. Not because I want to "serve the needs of corporate America or global capitalism" or whatever, but because a big part of the reason students come to my college and major in my program is that they want an interesting and creative career as a writer. Obviously I can guarantee such things, but I can at least think about them and try to be responsive.
So that’s why I’ve been talking with others about an interdisciplinary Digital Media Studies MA degree. I already work closely with new media faculty and students in Art and Communications. This would be an extension of that collaboration.
Here’s my thinking. Increasingly many of the more basic technical functions of media production–editing text, editing audio and video, basic graphic design, basic web design and desktop publishing–will be outshored. Our students need more than technical expertise, though they certainly need technical expertise as well. Our writers obviously need to be able to compose and edit text for a range of media, but they also need a technical understanding of composition in other media.
It’s not that every editor or technical writer or graphic designer or videographer is going to have hir job outshored, but nearly everyone might be at risk. The best of chance of minimizing that risk, in my view, is to develop creative, critical, and rhetorical skills across media, to be an effective communicator in the nexus of convergent media networks. To a degree this is our goal in our undergraduate program but it’s not really possible for most students to get there, given where they are starting when they arrive.
The master’s program we have in mind is just another three semesters; you could get it done in two semesters plus a summer. But it would be an intensive experience with a range of media. While you can’t every really be an expert in all media, our graduates would have a specialization in one media area and a good understanding of other areas. If I could deliver this education on the undergrad level I would. If the majority of our students came in with some experience with new media composition with web design, podcasting, video production, graphic design, then maybe we could. But that’s not the reality.
In any case, as this outshoring thing picks up speed, a lot of college careers will be affected. The traditional entry-level jobs will be harder to find, I think, as those will be the first jobs to go abroad. Students will need to compete at the next rung up on the ladder, which already means greater demands for literacy and professionalism. At the same time, the demands of literacy are expanding as I often write about. So that’s two kinds of pressures working together.
Right now, it’s a race toward 2010. Can we get students up to speed when we are running hard to keep pace ourselves? I’m hoping the collaboration of this graduate program will make this easier.