I’ve been thinking about the role of the learner vs. the role of the teacher ever since I read this recent post  Mindy McAdams’ blog Teaching Online Journalism. In it, she makes the case that students learn far more by doing than by sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher. It’s something any teacher knows, but not something always accepted by others.

The best way to learn is by doing. That’s what I’ve concluded, and I know it’s not earth-shattering — but some students (and journalists) are dead set on what they think of as “being taught.” They want to sit in a room and have someone transmit knowledge to them right there.

So, she says often the real challenge in teaching journalism is coming up with meaningful assignments that will truly test whether the students have “learned” what the teacher considers she or he has “taught” in the classroom.  So true. 

It also reminds me of a question we are asked far too often as journalism educators. When editors and journalists watch young reporters on the job or on internships, or when those same editors and journalists come through our schools to teach courses as sessional or contract instructors and find themselves less than impressed with something the students have done, they always ask some variation of this question: “Why were they not taught x, y or z?”  The assumption is that somehow those of us who teach journalism failed to address some essential journalism skill or issue in our classes. 

 It’s the wrong question. The question for journalists, educators and students should be “Why did the students not learn x, y or z?”

 The answer could be that the teacher did not develop meaningful assignments or did not provide essential feedback for the students on those assignments to ensure the students were learning what they were being “taught” or at least being told in the classroom. That’s something some teachers don’t like to accept, especially because that’s the difficult and time consuming part of the job.

Or, the answer might be that the student did not take adequate responsiblity for learning what the instructors tried to teach him or her, expecting instead, as Mindy suggests, to have the knowldege transmitted to them without having to learn it. That’s something some students don’t like to accept, especially those who are more focused on getting credentials than an education.

The best journalism teachers are the ones who understand that talking is not teaching. The best journalism students are the ones who realize that listening is not learning.