Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Teaching Journalism During a Revolution

The past few weeks in Cairo, Egypt have been filled with lots of uncertainly because of the #Jan25 Protests. Unfortunately, there's a Robert Gibbs (White House press secretary) quote that is fitting: "It's a fluid situation".

I teach journalism at The American University in Cairo (AUC) and we're scheduled to begin the Spring semester on Sunday. Under normal circumstances, I'd be ready: syllabus, course outline, website, guest speakers, Blackboard, etc. I'd have all of my ducks in a row. As it stands, I've talked to many students who've said "I'm taking your class this semester". For some reason I'm startled when they say that. Normally my response would be "What's your name?" because I would have reviewed my roster and I'd be familiar with who's enrolled in my courses. Not now.

I've spent most of the past few days traveling to Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo to support the protesters. I've spent little time adjusting my syllabus for the two weeks of classes that we've missed. I've spent even less time trying to figure out how to incorporate Egypt's revolution into my courses. There's no way that I can teach them as they are or how I've taught them in the past. To do that would be a disservice and it kind hard to ignore that fact that we're in a city that's the center of an uprising.

An Egyptian protester leads a chant at Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. (Feb., 2011)

This should be interesting though, teaching during a revolution that is.

I don't have a TV, so I haven't watched television regularly over the past few weeks; just a few minutes here and there during the critical times of the protests. However, that won't prevent me from incorporating a bit of media literacy into my courses especially my Multimedia Writing courses which are more based on the fundamentals of good writing and reporting. I know that what the TV presents can be strong, but has it been accurate? And how would you know?

I wish I'd been able to reach the students before now because Tahrir is a classroom whether you're there physically or watching from home. This is the best teachable moment for journalism students. Problem is I know some of our students have been there almost daily, but I'm afraid that just as many have not been - for whatever reason. What do I say to those students who've been in Cairo, but have yet to go to Tahrir to see for themselves? I'll tell them to go to Tahrir as soon as they can; it's a revolution that you need to see for yourself. The mood changes daily and the story ideas are plentiful.

So although I'm not going to be ready for the start of the Spring 2011 semester, I think there's a field trip in the future.

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