The scientific output of India has started outnumbering that of the developed countries, as predicted by Thomson and Reuters in 2007. But both the quality and quantity of publications by Indian scientists lag behind those by Chinese scientists.
The sixth workshop on writing science by Current Science is being organised from the 16th to 21st of April in Bangalore. A drop in the ocean, you might say. But it has made a sea change in the lives of the few who have gone through it.
And one day, the trickle of engaging scientific content will become a torrent.
And here is a view of the Guest House of the Indian Academy of Sciences where the participants will be staying:
I am in a quandary. What do I settle for? Quantity or quality?
There was this workshop in the Guru Jambheswar University of Science and Technology, Hisar, where we had 30 participants. That is the UGC rule. Minimum number is 30 if you want funds for upgrading the skills of the faculty. There were further rules that do not allow the kind of workshops that we do. So the Vice-Chancellor had to give special permission to organise the workshop.
Besides science faculty, there were participants from Management, Hindi and English faculty. Getting the required number is not an easy task. Some were there only to get the certificate. But once the workshop started, everybody got involved.
But when it came to work, I realised that Gita and I are not enough to deal with individual attention and feedback. So we had to change the tactics. Focus more on attitude changes and knowledge transmission. Skill building techniques needed to be kept aside.
The workshop was of six days duration to accommodate an elaborate opening ceremony and a closing ceremony. But in spite of getting the full 22 sessions required, the workshop could not cover the content. The content for two more sessions could not even be broached.
One solution came from the participants themselves. They asked for it to be increased to a two-week workshop.
So, one of the equations is clearer now. If there are more participants, increase the duration appropriately. But when I look at the other equation, in terms of the input, output and outcome, I am still not clear. One third of the participants actually wrote. One third of the participants filled up the evaluation form. Ultimately two people joined the national efforts at reporting Indian science to Indian public.
With lesser energy from my side, and lesser time for participants and me, I get better output and better outcome.
For example, immediately after the workshop in Guru Jambheswar University of Science and Technology, I was conducting the fifth workshop for Current Science in Bangalore. Eight participants. Eight stories at the end of five and half days. And I am sure that four of them will engage with the group that is actively writing science.
The impact on the individual participant was much higher when the number was eight. The output and outcome are much higher than when the same time was spent with 30.
However, I dare say that all the 30 in GJUST benefitted from the workshop. Some said that it is the best workshop that they ever attended.
So I am in a quandary. Do I help more academicians in India or do I help the public to understand science.
Do I look for quality of output and outcome or do I look for influencing greater number of academics to do better quality research?
It is one year since this site was launched. It was meant primarily for training and capacity building to improve science coverage in Indian media.
Attempts to train scientists in media skills proved faster than training media professionals in the skills needed to deal with the complexities of science.
A team of more than 30 people has been built up slowly over the last one and half years. A team of Professors, Assistant and Associate Professors, Scientists, Post Docs, Research scholars, Masters in various disciplines of science… Trained to interpret advances in science to non-specialists.
For one and half years now, they are maintaining a news column in Current Science, reporting news of scientific advances made in India.
Quite often, productivity overshot the limitations of space in the most respected scientific journal in India. And the number of people in the team kept growing.
Thus STEAMindiaReports was born. A science news agency that clues the media into happenings in the world of Science, Technology, Environment, Agriculture, Medicine and other applied areas of scientific research in India.
We will start with one news item per day on the homepage.
Visit the page if you are from a media channel.
Visit us if you are from a research institution and want your research to be understood by the public.
The next workshop on Science Writing is to be held in Bangalore from 4th to 9th of December.
Here is the link to the application form: https://goo.gl/forms/tp2sn0aky0JeC9sx2
The fourth workshop on writing science that I organised for Current Science, Bangalore had a different venue. Their guest house facilities in Jalahalli.
Unlike the earlier workshops the participants could not see eye to eye. Literally, not figuratively, as you can see in the photograph above.
But in the end it worked out well. We had one session where we had to sit around: the role play of editorial board meeting. We went to the terrace for that session.
You will see their output in the 10th September issue of Current Science. The column, Science Last Fortnight will be by these people you see in this picture.
After two successful two-week workshops in 2014 and 2015 in IISER Pune, Vigyan Prasar extended the scope of the venue to IISER Thiruvananthapuram in 2016. This year Vigyan Prasar is catalysing two such workshops – one in IISER Pune and the other in IISER TVM. I hope more IISERs will join next year.
Here is the link to the advertisement that came out in Current Science
Why should we rethink evaluation of media students?
- Media/journalism/mass communication is considered the fourth pillar of a democratic society. There are certain expectations from those who venture into this socially responsible role. The evaluation of media students must therefore take into consideration the capabilities of the individual student to assume this role.
In most academic courses, the evaluation is done by an exam. Exams can test the knowledge/memory of the students. But it does not evaluate the ability to apply the knowledge in real life situations of the skills necessary to undertake the task well. Hence, many Indian industrialists have been decrying the lack of skills and applications among those who are thus educated.
Given this scenario, we need to rethink the evaluation of media students such that the future fourth estate becomes strong enough to hold together the fabric of our democratic society.
Unlike other professionals such as the doctor who may bury or cremate his/her mistakes, or the lawyer who may shut his mistakes behind bars away from public attention, mass media students are bound to show their mistakes to the public. This often damages the credibility of the fourth estate. Moreover, some of these mistakes can be costly to society, unlike those committed by other professions. Hence the curriculum and evaluation of media students should consider these aspects of media as a profession.
- In evaluating students from non-professional courses, the marks of the students reflect the mistakes committed and the ignorance admitted by not answering. The students are penalised for their errors of omission and of commission. But no feedback is given to build the capacity of the students to overcome such mistakes in future. So quite often, the same mistakes occur again.
This, we cannot afford to do when we are conducting media courses. Media courses should enable students to make mistakes and facilitate learning from them such that when they become professionals, they know how to avoid such mistakes. Thus there has to be a shift from evaluation through giving marks to evaluation by giving feedback for improvement.
- Any profession has to have adequate knowledge and skills. But what we often discard in educational endeavour is the attitudes necessary for successful and productive work in that profession. In fact, orienting attitudes is a preliminary requirement for faster, quicker acquisition of knowledge and skills.
Thus a new system has to be evolved for evaluating mass media/journalism students that takes into consideration the relative weights of attitudes, skills and knowledge. We need to ask what are the attitudes needed for the students to survive and excel in their field of choice and mentor the students on the merits of their attitudes.
- In the last few decades, media industries have evolved rapidly. New technologies, techniques, and processes have transformed the media landscape. Given the recent advancements in science and technology, further changes in the mass media scenario are to be expected. We have to train students to be flexible and adaptable to the newly developing media environment. We need to listen to the demands of media industries.
In a series of meetings held under the aegis of the UNESCO which brought together academic and industry leaders in the journalism/media sector to formulate a curriculum for emerging needs, industry leaders such as N Ram, the then editor of the Hindu, reiterated that the industry needs people with content, not merely style. In media, content is king. The ability to deal with multifarious content is more important than having people skilled in journalism techniques and processes. So industry leaders would rather take in people with superior understanding of politics, economics, sports etc. and then allow them to adapt and adopt the techniques of journalism.
On the other hand, Bollywood and other entertainment oriented media industries look down on higher qualifications in content related areas. Mindless entertainment, that allows escape from unforgiving realities, calls for a different set of knowledge, attitudes and skills.
Between these extremes there is a spectrum of skills, attitudes and knowledge that the media industry demands from its new comers. The new evaluation system that we evolve should take into consideration these factors too.
- And lastly, the perspective of the students who opt for these courses – the main stakeholders in decision making about evaluation. They come with aspirations and hopes. And great expectations from the course. What they take away from it can and should be aligned to the broader social, political, economic, cultural and spiritual contexts of media as a profession.
Principles, modes and modalities of evaluation
A media professional should be able to produce, create and manage content. Thus the evaluation of the media students should be based on the content that is created/produced and presented with a minimum quality that is acceptable to the extant media industries.
As a media student, the onus is on the students to produce/create and present it as a portfolio to be examined by media leaders and to be consumed by the public. The onus is on the institution to provide facilities and to facilitate the production of media content by the students. The onus is on the faculty to guide and provide feedback on each production such that in time, the products gain the quality and credibility required by the media industries.
The students have to go through and appreciate the work culture of media houses during the course, producing and presenting and revising assignments within deadlines. It is the media products that are evaluated. It has to be done in an open and transparent manner, because media is for the public to judge.
It is, however, media gatekeepers who evaluate the projects. The media gatekeepers get to see the quality of the students graduating from the course – an outcome that is very useful to students looking for placements.
80% of the total marks are allocated to the assignments done by the students. The marks are often given not to individual students but to groups. Thus there is an evaluation of being a team member – an attitude that is necessary to survive in media industries. When marks are given to the group, the group members share the marks equally.
20 percent of the total marks are given to the exam at the end which tests the students understanding of the media landscape in the country, the ethics of media, principles and theories of mass communication, techniques of mass media research… This is evaluated by the professors, readers or other teaching staff within or outside the academic institution.
This method of evaluation, I believe, will change the way knowledge and skills are transacted within academic institutions where mass media / journalism courses are conducted. It will also lead to a revolutionary change in media industries and help them to grow stronger as the fourth pillar of society.