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iPhone mandate from MU School of Journalism laced with problems

Wednesday, May 20, 2009 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

I owe my avid love for Apple products and my ability to understand emerging technologies to MU. When I first started in the School of Journalism , I was told by the ambassadors I would need an Apple laptop. It was essential to my learning.

I didn’t want to be behind the other students, and I definitely didn’t want to be at a disadvantage. So my parents dug around and found the money to buy my MacBook Pro, on top of all of the other tuition costs breaking their budget.

I’m happy to say my Mac and I have a great relationship. While at Mizzou, I fit in with all the other students sitting in class, furiously typing notes side-by-side on their Macs. However, I can’t recall how my MacBook was ever essential to my education at MU. Almost all of my work was done on the school’s Apple computers.

Yes, having a Mac helped. Every computer used by the journalism program seems to be a shiny new Apple, and through owning my own, I was able to navigate around more easily on the schools’ computers. And I was definitely above the curve when it came to other journalism students across the country. But could I have gotten by without my trusty MacBook? Definitely.

Now, a few years later, the journalism school is making it a "requirement" to own an iPod Touch or an iPhone. By making the technologies required, those under financial aid obligations can obtain the devices. Yes folks, you can now take out a loan for an iPhone.

This is nice, but what’s the point? According to an article in the Missourian, Brian Brooks, associate dean of the journalism school, thinks it will enable students to use a device they are already familiar with for entertainment and turn it into a learning tool.

“Lectures are the worst possible learning format,” Brooks said. “There’s been some research done that shows if a student can hear that lecture a second time, they retain three times as much of that lecture.”

This means parents who miss out on a rebate may be paying about $200 for a device that replays a lecture when they could either purchase a voice recorder at Walmart for $20 or use the built-in recording function that already comes on their other required Apple product: the laptop.

Mr. Brooks, if lectures are the worst possible learning format, why aren’t you changing the way the journalism school teaches instead of passing the buck to parents and students to compensate for it?

The school plans to install a program called Tegrity, which will allow instructors to record lectures and post them on iTunes. We already have a problem with attendance. How will this encourage students to come to class if they know they can get the lecture without the hassle of waking up for their 8 a.m.?

This requirement won’t be enforced, but I know my parents (and many like mine) wanted me to be as prepared as possible for college and would have bought anything MU deemed “required.”

Knowing exactly how “required” my Apple laptop was throughout my time at the journalism school, I can imagine how much classroom use will come out of this new essential learning tool. Could Tiger Tech and the close relationship between the university and Apple have anything to do with this? Can we really teach unbiased journalism while working deals with Apple to try and maximize profits?

Proof? The Missourian article said, "Brooks pointed out that if the students buy their computers at Tiger Tech the iPod touches are free. He noted that last year 80 percent of freshmen bought their computers at Tiger Tech."

I love my iPhone. In fact, I may have an unhealthy attachment to it. But I chose to buy it because I felt like it would enable me to achieve many of the functions I needed my cell phone to achieve: newsgathering, more communication capabilities, etc. It is an expensive piece of equipment to undertake. It has a lengthy locked-in contract, and it is more costly per month than my previous phone. I got through three years of school without it, and managed to get by using my laptop’s internal recording device to record lectures.

The point of journalism is to be clear, distinct and honest. But when we say that “required” really means “optional,” what are we teaching these kids? Go tell your parents you have to have this for school and then you can have a cool, new toy, brought to you by Apple.

Gawker’s story has made our school the butt of jokes, saying, “So basically, this is a scam to let students take out federally subsidized loans to buy iPhones. Presumably they can put AT&T’s minimum $69/mo. subscription on credit, too, and pay it off after graduation. We applaud this. Because if there’s anything journalism needs, it’s students who value gadgetry, theory, and massive student-loan payments over, say reporting.”

The decision has been voted on and passed. But this provides an opportunity to think about the implications of a journalism school teaching unbiased but forcing students to be one-sided in their brand buying, either by requirement or strong suggestion. Shouldn’t the journalism school be brand-neutral, especially when every other technology company is scrambling to come out with similar portable touch-screen products?

The sad fact is that most of the incoming journalism freshmen will already have moved into the dorms owning an iPhone or iPod Touch before this mess began.

Tracy Barnes graduated from MU in 2008 with degrees in journalism and English. She is a former copy editor and multimedia editor for the Missourian. She can be contacted at tracylbarnes@gmail.com.


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Comments

Anton Berkovich May 20, 2009 | 11:50 a.m.

This is what happens when you have people who don't understand technology making policy decisions about technology.

(Report Comment)
Matt Y May 20, 2009 | 8:21 p.m.

As if it needed to be repeated any more than it already has: TigerTech doesn't have a special arrangement with Apple regarding the free iPod deal. It's a mail-in rebate distributed and honored by Apple (and only Apple), which they provide for EVERY college student with the purchase of a qualifying Mac. A rebate that they have traditionally offered during the back-to-school season, but may not even come this year. While we're referring to Gawker, here's an article they wrote on this rebate last year:

http://gawker.com/5012674/free-ipod-touc...

Personally, I think making something like this a requirement is stupid. But reasoned arguments can be made to prove that point. What bothers me is the continued insinuation by both Columbia papers that there's some back room deal going on where a few old men with devilish mustaches are making millions off the poor journalism students. There's absolutely no truth to it, and it's dishonest to put gossip into print.

Looking at the practical implications of this, though, makes this whole debate a non-story. This "requirement" will be treated like every other "requirement" at the University - ignored by those who wish to ignore it and embraced by those who wish to embrace it. Kind of like the requirements to attend class, purchase specific textbooks, keep off the grass, etc.

(Report Comment)
Anton Berkovich May 27, 2009 | 8:36 p.m.

I hope a student who gets caught for plagiarising simply has his lawyer point out the school encouraging fraud with the fake "requirement." Would love to see that.

(Report Comment)

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