Postgraduate students in Melbourne have had the opportunity to learn with students from Pakistan on how to report from zones of conflict.
Peshawar is near the historic Khyber Pass, close to the border with Afghanistan, and is one of the most dangerous places for journalists in the world.
After four weeks of joint lectures and classes (held via Skype on both campuses), students worked together in small groups to create joint news stories published in Australia and in Pakistan.
The virtual student exchange formed part of RMIT’s Graduate Diploma of Journalism global news studies course and was taught by RMIT’s Dr Alex Wake, the University of Peshawar’s Professor Altaf Khan, and Stanford University’s course creator and researcher Keith Bowen.
The three came together in a shared belief that journalism students who would otherwise be unlikely to meet face-to-face could learn from each other, and build relationships through such an exchange.
The project was initiated by Bowen who argued that a virtual student exchange had potential application to almost all academic and professional studies - and especially to journalism students whose work in the field often brings them into collaboration with international colleagues.
Wake and Khan recorded lectures on complementary topics for each week of the exchange and joint readings were set for discussion with the students.
Khan said that young journalists from zones of conflict have complementary needs.
“They frequently work alongside Western journalists as freelancers, but lack knowledge of the cultural context and inner workings of the Western press," he said.
“Active supporters of journalistic and democratic norms, these young reporters can still find themselves confused and disillusioned by operational and editorial practices they don't understand.”
Even before the four week exchange had finished, the students in Australia were able to reflect upon a change in attitude to reporting international events.
Melissa Hasse, a student in the Graduate Diploma of Journalism said she read online that the most dangerous war activity in Afghanistan is just six kilometres away from the Federally Administered Travel Areas (FATA) border.
“Which is not far from Peshawar at all,“ she said.
“Seems crazy that we talk to them on Skype and this is all happening so close to them.”
While student Isodora Bogle noticed an impact on her Facebook newsfeed since becoming friends with Pakistani group members.
“Very different news articles are popping up and driving all this home,” she said.
Graduate Diploma of Journalism program manager Maree Curtis said it was impossible to overestimate the value of this international experience for RMIT’s journalism students.
“Journalists – like everyone else – now function in a globalised world and amazing collaborations such as this help to prepare them for the reality of working in modern media organisations,” she said.
“Through technology – and hard work – Dr Wake and our international partners have been able to give our students an amazing experience.”
By the end of the exchange, the students had learned how to work productively and empathetically with overseas partners on projects, in spite of differing sets of professional practices, and differing systemic incentives, pressures, and constraints.
Story: Wendy Little