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Academia

Reaching Out From The Academic Grove

Tom Jacobson's picture

I am pleased to be able to return to blogging in this space after a rather extended stint in the land of higher education administration, and am welcoming a re-immersion in matters related to using communication to help facilitate development efforts.  One such matter on my mind following the administrative assignment is the relative lack of contact between academics that study development and practitioners who actually do development work. 

The gap is widely noted anecdotally, and a recent study confirms the anecdotes. The Center for Global Communication Studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication recently reported a study, conducted for BBC Media Action, on the reach and impact of Media Action’s work globally. One of their findings is that the world of practitioners underutilizes help that is available from academia: “…practitioners are less likely than other development stakeholders to consult academic research on the media…,” and “the policy community involved in funding media programs makes only moderate use of available research and evidence.” Of course, it goes both ways. Promotion up the academic ladder tends to reward theoretical inquiry regardless of real world impact.  And, thus, much research tends to be more useful theoretically than practically. Furthermore, for reasons there isn’t time to review here, the considerable number of communication research graduate programs that include development studies has atrophied in recent decades.

The "Education Tsunami" and How "weDevelop"

Tanya Gupta's picture

Why is this generation experiencing a “tsunami” in higher education? (as coined by President of Stanford, John L. Hennessy and then popularized by writer David Brooks) We think it may be because (thanks to technology) there has been an elemental shift in power from the education providers to the beneficiaries.  An empowered user has the ability to demand how education is delivered and even change the traditional model of education.  Students are far more empowered now as there is an excess of information available, faculty are no longer indispensable founts of knowledge. Students are looking for an outcome-oriented education (e.g. that result in skills or a job).  Education can be delivered to thousands using broadband networks and home computing technology.  As the economy weakens, non-traditional students are demanding education that is flexible in terms of timing, payment, knowledge and skills.  Tech savvy students want technology intensive education delivered in bits and not necessarily a semester long course.  This has created a situation where an empowered beneficiary (of education) is setting the terms, demanding flexibility and along with education start-ups/newcomers are helping create new modes of education delivery and educational content.

Talking about Theory and Practice

Silvio Waisbord's picture

I attended the conference of the International Studies Association in New Orleans. Its theme “Theory versus Policy? Connecting Scholars and Practitioners” is surely relevant to anyone interested in aid, communication/media, and governance. The question prods us to think about whether the two professional communities are inevitably opposed, and if not, then, how collaboration is possible.

In an ideal world, scholars and practitioners may not necessarily hold hands and sing kumbaya, but they could find common ground based on mutual respect and recognition. In reality, however, my experience tells me that something completely different happens. Even theorists and aid practitioners working on related issues and holding similar normative ideals, rarely see it eye to eye. Despite sporadic goodwill, encounters tend to be filled with tensions. If (sotto voce) dismissive words are not heard, participants loudly speak about different concerns. “Wait, there is a huge literature on that issue” warn academics when they hear simplistic arguments. “That works in theory, not in practice” practitioners respond and rattle off experiences that disprove theories. One’s theoretical excursus makes the other yawn. One’s case analysis meets indifference in the other. One asks about conceptual clarify and rigor, the other begs for simple concepts to use.