:: Jensen Teaches J 310 Online for UEX

Last updated: June 1, 2011

Jensen Teaches J310 Online for the First Time

Robert Jensen is a thought-provoking journalist and professor in the School of Journalism at The University of Texas at Austin. This summer, with the help of University Extension (UEX), he will teach his popular introductory journalism course, J310 - Critical Issues in Journalism, online for the first time, making it accessible to aspiring journalists and anyone interested in becoming a more informed consumer of information.

As this video clip shows, the course explores major issues facing news media in a democratic society, including ethics, institutions, effects and standards of press performance.”

In the interview below, Jensen discusses his approach to teaching and how the information presented in the course will be beneficial to students.

How would you explain your personal teaching philosophy?

“Well, this is just my opinion, but …” When students preface their comments in the classroom with that phrase, I always stop them.

“What do you mean by ‘just your opinion’?” I ask. “Did you pull this opinion out of the air, or is it the product of some research and thought? Can you offer evidence and reasoning to support your opinion? If you can, why do you undermine your argument by suggesting it is ‘just your opinion,’ hence inviting others not to take it seriously?”

I press these points because we live in a culture in which the skills of intellectual and political engagement are atrophying. Students often equate “argument” with the inane shouting matches of pundits on television talk shows, rather than with the careful defense of a position and response to challenges. Too many students shrug off attempts at critical engagement with “Well, that’s just your opinion.”

Yes, everyone has opinions and we all have a right to our opinions. However, opinions are meaningful to the degree that we can make it clear to others why we hold those opinions, and why they should consider holding them, too. This doesn’t mean that all of life is a formal debate. Certainly students exploring their ideas in class shouldn’t be expected to articulate a fully formed defense of every claim made. But the classroom is a place where students should be encouraged, even pressed, to sharpen, articulate, and defend their opinions.

This sometimes is called the teaching of critical thinking, and it shapes not only the way I respond to student comments but the way I lecture and initiate discussions in class. It leads me to speak in class about my own intellectual and political views, in the hopes that in articulating and defending those views I will model for students that kind of critical engagement.

Why do you think this course is valuable?

At a time when more and more people feel disconnected from politics and distrust the news media, it’s more important than ever to study the two subjects and the connection between them. The course is valuable not only for those people considering a career in journalism but also for citizens concerned about democracy.

What do you particularly hope your students will take away with them after taking your course?

As a result of the course, I would hope students read more serious news coverage of public affairs and be more skeptical of what they read.

Is there any particular information about your teaching experiences, course(s) or area of expertise that you would like to share with readers?

In this course I critique contemporary news, sometimes harshly. But it is a loving critique, rooted in my own experience in journalism, a craft for which I have great affection. Though I’ve worked as a professor for the past two decades, I still think of myself as a journalist.

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