What Can Liberal Arts Institutions Learn From Their Journalism Brethren?

Traditional journalism education is built on what's called the "custodial" model. It's a classic teacher-focused approach whereby students are passive receivers of information in a classroom environment. However, thanks to rapid developments in technology, social media, and the rise of "citizen-journalists," detractors argue that this approach is not only ineffective but bound for extinction.

As a result, foundations like Knight are aggressively promoting an alternative approach. Under this "hospital model," students, professionals, and professors work together to provide both news to a community and knowledge in the field of journalism.

Why do we bring this up within the context of higher education and the arts? Because liberal arts education has typically aligned with the "custodial model," and if Andrew W. Mellon's funding priorities suggest anything, it's that universities may be next in transitioning towards this hospital model approach.

Williamsport, PA's Lycoming College received a $100,000 Mellon gift to fund a three-year pilot program involving small groups of faculty members and students collaborating in research projects within the arts, humanities, and humanities-focused social sciences.

Here's how the program will work. Faculty members will first submit research proposals during the summer of 2015. Faculty will then chose students to help them across the research process. Lycoming notes this model "exposes students to the process by which faculty identify research questions, and furthers faculty understanding of how collaborating with undergraduates can both advance research and deepen student learning."

Lycoming's focus on faculty development echoes recent news of the Reynold's Foundation's grant to Missouri University, which will create the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation Faculty Excellence Fund. The fund will support 50 endowed faculty fellowships for associate and full-time professors at the journalism school. Similarly, Lycoming's project will also foster faculty development through a series of workshops with a consulting expert in the field of research education. 

So, Lycoming is using Mellon cash to roll out a project that resembles two recent developments in the journalism field. And while we're not arguing that liberal arts should be taking cues from new models of journalism education, both fields share strong similarities.

Both are attempting to shed the rigid and outdated confines of the "custodial model." Both are trying to make sense out of changes in technology. And both are experimenting with new approaches to experiential learning.

What'll happen next?