One year ago, I wrote an article for MediaShift about our new undergraduate degree in Digital Media Innovation (DMI) in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Texas State University. The mission of the degree is to immerse students in digital concepts and skills, focusing on social media, web development and emerging media concepts, including drones and virtual reality. We cover innovation topics including design thinking, human-centered design and product management. Essentially, we flipped the curriculum, with the emphasis being on digital concepts and skills, supported by courses in our more “traditional” tracks.
The degree was approved in August 2016, and I am happy to report that, since then, we have seen it grow to 211 students. This far exceeds the projections made when we developed the program, and we are thrilled to see it both become a popular offering, as well as have its core courses (Web Design and Advanced Social Media and Analytics) adopted as part of requirements in other majors in our School.
But one of the most dramatic developments of the program is in the gender breakdown of the students who have declared the DMI major. Currently, the program is 51 percent female. This is a vast improvement when compared to other technology-based degrees. (Computer Science at Texas State has 16 percent female enrollment, and a degree in the business school in Computer Information Systems is 22 percent female.) The Computing Research Association Taulbee Survey reports the national average for females completing undergraduate degrees in computer science at 17.9 percent.
Growing the Population of Female Students
I have long been an advocate of introducing technology skills in mass communication curricula to better serve our primarily female population (see here and here). My experience has shown that when taught in a communication context with the proper support, female students excel in the technology skills of web and mobile development, multimedia and data analysis. They enjoy telling stories and want to experiment with new technologies. Success with technology is not just a career builder. It’s a confidence builder.
I thought it might be helpful to hear from students in this program, most of whom will graduate this month or next May, to learn why they chose this major and why they felt the gender mix was more at parity than other technology-infused degrees.
Desire to Join Comm with Tech
Several of the students expressed their reasons for declaring the DMI major as an interest in combining traditional communication skills with advanced technology knowledge.
“I knew that I wanted to write, but also knew that I did not want to choose the traditional journalism route,” Mikala Everett said. “The DMI major wrapped up everything that I was interested in learning and doing into one major.”
“I loved the idea of connecting communication and storytelling to the new emerging technologies and advances,” Emily Sharp said. “The storytelling capabilities and tools are so powerful that the correct way of using, developing and implementing them is important to know and fascinating to me.”
“My passion was invested in journalism and design, and I did not know how the two would ever intertwine until I first heard of the DMI degree,” Bri Watkins said. “My senior year, it was finally implemented as a degree in our program, and without hesitation, changed my major from journalism to DMI.”
Thirst for Coding, Cutting-Edge Knowledge
Others were more specific about the technology skills they would encounter in the DMI program, emphasizing more advanced coding applications.
“When I saw that coding was one of the principle aspects of this new major, I was hooked,” said Renee Dominguez. “I knew it was the right major for me after taking the Fundamentals of Digital/Online Media core course and realizing how different that class was from all the other Mass Communication classes I had taken. It made me realize that a career in the tech and digital field was what I had been waiting for.”
“I’ve been introduced to coding and web development over these last few months, and I’m really enjoying the challenge it presents,” Allison Fluker said. “I know it is an essential skill in today’s ever-changing media landscape. It’s definitely becoming a critical second language.”
An Emphasis on Entrepreneurship
“I want to be an entrepreneur. DMI has the creative and technology aspects that I was wanting to focus on when I was a general mass communication major,” said Megan Blackwell. “Now that I’m in DMI, I feel like I’m learning more of the topics I was having to learn on my own before.”
“The social media, business start-up, coding and web design aspects are all important to my future, regardless of which specific career I choose,” Asia Daggs said. “Everything I am learning is helping me toward my dream of creating my own agency.”
Analytics, Design Thinking as Key Skills
Students referenced a range of skills gained in the curriculum, including data analytics and design thinking, as being those they found most interesting and beneficial to their careers.
“I’ve learned about social media and how to use their respective analytics to better a company’s brand or community outreach,” Fluker said. “I know a lot of employers are looking for people that have data analytics skills before entering into the field.” Earlier this semester, Fluker won a design-thinking challenge at a student event hosted by the Austin American-Statesman.
“Design thinking all the way,” Everett said. “We are literally being taught to think in a different way to solve problems, and there will always be a problem that pops up in life.”
“I have gained the skills and knowledge of in-depth coding, design-thinking and ideation,” Watkins said. “In fact, the past two dream internships I have received were because the companies found interest in the design of my website, which I created in my data and coding class.”
Support for Women’s Voices in Technology
Students agreed the mass communication discipline offers unique opportunities to introduce women, in particular, to technology skills.
“I think that the SJMC offers a more inclusive environment for females in general compared to the male dominant technical degrees,” Fluker said. “I think that the DMI major attracts more women because it has such a diverse curriculum that prepares us to be competitive in the work environment without having the pressure of doing as good as or better than a man in an environment specifically catered to him.”
“I think it creates opportunity for women to make a difference and to have our voices heard in new ideas and developments,” Fluker added.
“I think the communication aspect of the DMI major is what attracts more females to it rather than to a computer science or other technical degree,” Sharp said. ” The DMI major isn’t just being used to complete an assignment for someone else or solve a bug. It gives you the tools to embrace the changing world around you and utilize the skills. This can be used in anything from work to personal projects to everyday life.”
“It also gives you a broader range of skills through data visualization, coding, and social media and analytics,” Sharp added.
Students expressed an interest in a wide scope of career options. Blackwell has a job lined up as a digital media specialist and wants to begin working on starting her own business. Everett wants to be a digital journalist or interactive art designer.
“I hope to be a web content manager,” Sharp said. “This could range from making sure the content being pushed out online is working correctly by looking at analytics, developing the content or framing the content through relevant technology to best tell the story.”
Regardless of their future plans, students realize they are gaining a broad base of knowledge and skill that can help them navigate a rapidly changing digital future.
“I love this major, and I think it is a great way to tackle the new digital age,” Dominguez said. “I have learned so many different skills because of it, which makes me more confident to go out into the workforce.”
The biggest challenge going forward is to assure we maintain gender parity as well as pay attention to other diversity metrics in the program. While percentages of African-American and Hispanic enrollment are close to the overall numbers in the university and School, we want to continue to assure that the DMI program attracts an inclusive student population. The program also has more male students than some of our traditional mass communication degrees, so there may be a future article in analyzing these trends.
Additionally, finding faculty who have interest and experience in teaching digital courses and exploring emerging topics is a challenge all programs face. Making sure digital faculty represent diversity in the program compounds that challenge. Women make up a third of the full-time faculty in DMI sequence, but as a female leading the sequence and the Media Innovation Lab, I am able to influence much of the pace and agenda. However, we will need to focus on diversity in future hires to make sure we are putting forward role models that better represent the students in the program.
I’m proud to work at a university that recognizes this opportunity and values innovation. Our School’s website contains more information about the DMI degree.
Cindy Royal is a professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Texas State University, where she teaches web design and digital media topics. She is also the founding director of the Media Innovation Lab launched Fall 2016. During the 2013-2014 academic year, she was in residence at Stanford University as a Knight Journalism Fellow. In 2013, she was awarded the Charles E. Scripps Journalism and Mass Communication Teacher of the Year, presented by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and the Scripps Howard Foundation. In 2017, Royal was awarded a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to host the Ph.Digital Bootcamp, a workshop to develop faculty to lead innovative curriculum. More information can be found at cindyroyal.com.