Sunday, 17 January, 2021
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OPINION

Digital Media In Social Science Curricula



Harsha Man Maharjan

Digital technologies have become pervasive and ubiquitous. Traditional news media organisations have moved to websites and apps, with people accessing news contents in digital forms. Social media platforms have become important to express thoughts and exhibit identities. IT companies and even news media organisations are collecting, storing and analysing users' data. These organisations are using these digital footprints to innovate. Due to the pandemic, the use of digital platforms like Zoom has increased for interaction and education.

Digitisation of societies
The pandemic has accelerated the digitalisation of societies. Scholars are discussing the issues related to domination, identity, representation and differences in the digital sphere.  The disciplines under social sciences and humanities should be helpful to make sense of this digitalisation. These disciplines need to make students aware of these socio-technological changes. They have to encourage students to advance new knowledge related to this new field through discourse and research. 
Are the curricula prepared by universities in Nepal imparting adequate knowledge to students about the digital world? To understand this, we can look at curricula of some disciplines such as Journalism, Sociology and Anthropology. We assume that the discipline focused on media such as Journalism and Mass Communication, which Tribhuvan University offers or Mass Communication and Journalism that Purbanchal University offers is giving priority to digital media. However, the curricula show that these universities have put more emphasis on digital journalism. The curriculum of MA on Journalism and Mass Communication focuses on social media and online journalism. 
Though the curriculum contains 20 papers, only one is related to social media and online journalism. This paper aims to "enable students to have extensive understanding of the opportunities and use of social media", "enable students to analyse online communication and journalism", and "enable students on new media research". Its syllabus contains these ten units, including "Digitalisation of News Media", "Principles and Practices of New Media", "Social Media and Communication", "Online Journalism and Traditional Media", "Technical Writing Techniques" and "Globalisation and Local Content".
This paper indicates that the increasing use of social media and online journalism has been considered while preparing this curriculum. However, it also clearly shows that the curriculum contains three aspects of digital media - online journalism, social media, and online research—that could have been divided into three papers. Besides this paper, some aspects of digital media have been incorporated in other papers such as "Introduction to Mass Communication Theory", "History and Growth of Mass Media" and "Media Law". The TU curricula for MPhil and PhD have not given importance to digital media in comparison to the MA level. It is interesting that the course does not contain a paper directly related to digital media and neither does the PhD course contain any special paper on digital media.
The MA curriculum offered by Purvanchal University too prioritises online journalism that contains five papers - "Fundamentals of Information System"; "Advanced Concepts in Electronic Publication", "Multimedia applications", and “Cyber publishing." They clearly show that the curriculum intends to impart technical aspects of digital media/journalism. Besides, a few papers such as "Mass Communication: Theories and Practices", "Print Journalism", "Public Journalism: Theory and Practices" talk about some aspects of digital media.
This lack of attention given to digital media in general in the above curricula give room for having the issues related to digital media in other disciplines. Yet, the curricula of Sociology and Anthropology that TU offers have paid less attention to digital media.
Though there is no paper focused on media, the curriculum of sociology in MA does include a few materials on media. Particularly, students have to read the " Prologue: the Net and the Self "of Manual Castell’s book The Rise of Network Society under the paper, "Practice of Social Change and Development in Asia". It is interesting that the curriculum contains papers on gender, disability/aging, disaster, education, tourism, not media. Likewise, the curricula of MPhil and PhD do not include books and articles on digital media.
Even Anthropology does not contain a paper directly related to media or digital media. It does contain the paper on "Visual Anthropology", which may contain more materials on media, but its syllabus is being developed. Like the curriculum of Sociology, it contains a few materials related to media under papers like "Anthropology of Disaster and Resilience", "Anthropology and Globalisation", "Contemporary Theories in Anthropology". Both MPhil and PhD curricula don't have a paper on digital media.

Revision of course
To help students understand the digitalisation of societies, the courses under social sciences and humanities have to include papers focused on digital media. This can be done while revising the courses. Journalism courses can also have papers on digital media in general. The curricula of Sociology and Anthropology too need to have paper on media - if not - on digital media. These syllabuses should include materials that discuss the different aspects of digital media, society and culture.

(Maharjan is a senior researcher at an academic NGO Martin Chautari and writes on issues related to media and technology.) 

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