Word counts are so dead tree

I’m slowly getting back in to the blogging vibe as we approach the end of term – not there yet but on the home straight. The students are getting in to their assignments which include a number of stories for online.

I’ve found that over the last few days, as the students work through their assignments, I’ve been fielding a lot of questions along the lines of “what should a word count be for my online articles”. Reflecting on this I understand it’s a reasonable question but I’ve found it a frustrating one.

My reply has been that word counts are for essays, dead trees and lazy people.

Now, let me just say that I don’t think that any of the students who ask that question are lazy or stupid (or a dead tree!). The thing that frustrates me is that it seems to me an old media way of quantifying the value, weight or merit of an article – 150 words = NIB. 2000 words = feature etc.

On the web, unique in its capacity for breadth and depth, word counts should surely be a redundant measure of an article. Perhaps you can make sure your intro is a content management stripping, mobile/twitter friendly 140 characters, or your headline is less than 35 to fit the design.

Whatever the motivation it certainly shouldn’t be seen as a measure of when you have done enough.

And that’s the risk with quantifying things in education; setting time limits and word counts. Suddenly people become slavish to them.

Structure better than blue sky?

I raise it as I’ve just read Mindy’s post on quantifiable benchmarks for j-education:

Quit saying, “They need to learn how to be entrepreneurial,” and give me a measurable result. Then I can teach them — not to do only that one thing, but to employ the skills it requires.

And I couldn’t agree more. I sometimes feel that asking for entrepreneurial skills is bit like admitting the industry doesn’t have them. And never will. But you see a conflict here.

On the one hand I crave structure. Like Mindy I don’t want to teach entrepreneurial skills. I want to nurture and encourage them. But often that structure can be more trouble than it’s worth.

Of course, the reality is that structure helps quantify progress. We can’t all go around just doing our own thing if we, the industry (and the students) demand a measure of competency*. So I’m glad that Mindy raised the question and I know the results will help redefine what we do.

Anything is better than being slave to old media convention.

Later: Amy Gahran responds to Mindy

*on that note. Would an academically acceptable measure of entrepreneurial skills be the student realised they could create a start up that would crush the local media outfit and then did it?