Sep 21, 2021 Last Updated 4:59 AM, Sep 20, 2021

A pandemic pivot

Published: Aug 05, 2021

Ella S Prihatini

Since 2002, The Australian Consortium for ‘In-Country’ Indonesian Studies’ (ACICIS) Journalism Professional Practicum (JPP) has offered students of journalism, media and communication the chance to gain valuable experience working in Indonesia’s media sector.

The six-week program consists of intensive Indonesian language classes at Atma Jaya University, seminars on contemporary Indonesia, field trips, and a supervised industry placement with a media company or communication organisation located in Indonesia. Over many years now, the JPP has become a fixture on the summer calendar for many media organisations in Indonesia, and a unique experience for Australian students to build their networks in Indonesia to better understand their nearest neighbour. In recent years, it has also formed the blueprint for new ACICIS summer practicum offerings in the fields of Agriculture, Business, Development Studies, and Sustainable Tourism, to name a few.

However, as the number of COVID-19 cases soared in Indonesia and the Australian Government cancelled all international travel, the JPP in 2021 – like numerous other learning abroad programs to Indonesia – was forced to run virtually. With a short lead time to prepare, we acted quickly in working out the best way to run a program virtually that still delivered the desired learning outcomes and met host organisations’ needs.

As the new Academic Program Officer (APO) for the JPP, the online pivot represented a unique opportunity for me. I had to learn quickly in my role whilst also learning how to run the whole program online. At first, the JPP program assistant Ni Kadek Diana Pramesti (Diana) and I were unsure how to adapt to the online format. However, with commitment and creativity we set out to maintain strong engagement between ACICIS staff, students, speakers and host organisations.

Pivot to online

First things first. Prior to launch we had to make sure that all materials and Zoom links were stored to ACICIS’ Learning Management System (LMS). As a back-up, we also gathered students’ mobile numbers and created a dedicated WhatsApp group, which proved to be a very effective tool throughout the six-week program. It became a place where students could confirm schedules and clarify assignments, and where Diana and I could share photos of Jakarta and Denpasar to highlight the nuances of two very different cities during the pandemic.

Journalism done remotely, thanks to great technology and key local partners / ACICS

Pivoting to online delivery meant we had to rely on Zoom, educational apps, and YouTube. Zoom became our primary ‘classroom’ and we had to quickly adapt to it. While we mainly used the ‘reactions’ button to ‘raise hands’ in Q&A sessions, we also used it to show virtual applause for speakers, and to generate an encouraging and supportive learning atmosphere. Background settings were also key to our efforts in creating a fun atmosphere, especially during a field trip to Kepulauan Seribu with Divers Clean Action, an NGO run by young Indonesian divers. On the field trip, students participated in a photo quiz requiring them to set their background as if they were on the beach enjoying the sand and the sun. We also ran a field trip to CNBC TV’s Jakarta studios, where students learned about the process of live TV news production, including technical aspects like using editing software. These activities ensured we avoided ‘Zoom fatigue’ in our teaching, and worked to create learning environments that were as inclusive and participatory as possible.

Educational apps such as Padlet and Google Docs were also instrumental in students’ learning. Padlet served as a ‘whiteboard’ that we used to gather ideas and comments from students, while Google Docs enabled students and their mentors to work together collaboratively. Padlet also enabled us to elicit anonymous feedback from students, which we did during orientation and debriefing sessions to gauge students’ initial expectations and then overall feedback about the program.

Atma Jaya University facilitated students’ Indonesian language learning classes over Zoom. Students maximised their language learning by attending Zoom sessions with language teachers then practising using breakout rooms for conversations with classmates and Kahoot for quizzes. Overall, students achieved excellent results in their language course, some despite never having learned Indonesian before, and despite the online format. 

Outside of formal academic learning, we also introduced students to Indonesian pop culture over YouTube, playing music videos before each session and during short breaks, and we also ran karaoke sessions. Films were also a great way to visually introduce Indonesia to our students, and throughout the program we ran two Q&A movie screenings with the directors of Jalanan and The Staging Post. This helped to break up some of the more formal learning components of the program, and introduced students to Indonesia on screen.

Virtual internships

In total, students spent five weeks working with mentors at their respective host organisations. Prior to their internships, they were required to devise a work plan and a publication plan for articles to be published during or immediately after the program. Students completed internships with organisations such as The Jakarta Post, Jakarta Globe, InClover magazine, Amnesty International Indonesia, and CSIS Indonesia. While they completed their internships remotely, they checked in with their mentors each week on their work plans, and often worked collaboratively with a fellow ACICIS student or colleague in the host organisation to produce content.

Returning to face-to-face exchange is the ultimate aim but until then valuable connections are still being forged online / ACICIS

Students were encouraged to attend online press briefings and to interview sources via Zoom. Despite challenges, such as in navigating time zones, jam karet and slow responses, by the end of the program all students had successfully conducted interviews and produced a range of published items. This is testament not only to the students’ hard work in overcoming challenges throughout the pandemic, but also to their ability to work collaboratively and creatively with their Indonesian host organisation supervisors and colleagues.

Impact

Feedback from participating JPP students and host organisations for the 2021 program indicates a high level of satisfaction with the program. Every student noted in final surveys that they would ‘recommend the JPP to other students at their university’. One commented: ‘The virtual JPP experience made me feel like I was working from Indonesia despite being stuck in my own bedroom.’ Another: ‘The virtual JPP has given me opportunities and connections I would never dream of getting in such an adaptive format.’

Similarly, host organisations expressed satisfaction with the students’ professionalism despite having very limited supervision and contact: ‘Our student has been agile in adapting to our ever-changing work plan and demonstrated resourcefulness and independence in her work. In this sense, she has surpassed my expectations of what can be achieved over WhatsApp, emails and weekly Zoom sessions alone.’

Another mentor wrote: ‘Our student’s passion and vast knowledge in journalism were clear in her work and she is very articulate in conveying what she thinks.... She is also able to understand the Indonesian culture and language quite well and is very responsive during communication.’

These comments demonstrate that despite its virtual delivery, this year’s JPP not only had a significant impact on students, but also on Indonesian host organisations.

While COVID-19 and its international travel restrictions forced us all to adapt to virtual learning this year, the online JPP program has shown that online internships can deliver strong academic learning outcomes for students, and benefit participating host organisations in Indonesia as well. While students might not have been able to enjoy sate ayam (chicken satay) or Nasi Padang on the streets of Jakarta, they still managed to gain valuable experience working in Indonesia’s vibrant media sector, and demonstrated the resilience they’ll need moving forward to carve out careers in an increasingly virtual and digital media landscape.

Ella S Prihatini is a lecturer in International Relations at Bina Nusantara (BINUS) University, Jakarta, Indonesia.

For more information about ACICIS and its wide range of programs visit their website.

Inside Indonesia 145: Jul-Sept 2021

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