Doing something NEWISH in NEWISH ways

In just a few short weeks, the new academic year begins. This is the time I use to prep my classes, think about new things to try, old things to keep or toss or change. It’s a time of excitement, organization, and process that I’ve come to both enjoy and dread at the same time.

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Preparing a college course is fraught with uncertainty.  Essentially I’m thinking through what I believe students need to know in a field that changes daily. In a field where I don’t know what the jobs will be in two years. I’m also preparing material for students I haven’t met yet, trying to figure out the best way to deliver that content to a room of individuals who will have their own dynamic, learning styles, interests, passions, and abilities.

For example, in my Marketing Metrics and Analysis class (MKT355), all students have to have taken Digital Marketing. However, some of them might have taken it as they studied abroad, others might have taken it over a year ago from someone else. Can I assume that they retained that knowledge? That they have actually achieved the learning objectives so I can start day one in MKT355 with new material? Naturally I cannot. I have to bring everyone up to speed in each of my classes. Make sure we have a level start and build from there.

So here I sit, trying to figure out the best path. The best structure. It has to be cohesive enough to deliver on promised learning objectives within 15 weeks in a way that builds knowledge , structured enough to ensure I cover all the main points in the 15 weeks to get to those learning objectives, and flexible enough to accommodate student needs and the inevitable changes that will occur thanks to Google, Facebook, Twitter and the rest of the digital marketing universe.

As you can see, it’s no easy process — teachers all over the world go through it.

From the outside looking in, though, it can be very hard to understand that process. An employer or business person, for example, only knows that they need a specific skill set when they need it and they wonder why colleges aren’t teaching the skills they need right now.  It is easy to assume that if you’ve been to college, you know what is going on in a college classroom because you remember your experience. So it is even easier to call out professors and tell us to do our job differently or better or change what we do because you might remember a class that had a great deal of potential, but didn’t reach you, or you are thinking about a lecture-style delivery, or you never had an internship, or you just flat out picked the wrong college for yourself.

There is a  great deal of conversations going on about K-12 and Higher Education in the U.S. and what it means to educate a person for today’s world vs. yesterday’s world. Skill sets that we needed pre-digital and pre-connectedness we no longer need, while today’s workplace demands skills that, in some cases, weren’t even around four years ago!

So, when someone who I pay attention to in order ensure I stay relevant in my classroom challenges me (ok, really educators) to be innovative, I take notice.

And that is what happened back in January.  It was a simple question posed by @chrisbrogan via Twitter.  He tweeted, “Who is an INNOVATIVE educator you know (you KNOW, not you’ve heard of) on Twitter? 😉.  Perhaps you saw the exchange or participated in it? He got a lot of answers.  From me, he got a question.  My question back was, “What do you mean by INNOVATIVE?”. (One of my students at the time,  @nikkiTrex responded to him as well.)

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Clearly, I’ve been thinking on this exchange for a long time. Actually this post has been one of those that has been a “work in progress” since that exchange.  One might use professorial words like “ruminating”  or “cogitating”.  As an educator I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people who are not educators talk about how important it is to have innovation in the classroom. But when you ask them what that is, or what it looks like, that’s when things get really difficult.

Innovation in the classroom = doing something newish in newish ways.

What do I do with that? What does it even mean?

As you can imagine, I’ve let this roll around in my head for some time. For that I have to thank Chris. But what I wish was that he took it further and told me more specifically what he means by this.

At Champlain, where I teach, and have had the privilege to teach for thirteen years, we see ourselves as innovative. Our motto is “Let Us Dare”. We have professionally focused majors, with an integrated liberal arts curriculum that forces students to confront their thinking about themselves, their community, our country, and the world through a myriad of different lenses. We have a non-credit bearing required program that gets students thinking about and experiencing service, what it means to have a career, and how to be financially-savvy. We have programs that are national leaders, and we change the curriculum in response to the needs of employers more than we change it based on accreditation. VP Chuck Maniscalco had a recent post about what we do that makes us special.

At the end of their four years with us, students get jobs. In the Marketing area our 2011 stats show that 95% of our marketing grads were employed within the marketing field less than 6 months after graduation. 100% of marketing students were employed in some capacity less than 6 months after graduation.

But…is that innovation? Or is that just what has to happen today to justify our existence?

So Chris, as I get my classes ready for this fall, I need more feedback from you. What do you mean by doing something newish in newish ways? For context, here’s what I will be doing in the classes I’ll be teaching this semester (please check out our catalog for the course descriptions):

  • BUS 110: Business and the Entrepreneurial Mindset (#ccbus110). It’s for first year students enrolled in the Stiller School of Business. We take them through the main areas of business as they work in teams to run a virtual coffee shop. Key assignments include visiting local coffee shops (we have a ton of them in #btv), creating a marketing brief, solving HR issues, managing inventory and operations. All the faculty teaching the course are also competing against one another to see who comes up on top at the end with their coffee shop.
  • MKT 350: Digital Marketing (#ccmkt350). This is a required course for all marketing majors as well as PR students (and has been since 2000 when it was “Internet-based Marketing”). It’s the entry into the Digital Marketing specialization. As a project-based class, students form teams, or work as individuals, to help a small business client of their choosing with their digital marketing. The students conduct a full environmental scan after they have interviewed their client and present their research results at midterm, and then they spend the rest of the semester building a recommendation paper for their clients. This paper covers all of the content they learn during the semester, from analytics and metrics to measure, SEO keyword strategy, SEM including creating, buying, and placing of ads, email marketing (they actually create a test email campaign for their client using a tool like Constant Contact), blogging and micro blogging, social media marketing, mobile marketing, gamification and whatever else needs to be covered based on what is on the horizon. So for this semester you better believe we will be talking about the possibilities of Google Glass.
  • MKT 355: Digital Marketing Metrics and Analysis (#ccmkt355). An elective course for marketing students and others who have successfully completed MKT350, this course is all about learning the current world of digital marketing metrics. Students will not just learn tools in this class, but actually learn about the process of goal setting, figuring out how and what to measure so they can know if they are reaching their goals, and most importantly how to know what data is helpful and not helpful in that process. They will take part in our local Web Analytics Wednesday events with local experts like Gahlord Dewald,  have speakers (thanks Danny Brown), work with Google Analytics, and have sprint projects with real clients to help those clients better manage their data and analyze it for business decisions.
  • CCC410: Marketing Capstone (#ccc410mkt). A required senior-level class for marketing students where they will develop their own Personal Digital Identity, have class speakers, explore career choices, think deep thoughts about ethics, and get themselves ready to be successful once they graduate. Here’s a few examples of students who have done this really well: Nichole Magoon ’11, Hans Bardenheuer ’12Brittany Leaning ’12, Samanthan Winchell ’13, Nikki Tetreault ’13 (there are others, but you can look at past posts tagged CCC410MKT or MKT 420 or Social Media Ninjas to see them).

Note that in the Marketing classes, students will participate in tweetchats including blogchat and u30pro, read blogs and follow key people on Twitter, and will not have traditional text books — they will have to read what I’m reading which I share through Twitter in our class hashtags and via my delicious account. There are not tests or quizzes either.

So Chris, what, in your opinion, as a social media expert, author, and entrepreneur, should I do in my marketing courses that I’m not already doing? Based on what I’ve written above and the course description, how can I do something newish in newish ways this semester?

I’m all ears.

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