Archive for August 2008

YouTube, Seriously

August 22, 2008

To jump-start a new school year, more than 20 School of Communications faculty and staff members gathered this week to watch some YouTube videos.

Actually, we had a serious reason to do so.

We hosted cultural anthropology professor Mike Wesch of Kansas State, whose 2007 “Machine Is Us” video on technology and learning (below) has now been watched on YouTube more than six million times.



We saw two other Wesch creations as well. One is his presentation at the Library of Congress where he cleverly integrated his speech with engaging visuals and videos.

The other is a bleak assessment of education at big universities where impersonal classes contain hundreds of students. “A Vision of Students Today” (below) has been viewed two and a half million times.



The theme of our conversation with him this week is that the rise of online social networks, coupled with the ability for anyone with a computer to create information, has shifted the way students learn, which means we as teachers must keep adapting in the classroom.

Thank goodness we have a savvy faculty at Elon that takes seriously this continual need for educational evolution.


Our New Curriculum

August 20, 2008

Nothing is harder for a faculty than revising a curriculum. Because self-identity gets wrapped up in what we teach, each faculty member tends to believe that what they teach is what is most important for students to learn.

As a result, many communication schools have a stagnant curriculum that hasn’t substantially changed in a decade or more. Elon is the opposite. We just went through our second substantive curriculum revision this decade.

We expanded our two majors to four this year to reflect the four broad purposes of communication in society: to inform (Journalism), to persuade (Strategic Communications), to entertain (Media Arts & Entertainment) and to discover (Communication Science).

Journalism informs us about the world we live in. Our substantive change was pulling all of journalism under one umbrella – print, broadcast and online. Previously, broadcast news had resided with broadcast production outside the Journalism major.

Strategic Communications uses public relations and advertising to connect organizations to their publics. We previously called this Corporate Communications, but the corporate world is just one of four possible settings for the practice of strategic communications – the others being nonprofit organizations, government and PR/advertising agencies.

The Media Arts & Entertainment major ranges from radio, television and cable to documentary production houses and the film industry in Hollywood. We thought carefully about placing “entertainment” in the name of a major, since it may not sound academic to some. But the reality is, many of our students go into entertainment-related careers today.

Communication Science is a new major, created fresh with new courses. Some students tell us they want to major in the School of Communications but don’t intend to go into any of the professional areas. Instead, they want to work in media research roles (think Nielsen ratings), focus on organizational development, or go straight to graduate school or law school. This is for them.

Our new curriculum also requires a public speaking course of future students, and we have greatly expanded our electives with courses in sports and media, environmental communications, audio recording, and media management and sales.

It’s a dynamic curriculum for the 21st century, and I’m proud that our faculty is staying on the cutting edge.

Jobs and Salaries

August 18, 2008

Elon’s School of Communications participates each year in a nationwide employment survey of graduates conducted by the University of Georgia’s Cox Center.

We received our 2007 results today, and I’m happy to share them.

The survey reports that 70% of our responding 2007 bachelor’s degree recipients reported being employed full time shortly upon graduation. Nationwide, that number was 63%.

These results are gratifying — and I think I can explain the 30% not yet employed at the time of the survey. Many students tell me they graduate first and then start the employment search, compared to my generation where we wanted a job in hand by the time of graduation. Also, some of our graduates move to where they want to live (think Los Angeles or D.C.) and then start a job search that may take months.

Our 2007 students had a median annual salary of $30,000, the same as the national average in our discipline.

Overall, the best salaries exist in the online publishing world, with an average reported salary of $37,400. Positions in public relations, advertising, consumer magazines and specialized information industries had average reported salaries of $32,000. New graduates going to work at daily newspapers reported an average salary of $28,000. In the broadcast industry (known for lower starting salaries, but large upward potential), starting salaries were $29,300 in the cable industry, $25,000 in radio and $24,000 in television.

The Eight

August 15, 2008

The changing face of communications seems never far from my mind, even on vacation.

"Open wings" of art museum (Gary Denness photo; noncommercial use permitted)

While touring the Milwaukee Art Museum today – a stunning piece of architecture whose roof opens twice a day into “wings” facing Lake Michigan – I came across a room containing the work of eight American newspaper illustrators who aspired to become serious artists 100 years ago.

They rebelled against the landscape and genre painting styles of 19th century America by depicting – to quote the wall description – “the reality of American life in a tempestuous, turbulent modern time.”

Their work grew in popularity, but the National Academy of Design snubbed the leader of the group, Robert Henri (1865-1929), by excluding him from its prestigious 1907 exhibition in New York City. In response, Henri and his colleagues organized an alternate exhibition, and a journalist reviewing that exhibition called them “The Eight.” The name stuck, and the works of these eight are today in art galleries nationwide.

The connection to the changing face of communications? When I read that The Eight sought to depict the reality of American life in a modern time and that Henri advocated “making pictures of life,” I realized we use the same language today in teaching students to communicate the reality of our lives in the present “modern time.”

The Millennial Generation

August 8, 2008

The liveliest session at our national convention in Chicago this week focused on understanding our current students. Every student is unique, of course, but social scientists attribute broad characteristics to those who belong to a generation.

Our current students are in the middle of the Millennial Generation (those born between 1977 and 1996). They are primarily the children of the Baby Boomer Generation (those born between 1946 and 1964, representing the baby boom that followed World War II).

As a member of the Boomer generation, I’m familiar with the positive and negative attributes ascribed to my generation. The same range of attributes are applied to Millennials today (and, in the interest of disclosure, my wife and I are the parents of two Millennials).

In Chicago, the most provocative speaker was Gigi Carroll, senior VP and creative strategist for Draftfcb. She describes Millennials as optimistic, indulged, empowered, egocentric, educated, entitled and ambitious. She calls them the “choice generation” because they demand personalization of their experiences, in part because their parents have involved them in family decisions since a young age. Social scientists say this generation has enjoyed unparalleled influence over household decisions, from where to eat to where to vacation.

“They have been the most protected generation,” Carroll said. “Car seats, bike helmets, knee pads. Everyone gets a trophy for playing. Parents are regularly negotiating on their behalf…. As a result, adolescence has been extended into their 20s.” She called them KIPPERS, for Kids in Parents’ Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings, with up to half moving back home after college. “Things are good in the basement,” she quipped. “Big-screen TV, bathroom, privacy when friends come over.” Unlike Baby Boomers, Millennials often describe a parent as their best friend.

Millennials are “prematurely affluent” and “conspicuous consumers,” but they also are unusually altruistic and involved. For example, 74% of Millennials say they are paying attention to politics, compared to only 13% of 18-29 year olds in 2000.

Millennials also are a highly social generation. Communicating one-to-one is almost an oddity. They communicate and travel in packs, and they have an ongoing need for feedback and relationship maintenance. They are used to constant hovering around them. They’ve never known life without a computer. Three-fourths have a Facebook account. They have cell phones and portable music devices. They are adept at using three to five pieces of equipment at the same time.

All of this has a bearing on how we teach effectively, which is why this was the liveliest session at our national convention this year.

18,000 Hits

August 4, 2008

The verdict is in: Our Los Angeles summer program was a resounding success.

Twenty Elon students spent nine weeks in individual internships and jointly taking “The Business of Hollywood” course taught by J McMerty of the School of Communications. They lived in a secure gated community called Oakwood-Toluca Hills in the heart of the entertainment industry.

They created fantastic webisodes and blogs that attracted more than 18,000 hits during the summer. Here is the final webisode of the class.

The students also reported having excellent internships and a memorable summer, even including experiencing a moderate earthquake (magnitude 5.4) during their final week in LA.

Here’s how the program came about:

In previous summers, we worked first with Emerson and later with Ithaca to accommodate Elon students wanting to have summer internships and earn college credit in Los Angeles. When the level of student interest grew to a dozen a year, we decided it was time for Elon to organize its own LA program.

Associate Dean Connie Book became our investigator, flying to Los Angeles in Fall 2007 to scout out options for housing and classroom space and to talk with leaders of other college LA programs. In January 2008, the provost and I flew to Los Angeles to review the options.

The Elon in LA program became a ‘go’ in spring term, and 20 students signed up. Sure enough, we were able to coordinate an excellent LA experience for students at a reasonable cost. The Elon in LA program will be back next summer.