This week, the University of Delaware has caused quite a buzz with its promotion of a new project that will allow students here to experience project based learning. The program was begun by the Entrepreneurial Studies Program in the Lerner College of Business & Economics to incorporate marketing into a real world setting in the hopes of revolutionizing higher education. By the looks of it, the program is achieving exactly that so far.
According to UDaily, this pilot program “spans the UD campus with students from four colleges, eight academic units, one registered student organization and one club sport”, in part to promote the program’s effectiveness across a range of academic and organizational spheres.
Professor Carolyn White Bartoo, one of the eight faculty members involved, is unique in that her class, Communications Principles in Advertising, is the only academic unit that has the entire class enrolled and is mandatory for those students. Her class is responsible for participating in a “mandatory, semester-long team consulting project for an authentic client (a student here at the University of Delaware named Alyssa Kuchta, who is an entrepreneur attempting to launch her own jewelry line, eff.y.bee).
Bartoo’s COMM 313/Communication Principles in Advertising is composed of thirty three undergraduate students who are experiencing a total transformation in their educational experience from the traditional classroom setting—complete with lectures and notes— to the realistic atmosphere of a professional advertising agency.
As expressed in the project’s description on the university’s website, the students involved in this program are essentially “advertising entrepreneurs providing consulting services, just as any strategic communication agency would do in the working world to create a definitive brand identity for a UD client”.
Bartoo, in addition to instructing Communication Principles in Advertising, is also the instructor for COMM 309 (Introduction to Public Relations), COMM 413/613 (Public Relations Management), COMM 409/609 (Public Relations Campaigns), COMM 200 (Environmental Communication) and COMM 364/664 (Communication Internship). She is also the internship director for the Department of Communications, the Social Media Director for the Communications Department, and the academic advisor for the Public Relations Student Society of America chapter here at UD.
USEED is the company that sponsors this project, a company created by Matt Racz ’11 and Brian Sowards. Ratz, a former University of Delaware student, created the concept for this project for his entrepreneurial studies project during his final year here. He actually received angel funding to make the project into a reality, which is essentially how it has begun here at the University of Delaware.
“So,” Professor Bartoo says, “we are the guinea pigs trying to find out what works and doesn’t work in order to eliminate the problems that could potentially accompany this method of learning. The students are REALLY engaged. They don’t think of it as only a class. Many are doing this because they enjoy it.”
Though Bartoo and her students are certainly guinea pigs in this process, one thing Bartoo says can be determined is that “this is not going to be like the same class I’ve taught five thousand times. This is not a class for the faint hearted; this is not a class for those who need a regular, predictable, ‘sit-there-watch-me-talk-for-the-entire-class’ routine”.
In terms of how this type of learning will influence future programs across the country, Bartoo explains that she thinks it’s going to “change the face of higher education, because it’s portable, small, and can begin in one small class or one department”.
“It is not,” she says, “as though the entire university has to convert. And a group of faculty can pilot it and make mistakes and learn from that”.
When asked how this type of learning may benefit her students, Bartoo says: “I think they will all get jobs because they can use this relevant experience: it translates more directly to the working world. This is practical learning, and it needs to be built on top of the theory they learn in other classes. In advertising, you need a client to practice what you have learned about advertising, much like how in nursing how you need to practice with medical equipment and patients”.
When discussing the prospects of this new method of learning, Bartoo made a connection between the program and the adage: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. She says, “I do want to make sure that I think this is a normal, evolutionary process to teaching. It’s not the only way, but it’s a way to augment learning and is an option of learning. It’s not better than other modes of education. Technology isn’t a way for people to cheat and not pay attention, but it’s something that’s new.”
Bartoo says she’s “all about doing” and that she thinks there’s a risk with everything, but that “project-based learning has some of the deepest, broadest, and most long-lasting learning with any kind of learner, and that’s what this project is pushing”.