Educating in the Round: A Call for Academic Collaboration

by Ken Mueller on October 2, 2012 · 17 comments

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As I write this I’m getting ready to head to one of my teaching gigs. I am an adjunct at two colleges and was brought on board to both of them to create and teach classes in social media marketing.

When I was first brought in at the one school two years ago, I was given a copy of one of the basic marketing textbooks that is used at colleges and universities around the country. It was an up to date version of the text, presumably with all the latest information, but when I went to the index to look up social media, I was somewhat shocked. This text which covered just about every aspect of marketing in pretty good detail, was missing something. In fact, it was missing a lot. In going through the book there was just one reference to social media that was not even one paragraph in length.

While most of what I teach seems to fall well within the realm of marketing, a lot of it crosses over into areas like PR and communications. And even though the classes are listed as marketing classes, they are really much more than that. With a background in communications, it’s only  natural that I bring some of that to the table. It’s really got me thinking about how we approach this whole thing called social media from an educational standpoint.

When I work with clients and help them create and maintain a strong social presence, I don’t talk a lot about marketing, per se. But there it is at the top of my website for all to see: marketing. And that’s because that’s what people are looking for: help in marketing their businesses online via social media. But I also warn them that if they approach social media from nothing but a marketing perspective, they are doomed for failure. A marketing mindset is not a social media mindset.

And in the classroom, I’m teaching a class called “Social Media Marketing”. It gives the class shape and let’s students know what they are in for. But they are getting so much more.

As I look at a book like Marketing in the Round by my friends Gini Dietrich and Geoff Livingston, and as I work with clients, I understand the need to break down the departmental silos and work toward a more collaborative internal structure. So shouldn’t that be the same thing we are teaching students as we prepare them for jobs in this thing we call the real world?

When it comes to social media, I think we should be “educating in the round.” I wonder if classes like the one I created and teach should really reside in the marketing department alone. I know that some aspects of social media are included in a variety of marketing and business classes, and I also know that the folks over in the communication department are working hard to integrate it into their PR classes.

But perhaps what we need is a more collaborative interdisciplinary effort in the classroom that better mirrors what we are looking for in the board room. If we expect marketers, PR professionals, and others to work collaboratively, why not start preparing them in the class?

I currently sit on the board of the Software Productization Center at Millersville University. This program brings together faculty and students from the Computer Science, Marketing/Business, Public Relations, and Art/Graphic Design departments to work together and help local entrepreneurs create and market their software/technology ideas. Not only are these students learning valuable skills while they create real products, but they are learning a lot about collaboration within the framework of real world working environments. I’ve watched these students grow, and kept in touch with several of them post graduation, and I see a difference between them and those students who never venture outside the walls of their chosen field.

We need to encourage this type of collaboration and thinking with our students.

No matter how they are positioned, I’ll continue to teach my classes from this interdisciplinary perspective, bringing both my marketing and communications experience into the class. But I’d love to see more of this in colleges and universities across the country. I’d love to see students from the business & marketing department working and learning alongside those in the communications disciplines, and perhaps other departments, just as they will need to do once they graduate and get jobs.

What are your thoughts? Do we need to rethink how we approach academia as we seek to better prepare students for the job market and life in the “real world”?

 Educating in the Round: A Call for Academic Collaboration
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16 comments
annelizhannan
annelizhannan

While I can not speak to the higher education system of today because I graduated BSM (before social media), I will say that at both my undergraduate level and graduate level I felt that I did receive an integrated education in preparation for my career. My undergraduate degree in nursing included two years of liberal arts and business and two years specializing in nursing. My graduate degree in communication included marketing, legal, finance and business courses and then specialty courses in public relations and internship in political communication. 

I am saddened to hear that students are not being integrally educated to prepare them for their careers, especially at the cost of today's education, and commend you as a teacher/professor for your personal intervention. 

I would give my left foot (can't risk the arms as I will continue to need my fingers) to have had the opportunity of a formal education in social media. Those institutions who are not including social media across all disciplines are failing in their education dictum and fiduciary responsibility to the student, parents and the US economy. 

Adam | Customer Experience
Adam | Customer Experience

This post strikes home with me because customer service is in a similar place academically. I have two business degrees and never saw a course on customer service. From the little research I've done, this seems to be the norm. There are universities that actually have programs in CS management, but I still don't see it as widespread.

I believe one reason is that it is similar to your points about social. When viewed from the frame of customer experience, not service, CS really has cross-disciplinary aspects to it. The big difference is that social media is relatively new, there is no excuse for why CS is not covered more commonly.

geoffliving
geoffliving

Thanks for tagging the book, Ken.  I know it depends a lot on the school, and even the professor (folks like you!). I have some good ties with VCU, Georgetown and Johns Hopkins and they are teaching marketing principles. And Bill Sledzik swears by it at Kent State, teaching advertising best practices, and convergence.

Anthony_Rodriguez
Anthony_Rodriguez

If I knew then what I know now, I would be terribly disappointed in the education I received in college. And by your post here it doesn't sound like it has changed much in the last decade. Every business now a days wants young professionals to come in with a college degree but those degrees are not preparing them for what is expected of them at a business. It is still the first-hand experience that makes us the professionals we are today - the education is just the basics. The education needs to catch up with what the real world expects.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

You know my feeling on this. I don't understand why marketing isn't part of the curriculum. I know PRSA is working toward making the lines less blurry in MBA programs, but it needs to happen at the bachelor level, too. For far too long (it's entire history) the communications industry has been allowed to measure efforts based on things that, while matter to the growth of an organization, don't track sales or other financial business goals. Communicators (and by default social media marketers) must learn how marketers measure these types of efforts. And, you're right. The only way to do that is by integrating the disciplines at schools.

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

Great post Ken! Yes, silos are very present in academia. As I travel around the world meeting business professors, I find that the social media type courses are not always housed in the Marketing department. It really depends on the institution. I do find teachers in every discipline looking for more opportunities to double dip or integrate. Accounting professors look for opportunities for their students to look past the numbers and think more broadly and strategically, for example. I am not sure how this type of broad scale change can be brought about, but I really believe it starts with teachers such as yourself really focusing on students achievement and results. Wow- I made it through that whole post without trying to sell anything! 

emilykantner
emilykantner

I just graduated from a well-respected Central PA college in 2010 with an English Communications degree. I took many Marketing/PR/Communications classes, and not once did I even hear social media mentioned. At my current job, updating social media and blogging are probably my two biggest responsibilites, so I'm playing catch up now!

I know you're in the Lancaster area, and I gather one of the places you teach is Millersville. Can I ask where else you offer classes?

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@ginidietrich So many of these disciplines are blending in the real world, we need to blend them in schools. It just makes sense.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@RebeccaTodd Thanks, Rebecca. And yes, it depends upon the school. I think in many ways it's more a matter of a prof, in whichever department, saying, "I think we need to include this". I know that's how it happened for me at Messiah College. A marketing prof determined they needed it, and started looking to figure out how to make it happen.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@emilykantner It saddens me to hear that, and I think as educators we are doing you and your generation a disservice if we aren't being forward thinking. And while I have an affiliation with Millersville, I don't teach there. I teach both undergrad and continuing education courses here in Lancaster at the Pennsylvania College of Art & Design. This includes a new certificate program they are now offering for people just like yourself. 

Additionally, I also teach as an adjunct at Messiah College, which is where I first created the course that is the basis for what I'm teaching. 

If you're interested in the certificate program, connect with me on Facebook and we can chat about it.

Anthony_Rodriguez
Anthony_Rodriguez

@KenMueller I don't even mean solely social media integration into education. I talking about a broader sense of education in the round. For me to do my job well, I don't just have to know marketing and communications, but I have to know what the finance guys do, how development raises capital, what programs look like ... you get the picture. You just don't get that in college. At least I didn't. Granted, I have a journalism degree, and if all journalists had some sort of business acumen perhaps newspapers would be better suited to adjust to the changes in their business rather than go down in a sorry ball of flames.

DavidBailey1
DavidBailey1

@KenMueller @emilykantner I graduated in 2008 and, unsurprisingly, there was no focus on social media. However there was, more worryingly, only small importance placed in online marketing if you were to look at the modules on offer. Perhaps the big problem in academia is that those whose place it is to teach haven't either the time or the knowledge to adequately be able to teach modules that would be as up-to-date as possible, and where there was a gap between the text and the reality could fill in the blanks with their own knowledge.

Whilst I only keep a cursory eye on the educational sector it seems that for US colleges the only times you hear the words social media are normally followed by 'sports team crackdown' or 'blunder'.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@DavidBailey1 @emilykantner yeah, back in 2008 this was all still pretty new and people weren't sure what it meant. The reason I was brought in to teach these classes as an adjunct was because I work in the field. They knew that it was new enough, and rapidly changing enough, to warrant having an outsider teach. And things change so fast, that every time I teach, the content is different.

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