Educating in the Round: A Call for Academic Collaboration

Merry Go Round Under the Oaks

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.

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And in the classroom, I’m teaching a class called “Social Media Marketing”. It gives the class shape and lets 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”?

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