Many companies are reporting that there’s a “talent shortage.” They’re struggling to not only hire new employees with educational training in areas such as computer science, but also social media. This isn’t surprising given the speed of new technology — especially in communications.
Colleges and universities are busy writing new curriculum, hiring qualified faculty and working to gain access to enterprise software and technology — but there is often still a gap in what we can teach, and companies frequently turn to creating in-house programs and hiring consultants and vendors for training.
Some might say, ‘Let companies educate their employees,’ but this would mean they’d be less focused on their core business and would need to invest significant time, energy and resources in education. I can’t imagine a company that wouldn’t prefer to hire graduates who are trained and ready to go. Companies could turn to the growing number of edtech startups offering nanodegrees and new credentialing, but the ROI and effectiveness of these programs is still unclear.
A major challenge facing professors who teach new media is the amount of time that it can take to introduce new courses. The process of creating a class at a university can be slow because universities don’t just chase the latest fads when it comes to learning, but I’m hopeful that our new BuzzFeed class at Syracuse University can help provide a model of how to move quickly and be relevant.
Professional schools such as Newhouse not only train students on technology and skills used in the field, but also they seek to connect students to industry via internships, benchmark trips and classes like BuzzFeed: Future Media Skills.
The reality is, a lot of top publishers and companies are developing in-house technology (e.g., content management system, analytics, etc.) themselves, which means that typically only employees are trained. The inspiration for this class was to not wait for students to do an internship, but to bring the internship into the classroom.
The class is being offered to Newhouse undergraduate upperclassmen and graduate students from all majors — including new media management, advertising, public relations, magazine, photography and television, radio and film, among others — who are interested in expanding their knowledge of publishing in the age of social media.
The new course has been designed to train students in best practices for a constantly shifting publishing environment. The class objective is to teach the six essential skills needed to succeed in social media and distributed content. Students will learn to:
- analyze the changing media landscape
- “re-anchor” and re-evaluate distributed content approaches, data and metrics
- identify trending topics using social media data and analytics tools
- develop real-time content and distribution strategies for particular audiences and platforms
- identify and develop new audiences and engagement strategies
- utilize BuzzFeed’s content management system and techniques
There are a few key components to the course design:
- I will participate in a professional externship at BuzzFeed’s NYC offices this summer, which will help me to sharpen and maintain my industry skills.
- BuzzFeed staff are co-authoring the syllabus and have shared training documents that they use in-house.
- BuzzFeed staff will be flying up over the course of the semester to co-teach because nothing beats developing real life connections and hands-on training.
Our hope is that students will be poised for BuzzFeed internships and jobs at the conclusion of this class and will be coming in with skills that are needed by the publisher. Secondly, we’ll be developing class assignments that challenge students to come up with new approaches to content and distribution. BuzzFeed is known for innovation, and this is something that we hope to foster in the class.
Tips for Creating Industry-Specific Skills Courses
- Don’t become married to a vendor or company. Evaluate all potential partners and find the one that is the most relevant to students.
- Support faculty in introducing non-regular courses that are timely and innovative.
- Give faculty an innovation budget. We can’t expect university partners to pay to collaborate with us.
- Co-write and teach the syllabus.
- Keep the enrollment broad and not specific to certain majors, so interested students can get involved.
- Consider mixing undergraduate and graduate students. These two groups can learn a lot from each other.
- Keep the class small (fewer than 25 students).
- Engage several departments to get support across the school.
- Make a visit to the partner’s office and learn information firsthand.
- Document your success (class and partner feedback, as well as industry placements).
Jennifer Grygiel (@jmgrygiel) is an Assistant Professor of Communications (Social Media) at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. Grygiel is a social business professional and also founded No Gay Left Behind, which advocates for the development of virtual gay-straight alliances (VGSA) via social media