Rethinking Curriculum Saturday, June 9th, 2018

Rethinking Visual Communication Curriculum: The Success of an Emporium Style Teaching Model

Katie Krcmarik, Assistant Professor of Practice and Visual Communications Coordinator, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Adam Wagler, Assistant Professor of Advertising and Public Relations, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Teaching foundational concepts and core skills effectively through a flexible, emporium style teaching model employing challenge based learning

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications faced challenges with budget and faculty resources causing a bottleneck in the beginning visual communications courses for the college. In the Fall 2015 semester, faculty presented a solution in the form of an emporium style teaching model, where students can seek help on projects and collaborate with peers on projects. The program is the first-of-its-kind giving students experience with the technologies and techniques needed to be powerful and effective storytellers. Students leverage the technology they use in their daily lives to solve real-world problems, with the help of faculty available in a learning resource center. Topic based workshops and bootcamps offer students additional hands-on learning experiences with the software. The program was implemented in Fall 0f 2016 with the first students finishing in Spring 2017 with positive results to date.

The model centers around the foundational concepts of design thinking, storytelling, technology, and media that run through the entire five course program as well as the college as a whole. These foundational concepts inform all work produced and are consistently referenced throughout all instructional material. Students complete coursework in the core skills areas of audio, video, photography, typography, layout, mobile, and web with depth in skill area dependent on major. Students are additionally allowed to experiment with subject matters that interest them outside of these core skill areas as well as dive deeper into one the core skill areas. The final capstone course completes the sequence requiring the students to demonstrate competency in the foundational concepts along with the core skill areas. Moreover, the model allows for the cross pollination of ideas separate from subject matter and software often producing stronger conversations and more diverse opinions during critiques.

Perhaps the biggest asset of this model is the built in flexible curriculum allowing the faculty the ability to adapt the curriculum to the changing needs of the industry without requiring constant curriculum review. This framework allows for flexibility in the curriculum without huge curriculum actions required. The modularity of the program developed gives students the freedom to gain proficiency based on major and the opportunity to explore new interests. Faculty gain flexibility by having the opportunity to experiment with new media platforms and technology without having to develop a full 16-week course. This agile curriculum structure allows for programs to stay nimble based on relevant trends.

While the College of Journalism and Mass Communications used the model to solve the increasingly larger numbers of students needing to take the foundational courses, the same model could also be applied to institutions with low enrollment challenges. Instead of having to run separate elective courses, one course can support multiple subject matters with core design principles underlying all subject matters. The model could allow small programs to offer more diverse course offerings without additional resources or faculty making them more competitive.