Arts & Sciences

New communications degree looks to the future

April 14, 2016 by Cindy O'Dell

Old vs. new mediaThe media landscape shifts by the minute. Traditional media (newspapers, radio, television) are losing readers and viewers, older “new” media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) face competition from a steady march of apps customized to the interests of their users. Smart phones carried in millions of pockets and purses are rapidly replacing the high-priced tools once needed to produce photographs, videos and podcasts .

Ellen Derwin and Ned Camuso were keenly aware of that when they set about creating a new bachelor’s degree program for Brandman University, a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and Media. The degree program launches with Fall I in August.

“It starts with thinking about what employers are looking for … and what the end results should be. What do graduates need?” said Derwin.

What they heard, again and again, said Camuso was employers want people who can think on their feet, make decisions and solve problems, no matter what technological changes come their way.

Why add a communications degree?

The School of Arts and Sciences B.A. in liberal studies once had a cultural and media studies emphasis, which program designers removed when the school revised that program. That opened the door to a new degree, one with an expanded approach to communications and media.

Ellen Baker Derwin

Ellen Baker Derwin

While both Derwin and Camuso have education backgrounds that include studying communications, they tended to approach the new degree program from different directions.

“Ned’s approach is more theoretical, mine is more practical. I’m often saying, ‘How do we apply this?’” said Derwin.

What they didn’t want to do was limit themselves to one form of communication or even one way a degree in communications and media might be used in a career.

They reached out to people working as editors and reporters during the transition to the digital age, app developers, video game designers, researchers and futurists, marketing directors and public relations experts.

The result is an emphasis on storytelling, data analytics, technoculture, ethics and real world implementation as well as the more general “communication.”

All are included in the expected learning outcomes of those earning the degree at Brandman.

Backward design

“Once we know what the learning outcomes are, it became a bit easier to figure out what the courses should be and tie those to signature assignments that help students demonstrate mastery,” said Derwin. “We want them to be able to show their employers something tangible, a specific media project.”

Ned Camuso

Ned Camuso

Camuso said one of the strengths of the program is its continued emphasis on earning a liberal arts education. “You can’t substitute out that liberal arts background. The more you have this cultural patrimony at your fingertips, the more you’ll be able to provide assistance to whatever business you happen to be working for. If all you do is focus on getting the use of the technology right, you’re missing out.”

They also know that students in the program are likely to come from diverse backgrounds.  “Our students are skilled. Some of them are captains in fire departments or already executives at companies, but they need to bring something else to the conversation … this program is practical in that it takes skilled people and broadens them so they can bring even more to the table, more interesting conversations and fresh ideas,” said Camuso. “A lot of what we want our courses to do is encourage innovation in whatever they’re doing in their own careers.”

 

Unfinished business

For Derwin, who has helped develop other degree programs and courses for the university, the beauty of creating a brand new degree program is the ability to assess what’s working. “We try to remind ourselves, as much as we dream and want to do things perfectly, we have this opportunity gather data and make adjustments. We look at whether students are succeeding in the program learning outcomes so we can see what needs to be changed. We’ll be able to make those improvements.”

“We’re committed to the mission of this program which is really to inspire students to develop solutions and adapt to real world problems,” said Camuso. “That speaks to the kind of program that’s creating a student who is really adaptable. We’re addressing a group of students who will be confronting a world that’s different than it is today.”

“We don’t need to teach them how to (take a picture), but we need to teach them how to tell a story with pictures, to use visuals to communicate what they want to communicate,” said Derwin.

Staying current

 The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 4 percent increase in employment between now and 2024 for people with communications degrees. Potential career areas include journalism, social media, advertising, marketing, grant writing, technical writing, sales and public relations.

The program will also involve discussing and analyzing what’s happening below the surface of current events, said Camuso. Students will be learning and analyzing the different ways content is delivered, assessing both the limits and the opportunities. And they’ll find out what they have in common – “good design and excellent writing,” said Camuso.

Then reaching back to his own liberal arts education he added: “Socrates was against writing. He used the same language we use today to rail against today’s technology, that it will lead to loss of memory. Plato loved writing. We wouldn’t know about Socrates if he hadn’t.”

Active advisory board members included:
• Jim Brosemer, broadcaster, journalism professor, and investigative reporter
• Ken Brusic, former editor of the Orange County Register
Joe Cockrell, vice chancellor, Brandman University Communications
• Cat de Merode, vice president of awesome/technical product manager, GrubHub
• Paul Hughes, reporter, Orange County Business Journal
• Paul Manuele, director of marketing and communications at the law firm of Kramer, Levin, Naftalis and Frankel
• Marc Posner, Cypress College Communications director
• Kimberly Prato, communications strategist/public relations consultant Additional feedback from:
• Bryan Alexander, futurist, writer, researcher on how technology transforms education
• Ian Bogost, video game designer, critic
• Alan D. Mutter, newspaper editor, high-tech entrepreneur
• Clay Shirky, writer, consultant on economic effects of Internet technologies
• Barry Wellman, director of NetLab, University of Toronto
• Douglas Kellner, critical theorist on media literacy and culture

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