A Conversation with Elaine Young at Champlain College

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    Elaine Young, PhD

    Professor at the Robert P. Stiller School of Business

    Affiliated with Marketing, Master of Fine Arts in Emergent Media

Visit Elaine’s profile here to learn more about the courses she teaches and our podcast interview with her.

Hi Elaine! What's the elevator pitch for the client work you're doing in your classroom, from the perspective of your clients, as well as the students in your class?

This is a great question. For the students it is easy — apply what you are learning in the class to a real world challenge. This is going far beyond a case study with a set of questions to respond to, or even a “case competition”. Rather, it is an opportunity for the students to begin building relationships with actual business people, getting comfortable with interviewing a business person about their business, problem solve and actively apply course learning directly to that client challenge. For the clients, there is a great mix of “giving back” and “mentorship” of the students, while at the same time being able to move forward on a back-burner project, get advice and guidance on digital marketing issues, and test the waters for a possible intern.

What are some of the assumptions that you had to blow out of the water when you made your first foray into applied learning? What was the hardest part to overcome?

I’ve been doing this for a very long time and I as I reflect on how the projects have evolved over the past 19 years, the biggest challenges for me as the professor is to give up control in the course, and to let the client project often dictate how the class time will be spent. Additionally, it is important to manage both the expectations of the client — these students are learning by doing, and are not interns, and the expectations of the students — the clients are doing them a favor, and cannot respond to questions all the time. Overall, what I have found is that a professor has to be comfortable becoming a project manager, and recognize that the course learning outcomes are woven throughout the experience with the client project and may not happen in the order you might have thought.

What are some of the items that your students have been able to show after having been in your class? Any success stories?

It depends on the class. For our introduction to digital marketing class, students conduct a digital audit for their client and then, incorporating Inbound Marketing methodology, build out a set of recommendations for the client. This culminates in a professional-grade document along with a client presentation. Outcomes of this have included a stronger portfolio and internships. In our higher level digital marketing classes the students are either conducting an analysis for a client utilizing data analytics from Google Analytics and Social Media Platforms and email marketing or they are actually running advertising and email marketing campaigns. Out of those students have portfolio work and actual experience they can speak to in interviews. This work has also helped them to get internship opportunities.

It can be really difficult to measure the success of experiential learning and assess (or grade).  What metrics do you use to determine the success of a student?

I am very focused on students building a strong final product. Because they are applying our course lessons and readings to real world challenges, it is very easy to see when they are not “getting it” and I can take the time to reinforce concepts either to the full class or to the teams. My approach is to have students complete formative assignments where they apply their learning and I can look at what they are developing and provide in-depth feedback. They can then take that feedback and continue building towards their final product. Honestly it is not unlike what we do in the work world. I have found that the students feel more invested when the work is for a real business, and that business may want to hire them as an intern. They tend to apply themselves more intentionally to the work, ask  more focused questions, and make more meaningful connections. Specifically, I look to a completed body of work that responds well to the project challenge.

Are there any new developments in experiential learning that you are excited about? 

I am excited to find more innovative ways to expose my students to the marketing platforms that are being used by professionals today. The more hands on we can get so they can fully grasp the implications of marketing automation and AI on their chosen profession, the better. Whenever I can partner with local businesses and organizations such as HubSpot to get my students profession ready, I think that is very exciting. Not so sure if these partnerships are really “new” from my own perspective, since I have been doing this for 19 years in my classes, but I do see these partnerships leading to a much more innovative learning environment.