Geah Pressgrove is teaching the Reed College of Media’s first experimental strategic communications class. The class is meant foster experimentation, risk taking and curiosity in the communication field.
Managing Editor Jennifer Gardner spoke to Pressgrove about the project the class is currently working on and what she hopes students can learn from the experience.
Q. Can you explain what makes the class “experimental?”
A. Students in the class are exploring the role of virtual reality in cause-related marketing and the potential of this story distribution channel to take audiences to places they wouldn’t normally be able to experience. To enhance the learning outcomes, students learn from their peers, professor and our Harrison/Omnicom Innovator in Residence. This collaborative education approach allows for both the students and professionals to experiment and learn together.
Q. What is the class currently working on?
A. The class has been working on projects that highlight the strength and resilience of students and teachers at three W.Va. schools whose communities were devastated by the horrific flooding this past summer. These schools will each receive a virtual reality documentary, 360 story, photos, video, a website landing page and outreach campaign. Collectively, these strategies and tactics will help connect these communities to support and resources that make their work sustainable.
Clay County High School – Students in all grades of the high school learn business acumen, website development and vocational skills as they build a tiny home that, when completed, will be donated to a family that lost their home in the flood.
Herbert Hoover High School – The flood led to the closing of this school. Now high school students take classes half day in the afternoon at the middle school. Two teachers are trying to provide opportunities to students with coding and engineering. These teachers personally purchased supplies for the classes before the flood, but all the supplies were lost.
Rainelle Elementary – The Agriculture Learning Center is a high tunnel where elementary students, teachers, local veterans and Master Gardeners work together to grow produce for the community, which is located in a food dessert. In the past year, the donation of produce to senior citizens has been especially helpful since many lost their home and transportation in the flood. Also, students are learning to see rain positively again as it waters their plants, and are inspired by growing something at a time when sadness surrounds their community.
Q. What do you hope your students will take away from the experience?
A. In this environment, the students not only build on their foundational skills in communication, but also are encouraged to take risks and learn emerging channels for engaging audiences. In this environment, they become the experts in a new communication space and grow in confidence to explore new avenues for engaging audiences. We also see it as a great way to give back to our state and support the land-grant mission of WVU as all these projects support stories of resilience and hope from WV communities.
Q. How can “experimental” strategies be beneficial in strategic communications?
A. In my conversations with professionals and professors from around the country, each sees how these new immersive storytelling channels—like 360, AR and VR provide opportunities in their areas of interest. From health education and tourism promotion, to political communication, government relations and corporate communication everyone I talk to has their own take on how these new communication channels add value. Experimenting in this space helps us better understand best practices to leverage the tools for important audience engagement outcomes.
Q. Who has been involved with the class?
A. This class is a real collaboration between industry, strategic communication and journalism. As such, my partners in this are Ben Roffee, digital director of the Huffington Post’s RYOT, and David Smith Senior, lecturer in the journalism program at the Reed College of Media. Ben has been producing content and engaging audiences with important issues around the globe for the last three years. David has been exploring the production side of these new technologies for the last year.
Q. Can you tell me about a “funny” or “aha” moment you might have had while teaching this class?
A. Every week I think that someone in the class has an “aha” moment. That is also by design. We went into the class knowing that none of us knew the full potential, nor what would happen. It’s been equally rewarding and challenging to let go of the control and explore the potential. I trust I’ve learned as much as the students this semester.
Q. How would you say the class has gone so far?
A. This semester, I’ve learned a lot about the communication landscape, as well as teaching students in an environment that encourages shared learning. Sometimes it is uncomfortable to know that I’m not the expert in the room, but rather the students are. While I won’t be repeating this specific course, I know I will take what I’m learning into every class I teach in different ways.