Originally published by USA Today. Written by Paige Carlotti.
Going to class in your sweats or pajamas may be so freshman year, but for graduate students this is so not a problem.
That’s because starting in July, Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications will offer a Master of Science in Communications completely online.
The renowned communications school partnered with 2U Inc., a cloud-based, software-for-service platform in order to develop Communications@Syracuse. This is 2U’s first collaboration with a communications school.
“It’s like doing Syracuse without the snow,” says Anthony Rotolo, a professor in the Newhouse School and director of the online program. “We have a lot of people who want to get credentials in communications but can’t go back to school. This is the best education they can get and don’t have to stop what they’re doing (because it’s online).”
The Newhouse School is consistently ranked among the top journalism schools in the world. “Newhouse made sure that we weren’t going to do this program and put our name on it if students weren’t going to have a good experience and learn what they are supposed to learn here,” says Rotolo. “It’s a big challenge, but it’s doable. The courses are very current and designed to continuously be updated.”
Newhouse Dean Lorraine Branham conceived the idea about four years ago in order to help students keep up with the constantly evolving media landscape. “What we are doing is reflecting the fact that in this digital world, people are doing communications work that blurs lines — touches in PR, content production, journal, ad. It’s essentially communications work for people that didn’t start out as communications people,” says Rotolo. “We have a lot of people who want to get credentials in communications but can’t go back to school. (Now they can get) the best education they can from Newhouse and don’t have to stop what they’re doing.”
Communications@Syracuse students will most likely have worked professionally for about 5-10 years and are looking to update their digital skills, but cannot physically get to campus. “They still have to be smart, bright people to get into the Newhouse School, we’re not changing the rules about that,” says Amy Falkner, senior associate dean for Academic Affairs.
Communications@Syracuse is broken down into three concentrations: advertising, public relations and journalism innovation. Each week there is one live session for an hour and 45 minutes in a Brady Bunch-like frame, allowing the professor and students – there will be up to 12 in each class — to all see each other simultaneously on the computer screen. The platform has capabilities like screen sharing,
document collaboration, and the professor can even “send people to classrooms,” as in break the class into groups and give them all private screen time together to host discussions and meetings. Students also have the option to type questions that will appear on the professor’s monitor as he/she is teaching, asking a teacher to elaborate or go back to something without interrupting class. Rotolo says the platform is very similar to Facebook in that there are commenting and “liking” features. On top of all that, there are weekly assignments done at home that require students to apply what they’ve learned to their professional settings.
“You can’t hang out in the classroom and pretend you’re not there,” says Falkner. “It’s going to be very interactive and provide that individual attention Newhouse proudly provides.”
There is an orientation scheduled at the beginning of the course, where students learn how to use the technology and polish their existing social media and digital skills. Offered classes include digital communication systems, web and mobile development courses, journalism innovation, multimedia storytelling, 3D printing and classes experimenting with augmented reality.
Jen Corletta, a senior public relations major at the Newhouse School, says going to graduate school was never on her radar, but this new program could cause her to reconsider. “I love that it incorporates advertising and journalism because now more than ever you are expected to integrate all of those things into your career, making it much more beneficial than just a PR degree,” says Corletta. “It’s just more realistic for the real world.”
According to Falkner, the applicant pool will be a little different than the residential grad program, though getting in will be equally as competitive. Each year, the Newhouse School accepts approximately 200 out of 1,000 applications for its graduate program and 300 for 5,000 applications of undergraduates.
“There are a lot of things that you can do with this medium that you can’t do in the classroom,” Rotolo says. One professor plans to design his multimedia storytelling class as if students are watching a television show about how to how to film a television show. When he teaches his lesson on camera angles, for example, there will be a scenario setting such as a card game where he the camera filming him will actually be changing to the angles he is talking about so that students can see and understand. In a real classroom, not everyone could crowd around a monitor to see this. “It’s literally immersing students into the content,” says Rotolo. “These classes certainly won’t be boring.”
Corletta anticipates that the most beneficial aspects will be the opportunity to collaborate with people from all different career paths. “Just like how you learn more from a two-month internship than you do from a semester-long class, as you get older you learn more from people and their different ways of thinking and doing,” she says.