University of Southern California

Sandra Chrystal
Title
Using Technology to Take her Students to New Places
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chrystal@marshall.usc.edu

As a business communications professional, I aim to help students use 21st century communication media. One way that helps to achieve this outcome is to provide assignments in which students interview people in their field, use social media to obtain data, report findings in a YouTube presentation, and collaborate as members of virtual teams. When my students engage with professionals in L.A. and other cities, they define their audience, shape their communication to that audience, and more attentively assess the appropriate communication medium than they frequently do for classroom exercises.

My final 2011 Spring Advanced Writing class showed the impact of this method. The class concluded with a guest presentation led by Brett Browman, a former student of mine who now lives in the Bay area. He began his discussion by recalling that I emphasized audience analysis as essential to effective communication when he was in my class years ago. Then he showed the students how he had applied that process to his web design and marketing for Square.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to execute several similar community-based partnerships every semester because Marshall provides the resources. First, the school accepts talented students like Brett who contribute while they’re on campus and again after they’ve graduated; second, it provides colleagues and mentors that encourage me to design and implement technology-based and community-based classes; third, it provides me with the technology and team that produces these courses; fourth, it provides funding for student travel to competitions and to generate communication projects. This last class’s interactive session would not have happened without the partnership of a generous alumnus, our tech team, and my increasingly busy LinkedIn former student contacts. Brett and Square’s Vice President of Marketing, who also joined this session, didn’t have to travel to L.A. When Brett contacted me through LinkedIn, I learned about his career move from banking to a tech start-up. Soon he agreed to talk to my students about the role of writing in his career. Then Marshall’s technology team arranged for the guests to join my class using Skype while it videotaped the discussion and posted the session to Blackboard for students’ review and future showings.

Gratefully, Marshall has encouraged, supported, and rewarded my use of this technology-enhanced learning. Thanks to Doug Shook, Gita Gohavi, and Jerry Whitfield’s teams’ efforts, my students have SKYPE’d with business people in London and Shanghai, presented a social media communication plan to a NFP Director in LA, and collaborated with teammates in other cities. Last Fall, about 60 MAcc/MBT students talked to Professor Ruben Davila about potential CPA exam ethics course requirements through a SKYPE session. When five accounting students were selected to propose global and technological curriculum re-designs to the Leventhal Board of Directors, one used SKYPE to contribute his section even though he was attending an in-house San Francisco firm’s interview.

The tech team videotapes and posts my blended online advanced writing class and my MAcc/MBT communication classes, thus providing a content site and a teaching assessment tool. The tech department provides me with the personal response clickers that I use to generate discussions on ethics and to measure pre-course, mid-course, and end-of-course attitudes and experience, creating a rich repository of data to measure the students’ learning and assessment of specific assignments.

The Marshall Information Systems team also makes it possible for my classes to participate in Second Life. I’ve had office hours in my Second Life office (much nicer view than my real-world office) and held classes in that classroom. Students in these sessions participate from their homes and work places. One student was able to work in New York and meet our class from his hotel room. The tech team also arranged for me to engage and share my Second Life IBM urban-planning deep dive with my students.

Similarly, another community-based learning project fosters civic engagement, provides the students with professional clients, examines L.A. as a resource, and generates several collaborative and independent writing assignments. Students in the Advanced Writing for Business classes partner with a not-for-profit agency in order to create business documents for the agency. This involvement generates some complaints about too much work during the semester, but generally results in improved writing and commitment to the class. As a result of these partnerships, a couple of students have subsequently served on an agency’s board of directors, a couple have accepted paid positions at agencies, and many report that this collaboration helps them in interviews and in jobs.

One of the most memorable partnerships led ten students and me to Mozambique. Previous class teams had collaborated with the L.A. founder of the African Millennium Foundation, and after a few years, she arranged for us to work with the NGO, Reencontro, in Maputo and with Lurio University Medical School in Nampula. Funded by matching grants from the Marshall School and USC’s Fund for Innovative Undergraduate Teaching, the writing teams produced recommendations for an orphanage to build a micro- enterprise fruit juice business, for Reencontro to create a second sewing business, tourist fashions, as an addition to the school uniform business, and for building a computer training and small business center.

Continuing this Mozambican relationship, this Fall’s Advanced Writing for Business class will have the opportunity to partnering with Keck School, the Global Health Institute, and Reencontro. Students will create documents that assist Cassa Nossa, a project that will build homes and health care facilities for Maputo AIDS orphans’ caregivers.

Seeking to increase my students’ learning, audiences, and professional development beyond the classroom has also resulted in participation in several competitions. Students have won awards at the USC Scholarly Research Symposium, USC technology competition, and USC Writing Conference competition. Some have gratefully accepted a Marshall donor’s funds which took them to competitions at the LMU Ethics competition, Association for Applied and Practical Ethics, and Eller College Business Ethics case competition. We thank Marshall’s undergraduate student funds that enabled a woman to travel to present her first prize paper at the Association of Business Communication. Sharing reports of these student successes, in turn, motivates current students to improve their communication skills, publicly voice opinions, and participate in international projects and associations.

Getting to know these students outside of the classroom has resulted in many friendships and extended resources for my current students. I’ve had the pleasure to attend a couple of weddings, participate in graduate school and career decisions, and use these students as class presentation judges and as professional resources for current students. Brett’s recent presentation, like many of my former students’ contributions, continues the cycle of active in-class and post-class community involvement.