Sunday, August 2, 2009

History of advertising class: seeking suggestions

One night a week, I teach "History of Advertising" at CCAD, the Columbus College of Art and Design. It's a lot of fun, I enjoy it immensely, and I've been teaching the class pretty much the same way for about five years, now. I don't think there's anything wrong with the class... but anything can be improved. So I'm looking for suggestions.

Currently, the students read, "Soap, Sex, and Cigarettes: A History of Advertising in America," which is a pretty good book. It does very well with the time period between the Civil War and around 1980. After that... it gets a bit fuzzy, and I have to rely on my own deviousness for things, especially the Web stuff. The book was written in the late 90's, and so the Internet, while in there, is, well... different than it is now.

They read the book, we do some in-class exercizes, they take a mid-term and final w/ questions from the text and then write an essay discussing a modern ad within the context of three or more concepts we've covered. That's the basics.

This last semester, I had a student who suggested that the class could be more interactive, and could have more to do with the world they'll face once they graduate. My initial reaction was... OK. I can think about that, but...

1. CCAD students are often quiet, introspective and hard to get engaged. Smart? Check. Talented? Check. Inclined to participate in class discussions and activities? Not so much. Now... a good teacher with enough enthusiasm and good material can, I believe, get any class to do just about anything. So while this isn't a hard-stop barrier... it is on my mind. We only have one night a week. The time it might take to get things "interactive" might take away from ths stuff we have to learn, which brings us to....

2. It's a history class. There are certainly concepts that we cover and discuss that are applicable to the lives/careers of modern designers. And we go into them, in some cases, in some good depth: the role of sex and sexuality in advertising; how hard-sell and soft-sell techniques differ and when they are each best used; issues of age, gender and ethnicity in advertising; the role of cultural change in what is considered "cool." All kinds of stuff. But the main gist of the class is to provide a window on the past... if it also reflect a bit of light from the future, OK. And I certainly bring (maybe too many) anecdotes of "life in the industry" to the class, too.

Neither of these are insurmountable, as I say. Just things that are on my mind.

With that background to guide you, O my gentle readers... any suggestions on ways to improve the interactivity and/or real-life-itude of the class? All ideas welcome.

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