Students team up with EdTech Times

by Brook O'Meara-Sayen / Beacon Correspondent • November 20, 2014

A new course allows Emerson students to work alongside professionals in the education industry by allowing them to research and consult a real business on their audience and business model.

The directed study, which is new this semester, is called EdTech Times: Content Development and Web Design for an Online Information Hub, and it couples students with EdTech Times, a Boston-based higher education and technology news website.

EdTech Times started about two years ago as a news aggregator for technology and higher education content, but has since started publishing original articles, according to editor-in-chief Katy Tynan.

EdTech Times has not yet worked out the finer points of its business strategy, which Tynan said is where Emerson students come in. 

“We’re not going to tell the students what to do,” Tynan said. “We’re just asking them to help us, and to be partners with us in defining the direction of the organization.”

According to Tynan, the idea originated with an Emerson trustee who felt that both EdTech and Emerson could benefit by working with each other and connected the company with Robert Sabal, interim dean of the school of the arts, who put the idea in motion. 

Since the beginning of this school year, the students—a mix of marketing communication and writing, literature, and publishing majors—have been conducting market research, analyzing the company, and creating a list of recommendations, said Lu Ann Reeb, one of the class’s two professors.

“Our goals were to help them figure out who their audience is, look at their competition in the marketplace, take a look at the content they’ve aggregated so far, and look at how they need to market themselves,” Reeb said.

Nicholas D’Errico, a senior enrolled in the course, said part of his job has been to evaluate EdTech’s website and meticulously noting every page, article, and link to see how well the site works as a whole.

“I’ve gotten a lot of professional development in terms of learning how consultancy works,” said D’Errico, a writing, literature and publishing major. “I can now pitch myself on cover letters and resumes as something far more valuable than your conventional editor. It’s probably been my biggest resume boost.”

This semester’s class plans to have a final meeting with EdTech in December, where students will give their findings to the company, much like an outside consulting firm would do, according to Reeb.

What is good for the business will be good for the students, too, said John Rodzvilla, the class’ second professor. 

“The students get to see a real world example, not a case study from a book,” he said. “They get to see it in real time, and they have to make their analysis in real time, and share their analysis with real people, rather than a professor.”

Students also have to learn to work well with their peers from other majors, which is something they might not have had to do before, Reeb said.

“When you do get in the real world, you’re put together in teams from different skill sets in order to develop and execute a project,” Reeb said. “Whether you’re making a documentary or a website or even a business, you end up having players with different expertise.”

D’Errico said he is glad that the course tries to expand the boundaries of his major.

“Publishing to most students here is either the book or magazine realm,” he said. “Very few consider it from a digital perspective.”

Next semester’s group will pick up where the current one left off, but according to Rodzvilla, visual and media arts students will be able to join. The newcomers plan to help EdTech figure out how to create a visual component to compliment the text-heavy website, Rodzvilla said.

Rodzvilla said Emerson and EdTech intend to continue the program for the next three semesters, by which time Tynan hopes that EdTech will “have a defined audience, a content strategy that we pursued for a period of time, and that we can then learn from and iterate.”

Tynan said EdTeach plans to implement the suggestions that the Emerson students come up with.

“If it doesn’t work,” she said, “then we’re going to something else in the spring, based on what the next round of students come up with.”