Heidelberg University: Real World Experience Brings A New Dimension To Online Learning

4/29/2014
Having such a visible alumnus as John Buccigross was a bonus. He was able to relate his own career experiences to the course material, drawing from ESPN’s business model as an example.”
Having such a visible alumnus as John Buccigross was a bonus. He was able to relate his own career experiences to the course material, drawing from ESPN’s business model as an example.”

At Heidelberg University, where direct faculty-student interaction in small class setting is valued, there’s a different mindset about traditional online learning. Sometimes, faculty members get very creative.

Two professors who understand that experience can be the best teacher have created Skype classes as a tool to incorporate into their classrooms unique, real-world experiences of successful alumni who instruct classes from states away.

Piloting the Skype classroom, communication professor Dr. Julie O’Reilly invited ESPN anchor John Buccigross, a 1988 Heidelberg graduate, to teach her “Principles of Media Management” class last spring. Weekly, Buccigross Skyped in to instruct students. He also visited campus twice to meet with them in person. On alternate class days, O’Reilly and colleague Dr. Gary Dickerson arranged for professionals working in media to give guest lectures; several also were Heidelberg alumni.

“The non-traditional model for this class offered students the unique opportunity to learn from industry professionals,” O’Reilly said. “Having such a visible alumnus as John Buccigross was a bonus. He was able to relate his own career experiences to the course material, drawing from ESPN’s business model as an example.”

Students learned the basics of media management, including radio, broadcasting, Internet, content and management. Buccigross expanded it to include an inside look at ESPN.

“My favorite part of the class was impressing upon the students what I think are the important things in life and the media,” he said. “Most of my success is luck and good fortune, but I think there are decisions and tactics one can use to increase the odds.”

“John took the text and puts a story behind it,” said senior Jimmy Flint, who was enrolled in the class. “His ESPN experience gave him real credibility.”

Added Mac Wallace, now a graduate assistant at Heidelberg: “The class stressed that we need to know different things. John always reinforced the importance of writing and communication skills.”

This fall, political science professor Dr. Marc O’Reilly has enlisted lobbyist Sean Hutson, a 2006 ‘Berg alumnus, to teach a second Skype course, “Campaigns and Elections.”

“I will be there in the beginning to help facilitate, but otherwise, it’s his class,” O’Reilly said. He sees great benefit for students to learn from a recent graduate who will share his experience as a staffer for two U.S. senators. Hutson currently works as a legislative advocate for the American Motorcyclist Association.

“I have several students who want to be involved in politics, and I can think of no better way for them to proceed,” added O’Reilly, who taught Hutson as an undergraduate.

In 2012, Hutson was the field director for a congressional race, and has been involved in seven other races, ranging from mayor to U.S. Senate. “I love campaigning – the long hours, quick decisions, immense amount of responsibility, camaraderie and winning, of course,” he said.

From his office in the heart of Washington, D.C., Hutson can remain at work and simultaneously convey real-time knowledge to Heidelberg students. “Analyzing the current political climate is a big part of my job, and students will get information that has not been printed yet,” he said.

Both Hutson and O’Reilly hope students will gain an appreciation for the importance of politics and how decisions are made. “Since nearly every decision that is made is influenced by politics, I want students to understand how to think strategically in a political context,” Hutson said.

As Buccigross did, Hutson will visit campus at least once during the semester. As a bonus, the students in the class will travel to Washington, D.C., for an up-close-and-personal experience that he will guide.

Alumni working in the field, O’Reilly said, will contribute to the purposefulness of the class. “I really believe our current students will relate well with recent grads,” he said.