Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Advertising For Your Class, For Real This Time

Yesterday's post on advertising for your class was not, of course, really about advertising for your class. I have been persuaded that it would be worth having a post that actually was about how to keep your courses from getting cancelled by advertising for them.

As I mentioned yesterday, I have a tiny bit of experience with this sort of thing, from grad school and people I went to grad school with. However, it is not at all clear to me that the posters we were putting up were very effective. It seemed to me that there was no clear relationship between the posters and cancellations. One of my friends had the idea to aim his poster at people who'd failed [notorious professor X's] intro class and to suggest that the summer-school version would be easier, but this person was made to take the posters down after an uncomfortable discussion with the department chair. Although we didn't get to see how it worked, the suggestion of easiness is one potentially effective strategy.

Another thing I often see, mostly in the class-advertisement posters around my current campus, is that they try to make the class seem like it would be fun (in addition to being easy). These posters are for classes in other departments, though, where they can make up a class on the study of some pop-cultural topic that is marginally amenable to academic study. So, like, a class on Calvin and Hobbes as literature or anthropology or something. These classes seem like they'd be pretty fun, and also like they wouldn't be too tough. And you also sort of get the idea that this might be the only opportunity to take it. But they also seem like there's a better-than-average chance that the class is total bullshit--that it's not of any academic value whatsoever. And I guess I wouldn't be willing to make this kind of suggestion in order to attract students. I wouldn't want to be the guy who runs easy, potentially worthless classes for the sake of enrollment. And I wouldn't want to attract the kind of student who is attracted to easy, potentially worthless classes.

And I also don't have any hard data about these classes: I don't know anything about how full they get, how often they get cancelled, or whether the ads themselves are effective.

All this is a kind of long-winded way of saying that I don't know very much about how to make an effective ad for a philosophy course. It seems to me that some effective ways to increase enrollment might include making the class seem fun, easy, frivolous, and unique. But I'm not at all convinced that this is helpful in any way.

However, I can say that, in my somewhat limited experience, the best way to increase enrollments and to make sure your classes don't get cancelled is to make them required for something. In the departments I been associated with, the core gen ed requirements are very popular. Major requirements are somewhat less so, but still popular. Courses that serve as prerequisites for other popular majors and degree programs are also very popular. Straight-up electives can be a tough sell.

What say you, Smokers?

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

One way to advertise, of course, is to plug your courses in other courses that you already teach. If you're a grad student, then as soon as you know you have a potential summer course on the table, start plugging it in your tutorials (e.g. relating subject matter to issues that you will teach in the later course and then telling students they can explore these issues in depth in your course, or defer certain questions by saying they'll be addressed in other courses, such as the one you're about to teach, etc.). If you're a prof, you can do the same during your existing courses. Remember that while your current students may not be taking any summer courses, they may well have friends who will.

Anonymous said...

Zero is right. Having a gen ed curriculum that has philosophy at its core is important to getting your classes filled. This requires leadership and vision in a philosophy department to go to curriculum meetings (which make you want to jab something in your eye), and defend classes that should be taken.

That is work. But it can be done. Most people don't think about their classes as products to be sold, so I suggest you think about the reasons students should take your class. The problem is that you have to be interested in teaching the class.

I suspect that very few people think about who, why, and how people take their classes. Understanding this is crucial for philosophy to flourish in the future.

BunnyHugger said...

Every couple of years I teach an upper-level class in a niche area of particular interest to me. It doesn't serve as a requirement for anything or fulfill any distribution requirements. The first time I tried to teach it, only three people enrolled, so it was canceled. The next time, I took an approach that I have used each time since:

I posted flyers -- not huge numbers of them, but perhaps a few dozen in strategic places (in the building where the department resides, as well as in another building home to a department whose students are likely to share an interest in it). I also advertise it to a relevant student group by posting it on their Facebook page, and then send a friendly notice to the advisers of a relevant pre-professional program to ask them to suggest it to potentially interested students.

Since then the class has always gotten sufficient numbers to avoid cancellation; it generally gets an enrollment of 15-20. I always ask students how they heard about the class, and usually a significant percentage of the class (one third to one half) cite the flyers.

In short, my experience with this type and size of class is that advertising makes all the difference.

Anonymous said...

I suggest taking flyers to the advisors. Talking to advisors about your class and what it might do for students is a good way to get someone to pitch your class. But you need to talk to them in person!

Anonymous said...

I second talking up forthcoming course in your present classes. When I come to an interesting topic in one class that can't be dwelt on there but will be examined in much more detail in another class next semester, mention that class offering. Especially in courses that traditionally have low enrollments, it can make quite a difference.

Anonymous said...

As a general comment, I think it's very, very important to advertise your courses and advertise the major. At one of my previous jobs, the department met with the advisors for cake and coffee every semester to talk up our courses and to encourage them to encourage their students to take our courses and consider a major or minor in philosophy. Jobs are at stake. I would recommend posting fliers for individual courses and using things like facebook. I would also recommend regularly posting fliers about the benefits of majoring in philosophy and getting used to telling students who worry about the practical benefits of majoring in philosophy that many students these days double major or pick up a minor in areas that they enjoy studying. The APA does a terrible job selling the profession and explaining to students why they should study philosophy so it's been left to us. If we can get higher enrolments, it is easier to persuade administrators that there's a need for philosophy jobs. It's a tough sell otherwise.

readingandphilosophy said...

@Bunnyhugger I just might try that for my undergraduate major class.
Too often we have to write a lot of letters to the university admin in order to justify the existence of some of our sections or courses.

Anonymous said...

The most effective advertising for my courses comes from: (1) plugging the course in my current courses, (2) sending a brief e-mail announcement to students from the last year or two (even if it's the same course - if they liked your course, they'll tell friends), (3) posting a draft syllabus on your faculty page (or perhaps Facebook) so people can get a sense of what you will be doing (and include the URL in your announcements/flyers/e-mails), and (4) getting to know academic advisors who advise students at your level. Flyers at the advising office(s) are worthwhile, as others have noted, but getting to know the advisors helps more. They pick up an enormous amount of word-of-mouth when they recommend courses, so put a face with a name.

Anonymous said...

I'm just an undergrad, but when I hunt for electives each semester, I'm always drawn in by the courses that list compelling questions they'll tackle in their descriptions.

The compelling questions in philosophy are or should be compelling generally, not just to professionals.

There are a lot of students out there who get fired up over these things, too, major and non-major alike.

Anonymous said...

Good titles, if you have any control over that. For example, perhaps "Sex and Gender: Biology, Neuroscience and Society" is a sexier title than "Feminist Philosophy".