Abstract: This article provides background on Louisiana State University’s Communication across the Curriculum (CxC) program and details the history and logistics of its experiential learning and community outreach event—TEDxLSU. In particular, the authors provide details on the Student Creative Communications Team (SCCT) which conceptualizes, plans, and implements the broader community event with communications mentoring from CxC staff, faculty, and industry partners. In collaborative projects that span two semesters, the SCCT members engage in multiple high impact practices to improve their communication and critical thinking skills. Assessment of the SCCT’s experiences has been conducted through on-line surveys of student participants and the industry partners who mentored them. The article concludes with suggestions for WAC/WID program administrators who seek ways to expand students’ learning and communication experiences through engagement in campus-community events.
As communication technologies evolve, people change what, where, when, why, and how they compose. In tandem, writing programs must adapt to these changes in communicative contexts, engaging in cross-disciplinary efforts, blending academic and extracurricular programs, and addressing multimodal texts that combine writing, speaking, visual and technological communication in new ways. Likewise where students learn and practice their communication skills is all over the map—literally—in classrooms, writing centers, learning commons, studios, internships, study abroad programs, and online, just to name a few sites. At Louisiana State University, we have established a campus-wide, ever-evolving Communication across the Curriculum (CxC) program that serves to improve undergraduate students’ written, spoken, visual, and technological communication through multiple initiatives. As we look for new places and ways for students to practice good communication skills, we seek opportunities to brand signature practices that promote high-impact educational experiences for students. It is in this context that we launched TEDxLSU in 2013, as part of our effort to bring communities together and promote the effective communication of ideas worth spreading.
As the state's flagship university, LSU is an ideal host location for this one-day event, and as the academic program dedicated to improving communication for all undergraduates, LSU's CxC is an appropriate organizer. In its third year of hosting TEDxLSU, CxC staff began to recognize and capitalize more fully on the many opportunities it presents for LSU students to engage in authentic, multiple high-impact educational practices (HIPs) to improve their communication and critical thinking skills. Enter the TEDxLSU Student Creative Communications Team, another idea worth spreading.
In forming the Student Creative Communications Team (SCCT), CxC staff set two goals: to leverage TEDxLSU in a way that improves the quality of the community event and within that context, to provide a robust, communication-intensive learning experience for students across disciplines, one rooted in best practices of WAC/WID/CxC programming, including deep/integrative learning. In particular, the SCCT, now in its second year, participates in communication-intensive learning communities that conceptualize, plan, and implement collaborative projects for the broader community event. This article provides background about the CxC program; explains the goals, background, and logistics of the TEDxLSU SCCT; details how community engagement with the students benefits all involved; and discusses how assessment of the SCCT experience supports this model as a hybrid high-impact practice. Feedback reported in this article was generated by Creative Communications Team students via an online survey and multiple small-group informal feedback sessions. CxC staff also collected informal feedback from students, as well as from industry partners who supported TEDxLSU activities. Finally, we offer suggestions for other WAC/WID programs to consider should they want to implement similar opportunities for student engagement related to campus/community-wide events.
Begun in 2004, CxC's core programming includes working with faculty to embed communication-intensive (C-I) teaching and learning within the disciplines, supporting discipline-specific communication studios across campus, and providing advanced learning experiences for students through the LSU Distinguished Communicator (DC) Certification program. CxC's staff is comprised of four full-time studio coordinators whose expertise includes discipline-specific knowledge of communication in science, engineering, art and design, and humanities and social sciences; one visual and technological communications expert; a tenured professor with a 50% appointment as director and experience in writing center administration; a full-time associate director specializing in program management, faculty development, public relations, and business communication; and one quarter-time administrative assistant. Through its core work with C-I Courses, CxC Studios, and the DC Certification, CxC staff serves nearly 500 faculty and 9,500 students each academic year (just over a third of LSU's undergraduate population). Its success led CxC to be named the sole recipient of the Conference on College Composition and Communication's 2010 Program of Excellence Award. To advance its student-centered mission, CxC continues to pilot new initiatives that facilitate deep learning through communication-intensive experiences.
In 2006, CxC created and hosted the LSU Student Digital Media Fest. The goal of the Fest was to encourage campus-wide student experimentation with innovative communication technologies and to showcase students' talents to an LSU audience and the surrounding Baton Rouge community. To embed CxC pedagogy into the Fest, CxC faculty and staff mentored the student presenters, videotaping their presentations and offering feedback and instruction to improve their oral communication.
In late 2012, CxC staff realized that in many respects, the Fest had evolved into a grassroots, mini version of TEDx Talks. TED is a global nonprofit that brings together scholars, community activists, and innovators to present brief talks on important ideas in all disciplines. To foster dialogue at local levels and increase access to TED-like experiences, TED created the local licensing program, TEDx. The main difference between CxC's LSU Student Digital Media Fest and TEDx was not so much in the format as it was in the brand awareness. TED already has a world-wide audience, including many student fans. TEDx offered CxC a unique opportunity: an established platform by which to highlight the importance of effectively sharing and communicating ideas, while emphasizing collaboration between faculty, students, and the community and gaining public recognition through minimal marketing efforts.
In March 2013 CxC hosted the first TEDx event in Baton Rouge. TEDxLSU's objectives include providing a program to bring together local, regional, and statewide communities; being a catalyst for the effective communication of "ideas worth spreading"; and spurring meaningful, engaging, intellectual and creative dialogues. TEDxLSU 2013 featured 23 speakers; sold 100 community tickets; recruited 50 student volunteers to support day-of event management; and hosted a free, live simulcast for 150 students. What struck CxC faculty and staff was that in less than three months of planning, CxC had achieved greater student participation and community interest with TEDxLSU than it had in all six years of its Student Digital Media Fest, mainly because of TED's loyal following.
For the 2014 event, CxC continued to refine TEDx: more preparation time, a larger venue and a more accessible ticket pricing structure, improved speaker coaching, and more spotlights on student work. As a result, TEDxLSU 2014 saw even greater successes: 15 featured speakers; 7 student groups operating hands-on activity stations; 75 day-of student volunteers; 400 community, student and faculty tickets sold for the live event; and leading community organizations connecting with TEDxLSU to ask how they could become involved as in-kind and/or cash partners.
In the initial planning stages for TEDxLSU 2015, CxC staff faced an exciting challenge: how best to engage the surge of students asking to be more involved with the event—something that never happened with the Media Fest. To elevate the impact of communication-intensive teaching and learning opportunities across campus and in the community in a manner supported the University's goals of student engagement and retention, CxC staff initiated the TEDxLSU Student Creative Communications Team in fall 2014.
In designing the TEDxLSU Student Creative Communications Team (SCCT), CxC sought a structure that would expand the human resources needed to host TEDx while also engaging students in robust experiential learning. In fall 2014, broadcast emails and social media posts invited self-motivated LSU students from any major and classification to apply online (see Application in Appendix A). The call explained that the team would be responsible for the core communication functions of TEDx, including "envisioning, planning, and executing various creative elements related to promoting, positioning, and hosting TEDxLSU" in February 2015. Applicants were promised that if selected to join the team, they would receive a unique opportunity to hone their communication skills, interact with industry professionals, meet other enthusiastic students, build their portfolio, and make their mark on TEDx. The note above the application's submit button reinforced the expectation of rigor and culture: "Make no mistake. This is a volunteer role, but the responsibility is high, the pace is fast, and the energy is fun. Compensation is rendered through the amazing experience you will gain, but there may also be some free pizza, hugs, and other random gems for you along the way!"
Minimal outreach to the student body generated 48 applications within four weeks. The applicants came from 29 majors and from seven of LSU's ten colleges and schools (Agriculture, Art + Design, Business, Engineering, Human Sciences and Education, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Mass Communication). The most widely represented colleges were Art + Design with sixteen applicants, Mass Communication with eleven, and Humanities and Social Sciences with nine. Student classifications ranged from first-semester freshman to master's-level. Twenty seniors made up the most popular classification with four graduate students forming the smallest contingency. In contrast, there were only 26 submissions during the first year of the Digital Media Fest, representing four majors. Certainly student interest in the SCCT was driven by the global brand of TED and its popularity among students; however, through interviews after the 2015 event, students revealed that their motivations were much deeper—they longed for meaningful engagement on many levels, a goal of WAC/WID programs (Statement, 2014).
CxC staff accepted all 48 applicants, whose submissions demonstrated various skills in design, writing, and strategic planning. Although this number was larger than planned, casting a wide net allowed for attrition throughout the six-month, two-semester process. Forty students attended the first all-team student meeting in October 2014. On the day of the TEDxLSU event, 30 active SCCT members had completed tasks. This attrition rate, while high, was not a surprise. Some students resigned due to time constraints as they juggled coursework, jobs, and extracurricular activities; others left to pursue new internships or focus on graduate school applications. The most unexpected reason students reported for withdrawing from the team was that there was not enough work to do. This feedback and analysis led to a future model for 2015-16: more specifics regarding deliverables and expectations at the application stage; a "speed dating" interview process for all applicants facilitated by CxC staff and four returning student team members; fewer team members selected; and more high-level roles available. In the second year of the SCCT, 63 students applied and 36 were selected. The 2015-16 SCCT launched in October 2015 (see Appendix A to compare the 2015 and 2016 application forms).
Reviewing previous TEDxLSU years' task lists and anecdotal student feedback, CxC staff made initial plans for team assignments and logistics, outlining new tasks and drafting a list of deliverables (see Appendix B). These included student-led creation of everything from strategic plans to task timelines, branding campaigns to set designs, billboard concepts to blog posts, and viral videos to attendee experience maps. Eight sub-teams for the SCCT were identified: writing, graphic design, social media, video/photo, set design/stage production, event logistics, project management, and strategic marketing/public relations. All efforts would support CxC pedagogy, requiring students to engage in communication as a process of learning and communication as core content. CxC staff would mentor the student teams, informally providing scaffolded approaches to tasks, offering frequent and timely feedback, and sharing tools to encourage effective communication and collaboration. During the first all-team meeting in 2014, students talked through the implementation of their sub-teams and collectively decided to tweak the suggested structure. They reduced the teams from eight to seven, combining public relations with social media, and redefined event logistics to include strategic planning. This action was perhaps the students' first demonstration of strategic thinking and reasoning, a level three activity on Webb's Depth of Knowledge Wheel(2005). Thus, the students demonstrated initiative early on and signaled their eagerness to assume responsibilities.
The application asked students to identify their field of study, the area in which they felt most skilled, and the area in which they wanted to be involved. Roughly half of the students (54%) responded with the same answer to each question, indicating they sought experiences in tasks related to their studies and intended careers. But other students wanted to broaden their experiences and had clear reasons for doing so. For example, an engineering sophomore elected to serve as the project manager for the graphic design sub-team. She noted the Student Creative Communications Team is "something to put on my resume, yes, but I'm not just looking for filler. TED is something I like, and I know I can leverage it professionally." Early on, this student recognized how to apply project management experience to a career as an engineer. Passion for a hobby motivated another student to join the video/photography team not because it related to his studies but because he was "excited to create something meaningful" using skills he seldom had time to apply. Finally, a freshman who signed on said, "Applying for the Creative Communications Team was, for me, all about venturing out…. I hadn't found the right opportunity…until I heard about this team. I didn't really know anyone, but I'm a fan of TED Talks! The Creative Communications Team seemed like it could be a neat learning experience [with] support mechanisms built in."
No matter what reasons students gave for participating in the 2014-15 SCCT, CxC staff tried to match their interests with the team's needs. Students identified their strongest skill areas (examples: set design, photography/videography, writing, public relations strategy, graphic design) and were then invited to join the corresponding sub-team. Students with an interest, but less experience, in a specific skill were encouraged to sit in on team activities to learn from more experienced peers. In hindsight, this approach was not always successful. CxC staff realized that some team members were not as skilled as they had originally self-assessed, and the learning curve was steeper than the staff and industry partner training resources could address. This discrepancy emerged most prominently in the graphic design and photography teams, where students lacked experience with the equipment and software needed to accomplish tasks. In the second year, CxC staff worked to reduce this by conducting more rigorous interviews and required more work samples from applicants before assigning students to sub-teams.
In the first year, students mostly worked from the deliverables list developed by CxC staff; however, a few students generated new ideas which they were encouraged to pursue. For example, an interdisciplinary studies student wanted to experiment with sponsored ads in social media and developed a social media ad campaign for TEDxLSU with a $50 budget. And a student on the project management team opted to develop manuals and guidelines for various graphics projects. In the second year, CxC staff spent more time helping the students understand end-goals and strategy, which in turn created more space for the students to initiate their own deliverables lists with minimal guidance. Throughout the year, students were encouraged to document their experience, be reflective, and provide feedback to each other and to the CxC staff about their experiences.
Anticipating that students' busy schedules would limit collaboration, CxC staff established an online communication/workflow process integrating five primary web tools: Trello for task and deadline management, Google Drive for file storage, Google Docs for collaborative creating and editing, Google Calendar for meeting scheduling, and Slack for instant messaging and file tracking. All tools were free and worked across PC, Mac, and mobile platforms. (All of these tools were used again in year two, with the exception of Trello which was replaced with Asana to improve project management and increase students' autonomy.) Besides fostering interaction among SCCT members, CxC staff, and community partners, this approach challenged students to embrace the technical tools that are defining today's collaborative work environments. In some cases, students used Google tools to create and edit writing pieces, design plans, and create calendars. In other cases, they used project management software to track progress and communicate updates to teammates and CxC staff. Throughout the process, students had to think on multiple levels about technology, organization/workflow, and interpersonal communication.
Although a set of web-based tools to foster effective communication and collaboration were available, students were encouraged to experiment within sub-teams and to ascertain the best forms of communication for their particular projects and their group dynamics. During the process, students took the initiative to integrate additional applications including Basecamp for more advanced project management features not offered by Trello; Doodle for meeting scheduling; and Skype for web-based meetings and remote screen sharing. Some students also used cellular text messaging for quick connections. These additional tools improved workflow so they were included from the onset in year two, with the exception of replacing Skype with Google Hangouts.
As recommended, all students used Slack for brief communications and Google Drive to house final files, but staff were surprised to learn in year one that most students opted primarily for face-to-face meetings, claiming listening and interacting with one another in real-time was more productive. One student explained that it was about more than getting the work done: "After a few failed attempts to get anything done virtually, our group decided to meet weekly at a Mexican restaurant near campus. We didn't know each other well—if at all—prior to joining the Creative Communications Team, but we all loved TED and enjoyed working with social media. We learned from each other in a way that is hard to replicate online. Meeting in person also seemed to up our accountability to each other. I made some life-long friends, and the chips and salsa weren't bad either!"
To further advance students' communication skills, enrich co-curricular experiences, and tap other instructional resources, CxC recruited local industry leaders in each sub-team area, asking professionals to offer applicable skill-building workshops for members of the TEDxLSU SCCT and/or to serve as professional mentors to the students. This initiative is characteristic of CxC's approach, moving beyond the traditional WAC/WID principles of collaborating within institutional groups to include industry leaders beyond campus in the learning process (Statement, 2014). Workshop topics included working within diverse teams, pitching ideas, cultivating professional relationships, finding and turning one's passion into a career, navigating tone in online communications, and analyzing audiences. In the second year, similar workshops were offered in addition to "team adventures." Team Adventures were defined as brief, off-campus field trips to learn from relevant companies on-site. For example, in one Adventure, the 2015-16 SCCT visited a newly opened collaborative workspace for Baton Rouge creative businesses and entrepreneurs specializing in audio, video, film, design, photography, communications, and graphic arts. In another Adventure, the students visited the printing operations of a local large-format graphics company.
Throughout the process, CxC staff leveraged its faculty relationships and Community Advisory Council to form partnerships within the greater Baton Rouge area (including media and event consultants, local chamber and tourism board members, prominent social media entrepreneurs, business managers, professional photo/videographers and writers, graphic designers, etc.). These partners served as advisors to CxC staff, in-kind sponsors for TEDxLSU, and mentors to SCCT members. Most often, CxC staff and partners gave students primary specifications about word counts, billboard sizes, and the marketing and creation rules associated with TEDx programs. Beyond these guidelines, students worked collaboratively with each other, CxC staff, and community partners to shape the TEDxLSU voice and its narrative by outlining strategies and creating text, design concepts, branding materials, and various other projects. It was a flexible arrangement that promoted learning and creativity. For example, in one late-night brainstorming session, the students began discussing one speaker and his topic of "music as a connector." They suggested that "it would be cool" to have a traditional second-line during the event to "literally jazz things up." This student-generated idea led to the stunning finale of TEDxLSU 2015 which included a 5-piece brass band leading a 400+ person second-line that is still the talk of the town.
CxC staff organized four industry-led workshop sessions for the first year of the SCCT, and at the time of this publication, nine workshops and adventures had been led in year two. The quality of the workshops exceeded expectations of the staff and students alike. The various topics were all communication-focused and directly applicable to the Creative Communications Team's work. An extended example will illustrate the valuable professional instruction and collaboration between the SCCT and the community partners: One of the more productive workshops entailed extensive discussion and brainstorming related to creating the TEDxLSU voice. The CEO from a prominent national branding firm spoke with students about how to create a shared voice to convey the TEDxLSU identity. At the end of the workshop, student attendees were each assigned one TEDxLSU speaker to research. They drafted questions for each speaker and a script to use when setting up an interview. Staff from the branding firm, including the CEO herself, reviewed the drafts and provided extensive, professional feedback to ensure students were set up for success. Following their interviews with the speakers, the students wrote 600-800 word Q&A-style feature articles which were reviewed and approved by the branding firm and then published by an online magazine whose readers are TEDxLSU's prime demographic. As a result, students received direct professional education from a non-academic community partner while simultaneously receiving coaching from CxC staff. They developed writing skills related to voice and specific forms of journalism as they engaged with TEDxLSU speakers and promoted speaker Talk topics, all the while earning a byline and quality artifacts for their professional portfolios. Through this experience, students garnered new skills and learned more deeply about the process of productivity, feedback, and communication.
Within LSU's Communication-Intensive courses and the Distinguished Communicators program, CxC stresses reflection and feedback throughout the learning process, best practices that were implemented with the SCCT as well. The network of communication technologies and semi-monthly face-to-face meetings of the SCCT as a whole kept CxC staff connected and informed about what students were learning, doing, and thinking. The quality of the end products and the success of the event visibly confirmed the outcomes of the SCCT's hard work. The culmination of the students' work was the live third-annual TEDxLSU event on February 28, 2015. During the following months, the CxC staff used a mixed-methods approach (an on-line survey and informal discussion groups) to gather additional assessment data.
To offer a means for the less-engaged students to provide feedback about their experience, all original 48 members of the SCCT were invited to participate in the online survey (see Appendix C). The survey did not request names, although some self-identified in the comment sections. Fifteen students completed the survey (31% of total starting team members).
Another 15 active SCCT members (31% of starting team members/50% of final team members) participated in feedback discussions, which consisted of a series of open-ended questions about their Creative Communications Team experiences. They talked about skills developed; connections made between classroom learning, real-world applications, and career aspirations; and suggestions for future years. Discussion participants included students across the spectrum from exceptional performance, intimate engagement and habitual participation, to limited participation but completion of at least one deliverable for TEDxLSU. At least one member of each sub-team participated.
Students responded positively to the Creative Communications Team experience, offering anecdotal evidence of intellectual and personal growth. When analyzing the themes from online survey responses and in-person feedback sessions, CxC staff recognized direct connection to high-impact educational practices as defined by George Kuh (2010) and the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U): "an investment of time and energy over an extended period that has unusually positive effects on student engagement in educationally purposeful behavior" (p. vi). In short, we came to view the SCCT as a kind of hybrid high-impact practice: a co-curricular learning community, collaborating across disciplines on a communication-intensive, integrative community-based, real-world project. The following sections use student reflections, gathered through these assessments, to further define this hybrid high-impact practice and to identify the kinds of "deep/integrative learning" and the "quality dimensions" (Kuh & O'Donnell, 2013, pp. 45-7) associated with them.
Learning Communities: Academic learning communities typically link cross-disciplinary courses that examine common topics or big questions in classroom or residential settings; however, the SCCT was a more "student-type learning community" designed for a specific group (Lenning & Ebbers, 1999). Its members focused on creating a common intellectual event by working on authentic extracurricular projects spanning two academic semesters. The different personal and academic backgrounds of the students, combined with a broad mix of community partners, a diverse lineup of TEDxLSU speakers and talk topics, and the assortment of projects and deliverables ensured multiple opportunities to learn. For each product, students drew from professional or academic experiences to create material. From there, they engaged in peer review; then CxC staff and community partners provided additional feedback. For example, a master's student in mass communication, a textiles major and fashion blogger, and a student who coordinated a slam poetry festival were each assigned a speaker to profile using the TEDxLSU voice and brand. Their peer-reviews, coupled with staff and industry partner feedback, led to integrative learning, the aim of learning communities. In a literature review on the impact of learning communities, Zhao and Kuh (2004) cite outcomes such as promoting "openness to diversity, social tolerance, and personal and interpersonal development"; other studies conclude that "students who actively participate in various out-of-class activities are more likely to connect with an affinity group of peers, which is important for student retention, success, and personal development" (p. 116). Students identified several of these outcomes, especially growth in interpersonal skills, when they reflected on SCCT activities.
For instance, one writing team member underscored the important, often uncomfortable process of accepting feedback: "I am used to writing on my own, and I typically only get feedback from my professors at the very end, but with the SCCT, we collaborated throughout the writing process. It helped my writing, and I learned how to leverage criticism in a constructive way." He admitted that it would have been "a tougher lesson to learn in a classroom because it isn't always a collaborative environment," and "even tougher if it would have been a real job." He expressed gratitude for the supportive space of the SCCT.
Collaborative Work and Assignments: Kenneth Bruffee (1984) reminds us that arranging students in groups for conversations related to writing processes is to "organize collaborative learning." Thus the SCCT and its subgroups became a "social context for conversation" that supported a collaborative community of learners. (p. 642). More recently, Kuh (2008) identifies collaborative work as a high-impact practice with "two key goals: learning to work and solve problems in the company of others, and sharpening one's own understanding by listening seriously to the insights of others, especially those with different backgrounds and life experiences" (p. 10). One student, underscoring the metacognitive aspects of project-based learning, reflected that even though the final product was an experience for the general public, the collaborative process of creating that experience was the source of student learning and transferrable skills.
Another student in architecture acquired skills to help her adapt to changing collaborative technology: "The national architecture organization told me they were making all the chapter presidents use Slack now, and I said right away 'perfect—I got this!' Because of my TEDxLSU experience, I was able to adjust to new communication protocols for nationals." While CxC's intent was not to train students in software, in this case, the student's introduction to a specific communication tool (Slack) and her experience successfully communicating within a web-based collaborative space enabled her to stay ahead of the curve in her professional organization.
For most members, an outcome of working on the SCCT was that in the midst of dozens of sub-team projects, students who felt engaged could see how their efforts contributed to the bigger picture. In other words, what students had gained throughout the process, what they had created with the help of others constituted learning: "To learn is to work collaboratively to establish and maintain knowledge among a community of knowledgeable peers" (Bruffee, 1984, p. 646).
Communication-Intensive Learning Experiences: As a CxC initiative, the primary goal of the SCCT is the same as our core mission: to advance students' written, spoken, visual, and technological communication skills. Students planned, drafted, practiced, drew, listened to feedback, revised, and sometimes started over. They worked in too many genres and for too many audiences to list here, and, as previously noted, their reflections most frequently mentioned lessons learned in communications.
An art and design major on the graphic design team cited the real-world urgency and ownership of her SCCT projects as highly gratifying. She noted the sense of accomplishment that came from fully engaging in the process—creating t-shirt and billboard designs; receiving notes and edits from the industry mentors, her peers, and the client; and knowing hundreds of people were wearing her work and thousands would see it along Interstate-10. She shared, "Being able to see our stuff living out there in the real world is amazing." This student also reflected on her progress as a communicator. For her, a significant challenge was receiving and balancing the many design suggestions from peers, staff, and community partners, while also applying her academic training: "I learned what I need to be a productive designer, and now I am not afraid to ask for that." Her reflection underscores two important aspects of the process: one's ability to hear and internalize communication from others and one's ability to communicate her own needs and perspective to achieve a professional goal.
Other students identified new genres and approaches they developed working for TEDxLSU. A senior mass communications major felt that her experience enhanced both her skills and her future employment prospects. A confident communicator, she noted, "[T]he Creative Communications Team challenged me in a new way. In addition to writing for different media and audiences, I created a ROI [Return-On-Investment] report for all the work our team did. The concept of measuring the impact of my writing and my time in dollars was new for me, a skill I know I'll need for a real job."
These anecdotes emphasize the opportunities the SCCT provided for students to learn about effective communication from industry partners, CxC staff, and each other; to become aware of their communication styles and preferences; and to produce artifacts for public consumption.
Community-Based, Real-World Projects in an Internship-like Setting: Being part of the SCCT offered students field-based "experiential learning" on several levels: a chance to integrate and apply classroom learning to a new context; the opportunity to solve real problems with real consequences; the benefits of learning from professionals; and occasions to reflect on ways their knowledge, skills, and personal dispositions prepare them for possible career paths.
Seventy-three percent of the students who responded to the assessment survey said that their experience on the SCCT helped them transfer what they've learned in the classroom to a real-world setting. For a student on the set design team, applying classroom knowledge of art and design to a new format and setting was a major achievement. She shared, "I've had internships, but never on this scale…. All of my previous work has been with outdoor festivals, small concert venues, and general event stuff, but I have never designed an actual stage before. It was a major responsibility…a bit scary…but I knew CxC would guide me. I learned so many new skills—some technical and many about people and professional processes."
Putting on a community-wide event such as TEDxLSU is bound to teach problem-solving skills, a fact that some students noted when assessing their SCCT experiences. One engineering student who worked on project management summed up problems with her group's assignment: "We didn't have a lot of details initially [so] I didn't have the information my team was asking for. I took it upon myself to try to organize the information we did have and to create references for future designs and future teams." In working through the solutions, she concluded, "But that's sort of the job in a sense, too, communicating with people. Finding out what people are looking for in that specific deliverable, and creating guidelines for that."
The benefits of learning from and working with professionals took various forms. For some SCCT members, hard work resulted in post-TEDxLSU professional opportunities with community partners, including writing internships with a prominent food blogger and assistantships with local media firms. Some community partners, in fact, agreed to collaborate with the Creative Communications Team because they were seeking highly motivated students to work in their businesses. "We joked about it as the [Company] Hunger Games," shared one community partner. "We knew we needed a highly skilled intern for the summer, and it made sense to work with multiple students through TEDxLSU. We could give back in a meaningful way while…see[ing] the students in action and hire that way." The student this firm hired now works on a variety of writing, human resources, and philanthropic projects for the national media company.
Assessment activities after the TEDxLSU event encouraged students to reflect on how a new awareness of their knowledge, skills, and personal dispositions prepare them for possible career paths. One senior, highly engaged with his team, recounted that several interviewers noticed "TEDxLSU Student Creative Communications Team" on his resume and asked specifically about it. "They hadn't all heard of TEDxLSU, but everyone knew about TED Talks, and it was a great conversation starter," he said. "One interviewer appreciated the passion with which I spoke about TEDxLSU and asked if I could do the same when talking to others about their company." In another instance, the vice president of development and strategy of a local Fortune 500 chemical company was impressed with the marketing efforts of TEDxLSU and was surprised to learn that they were student-led. As a result, he encouraged Creative Communications Team members to apply for some of the entry-level openings in his company, saying, "We're looking for those who know how to communicate…that's who we need on our teams." His interest in connecting with the SCCT members transcends the need for content knowledge and reflects a growing emphasis on students with strong communication and critical thinking skills (Hart Research, 2013).
In short, the stakes are higher when students know their work will contribute to a global platform, particularly one with which they are familiar, such as TED. Unlike more traditional learning community models, TEDxLSU emphasizes collaborative goals focused on the creation and dissemination of knowledge for the general public and relies on feedback from industry partners and staff to enhance student learning. This arrangement encourages students to apply experiential learning in a forum where they can identify immediate impacts on their professional development. To help students translate the skills learned by being part of the SCCT to qualifications for a future job, those participating in one of the assessment discussions were asked to write entries for their resumes related to what they gained by being part of TEDxLSU. They then read their lines aloud, and a moderator asked them to elaborate, much as they would in a job interview. The outcome was that students practiced relating what they gained through the SCCT experience, and CxC staff gathered additional insights into student learning.
One reason we sought students' input about the SCCT was to help us decide whether to continue it for 2015-16. One member, a senior in petroleum engineering who had participated in previous TEDxLSU events as an event-day volunteer felt that the SCCT advanced the mission of creating better communicators. She offered, "It helps in terms of teamwork, troubleshooting, professionalism and communication skills…all in one experience. It's all the things CxC champions…. It's a good fit for CxC and a definite win for LSU students."
Based on student and community feedback, CxC staff opted to formalize the SCCT as a year-round CxC initiative. As mentioned, in year two we implemented a more rigorous application process to ensure that students understand their commitment and ours. We also piloted Emergenetics, a thinking and behavioral profile tool, to help SCCT members develop a greater awareness of their own communication styles while learning to recognize and respect the communication styles of others. We increased the number of industry partners who serve as mentors, workshop facilitators, and Adventure hosts. We added more student leadership roles within the team and new opportunities for students to engage in the TEDx speaker coaching process. Also in year two, we shifted from task-driven instruction and now focus more on end-results, letting the students determine how to achieve the ultimate goals of TEDxLSU. Overall, TEDxLSU and the SCCT is a scalable program with the potential to directly advance the LSU CxC mission and impact Essential Student Learning Outcomes (Kuh, 2008, p. 4).
This article has outlined how and why the TEDxLSU Student Creative Communications Team has been a successful conduit for realizing high-impact educational practices within a communication-intensive program. We believe our model has the potential for success at other intuitions. For program administrators considering a different approach to student showcases or another campus-community connection events, we offer the following suggestions:
Gauge the level of interest in the academic setting and the broader community for outreach efforts that advance your program's mission: The TEDx program works for LSU CxC in part because its culture is one of academic innovation and meaningful student engagement in and beyond the classroom. The event aligns with CxC's mission to support effective communication. For CxC, its grassroots Digital Media Fest had the right educational aspirations but lacked the built-in brand awareness needed to maximize staff efficiencies and support. With regards to TEDx as a community event, the program is a good fit for the local culture as well. LSU is centrally located in Baton Rouge, a city in transition. Individuals, community organizations, government teams, and businesses have made aggressive efforts to establish Baton Rouge as a cultural, educational and financial hub for the state. TEDxLSU creates a space for LSU and Baton Rouge to connect these ideas and voices in a way that supports a productive transition for a place more often known for its traditional southern politics or as "a city near New Orleans." The Creative Communications Team invites students to be part of that change, and the connections between the students and community partners create opportunities for the students to apply their curricular training in the Baton Rouge area, possibly reducing post-baccalaureate "brain drain" from the city. But students also benefit from the firsthand knowledge and investment in what it means to be engaged citizens in their city.
Other WAC/WID programs would do well to find or create an event that resonates with the cultures of their campus and community. We are not promoting TEDx activities as an ideal model for all, but through the process of experimentation, a communication-intensive learning environment similar to the SCCT could help achieve student engagement goals. WAC/WID programs could apply this model to other popular community-based programs in which students, staff and community partners have demonstrated interest. For LSU, it was TEDx; for other institutions, it may be a different campus, regional, national, or even global platform.
Consider the costs, in time and money, of adding a Student Creative Communications Team to an ongoing project or beginning a co-curricular component of your WAC/WID program. Existing CxC Studios are the conduit by which our staff members directly interact and mentor students on communication-based projects, so accommodating the SCCT required minimal shifts in our staffing resources. A vital component of our success was transparency and flexibility. We were upfront with students throughout the process that we are learning too. We remained open to all ideas and suggestions and experimented together with the students on new directions and communication technologies. When a more efficient or effective method for productivity or communication became evident, we adopted it. We acknowledged the confines of traditional semesters, but challenged students to live by a more flexible calendar. Ultimately, students rose to the occasion and experienced the reality of adaptability required for today's workplace.
Implement student engagement in stages, building in high-impact, experiential learning. CxC slowly built the student engagement piece into TEDxLSU. The first year it hosted TEDxLSU, student involvement consisted of a few student speakers, a few dozen day-of volunteers, and some student audience attendees. Each year, CxC staff has enlarged and improved the TEDx program in part by increasing student engagement opportunities, but not until its third annual event was the CxC staff ready to pilot the SCCT. Establishing a Creative Communications Team creates more work, yet generates more help and learning. It was important to figure out how to host a TEDx event before bringing lots of students into the mix. But once we did, we gained a talented pool of students eager to learn new skills as they contributed to TEDxLSU and networked with community partners.
Experiment with innovative combinations of high-impact practices:The TEDxLSU Student Creative Communications Team functions as a hybrid high-impact practice: a co-curricular learning community, collaborating across disciplines on a communication-intensive, integrative community-based, real-world project. We view it this way rather than as a new HIP because it encompasses many of those already identified in the literature known to impact student learning. We do believe the SCCT shows the power of integrating multiple HIPs to deliver a unique student engagement and learning experience. We also wonder if communication-intensive teaching and learning (especially when modes of communication in addition to writing are included) might be the best practice to integrate with other HIPS to increase deep learning. But that's another study.
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 TEDx events are not-for-profit. All money raised through ticket sales or partnerships go directly to making TEDxLSU a success.
 LSU does not currently have a university-wide eportfolio project or any other institutionalized effort requiring student reflection across/throughout the collective learning journey.
 The NSSE Deep/Integrative Learning Scale, from research by Thomas F. Nelson Laird, Rick Shoup, George Kuh, and M. J. Schwarz, consists of the following activities:
 Kuh lists eight "quality dimensions" that foster student accomplishment in terms of persistence, graduation rates, and desired learning outcomes:
 Kuh and O'Donnell (2013, p. 11) suggest the possibility of identifying other HIPs, such as student employment on campus. We chose instead to define the Student Creative Communications Team as a hybrid of other well-accepted practices because it functions both on and off campus, combining several high-impact practices depending on the students' activities.
Burdette, Rebecca, Galeucia, Annemarie, Liggett, Sarah, & Thompson, Melissa. (2016, December 26). The TEDxLSU student creative communications team: Integrating high-impact practices to increase engagement, facilitate deep learning, and advance communication skills. [Special issue on WAC and high-impact practices]. Across the Disciplines, 13(4). Retrieved from https://wac.colostate.edu/atd/hip/burdetteetal2016.cfm