Advertising is developing new curriculum to prepare students for ever-changing industry

Last year, faculty members in the Charles H. Sandage Department of Advertising voted unanimously not to pursue accreditation from the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, effective Fall 2019. As a result, the department can develop courses more quickly in response to emerging trends in the advertising industry. It also allows the department to create specialized tracks in the major.

Interim head of advertising Mike YaoMike Yao, interim head of the Sandage Department of Advertising, shares some exciting new developments underway in the student curriculum. 

What are some of the first actions the advertising department is taking now that it has more creative freedom and can more quickly develop courses?

We are actively in the process of redeveloping an undergraduate advertising educational program that will be more nimble and that will prepare students to deal with a fast-changing digital media landscape in a new advertising industry. We are also in the process of creating a series of exciting new elective courses that focus on technology, data, and strategic communication.

What would a series of courses look like?

We’re looking into a more flexible curriculum that will allow students to pick a series of related courses and define their own path in an increasingly complex professional industry.

These courses would be packaged to prepare students for the kinds of jobs that will be available in the next five to 10 years in the industry rather than predefined jobs. We need to prepare students for that kind of career and professional development.

What emerging industry trends will the department address in the near future?

The boundaries of the advertising landscape have been blurred and the new landscape includes emerging media platforms like social media, streaming media, and mobile media. That’s the most significant change. The traditionally close connection between legacy mass media institutions and advertising are being disrupted by new technologies, such as artificial intelligence and big data. Our immediate mission is to redefine a new landscape for the field of advertising and advertising research, and develop a curriculum that will prepare students to be the future leaders in this fast-changing environment.

Advertising recently teamed up with the Department of Computer Science to offer a new CS+Advertising degree, beginning Fall 2019. What new skills will these students learn, and how will they be able to apply that skill set on the job?

Over 80% of digital advertising is now programmatic and data driven, and digital ad spending is outpacing traditional advertising. There’s an urgent need to prepare future professionals in the advertising and marketing industry who can think creatively but at the same time be able to incorporate data thinking and analytics into their strategies.

We found the best way to cultivate such interdisciplinary talent is to start at the undergraduate level. While many of our peer institutions are adding skill-based computer programming and data analytics as individual courses at the advanced levels of the curriculum as a specialty area, we want students to be truly interdisciplinary from the beginning in their freshman year.

The CS+Advertising program is the newest addition to the University of Illinois CS+X program, designed specifically to prepare future talents to survive constant technological disruptions by actively breaking boundaries between disciplines.

While the CS+Advertising degree has a requirement for students in that major to specialize in programming and analytics, many of the elective courses in this program will be designed for a broader population, also benefiting all students in our department. By not participating in reaccreditation, students in our advertising major will have the flexibility to take more elective courses in the home department.

Is the department considering any new specialized certificates within advertising?

Yes. By not seeking reaccreditation, we have more opportunities to create and develop new initiatives such as specialized certificates and “stackable” credentials. For example, we have already begun to develop a digital advertising certificate for students who are interested in the exciting new world of the smart (intelligent, data-driven), social (connecting people, user-generated content), and mobile (carrying our phones, Internet of Things) media.

Are there any other campus partnerships in the works right now?

We are reevaluating our curriculum to find an optimal balance between theoretical knowledge, critical thinking, creativity, and skills training. We will actively develop an experiential learning experience and provide more opportunities for students to work on projects. For example, we’re developing an exciting new course with the Siebel Center for Design and a major brand to solve a real-world problem. The goal is to bring real-world experience to the classroom without sacrificing conceptual or theoretical rigor.

We continue to commit to the Sandage philosophy, championed by the “Father of Advertising Education” and the founder of our department, that the “education in the field of advertising is to minimize strictly skills courses and to place more emphasis on the ‘why’ of advertising in its business and social environment.” Through experiential learning and innovative curriculum design, students in the Charles H. Sandage Department of Advertising will gain an understanding of why we advertise as well as how to advertise in a brand new media ecosystem.

Note: If you have any questions, you can contact your student advisor at the Student Services Center; Jason P. Chambers, the Director of Undergraduate Students in the Department of Advertising; or Mike Yao.