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Shane Shanks


Going online means getting into the classroom

June 30, 2020   //   Shane Shanks

While COVID-19 has students locked out of your physical classroom spaces, are you seeing the bright side — from a marketing standpoint?

You now have documented proof of what your students are learning. And it’s about time.

You’ve always wanted to pull it off

Getting inside the classroom to give your prospects a taste of what it’s really like at your university has always been easier said than done. It’s something every institution could pull off, yet so few actually do.

Why can’t more schools make it happen?

Because it takes time. And pre-planning. And photography or video shoots that capture learning as it happens. And a curator’s touch to make the impression you’re after.

And now you can

The pandemic-driven shift to distance learning is giving you new options. Because key assignments are submitted in digital formats, you can show off the quality of student learning. But that’s only one way to get into the classroom.

Tips for getting into the classroom

Prove your pedagogical approach through homework

Face it: it’s hard to get most non-academics excited about a curriculum or a pedagogical approach per se. But you can capture their attention by showing the projects your institution’s classes tackle and the unusual ways your students learn.

At Loyola University New Orleans, an emphasis on creative thinking stretches across the academic disciplines. But it’s not instantly evident beyond obviously creative fields like music, design or film.

What does creative thinking look like in the sciences? Or in business?

A curated menu of boundary-busting examples show how you’ll think using all sides of your brain — regardless of your major. Warning: you’ll have to get out of the office to find your institution’s best examples.

Loyola classes

See how this brand project turned around enrollments


After a high school curriculum with loads of requirements and survey courses, students might find the range alone of your college course offerings to be downright thrilling.

So make space in your recruitment materials and magazines to highlight the reach of your academic offerings.

Courses with pop culture appeal always work. Two examples:

  • Bucknell University’s Punk Rock Subcultures class reminds alums that at least some of that shrieking was actual poetry.
  • And the University of Tennessee Dolly’s America course has made headlines around the globe for its mix of music, history, Appalachian culture and Dolly Parton.

But what about all those less-gimmicky classes? A story about English Comp 101 — taught in the same old style with the same content as at every college — probably won’t draw people in. Even a “conventional” course can stand out when it:

  • Includes unconventional homework
  • Addresses a timely topic
  • Mixes disciplines so students aren’t boxed in
  • Features projects where people explore their own interests within the broader subject.


Don’t be afraid to teach people something, even before they enroll (or after they’ve graduated).

At Bryn Mawr, the alumnae magazine dives deep into course content in every issue. In a write-up for the Codes and Ciphers math class, for example, readers learn the difference between cryptography and cryptanalysis and understand code-breaking milestones like the Zimmerman Telegram of 1917.

Want to learn more? A recommended reading list identifies all the math textbooks you should read!

BrynMawr codes and ciphers

See why this magazine appeals to seriously smart readers


The move to distance learning makes this easier than ever. So bring on the student-made videos, the data visualizations, the finished artwork, the final presentations.

This approach works for every learning level. My niece’s fourth-grade poetry PowerPoint was pretty impressive (even if her limerick’s lilting cadence was a little off) because it’s wrapped up as a formal thing. It’s a compendium — with visuals — that charts her growth and progress. The finished work makes a richer impression than typical term paper plopped on the teacher’s desk.

Seeing finished projects gets students excited, reminds parents of what their tuition pays for and reinforces the distinctiveness of your brand.


Your school scrambled to switch over to 100% distance learning. It probably wasn’t easy.

But there’s a bright side: it’s now easier than ever to showcase your top teachers in action.

Instead of having to plan — and pay for — a big video shoot, just hit record on those Zoom classes. Your finished product won’t be as slick as a big video production, but don’t worry. At this moment in time, reality trumps flash.

Not sure who the top teachers are? Ask your students. They always know.


Most schools concocted a solution for 2020 commencement exercises — usually a combo of virtual, drive-by and “your diploma’s in the mail.”

But what about all those theater productions, orchestra concerts and science fairs? At many schools they were history. (Even the national spelling bee was scrapped. S-A-D.)

In contrast, the smartest schools gathered their distance-learning savvy and digital assets to keep their academic events rolling. At Ursuline Academy of New Orleans, the annual arts festival showcases student works from toddlers through seniors. Feeling proud of their schoolwork and possessing Ursuline’s we-can-do-it spirit, students and teachers built an arts fest website.

Beyond keeping a tradition alive, this year’s all-digital event delivered several advantages:

  • Wider reach. The festival was easy to share with family members outside the area. Grandparents in Pittsburgh were thrilled.
  • Longer shelf life. Student work now shines 24/7/365.
  • Student-to-student learning. When the festival was an on-campus, in-person event, students focused on performing and presenting their own work. The digital festival gives them new ways to appreciate — and learn from — their fellow students. (Some of those senior portfolios are super-impressive.)
  • Admissions appeal. The digital festival is a vivid way to explain the school’s Reggio Emilia philosophy and project-based learning approach. Prospective parents have a new space to explore what it all means.

Ursuline theatre video

See how this brand project boosted admissions

Learn more

Is your brand telling your academic story? Zehno can help.

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