Innovative seminar offers a practical way to learn about communication and community

Professor Josh Greenberg’s students regularly tell him that they not only want their degree programs to prepare them for the competitive job market, they also want the hands-on learning opportunities that will allow them to make a positive contribution in their own communities.

Greenberg’s response to this feedback has been to develop a new fourth-year mass communication seminar, Communication and Community: Research for Social Change. “I designed this course to provide students with hands-on experience doing collaborative research to directly inform the social justice work of Ottawa area nongovernmental organizations (NGOs),” he explains.

Students work in small groups on a research project that will inform the communication objectives or campaigns of NGO partners from the Ottawa area. “Being located in the national capital is a real benefit,” says Greenberg.

“There is a vibrant national and local community of voluntary sector organizations from which to draw and a huge demand for the expertise of students with degrees in communication.” So far the response from students to the program has been very positive. “I really felt the need for a course like this,” says Candice Shirreff, a fourth-year mass communication and art history student. Her group is partnered with Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), a wilderness conservation organization.

Her group has completed a situation assessment and is now developing a research project that will allow it to offer CPAWS evidence-based strategic advice about such key communications challenges as appealing to younger demographics and linking public awareness with advocacy initiatives.

Although Shirreff is already an active volunteer, she has welcomed the opportunity to do work on a community-based initiative in class. “I find that too often my studies are confined to theories which I don’t directly apply,” she says. “This course, however, allows me to interact with people and see if theories and methods in communication can be used to solve community problems.” Jill Sturdy is the national outreach coordinator for CPAWS.

She is pleased to be involved with Candice’s group. “This seminar is not only a good opportunity for students to get involved with community organizations and projects, it is also a good chance for my organization get feedback from a different audience as to how we might communicate our message more effectively.”

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