J-School video production class partners with UniverCity Alliance

Originally published on the School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s website

For UW-Madison J-School senior Megan Lane, making videos after the end of the summer or a vacation has been a fun pastime.

Lane considered other professional paths like nursing, but after taking the new J475: Creative Campaigns and Video Production class taught by Evjue Centennial Professor Doug McLeod, she’s confident she can pursue a creative career.

“This class really solidified that for me,” Lane said. “It exposes you to that sector of the professional world.”

Better, less expensive technology combined with greater demand for produced content are leading to more jobs creating video. McLeod introduced the new course this past fall semester because he wanted to bring renewed emphasis on skills that his students could leverage in a growing video production field.

Headshot of Doug McCleod
Doug McCleod

“There’s a whole industry out there geared toward commercial production and corporate video,” McLeod said. “I’m designing this course to fit that niche.”

The new class builds off of J445: Creative Campaign Messages, which is a similar class that has been growing in scope. Because of increased attention on social media, video production was getting squeezed out of J445’s curriculum.

Split into two sections, students in J475 first practice how to shoot and edit video, write scripts and create storyboards in training exercises.

For their final projects, students worked with UniverCity Alliance – a cross campus initiative that pairs Wisconsin communities with resources at UW-Madison to solve problems – as a client. Students divided into four groups each created two promotional videos – a 30-second piece and a three- to five-minute video – focused on four different audiences: UW-Madison staff, legislators, potential donors and Wisconsin communities interested in partnering with UCA.

Gavin Luter, UniverCity Alliance’s managing director, described McLeod’s ability to incorporate the “real-world experiences” into the class curriculum as “remarkable.”

“Students are demanding these kinds of experiences to help grow their professional skills,” Luter said. “Working with us provided a chance for the students to get a hybrid experience: working with a campus entity that primarily works with partners outside the university.”

Students were supported by campus staff but also knew their work could be used in off-campus settings.

Moving beyond hypothetical training exercises to producing a video for a client gives students the real-world experiences they’re demanding before they hit the job market.

“Project based classes are always the ones that give me the work I’m able to talk about in interviews,” said Lane, who is studying strategic communication.

Lane said the final project of creating a video for UCA, a cross-campus initiative that connects local governments and university resources, “has most closely mimicked” her professional experiences to date.

She said working in a group to create the video taught skills in project management and collaboration – between fellow classmates and UCA – as well as technical skills in shooting and editing video.

A new class always has kinks to work out, McLeod said. This semester brought challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic, including shipping delays that affected getting video equipment for the class and students tuning into class virtually because of illness.

McLeod also said wearing masks in person, though they are an essential tool in curbing the spread of the coronavirus, can make things more impersonal.

“All in all, students did a really good job of overcoming a lot of obstacles, and they created some really good work,” McLeod said.

Though McLeod is considering some modifications to the class, such as revising assignments or reconsidering the number of students per group, one successful component of the course was hosting a variety of professionals in the video field.

Presenters with experience in editing, cinematography and starting a video production company shared their professional insights with the class.

“A lot of the alumni that came in own and started their own companies,” McLeod said. “One of my goals is that it inspires them.”

—By Abigail Becker