This post was written by Meaghan Young-Stephens, a graduate assistant to the WRD program who was enrolled in Writing Digital Content.
If you’re like me and spend a lot of time on Chicago trains and buses, you’ve probably seen DePaul’s marketing promise, “The city is your campus.” Of the classes I have taken so far, NMS 510 is the one where the slogan rings most true.
NMS 510 “Writing Digital Content” (or WRD 525 for those of us in the Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse program) is structured around a service-learning component that sets it apart. Early in the quarter, each student in the course was assigned to a local nonprofit organization—Art on Sedgwick, Chicago Youth Programs, Lincoln Park Community Shelter, or the Rauner Family YMCA—and spent the quarter working with classmates and nonprofit staff to find ways to improve the organization’s online presence. This meant class time devoted to meeting with the nonprofit partners and trips to visit their offices outside of class. For many of us, it meant learning an entirely new type of writing and having the opportunity—right off the bat—to use this writing to do things in the world.
Anthony Melville, who worked with nonprofit partner Art on Sedgwick, an arts organization in Old Town, shared that he appreciates the opportunity to do writing outside of the classroom:
I don’t have as much professional experience yet as I’d like, and this class seems like a nice bridge between the classroom and the workplace. It’s been really great to have a chance to learn more about nonprofit work and come away with something to put on my résumé.
Although the different nonprofit partner organizations had different content strategy needs and goals, each gave NMS 510 students a chance to apply what we learned in class. We learned to think of writing for the web as starting a conversation. Who are the audiences for the web content? What are they coming to the website to accomplish?
In my work with the Lincoln Park Community Shelter (LPCS), my teammates and I identified likely visitors to the site: volunteers, potential donors, individuals who are experiencing homelessness who might benefit from LPCS’s services, and even Lincoln Park residents who may have seen sign for LPCS and are wondering what it’s about. We worked to create content that invited these visitors to engage in conversation with LPCS.
Team assignments for the class, primarily consisting of two reports to give to the partner organizations, were open-ended enough that each group could tailor their research and suggestions to the needs of their particular nonprofits.
Each group of MA students provided its nonprofit partner with not only abstract recommendations for future content strategy, but also concrete examples of what content could look like—model Facebook or Twitter posts, for instance, and calendars that specified when content should be updated to maximize its reach.
During one of our class meetings, we had a visit from Kate Eyler-Werve, the co-author of the course text book, Return on Engagement. She provided tips based on her own experience working on content strategy with her clients. One of her main messages? How few words you might need on a webpage to move the conversation forwards. One of my classmates, MA in WRD student Ekram Othman, expressed her interest in creating meaningful content in very few words:
Kate Eyler-Werve’s explanation of cutting words to get to the essence of what an organization does intrigued me.
Winter quarter courses have come to a close. Recycling bins across campus have filled up with notebooks, and many term papers, completed and graded, will be forgotten on hard drives. But, for those of us in NMS 510, it’s exciting to know the content we’ve created lives on—we hope, helping our nonprofit partners continue to do the important work they do and engage in important conversations with the Chicago community.
Interested in taking NMS 510/WRD 525? The course will be offered again during the 2016-2017 academic year. Stay tuned!