Incubator Burt Glass

INSIDE LOOK at COM Continuing Education

Boston University leadership, faculty, and staff from across all three campuses are experimenting, learning, and developing new and innovative ways to enhance the teaching and learning experience at BU. With the assistance from Digital Learning & Innovation’s Incubator, nearly six dozen innovative projects have been funded and supported since its inception in 2014. INSIDE LOOK is authored by those leading the exploration and innovation charge and offers a behind the scenes look at a variety of projects in various developmental stages.


Incubator Project: COM Continuing Education

The Boston University College of Communication (COM) seeks to expand the circle of learners it serves to include lifelong learners from their teen years through their adult lives. To do this, COM created a stand-alone website as a platform to offer non-credit workshops, conferences and other opportunities beyond the pursuit of a traditional degree.

About the Author: Burt Glass

Burton Glass is the director of marketing and communications at Boston University’s College of Communication and is co-developing COM’s Continuing Education platform with Dustin Supa, COM’s senior associate dean and associate professor, public relations.

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The New England Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit newsroom previously based at Boston University’s College of Communication, had long operated a successful summer program for high school journalists. It was a way to cultivate new generations of investigative journalists while generating a bit of income to underwrite our reporting.

As the center’s director three years ago, I hoped to grow the program — both in the number of students we attracted and the specialized workshops offered — but we were being held back by our most important marketing tool: our website.

So I took notice when I learned that BU’s Digital Learning & Innovation office was looking for tech-oriented ideas to fund on campus. My proposal for funding a new website that featured the functions of modern web stores was welcomed with some advice: think bigger. And the Incubator staff helped do just that.

Instead of a web store for a single program, together we conjured a more ambitious idea with then-COM Dean Tom Fiedler that would bring the capabilities envisioned for NECIR’s summer program to other continuing education programs at COM — including some that were still on the drawing board.

The grant awarded funding to build an attractive, easy-to-navigate website designed by the local firm Hairpin that could accept credit card purchases, issue discount codes, handle event registrations, send registration notices and — crucially — allow us to quickly add new workshops and conferences on the fly.

DL&I and its Incubator team suggested that the new platform needed to be more than an online course catalogue. It needed original content to draw people in, inspire, and create a sense of community. We crafted scripts, and Incubator partners, Instructional Production Services staff shot and edited a series of original how-to videos featuring our workshop instructors — giving future students a short taste of what we had to offer. 

Existing, non-credit programs at COM like the Academy of Media Production and Data+Narrative moved to the new platform, which led to time and budget efficiencies. New initiatives, such as the International History of Public Relations Conference, were quick to launch.

To be sure, other workshops we created flopped, and were not repeated. But the platform allowed us to try and fail, and try again with less risk. Throughout it all, Incubator staff remained in touch, offering advice and connecting us to BU colleagues exploring parallel projects.

Now, under Dean Mariette DiChristina’s direction, COM is exploring a variety of non-credit professional education courses leading to industry-recognized badges and other alternative credentials, as well as a kind of on-ramp for students to pursue traditional for-credit certificates and other degrees.

The success of the platform and the promise of COM’s continuing education programs are encouraging so far — and reminders for us to keep thinking bigger.

Learn more about the COM Continuing Education project and the Incubator’s call for proposals process.