U. Southern California school uses Facebook to advertise courses

University of Southern California - Students logging onto Facebook from the University of Southern California are seeing advertisements they didn't expect.

Replacing some of the ads for new cars or housing options are those for open courses, posted by the USC Davis School of Gerontology.

The ads tout six different gerontology classes on Facebook. Davis, one of USC's smaller schools, uses part of the ad page to encourage students to take online classes that might free up their schedules or fulfill the university's diversity requirements.

Maria Henke, an assistant dean at Davis, said the ads were meant to reach out to students through a new medium and to promote Davis classes as being some of the strongest at USC.

"I want to make it very, very clear to you that we do not advertise that our courses are easy," Henke said. "All of our courses are quite robust. The key word for our online program is 'convenient,' which should never be confused with 'easy,' because the coursework we provide online is the same as our brick-and-mortar instruction."

Some students said the ads might be interpreted differently. Kerinna Coffey, a junior majoring in health and humanity who has taken gerontology classes in the past, said she didn't think Davis should be "trying to advertise their classes as easy."

"I think people should take them because they are interested in the subject and they are interested in gerontology, not because they want an easy class," she said.

Henke said the school has received no negative feedback from students or professors regarding the advertisements.

Whitney Fountas, an admissions counselor at Davis and one of the people involved in creating the page, said a major advantage of the ads is that they give students another way to connect with the gerontology school.

"It is nice to be able to tap into the USC community on Facebook, especially during the summer when students are not physically here," Henke said.

The ads read in part: "Want to free up your schedule? GERO 380m: Diversity in Aging counts towards the diversity requirement, but it's online! Perfect if you want to make some extra time in your schedule."

Another ad reads: "Looking to fill a diversity requirement? We've got it! GERO 435m: Women and Aging will do the trick."

The Facebook ads also encourage students to take other classes that are not online and do not fulfill diversity requirements.

"We do not advertise any course as 'easy' - and we do not intend to offer courses that are easy," said Eileen Crimmins, an associate dean at Davis. "We are innovative in offering courses this way ... Gerontology is listening to the young in its use of technology."

And both Henke and Fountas said that although the wording of the advertisements play up the classes' convenience, they are just as difficult as any other.

"I think we probably still need to evaluate and see how effective the ads were," Fountas said.

Henke also said she was taking a wait-and-see approach.

Davis isn't the only school at USC to experiment with outreach through Facebook. Many USC schools have Facebook "fan pages," but the Annenberg School for Communication has been by far the most successful at attracting students: It has more than 1,000 students who are constantly informed of events and USC news stories, and who can comment on discussion boards. Annenberg can also post photos, YouTube videos and comments on the page.

Annenberg senior editor Alex Boekelheide and Geoffrey Baum, an assistant dean at the school, started the Facebook group last spring. Boekelheide said he and Baum thought the best way to connect with students was to go where the students are.

Despite the rising popularity of the fan page, Annenberg has not used the page to advertise classes.

"We've found it more effective to talk about our degree programs with prospective audiences rather than particular classes," Boekelheide said. "It's a better use of our advertising dollars."

Some students said that while Facebook ads are easy to produce, they won't necessarily have an impact on the classes students choose.

"I don't think you should expect to have 100 new people to sign up for a class just because you spend $50 on a Facebook ad," said Micah Scheindlin, a sophomore majoring in American studies and ethnicity.

Davis' presence on Facebook is far smaller. A separate Davis fan page has 16 members.

"We don't have a huge Facebook campaign that I know of. We're not trying to add people to be our friend all the time," Fountas said.

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