Instructional Highlights: Laurie Brachman

A marketing instructor designs her virtual class, not surprisingly, through the eyes of a marketer

During one memorable lecture each semester in her large face-to-face Marketing Management class, Laurie Brachman hands each student a two-pack of Oreos.

The students analyze everything about the cookie — how it looks, how it tastes, what feelings it evokes — then discuss how Nabisco has capitalized on those traits in its branding.

“Sometimes I think what students remember most about my class is, ‘Hey, I got a free Oreo,’” jokes Brachman, a senior lecturer in marketing at the Wisconsin School of Business.

The pandemic rendered free Oreos impractical, so like many instructors, Brachman needed to find ways to engage students remotely without some of the tools she used in person. The size of her class also brought special challenges. It is among the largest on campus — 763 students last fall, more than 800 this spring.

When the class (MKT 300) is in-person, Brachman teaches three back-to-back lectures each class day in Grainger Hall, each to about 250 students. She’s assisted by nine TAs who collectively teach 27 weekly discussion sections.

As she moved everything online, Brachman not surprisingly approached it like a marketer.

“I needed to think about my target audience,” she says. “What are these students going through and how can I deliver content that reaches them in a meaningful way?”

Sometimes that meant making difficult content choices.

“As instructors, we’re fighting monotony, because students are having to watch so many videos,” Brachman says. “I had to sit back and realize that no matter how much I absolutely was in love with something, if it was not to the point and relevant to students, I was going to lose them.”

Brachman discovered that there was no single “magic bullet” to spark engagement, so she uses a series of small tactics designed to capture attention and reinforce course concepts.

For her now asynchronous lectures, Brachman creates weekly introduction videos to set the stage for the week’s topics. Her lectures typically combine slides, photos, video clips and simple animation while she talks. She strives to constantly freshen the content, drawing from popular culture and whatever happens to be part of the societal conversation. For instance, last fall’s lecture on how to target specific consumers asked students to evaluate OKCupid’s “Voting is Sexy” campaign, which was aimed at younger voters who do not always vote.

“One of the ways Laurie keeps her students engaged is that she regularly updates the online lecture videos with current topics and consistently engages them through announcements about current topics, like the Super Bowl,” says MBA student Liz Steiner, one of the TAs in Brachman’s class. “This allows students to make connections between what they are reading in the text to what is going on in the world today in regard to marketing topics.”

Brachman also embeds occasional questions for students to answer in her video-recorded lectures — not for a grade, but to keep their attention.

Within the many discussion groups, the TAs worked very hard last fall to build community and to get students to share — “and they were very successful,” Brachman says.

“One of the surprising things about the fall semester,” Brachman says, “was that students continued to reach out to my virtual office hours for career advice at rates that were as good as, if not better than, ‘live’ office hours. I was concerned that I would lose that interaction, given that all of my lectures were asynchronous and online, but happily, that did not happen. I had some really great conversations about the field of marketing!”

More from the Instructional Highlights Series

UW–Madison instructors have been investing great thought and effort into making their virtual classrooms engaging, inclusive and supportive. We asked a cross-section of them to reflect on their remote classes and to share, in particular, how they’ve worked to build a strong sense of community among students. In many cases, instructors say they’re learning new approaches and techniques that will enrich their in-person teaching once campus fully returns.

We’ll add to the Instructional Highlights series throughout the spring semester, so please check back regularly. If you’d like to pass along an approach that’s worked for you or have a suggestion for an instructor we might want to reach out to, please contact us at  instructionalcontinuity@provost.wisc.edu.