College in the Kingdom

Take David Zanolla's advanced honors course about Disney!

When I went to college, they had nothing like this: an advanced honors course called 'Communication Around the "World"' that culminates in a trip to Disney World itself where students will attend seminars hosted by Disney experts Jeff Kober and Jim Korkis, participate in Disney-run events, and of course, benefit from guided tours of the parks and resorts conducted by David Zanolla, the mastermind who created the course for Western Illinois University.

David taught 'Communication Around the "World"' for the first time last year. It was so popular with students that he's brought it back again this year, with a twist.

The twist is Disney Dispatch.

David has accepted my proposal to chronicle his class right here on Disney Dispatch in a special section called College in the Kingdom. We'll have regular updates and progress reports from David, coverage of the class trip to Disney World, and occasional articles from his students.

We'll be 'auditing' David's class - without the tuition but also without, unfortunately, the Disney trip.

Excited? Me, too! And our class meets ... now!

Here's a brief interview I conducted with David Zanolla to provide some background about the class.

Please give me an overview of your course.

DAVID :The course is focused on two main areas of human communication, using Walt Disney World as a case study. We'll cover both nonverbal communication in structured environments and organizational communication. In addition to that, we'll cover computer-mediated Disney communication channels like blogs, podcasts, and discussion forums (specifically DISBoards).
We meet the first eight weeks in the classroom before leaving for Disney World. When you think about it, since the students do on-site research while in Orlando, we basically have to squeeze a semester's worth of material and learning into the first eight weeks of class.
Once we return, students have the following six weeks off until we meet up again for final presentations. During those six weeks, each student is required to meet with me one-on-one to give a 'progress report' about their research project.

That's David Zanolla on the left with Sam Gennawey.

What are the assigned textbooks?

This year we're using 'Designing Disney' by John Hench and 'The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney' by Jeff Kober. I also plan to use some supplemental readings like a chapter written by Sam Gennawey on urban design in the parks.

What do you expect your students to take away from the course?

DAVID :Those in the field of communication are concerned with studying how people create, share, and interpret meaning. The organizational culture Walt Disney World has put it place can be (in my opinion) summarized by two of their own statements: (1) "we create happiness" (their service theme) and (2) "everything speaks" (a 'motto' used by Imagineers in the structuring of environments).
My goal is to show my students (first in the classroom and then on-site) how those two statements are given meaning through everything that takes place at the theme parks and resorts. I am teaching them about communication around the "World".

Last year's class in front of Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom.

Do you have a set series of events you attend at Disney? Are these events the same for every class, or do the students have input into what they do while they're at the park?

DAVID :I have an itinerary planned well before we leave. My goal is to schedule events/activities that help students apply what they've learned in the classroom. Some events are new this year, while some have stayed the same (based on previous student feedback). And, regardless of how much I try to lock down our itinerary, there are still some things waiting to be confirmed.

Do you take the students to all four parks?

DAVID :Yes. In fact, we also will visit some of the resorts as well to examine both theming and execution of the organizational model. Last year, Sam Gennawey took us on a tour of the monorail resorts.

I know last year you worked with some Disney 'experts' like Sam Gennawey and Jeff Kober. Any plans to do the same this year?

DAVID :Jeff Kober will be working with us again this year as will historian Jim Korkis. Last year we also met with members of the DIS Unplugged Podcast, since the class listened to their weekly show. It was a valuable experience for my class to be able to meet members of the Disney Fan Community who, till that point, they had only heard over the Internet.

Last year's class outside Soarin' at Epcot, with Jeff Kober seated in front.

Typically, are your students big Disney buffs who have already visited the parks?

Last year, I believe I had one student who had never been to Disney World. Most of the others (with the exception of one who'd been to Disneyland, Disney World, and Disneyland Paris) had been to Disney World once or twice, either as part of a family vacation or a school trip.
This year, I have basically the same composition of students in terms of number of visits to and familiarity with the parks and resorts.

Have any of last year's students expressed interest to you in pursuing a career at Disney?

One does want to pursue a professional internship when she graduates.

The final project looks quite interesting: you require three papers, each at least five pages long (with pictures!), that analyze different aspects of 'communication' at Disney World as well as the park's organizational culture. Are final grades determined by final projects?

The project accounts for around half of their semester grade.

Thanks very much, David! I know there's lots, lots more to come. Save me a seat up front...

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