CM502 SCPR Industry Final Video For Group 1

The purpose of this video is to highlight what we learned from our interview with Andrew Cunningham, the Content Development and New Media Manager at Franklin Pierce University, as well as the SCPR specialty area of nonprofit higher education. An authentic approach to digital and photo content creation and the ability to adapt in crisis is key to successful recruitment and retention for a higher education institution. This video was created for our Strategic Communication in the Digital Age class as part of a Master’s in Strategic Communications and Public Relations program at Sacred Heart University.

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Alice Smith is currently enrolled in Sacred Heart University’s Strategic Communications and Public Relations Graduate Program She works at the Town of Redding, CT as the Executive Assistant to the First Selectman, She is also a collage artist and engages in public art projects when time allows. Visit: or

Zoom to the Rescue

Solution to “Public Gathering” in the Time of COVID-19

by Alice Smith

Originally published January 17, 2021

Although a free version of Zoom is available, the paid for subscription offers more options. (Image: Getty)

During a time of COVID-19 crisis, local governments took the first steps to utilize a digital tool, Zoom, to maintain mandated public gatherings. Without it, the business of the people could not have gotten done and going forward, this tool is likely to stay and continue to bring people together.


The CDC confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in the United States on January 21, 2020, but it was not declared a pandemic until March 11, 2020. The timeline of events reveals facts around the virus. Whether people believed it was real or not—there were many groups who engaged in spreading controversy around the idea that the COVID-19 /Coronavirus was a hoax —the world-at-large shut down in early 2020 in the hopes to temper the spread of this deadly virus. As the first pandemic in over 100 years, it wreaked utter havoc in every area of our lives. It stopped travel, manifested devastating job loss, shut down restaurants, kept children from going to school,  filled hospital beds and brought  illness and death among so many other things that are still not accounted for.

Once there was a universal agreement that we had to quarantine, there were efforts to revisit how we get together again.

The decision was made to let technology be our guide. People everywhere scrambled to find the right tool that allowed gatherings to happen on a tech platform that kept them well and informed us in a safe, socially-distanced way. Zoom was the tool of choice.

Evolution of Social Distancing

Social distancing became the solution to minimize the spread of COVID-19. There were general questions : should people quarantine? Should they wear masks? If we do get together, how many people can be in a room and how many feet should we distance from each other? Are doorknobs and common surfaces places that breed the virus?

Social distancing measure signs are hung everywhere to remind people to stay 6 feet apart and wear a mask. Graphic by Alice Smith

While individuals and companies followed some of the CDC guidelines to stay put and close their doors to the public, the local state governments had to make swift decisions about how to control behaviors. The federal government–the White House–turned a blind eye to taking the lead and responsibility, leaving it to governors, mayors, selectmen, local agencies to establish rules of their own. Governors started to issue executive orders. The State of Connecticut, under the direction of Governor Ned Lamont, issued the state’s first one on March 12, 2020 which limited public gatherings to 250 people, waived the 180-day school year, restricted nursing home visits and a few other actions.

Connecticut soon started to introduce more aggressive restrictions. But by May 1, 2020, with increasing pressure from municipalities, towns and cities all over the state, Governor Lamont issued Executive Order 7HH, that allowed the use of technologies ……”[to] conduct any meeting, election, or vote by telephonic, video, or other conferencing process, or by ballot without a meeting.”

Of the 89 executive orders issued to date, this order was not restrictive but freeing!

Zoom to the Rescue

The major tool that most businesses, schools, government agencies started to use was called Zoom. Business Insider defined Zoom as “a cloud-based video communications app that allows you to set up virtual video and audio conferencing, webinars, live chats, screen-sharing and other collaborative capabilities.” The original users of Zoom tended to be companies whose clients and employees  needed to meet face to face but either did not have the time or were too distant to travel to meet in person. Zoom allowed for more than one person to collaborate on one screen in real time. It also allowed users to engage for free for up to 40 minutes, which got people hooked. Zoom’s subscription  service then allowed additional bells and whistles that government meetings require: unlimited time length, script saving, a chat room for public engagement, file sharing, recording of the meeting. It is a source of “fact storage”: proof that the meeting happened and is assumed unmanipulable.

In CT, the public meeting always requires widespread invitation to the public, where they have opportunity to participate and comment, providing full transparency. The act called  “Freedom of Information”, created in 1975, allowes individuals to request any and all data discussed and distributed surrounding that meeting. Content encompassed minutes and other documents pertaining to the events at the meeting.

Legally, without a public meeting, the business of government can’t get done. That means employees, commissions and boards cannot do or pursue the “business of government”; they cannot spend the people’s money without their knowledge and permission. They can’t collect taxes, notarize documents, issue permits, record property transactions, inspect buildings, test well water, fix and plow roads, collect garbage and even pay public employees like teachers. But government could continue if the public was invited to participate and order 7HH enabled this. In fact, video gatherings allowed for more people to participate from the comfort of their homes and resulted in more interaction and transparency. Zoom was a huge success.

Crisis of “Zoombombing” and Privacy Issues

Zoom had some real issues at the start of the pandemic, as it was being used by just about every organization to reach their audiences, becoming critical infrastructure . Meetings and education had to continue so as not to lose business or momentum in learning. “Zoombombing” became a real problem where “internet trolls” would hijack video conferences and generally disrupt and in many cases, insert all kinds of lewd, racist and obscene content in the meeting. The response of these attacks would result in widespread shutdown of videoconferences hosted by schools, businesses and social groups until the privacy issues were addressed by the organizations themselves and then by the CEO of Zoom. Zoom apologized and then published a guide to help users avoid these incidents.

Exemplary Public Engagement

In an interview with the Executive Assistant to the First Selectman of Ridgefield, she emphasized how at first, they had trouble with the Zoom format. The pauses, glitches, screen-freezes, and constant muting while speaking were detriments. Eventually they got used to the technology and the most notable and positive thing surprised them: the public showed up tenfold. Where there used to be a handful of audience members, Zoom could easily host 100 to 200 people in an average meeting. And they were all engaged.

I asked when COVID is over, should people return to the “old” way? She asked me “Why? What used to be one meeting a day, that took a half day in travel time to get to, with Zoom one can now accomplish five meetings before noon.”

This “crisis” effect inadvertently revealed local governments becoming more nimble, innovative and open to new technologies and new ideas. We saw this in the response to the wide-spread adoption of ballots via mail so individuals wouldn’t have to be in contact with other people in a voting space. Contrast this innovation with the past unwillingness of governments to incorporate use of personal cell phone and email communication with citizens against the traditional delivery systems: snail mail or in- person. Going forward, post-pandemic, this Zoom success should encourage government to be more innovative and experimental.

A screen-shot taken during a virtual “mini-Reunion” for the Vassar College class of 1985.   Photo by Nancy Kwang Johnson

It appears that most groups of people seem to be engaging with Zoom. Most schools use the  platform, though with some challenges. Families host dinner nights together. Friends host cocktail and dance parties. Musicians perform for their fans and even charge admission. Artists do poetry readings or teach students to paint or craft. Theatre groups engage other actors to develop their craft. Doctors see patients. Churches deliver eulogies. Yoga and fitness instructors get their students to move. The local Mark Twain Library in Redding, CT regularly hosts their programs on Zoom. They even hosted their swankiest event this year, one that is usually is set under the stars, in a magnificent setting. A virtual “table of tickets” sold for as much as $10,000 to witness the “The Pudd’nhead Prize” on Zoom for just an hour of repartee between Laura Linney and Michael Ian Black. Zoom is now used for all forms of public gatherings.

In fact, Zoom is now a verb. You often hear the phrase, “let’s Zoom”.

Zoom brought us together when no other options existed. Clearly Zoom is another tool in the Strategic Communications & Public Relations toolbox that we will have to master.

• • •

Alice Smith is currently enrolled in Sacred Heart University’s Strategic Communications and Public Relations Graduate Program She works at the Town of Redding, CT as the Executive Assistant to the First Selectman, She is also a collage artist and engages in public art projects when time allows,,

The Catch-22 of Online Learning During COVID-19

By Alice Smith             February 12, 2021

Young girl doing online learning.

While COVID-19 forced us all to adopt “new normal” , the internet as the new classroom, it is noted that not all schools have the capacity or the tools to evenly distribute a successful classroom experience to their stakeholders. Students, parents, administrators and taxpayers are expressing their frustrations and even taking initiatives that are likely to change the face of education. In the extreme, schools may even shut their doors. This is likely to affect the youngest amongst us, creating a deeper divide between those who learn easily versus those who struggle. It also challenges our basic assumptions of how children learn.

Digital connections. by Digital Unite
  1. Student performance and equity is unevenly distributed in the U.S.

Research suggests online learning and teaching happens if the students have “consistent access to the internet and computers and if teachers have received targeted training and support for online instruction”. If you already live in a financially challenged community where schools are strapped for cash and can’t provide computers and WiFi access to every student, there will be learning inequity. Students and families oftentimes have to bear the financial burden of paying for equipment. If parents cannot take off work to be home to monitor their children’s adherence, or worse, they’ve lost a job due to COVID and can’t afford to hire someone to watch their children as they seek work, children will continue to suffer. If more wealthy communities have access to more tools, like tutors or learning pods, for example, they will succeed while their counterparts fail.

Limbic brain by the Younique Foundation.

2. Not all students are created equal.

Some students just don’t learn well on their own and need physical supplementation to learn a new skill. Children’s brains are not fully developed until around age twenty five, when the prefrontal cortex, or the rational brain is finally mature. But it’s the limbic brain that has most to do with online or web-based learning. The limbic brain “monitors the external world and internal body”, helping make sense of interactions. The limbic brain relies on eye-to-eye contact (non-verbal cues) with its counterpart to both convey and understand messaging as well as restore mood and trust, which links to grasping a skill for the young learner. Learning occurs through the process of strengthening or weakening synapse connections. Other studies indicate that screen exposure enhances structural brain changes, in both the white and grey matter, altering “attentional competence, processing speed, verbal intelligence, and sustained attention” as well as long term memory and retrieval of learned material. Without  “attachment” to a real human being, the ability to read social cues may be lost later on in life, not to mention loss of understanding material real time.

It appears without a parent or teacher present to support the learning, most kids will drift off on their own and seek out something that is more pleasurable, like playing video games. Kids also miss out on informal social interactions at school . The phenomenal result can manifest  chronic absenteeism or failing subjects.  If the support systems just aren’t there, the least prepared are at risk at disengaging altogether from school and eventually will drop out .

Computer vs. book reading.

3. Reading comprehension lost online.

If “to skim is to inform” is the new norm for reading (online) then T.S. Elliot’s ominous quote,  “Where is the knowledge in our information? Where is the wisdom in our knowledge?” is a cautionary tale. How can our children absorb and process information on a medium known to encourage multitasking and brevity? Maryanne Wolf points out in her article that reading (the old fashioned way, in print), “transform[s] new information into consolidated knowledge in the brain’s circuitry requires multiple connections to abstract reasoning skills, each of which requires the kind of time and attention often absent in digital reading.” She goes on to say, “what goes missing are deep reading processes which require a quality of attention increasingly at risk in a culture and on a medium in which constant distraction bifurcates our attention.” When we skim, we physiologically don’t have time to think. What used to be done with print reading —a slowing down of our time-processes– the digital medium forces a “shallow” response and understanding of the material. Researchers are finding this to be truer over time. Negotiating reading comprehension with screen distraction or the label “continuous partial attention” leads to less time for abstract thought.

4. Hybrid learning

Schools have offered to provide hybrid learning modalities, a mix of online with in-person learning. But because of the unevenness of COVID outbreaks, schools have to close on a moment’s notice. It creates both confusion and disappointment for many kids because the opportunity to connect with other peers is no longer possible. Not all schools are able to provide the right support tools in a remote setting for the learner.

A study suggests that the students who learn best this way already have the propensity to do so and are intentional with their work without prodding from outside sources. For the children who have difficulty, the reduced learning time affects the whole development of the child. Without feedback loops from teachers or peers, learning comprehension is even worse.

Lonely girl.

5. COVID online learning is lonely….and mental health is jeopardized.

Studies are finding the “shuttering” of education is leaving students  experiencing loss, grief, turmoil and isolation. The residual effect is a psychological toll that includes acceleration of depression rates, anxiety, loss of sleep and even suicide attempts. The worry about family, money, friendships, the monotony staying in the same environment, day after day, negatively influence working effectively in an online environment. One study by Active Minds did a survey with 2,086 college students earlier in the pandemic discovered that 80% of them said their mental health worsened under COVID-19,  91% experienced stress and anxiety, 76% have trouble maintaining a routine and 63% found it challenging to stay connected with others.

6. Growth of private schools and shrinking public schools.

The Danbury News Times (CT) published an article on February 8, 2021 with the headline, “COVID drives families back to Catholic schools”. This is a trend happening all over the US because these schools don’t abide by the rules of the commons. Along with this trend, as the decision to leave the commons unfolds, so does the money. Public schools stop being funded in the traditional ways they have been, through taxpayer dollars. Going forward, school budgets are being cut drastically. Many schools may not go back and will lose students to independent, private schools.

On the other hand, as the trend grows, public schools may make the financial flip toward technology and training for teachers versus brick and mortar classrooms. We will most likely also see the growth of learning pods in more lucrative neighborhoods.

7. As an older student, the situation is more tenable.

“Tips” for older online learners may work: Treating a course like a “real” course, holding yourself accountable, practicing time management, looking at syllabus at the start of semester, creating a weekly schedule and time block, having regular study space and staying organized, eliminating distractions, figuring out how to you learn best, actively participating, leveraging your network and practice, practice, practice! Even if you adopt all of these actions, there is no guarantee you get the most out of your learning experience if you don’t have that face to face engagement and negotiation with an “expert” to guide you. According to Lee Garder from the Chronical of Higher Education, “Colleges aren’t putting in place well-considered, durable online-learning plans. They’re throwing together quick, ad hoc, low-fidelity mitigation strategies — and that’s fine, for now.”


We are moving toward a new technology and we will have to rise to the challenge. Students at the college level have a higher emotional intelligence than younger students. They display greater self-awareness of their own needs, better at self-regulation, better time management and organizational skills and a preference for visual and reflective learning, to name a few.  They are able to monitor their personal progress and have realistic goals that are their own. Colleges have also been utilizing online classes for over two decades and some are having success.

Maryanne Wolf of The Guardian observes that “with much of the world working from home, and millions of students learning from home, developing a biliterate brain—one adapted to both digital and traditional print literacy—has never been more important.” Professor Katrina A. Meyer supports the idea that  “the latest brain research can help us better understand the advantages and disadvantages of these technologies for adult learners, how students’ brains are wired and how that wiring interferes or supports the use of interactive video or the web, and how best to mitigate any obvious disadvantages. Many of these insights are woven throughout the review of brain research, beginning with the limbic brain, model development, learning and memory, language and media, and concluding with some thoughts on how to apply these research results to inform distance education design, practice, and management.”

Its makes sense to include traditional mentorship aimed at addressing each child’s unique needs. As long as pedagogy incorporates the childhood developmental benchmarks in the K-12 online classroom, more students will engage successfully.

Empty classroom.

Alice Smith is currently enrolled in Sacred Heart University’s Strategic Communications and Public Relations Graduate Program She works at the Town of Redding, CT as the Executive Assistant to the First Selectman, She is also a collage artist and engages in public art projects when time allows,,

Starting Over

This is what hope looks like.

I currently work in local government. My career has spanned publishing, graphic design, hospitality, fitness, education, philanthropy and art. I aspire to create a foundation where artists lead and participate in urban design and execution efforts in their communities. In my effort to grow and better myself in graduate school, my aim to foster and achieve this goal.