Is What You See What You Get?

You may have seen a clip from Consumer Reports which investigates the difference between the treats promised by fast-food ads and the mess that you actually unwrap after leaving the drive-thru. In case you missed it, here are 2 unappetizing minutes that confirm what you already know:

Years ago, I had a friend who worked on an ad agency account for a fast-food giant whose name begins with “W” and which was then questioning the whereabouts of beef. My friend explained that the company had a deal with its franchisees to picture only foods that could actually be constructed from the authorized ingredients for that item.  In other words, a 4-ounce hamburger patty had to be exactly 4 ounces, not inflated to 5 or 6 to suggest an abundance of juicy goodness.  However, the rules did allow for the prescribed components to be manipulated to produce the best of all possible burgers, which would then be lovingly photographed in the perfect lighting.  As long as you could—in theory—someday meet such a bodacious burger, the ad folks were playing by the rules.Meu Hamburger

Even before CS did the heavy lifting of research, we suspected  that the fast food chains were overselling. Realizing that, I began to wonder:  Do our students ever suspect that our classes don’t quite live up to the “promises” in our course descriptions? For example, my A&P I course description reads:

“The interrelationship of structure and function of each body system will be presented in two semesters the first semester will include basic chemistry, cell structure, cell physiology, metabolism, tissues, and integumentary, skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems….”

Whew.  That will give two-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickles-onions-on-a-sesame-seed-bun a run for its money, no? The ingredients for an important, interesting, and rewarding class are all there.  What’s left up to me is the presentation of those ingredients.  I can dish them sloppily onto the students’ plates in an unappealing, take-it-or-leave-it mess. No one could accuse me of skimping on the content, but neither would anyone enjoy consuming it.

questionsAlternatively, I can take on the role of course stylist. Just as the food stylist chooses the crispest lettuce, the juiciest ripe tomato, the bun with sesame seeds perfectly aligned, I can select and arrange the most memorable mnemonics, the clearest illustrations, and the most engaging tasks for active learning. As the food stylist in the clip points out, I want to “highlight and feature all the elements” that “appeal to your senses and make your eyes hungry.”

My course may have all the same “stuff” as any other A&P class, but I want my students to unwrap the foil and say:

“Well, whaddya know? This one looks just like the one in the ad!”


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