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Teaching About Celebrity and Philanthropy: A Case Study of Backward Course Design

Genevive G. Shaker, Sarah K. Nathan


The nonprofit sector has expanded significantly over the last few decades. At the same time, celebrity culture has received a new level of media attention. To introduce students to philanthropy while providing new knowledge to philanthropy majors, we developed Celebrity Philanthropy, a course at the intersection of celebrity, social media, popular culture, fundraising, and philanthropy. We used the backward design curricular model in which learning objectives are determined first and assessments and instructional strategies are conceived subsequently. Using case study methodology, we drew on a variety of qualitative and quantitative data points to examine (1) the nature of student learning in Celebrity Philanthropy and (2) whether the assessment approaches and instructional strategies helped students to achieve the course learning objectives. The assessments and comments indicate that the learning outcomes were met and that student knowledge about celebrity, philanthropy, and the nonprofit sector increased. We discovered two main challenges. First, instructors did not always achieve balance between exploring a subfield of philanthropy and placing it in the larger context of philanthropy in society, and second, too much curricular and pedagogical experimentation hindered the cohesiveness of the course. We encourage other instructors to use lessons learned from this study to consider the intersection of celebrity and philanthropy as an avenue for teaching philanthropy/nonprofit concepts, to adopt formalized models for course design, and to take an integrated approach in structuring learning opportunities and pedagogical strategies. As a field, we also need to conduct more research about celebrity philanthropy and to contribute more frequently to the public dialogue on this topic.

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philanthropy; celebrity; course design; learning outcomes; nonprofit education

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