Interview with Amy Jo Coffey, Ph.D. - Online Program Manager for the Graduate Programs in Audience Analytics at the University of Florida
About Amy Jo Coffey, Ph.D.: Amy Jo Coffey is an Associate Professor in the Department of Media Production, Management, and Technology at the University of Florida, where she also serves as the Online Program Manager for the Master’s and Graduate Certificate in Audience Analytics. As Program Manager, Dr. Coffey serves as the primary content matter expert who designed the master’s degree plan and certificate curriculum. She also hires and supports faculty and maintains oversight of both programs’ curricula, determining if and when they need updates. In addition, Dr. Coffey maintains contact with the program’ dedicated advisory board, comprised of a team of audience analytics experts in the industry that help ensure UF’s audience analytics programs offer the essential and relevant content for the audience analytics professional today.
Dr. Coffey holds a Ph.D. in Mass Communication from the University of Georgia and an M.A. in Journalism from Ohio State. As a full-time faculty member in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida, much of her research focuses on audiences, their preferences, and how advertisers perceive and value different audiences. She also teaches undergraduate and graduate level courses such as Understanding Audiences, Audience Analysis, and Media Management.
[GraduateCertificates.com] May we have an overview of the coursework and learning outcomes for the University of Florida’s (UF) Graduate Certificate program in Audience Analytics? How do the courses in consumer and audience analytics, statistics for communication analysts, data visualization and storytelling, and social media metrics and assessment prepare students to leverage audience and consumer data to create impactful communication strategies and initiatives?
[Dr. Amy Jo Coffey] We began offering the Audience Analytics specialization in 2017 and the certificate in 2020. As you note, the analytics field enjoys broad offerings across curricula. Most of these are generalist in nature or more focused on business or data analytics overall. Because we are in the College of Journalism and Communications, we are in the business of understanding audiences, their media content consumption, preferences, and consumer behavior. So our program takes a more media-centric approach to analytics, although the content learned in our program is widely applicable to people outside of the media business because, if you are a business today, you have an “audience.”
Audiences are consumers of content as well as advertising and marketing messages, so we often use these terms—audiences and consumers—interchangeably. And while analyzing and interpreting data are an important part of being an analyst, you also need to be able to communicate what those data mean. This is where storytelling comes in. The data visualization and storytelling course helps our students take what they’ve learned in the other courses and become the storyteller.
Your employer is turning to you, the audience analyst, for answers. They want to know, “What should we do strategically and is this backed by data?” With our training, you can tell them what to do and why in a conversational and compelling way with visual and verbal efficacy. The skill set of an audience analyst travels well, so even if you are not in the media/marketing/communications area, you will still be well served by our certificate or program.
[GraduateCertificates.com] What have been the latest developments in the field of audience analytics, and why is audience analytics as a field so powerful in today’s communication industry, across fields ranging from marketing and PR to journalism, health communication, and more? How does the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communication (CJC) ensure that the coursework for its Graduate Certificate in Audience Analytics stays up-to-date in such a rapidly evolving field?
[Dr. Amy Jo Coffey] This field is constantly in motion, primarily because it is so technology-driven. Audiences consume content across multiple devices, including emerging platforms, and audience measurement and advertising dollars follow the audience. So yes, it’s a challenge, but this constant evolution also makes it an exciting field. We are fortunate to be able to draw upon current expertise from top industry leaders who sit on our advisory board as well as our full-time faculty to constantly update course content with the most relevant material to keep students abreast of changes in the field. So our courses are really part of a continuous improvement process designed to evolve along with the industry.
We also prepare students for life after our program by informing them of the sources they must continue to follow to stay current. The foundational training we provide on how to think about and approach data, data analysis, how to identify trends and patterns, interpret data, and be effective data storytellers, are all “evergreen” skills that prepare students for an industry that will always be in flux. An audience analyst is never “done” with their training. We must all continue to learn as our industry evolves to stay relevant, and with the foundations they receive, our graduates are equipped to do that.
[GraduateCertificates.com] Who is the ideal student for the Graduate Certificate in Audience Analytics? Could you explain the differences between the University of Florida’s MA in Mass Communication with a specialization in Audience Analytics, and the Graduate Certificate program in Audience Analytics, in terms of required coursework, learning outcomes, and professional development?
[Dr. Amy Jo Coffey] This certificate is a great fit for someone who has been in a professional role but realizes how analytics-driven the world has become and needs to “skill up” in this area. It is also a good way to prepare yourself for a promotion or to pivot to the marketing/communications or analytics realm, if you are not currently in that area. Some logistical advantages to the certificate include the lower cost compared to a full MA and a shorter time to completion. It’s a relatively quick way to add a credential to your résumé.
One of the other benefits of our certificates is that the credits earned can be applied towards the full MA, should a student decide to continue with their studies. Alternatively, the credits earned for a certificate can be applied towards degree requirements for most of our other MA concentrations, which allows students to tailor their studies and earned credentials to match their career aspirations. The main difference between the MA and the certificate is credits and coursework. The full master’s degree with Audience Analytics concentration is 36 credits. The certificate is 13 credits and is comprised of four of the existing courses within the MA degree plan.
In terms of student profile, I would say most students do come from a marketing/communications background, but that is neither a prerequisite nor a barrier to admission. We’ve had students from areas such as sports, finance and business, fine arts, hospitality and tourism, technology, education, human resources, and even health care. They realize they have an audience and that the audience analytics skill set is essential.
[GraduateCertificates.com] As the University of Florida’s Graduate Certificate in Audience Analytics is delivered online, what are the delivery/instruction methods employed in the program, and how do they facilitate interactions between course instructors and students in the online environment?
[Dr. Amy Jo Coffey] The certificate is primarily asynchronous, which is accommodating to working professionals because of the flexibility it provides. I say primarily because our instructors will often be available for real-time office hours or hold a special session via Zoom. However, they really try to work around student schedules and time zones to make it as convenient as possible. Students enjoy engagement and interaction with their professors via regular weekly feedback and mail in Canvas (LMS) and Zoom. Regular discussion postings on module topics create a rich, trusting, and collegial space for sharing.
Students really get to know one another throughout the semester and often stay in touch. We offer other opportunities as they arise as well, such as guest speakers and timely industry webinars. The engagement that faculty, staff, and peers cultivate with students throughout the program creates a strong foundation that continues after they graduate. Those who complete the certificate are also considered alumni, graduates of a Top 5 university and bona fide members of the Gator Nation.
[GraduateCertificates.com] What are the admissions requirements for the University of Florida’s Graduate Certificate in Audience Analytics? How are these admission requirements different from those of the Master of Arts in Mass Communication offered by the CJC? How do you recommend students put forth a competitive application to this graduate certificate program?
[Dr. Amy Jo Coffey] To apply for admission to our program, applicants must have obtained a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university. Students who have achieved a 3.0 GPA or better in their final 60-credits of undergraduate coursework meet our minimum GPA requirement. Applicants need to complete a formal application, pay a $37 processing fee and submit a résumé, statement of purpose and transcripts. International applicants are required to take an English proficiency exam. There are no other standardized testing requirements (e.g. GRE, GMAT). Students from any degree field are welcome to apply.
Our admissions committee reviews applicants through a holistic process. This means we take all information submitted into account and don’t just admit those with the highest GPA or applicants who graduated from top universities. We are looking for well-rounded applicants who have the potential to succeed in our program. We encourage applicants to use their Statement of Purpose to tell their story and explain any deficiencies that may exist in their materials. We have a dedicated admissions team for our graduate program, so we always encourage anyone with questions to reach out and have a conversation.
[GraduateCertificates.com] Outside of faculty guidance and support in classes, as well as office hours, what support structures are in place for students of the University of Florida’s Graduate Certificate program in Audience Analytics? Are the instructors who teach in the program current industry professionals, academics, or a mixture of both? How does faculty members’ expertise support students’ professional goals?
[Dr. Amy Jo Coffey] We have fabulous student advisors, who provide academic and personal support as needed to students, often with resource referrals. But yes, our instructors are rock stars! Most are industry professionals, including award-winners and persons highly sought after for their expertise. We also have full-time academic faculty who hold expertise in audience/consumer research and methods. Our faculty regularly share job guidance, industry contacts and job opportunities with our students.
Our online certificate students enjoy access to the same resources as any other student in the M.A. program and, for that matter, at the University of Florida. Students are students here, whether they are online or in-residence.
[GraduateCertificates.com] In your opinion, where do you see graduate certificate programs residing in the overall post-baccalaureate education landscape, and how do you see graduate certificate programs as a post-baccalaureate option evolving, as various industries from data analytics to strategic communication and web/mobile design continue to expand and change with the times?
[Dr. Amy Jo Coffey] Graduate certificates will continue to be in demand, as they represent formal acquisition of a skill set that is grounded in academic curricula. Certainly, there are many ways to upskill, including free online courses or certificates by various entities. But there is no guarantee that those paths translate to actual competency. By completing a certificate within a university, particularly one that is known for expertise in such an area, an employer can know with confidence that a graduate not only possesses those skills, but that they had expert faculty instructing them, evaluating them, and determining that they achieved the necessary level of competency.
Academic curricula, including ours, also tend to provide more context for the skills and can situate the learning within the broader landscape, providing a more holistic experience for the learner.
Thank you, Dr. Amy Jo Coffey, for your excellent insight into the University of Florida’s Graduate Certificate in Audience Analytics program!
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