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A Disneyland component is being added to Professor Zanolla's Comm 379 class this spring.


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WIU students are photographed at Disney World in Spring 2013.


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WIU students are pictured in front of Cinderella's Castle during the Spring 2013 semester.

Zanolla Expands Disney Course at WIU

September 11, 2013


MACOMB, IL - After debuting in Spring 2010, Western Illinois University Instructor David Zanolla’s “Disney World Communication Culture” (Comm 379) course is taking on another dimension this spring.

Zanolla’s class is known as his “dream course” in which students travel to Florida and learn about effective communication in cooperation with Disney World. This year brings a whole new twist, however, with the class also traveling to California to visit Disneyland, as well.

This is the fifth year for Zanolla’s course trips, which became a reality after he visited Disney World numerous times with his family and noticed examples of things he discussed in his introduction to human communication course. Zanolla saw the trip as a learning opportunity for students to help them understand and apply material they learn in the classroom.

In 2009, Zanolla approached the Honors College with the idea for the course, and after two years, the course was requested through the WIU Department of Communication.

A communication course like this is not available anywhere else in the country. Numerous other faculty members from other universities have approached Zanolla with inquiries on how to develop such a class, but it has yet to be replicated.

“As far as I’ve found, I’m the only one with a travel-centric course focused on the communication culture of the theme parks,” Zanolla said. “There are others in different fields that teach similar courses, and I’ve been able to speak with some of them in the chance they can learn from my experiences over the past four years of offering the course.”

The addition of the Anaheim, CA, trip to the curriculum means a student travel opportunity to the birthplace of the Disney theme parks.

For the past four years, Zanolla has been relying on pictures and videos to teach the Comm 379 class about the history and heritage of the Disney theme parks. He finally realized that the best way for students to learn is the same way he developed the course, by being there and embracing it for themselves.

“This is a chance to not only visit, but to interact with the originating location of a culture that now has 11 theme parks,” Zanolla said.

Students have a few requirements that have to be met before taking part in the course. as well as gaining permission from Zanolla. The main objective of the course is for students to ask themselves, “What is the ‘way of life’ in the organization and how is that way of life communicated to those both inside and outside of the organization?”

Zanolla’s purpose is “to show students that, not only is it possible to continue learning outside of the classroom, but it can happen in a place one wouldn’t normally think learning occurs.”

Students will be taking various tours offered directly from Disney and also take part in master classes lead by Zanolla. Before visiting Florida and California, each student must choose a subject to focus on for a final research project. Therefore, the students will use their in-park experiences to develop an observational cultural analysis.

Zanolla said he enjoys the chance to see the in-class material come to life when the class visits Disney World, and now Disneyland. He gets a sense of relief and satisfaction when students realize how much the culture of Disney makes sense after taking part in the course.

“Basically, I love hearing students tell me they ‘get it,’” he said.

Zanolla hopes students not only learn about the culture of the Disney parks, but also are able to realize how important communication interactions are to everyday life. These interactions could be anywhere: with family members, significant others or even a Disneyland theme park.

Applications for this spring’s course are due Oct. 4 and are available at wiu-sa.terradotta.com/?go=disneyparks.

Posted By: Kolette Herndon, University Relations
Phone: (309) 298-1993 * Fax: (309) 298-1606