Saturday, April 29, 2006

Curriculum, Pt. 3

I was hoping for revolution, but I got reform.

The PR faculty had our curriculum meeting, and rather than dumping it all and starting from scratch, as I had hoped, the faculty chose to use the current curriculum as our starting point. We decided to take two mid-sized classes, Administration and Research, and make them into large lectures of 150-ish students. This opens up faculty slots to teach a few other classes on special topics--which are fun for us and serve our students by allowing them to learn about areas of specialization--while also allowing us to maintain the small class sizes for PR writing, graphics, and campaigns. We will review the process after a year to make sure it works for the students as well as or better than the current system.

The changes can't be instituted across the board until Fall '07, so we have a year to consider other ways of changing our curriculum. For example, the people who teach the PR writing class are going to meet to try to figure out the most effective way to teach it, maximizing student learning even though we have more and more students and the same number of faculty to teach them.

I was hoping for more flexibility in the curriculum, while most of the others wanted more control over it. The special topics classes will definitely give students more options, so I'm not entirely disappointed. And, my colleagues made a good point that our students and alumni are generally happy with their education (and we're working to address their concerns--the big one being a need for more business education), so why mess up a good thing? I know that updating is better than not, but I was ready for overthrow!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Somebody cares!

Fixing PR Undergrad Programs

Was surprised and pleased to see Todd Defren's comments on the undergraduate curriculum, and I join Richard Bailey in his mild discomfort with the discussion.

Anyone who reads this blog knows I'm concerned about the issue; but the feedback I've gotten through comments on the blog and through e-mail has been pretty one-sided: Teach Web 2.0.

Our graduates all say Teach Basic Business. To that Todd adds Teach Professional Etiquette.

Then all the nonprofit folks ask why they don't know how to write grants. And the education PR people wonder why they don't know more about development. And the corporate people think they should know more about advertising and marketing. And on and on and on. And let's not forget that although we are a professional program, we're also part of a university, so they have to learn more than just skills.

What I've come to realize, just in time since our first curriculum meeting is tomorrow, is that what our program needs is more flexibility. Students can't possible learn all of the things everyone wants them to learn and still graduate with the required number of hours of classes in mass comm balanced with the required number in general liberal arts education in four years (in fact, an increasing number of them already don't graduate in four years without adding all of these extra classes).

I'm going to suggest that we consider more 1-hour classes on special topics (up for a 5-week blogging class, Kaye Trammell?), which will allow students to choose from a menu of short courses and tailor a program to their own interests.

The drawback to faculty is that you'd have to teach the same class three times over in a semester, which could get a little repetitive. On the plus side, we'd get to teach more of our own interests, which include fundraising, international PR, history, ethics, political communication, activism, and more.

In order to manage this, however, we'd have to drop one required course as we're already at the maximum number of hours. So it would meaning combining other classes or losing something altogether. We'll find out tomorrow how creative UGA's PR faculty can be.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Class blog is (finally) a success

I created a members-only blog for my Campaigns class this semester, and after nearly four months it's finally working.

At the beginning of the semester, I posted items relating to whatever we were doing in class (such as, "here's a link to a good summary of how to do a focus group"). I also solicited input from professionals on similar topics ("here's how we're using a survey to help with employee relations") and on the job search process since the students are all graduating seniors. Each student was required to initiate a post or comment on a post with something substantive to add (a link, a related book title, something learned in another class) at least 5 times during the semester.

At first, with a few notable exceptions, they were incredibly reluctant to post. I limited the membership so they wouldn't have to worry about strangers reading it (one of my guest bloggers told them that his agency Googles and checks Facebook for all prospective employees, so now they're all blocking their sites), but some were uncomfortable with the software, some felt weird writing for the rest of the class to read, and others just plain procrastinated.

I despaired. I begged. I gave up.

Then the last month or so of their school careers rolled around, and they started to use the blog to bond over graduation, job search, and life transition issues. They posted with suggestions for moving, worries about finding jobs, and just general angst about leaving school. I never would have thought to post anything on these issues--but they made the blog their own. And two of the teams created blogs for their client, so they must be seeing some value to it. Not every teaching experiment works, but this one's worth repeating.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The results are in...

...and the PRSSA Bateman team I advised this year received an Honorable Mention.

I'm tempted to launch into a treatise on the programs that cheat (!) in this competition--Cathy Rogers, who advises Loyola's (New Orleans) wonderful, perennially-contending teams, investigated that subject as well as the judging procedures a couple of years ago--but for people who don't know me it might sound like sour grapes. So I'll just say that the five graduating seniors on our team did all their work between January and March with no help from anyone else, came in under budget, and told nothing but the truth in their book. They also learned a lot and voluntarily came up with a list of suggestions for next year's team, which tells you something about their character.

I am incredibly proud.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Diversity and difference

This month's PRecedent (the newsletter for UGA's PRSSA chapter) contains a really interesting article on diversity in public relations-- or maybe I should say really infuriating.

The article is by PR/Sociology major Geneva Greene, whom I do not know, and it makes the point that diversity should include more than just race but gender, sexual orientation, and so on. Even with a broad definition, the PR industry is not very diverse. The story goes on to cite various industry commissions and committees that have been set up to address this issue.

What infuriated me were the insights provided by a couple of recent Grady grads, both African-American. According to Ms. Greene, one of them was advised to use her middle name "because it was less ethnic," and the other felt he must cut off his braids in order to "conform to the mainstream professional image." She makes the point that even though minority employees are valued for the insights and skills they can bring, "distinctions" in name and appearance "are not welcome."

PR will never be diverse as long as young, talented people feel unwelcome to be different.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Reading research papers

I've spent several hours over the last couple of days reading and commenting on research papers submitted by faculty and grad students to the PR Division's annual paper competition held by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. I can't say much about it, because we use a double-blind review process (I don't know who wrote the papers, and the authors won't know who the judges were). If I mention the topic or other details, the authors might recognize their work.

Anyway, I read five papers that included a variety of topics and research methods. The quality was pretty good this year, and I'll look forward to seeing some of them presented in San Francisco.

The question is: what does this have to do with teaching PR? The short answer is, "not much." What I read won't directly influence how or what I teach.

The long, and more honest, answer is, "a lot." I read about areas that aren't my specialty (say, international PR, or fundraising). I saw how other scholars approach research problems, which can in turn inform my work. I even got to see my own research cited here and there-- which is the academic version of having someone link to your post.

So, even though this is the busiest time of the teaching year, I have to conclude I didn't mind spending a little time on research.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Curriculum, Pt. 2

The reponses to my Curriculum Manifesto are in-- and I'm surprised by the interest (thanks entirely to Josh at Hyku). I was especially glad to hear from the students at other schools.

Curriculum is a tough issue. As a faculty, you have to work together to figure out what students want and need for a career in PR, balance that with rules and recommendations made by accrediting and professional organizations (ACEJMC and PRSA, for example), and then figure out who among you can teach what you want to offer.

For example, the PR Comm class I teach eats up a lot of faculty time and energy. There are 16 computers per lab, so if you increase the size of the major, as we have at UGA in the past few years, it means adding more sections rather than having larger classes (we consider 15 or so the maximum number that a writing instructor can reasonably handle). If you add more sections of PR Comm, you have to offer fewer sections of something else, or make other classes bigger. Or, as I hope to do, you have to figure out a more efficient way to teach it.

So, it's not just a matter of us being lazy or purposely offering outdated curricula. Like everything else, it's a matter of balancing resources (time, money) with all kinds of expectations from internal and external constituencies.

As for UGA, my Manifesto unfortunately offended one of my colleagues, but the others are interested and agree that it's time for some changes, so we're having a meeting in a couple of weeks (it was a poor choice of words on my part that made it sound like I was denigrating a particular class, which was certainly not my intention). I'll post an update at that time.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Curriculum manifesto

Another bout with insomnia has left me with nothing to think about but the undergraduate PR curriculum at Georgia. It's virtually the same as it was 10 years ago, with the exception of an additional requirement for a research class.

Of course, individually we've changed the way we teach. Adding blogging, for instance, to the PR writing class is something I did for the first time last semester. But who says a PR writing class is necessary, or sufficient?

So I e-mailed a manifesto to my colleagues suggesting that we toss everything out and build a new curriculum from scratch. Now I have to wait for everyone else to wake up so I can find out what they think!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Teaching about blogging

So this week my PR Communication students are learning about PR uses of the Internet. I lectured for two hours on Monday, with fully an hour on blogging. My PowerPoint lecture was peppered with hyperlinks, and I even showed them my Google Reader page with headlines from lots of PR blogs (the two I happened to pull up were PR Squared and Micro Persuasion, if anyone cares). And yesterday they did a lab assignment where they had to enter a keyword of their choice into Blogdigger, read the first five posts that came up, and write a report about how blogs may or may not help with public relations research.

I was frankly disappointed after the lecture. The students were not very engaged and didn't even seem to think it was especially enlightening. The lab, on the other hand, opened some eyes. Their keywords, ranging from Howard University to Harry Potter, were things that they were personally interested in, so they liked seeing what other people had written. They found some posts interesting, some helpful, some oddities and, yes, even some porn (that would be keyword "ninja"). They seemed to enjoy the assignment, and I actually enjoyed grading their papers... but that's a subject for another day!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Preparing for a client pitch

Yesterday I had a guest speaker, Stephanie Sparks of the Atlanta office of Ketchum, in my campaigns class to discuss client pitches. I've got five teams, two each competing on two accounts, Athens Canine Rescue and Bellew's Tours, plus the PRSSA Bateman Competition team which worked for the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate. The teams' presentations are scheduled for the end of this month, and until now they've been so focused on research and strategy that they hadn't put much thought into the actual presentation.

Stephanie is a former student of mine-- I rely on them a lot for input into what I teach, sample materials, guest lectures, etc.-- and I enjoyed seeing how much she's learned in 3 years at Ketchum. She showed them some examples of winning pitches (evidently they're on a hot streak these days), and talked about Ketchum's new business process.

I got another Grady grad, Nadine Randall, now working on the client side, to provide some comments about what clients are looking for in the presentation for the class blog (sorry, members only).

Here's hoping the students are getting fired up despite the onset of acute senioritis.

Update: more (and better) on this topic in a more recent post.

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Why a blog about PR education?

I have two reasons for starting this blog. First, it will give me an opportunity to reflect on my teaching and ways I can improve it. One of the benefits of teaching at the university level is the freedom to do what we think is best in the classroom, but one of the drawbacks of that freedom is that there are few formal structures for helping us evaluate how it's working (end-of-semester student evaluations being the most common). By helping me focus on teaching on a more daily basis, this blog will be a success even if no one but me ever reads it.

However, I hope it will also give non-academics a glimpse into what we do and why we do it. In the last few weeks, I've seen several blog posts about how students are unprepared or unaware about blogging. And people seem to want to blame faculty for it. Yet at the University of Georgia, at least two of us teaching in the Ad/PR department (myself included) are using blogs as classroom tools-- so I know we're doing more than people realize. Moreover, some of my students who read those posts said that they have learned about blogs in various classes, and one even argued that students have a responsibility to learn something about blogging whether or not their professors have discussed it in class!

Perhaps this blog can clear up misconceptions, and perhaps people's comments on what I'm doing can help me help my students. Thanks for checking in!

"More important than the curriculum is the question of the methods of teaching and the spirit in which the teaching is given" --Bertrand Russell

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