Monday, July 31, 2006

AEJMC convention

I'm off to the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication meeting in San Francisco. Among other things, I'll be hearing papers on blogging, PR, and media history; commenting on 4 papers that touch on one of my favorite topics--ethics, credibility, and PR's reputation; taking over as chair of the Membership Committee; meeting Phil Gomes, who's speaking at the Edelman/Bill Adams luncheon; and seeing lots of old friends.

And, I'm taking my first-ever red-eye flight home. Wish me luck!

Friday, July 28, 2006


One thing I know I need to improve as a teacher is my ability to lead discussions. This has always been a problem for me-- I will always remember teaching my first class as a graduate student and being stunned when the class ended after 40 minutes (instead of 75) because no one had anything to say. Prior to that I had thought discussions just happened. Fifteen years later I know that collaborative learning asks students to listen and learn from each other, but someone has to start the conversation and keep it moving-- and that would be me.

I recently read a chapter from Brookfield and Preskill's book, Discussion as a Way of Teaching, which was posted on Rick Reis's listserv for educators, Tomorrow's Professor (subscribe at It lists several kinds of questions that can keep class discussions moving forward:

*Evidence questions (How do you know that?)
*Clarification questions (What do you mean? What's a good example of that?)
*Open-ended questions
*Linking or extension questions (How does your comment fit with what X said? Does your idea challenge or support what Y wrote?)
*Hypothetical questions (What if...?)
*Cause-and-effect questions
*Summary and synthesis questions (What are the 2 most important ideas? What ideas are still unresolved?)

The problem I will have is remembering these ideas once we're in the middle of a discussion--it's hard to pay attention to what the students are saying while at the same time thinking about where the conversation could or might go from here. Next time I'm planning a lecture-discussion, I'm going to try making a list of 2-3 of each of these kinds of questions so I can pull from it if the conversation slows.

What are your favorite questions? (Don't worry, that one was rhetorical!)

Monday, July 17, 2006

Teaching multicultural PR

Just finished reading Donnalyn Pompper's 2005 article on "Multiculturalism in the Public Relations Curriculum," for which she held focus groups with African-American women to find out what they thought about how multiculturalism is taught in PR classes.

"Topic guide probes regarding classroom attention to multicultural diversity met spontaneous laughter in each of the four cities, indicating that virtually no respondents had public relations classes that covered multicultural diversity in any way," she reported.

A list of a number of some suggestions the women made to improve teaching of diversity:

1. Hire more full-time faculty of color
2. Reach out to high-school students
3. Workshops or training sessions for faculty
4. Field trips to minority-owned agencies and guest lectures
5. Use multicultural cases and clients in class
6. Revise textbooks to include pictures/case studies involving ethnic groups
7. Teach business negotiation skills and interpersonal persuasion strategies for dealing with office politics
8. Ask PRSA and NBPRS to provide internships and mentoring

I think we're doing pretty well at UGA-- we maintain a list of multicultural project assignments, guest speakers, graduate student and faculty research, and campaigns clients that belies Pompper's conclusion-- but undoubtedly we can do more.

Item #1 is of particular concern. Of our 9 full-time PR faculty, only one is classified as a minority. Last year, when I chaired our search committee to find a new assistant professor, I made sure that we made a special effort to recruit minority candidates, right down to writing personal letters and contacting advisors to identify candidates, yet in the end there were very few qualified minority applicants. Obviously as a field we need to do a better job of recruiting minority graduate students to earn Ph.D.s and get out there and teach.

In the meantime, I really latched onto one thing Pompper's focus group members mentioned: the importance to several participants of African-American adjunct instructors. I intend to find out if we can tap into this market as a way of bringing diversity to our department.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Philip Young e-mailed to let me know that the new issue of "Behind the Spin" is out, and --although I'm a little slow getting around to reading it-- I am really impressed. I especially loved the idea of PR speed dating and am passing it along to our students in hopes that they'll try it next year.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Seeking comments: teaching philosophy

Several associate professors at Grady College are building teaching portfolios this summer. My goal in participating is to think about how I teach and what I can do to improve, because as a tenured professor I can afford to take risks and do some experimentation in the class room.

Our first step is to write a statement of teaching philosophy. Below is the draft I'm submitting to the group. It's long, but I welcome any comments, pro or con, while I have time to reflect and revise on it. The final version will (eventually) be posted on the Grady Web site. Here goes:

The dominant paradigm in public relations calls for symmetry between an organization and its publics. Based on Jurgen Habermas’ concept of an “ideal speech situation,” this paradigm suggests that even though an organization may be more powerful than its constituents, the relationship between them can still be ethical if the organization engages in real dialogue and relationship building with other groups. This model is normative, however, and rarely describes what actually happens in organizations. This is reflected in how public relations is usually taught: one study found that although the most popular PR textbooks all advocate symmetry, the majority of each book focuses on how to persuade publics to agree with the organization’s views.

In contrast, the “new PR” or “PR 2.0” stems from “social media” communication channels like blogging that allow for dialogue and collaborative decision-making between an organization and members of its publics. Its primary characteristics include conversation, transparency, loss of control, collaboration, multiple methods of message delivery, and authenticity. These characteristics mirror many of my beliefs about what happens in the classroom. In fact, to me, teaching is like the new PR.

As I see it, my responsibility as a teacher is to facilitate learning by developing a role for students in creating and sharing knowledge. Because I see learning as active and collaborative, I try to develop conversation between instructor and students, student and other students, and students and outside sources ranging from reference librarians to public relations professionals. For example, I regularly require students to work in teams, make oral presentations to classmates, post comments on weblogs about public relations, and write public relations materials based on current public relations cases or with actual clients.

Transparency in teaching refers to explaining to students what we’re doing and why. Sometimes this occurs in the classroom, as when I tell students which clients they’ll be working with or why we’re studying one organization rather than another. But it also happens on my blog, Teaching PR (, where I write about issues relating to teaching and where students, former students, and anyone else is free to comment on what I write. I have used the blog to develop assignments, discuss curricular issues, communicate with professionals, and even just complain. Transparency leads to another characteristic, however, that isn’t always easy: loss of control. As soon as I post on my blog, I lose control of what other people think or say about what I’ve written, and people frequently post comments disagreeing with what I’ve said. Of course, like a large corporation, a blogger never has had control of what people think or say; what’s different is that open communication by its nature invites criticism as well as praise. If people learn most through exchange, then the conversation should lead to better teaching over time.

Although my teaching load centers on undergraduate public relations courses, I have found that collaboration works in other classes as well. When I teach graduate seminars, whether on public relations or on media history, students are expected to produce original research, but I ask them to collaborate in the sense that throughout the semester they are given opportunities to share problems and ask each other questions about their work. These discussions range from advice on relevant communication theories to more mundane topics like how to search Internet databases more effectively. Whenever possible, I also offer students the opportunity to contribute to decision-making about which topics should be covered in a course and to follow up on things that interest them. After a seminar on PR management, for example, a group of five students worked with me on an independent study about catastrophe management, which included a trip to New York City to meet with experts on crisis communication.

One of the criticisms of the idea of “second-generation PR” is that it hasn’t really displaced the “old” PR. The practice is still grounded in persuasion; most people don’t use blogs or other social media; and most organizations aren’t willing to cede control of decision-making to collaborative conversations. This also applies to teaching. There are specific theories, principles, formats, and methods that students must learn in order to perform in their jobs and to understand the field. This means that the lecture-discussion format, like traditional PR methods, remains an important part of teaching, one that I certainly have not abandoned. However, I find PR 2.0’s emphasis on multiple methods of message delivery worthy of emulation. As I see it, my role is to present information, make resources available, point students in different directions, give a variety of assignments that require different types of learning, and allow students to take charge of their own education.

Active learning and collaborative learning are popular buzzwords now, and the use of the computer or Internet in teaching is frequently advocated as appealing to the current generation of students. I have always focused on “participation” or “hands-on” work, because this is inherent in public relations practice. This, to me, is where authenticity comes in. It seems only appropriate to me to push past participation to collaboration by granting at least some of the power in the classroom to the students. This can mean transparency in admitting, “I don’t know, but let’s find out,” or collaborative decision-making in giving the students an assignment and letting them take charge of how they will approach it with only minimal guidance from me. By modeling characteristics like conversation, transparency, and collaboration, I can show students how the new PR might work and at the same time teach them to think critically and creatively, employ a variety of tools and methods, and become confident in their own abilities to identify and solve problems—skills that should serve them in public relations and in life.

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

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?