Saturday, August 04, 2007

Meet the Teacher: Kelli Matthews

This week's "Meet the Teacher" features Kelli Matthews, who has her feet in the worlds of both academics (instructor, University of Oregon) and practice (managing director, Verve Northwest Communications). Kelli's blog, PRos in Training, focuses on and often features her students.

Q. How and when did you first get interested in blogging? What is the purpose of your blog? I know you're on Twitter; are you using any other social media?
I got interested in blogging a little more than a year ago. I was doing some research for a presentation I was giving to a local United Way and the search results results kept coming from blogs--specifically Kami Huyse's Communication Overtones, and Nedra Weinreich's Spare Change. While I'd certainly heard of blogs before, it really dawned on me doing that research that this medium could be so powerful. All of a sudden, two women I'd never heard of --and without their blogs, I would probably have NEVER have heard of them--are my "experts" for a particular topic. I used the blogrolls of these two "seed blogs" to build my own list. I began my student-focused blog in June of last year--114 posts later, I'm still having fun and haven't quite run out of things to say. Other social media --I'm on Twitter, but barely... I'm also in Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and MyRagan. I'm in SecondLife, but I'm still going through "training."

Q. Tell us a little about your school and how PR is taught there. What are the pros and cons of being both a professional and an educator?
PR at the University of Oregon is a major in the School of Journalism and Communication. We have five classes: Principle, Writing I, Writing II, Plans & Problems and Campaigns. The Intro class is a large lecture class (125 students), and all the others are between 16 and 20 students in size. The first writing class focuses on media-related writing and the second (which has only been part of our major for 2 years) is more direct to consumer writing. Plans & Problems is a case study class and in Campaigns the students work with real clients to do research, planning and implementation.

I think the pros of being both a professional and an educator far, far outweigh the cons. I am bringing daily PR experiences into the classroom and finding that my research interests and academic strengths enhance the work I do for clients. Students love that I practice PR and clients love that I teach--and I really love doing both. The biggest con is the time management factor. I have an 18-month old son, too, so it's really like having three full time jobs sometimes. But I have an incredibly supportive partner who gets to be a stay-at-home dad, so we make it work and somehow it does!

Q. How do you incorporate social media into the classroom? What would you like to do that you aren't doing already?
In Writing II, I have the students write an industry-focused blog (public relations, advertising and marketing). I also have them write a social media strategy for a client. Because this is a new class, there's some trial and error with the details of the assignments, but in both cases, the students appreciate being forced to focus on social media. In fact, at least two of my students got their first job or an internship because of their blogs. (I've got a pocket full of "I told you so!" for them and "Seeeee?!" for my future students). I also use social media tools to collaborate with students and share resources. I have a page that’s very PR focused. I use tags related to assignments to collect resources I think might be useful. I use Slideshare to share presentations with them, too. I think as the students become more familiar with social media and begin hearing about it more, thinking about it more and using it more, by the time I get them in the senior seminar style classes we can begin to think more critically about the tools and take the planning and strategy to another level. Right now they are babes in the social media woods, so it's sometimes difficult to even get beyond the basics. I'd like to take social media thinking and doing to a higher "level" with the upper-division students.

Q. Do you have any advice for other PR educators who may be considering starting a blog or getting involved in social media?
I think my advice would be to go for it. I think that we get hung up on the academics sometimes and have a hard time just communicating at a human level. You don’t have to be creating publishable work with every post. Just talk. Your students will listen. In my experience, they are eager for someone to help them understand why and how the hype is relevant to them and their careers. And and educators, what could be more important?

Q. I've noticed you incorporate a lot of video into your blog. Why is this important to you? What do you think it accomplishes?
Well, lately it's been because it's summer and I'm feeling lazy. But, the videos I choose are usually funny or particularly creative. I hope that students get inspired to think about what's possible and think about how to (re)create the share-ability of the videos that I post (or that they are sharing and posting in their daily lives).

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Thanks, Karen! It was fun thinking through the answers to the questions.
Oregon students love Kelli and her courses!
She's great with students and she's a superb team teacher. --UO colleague
Tom, I kind of had that feeling just from reading her blog. :)
It was great to read Kelli's interview and I am honored that I had anything to do with her getting into blogging. I love talking with Kelli's students, they ask such great questions.
Great interview! I was thrilled to read it. I loved the "pocket full of 'I told you so!'" and "Seeeee?!" That was hilarious, and I could easily envision it. Great job with bringing the subject to life. Go Kelli!
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"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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