Friday, August 17, 2007

Meet the Teacher: Tim Penning

Last week at AEJMC I actually got to meet a fellow PR educator/blogger, Tim Penning, of Grand Valley State University. Of course I invited him to be the next participant in "Meet the Teacher." Here's what he had to say.

Q. How and when did you first get interested in blogging? When we met, you mentioned that you try to keep your blog focused on the local area; how does that relate to the purpose of your blog?
A. A friend of mine in D.C. has written for the Post about local blogs. It occurred to me that as social media advances, there will be occasions where local emphasis will be appreciated again. There are millions of blogs, thousands about PR, few if any about PR in my neck of the woods. I also see my blog as an extension of my role as an educator, to reach out to area professionals and comment on/start discussion about PR. It’s like an ongoing PRSA chapter event of sorts.

Q. Tell us a little about your school and how PR is taught there.
A. Grand Valley State University has grown rapidly in recent years. We now have more than 23,000 students. Our Advertising/PR major has grown from 280 students to over 500 in four years. The Ad/PR major is one of eight majors in a school of communications (i.e., not under a journalism dept. or business school). We have a communication core, and then students take most classes together for either advertising or PR consisting of three courses. We then require an internship and two electives. Our PR courses match the recently updated recommendations in the Commission on Education in PR Report. When I came to GVSU seven years ago I worked to add a research course, a tech course, and revised our writing courses. I’m pretty happy with it but realize from the recent AEJMC conference that we should always be thinking about freshening the curriculum and/or pedagogy. We try to blend theory and practice in how we teach PR--our school’s motto is "the integration of liberal arts and professional practice."

Q. In what ways do you incorporate social media into the classroom? Are you using any other social media? What would you most like to do that you aren’t already doing?
A. I have to integrate more. I am using the Blackboard software for all my courses. I have used discussion boards and offer links and supplemental reading only. It seems participation needs to be required to get students involved. I’m toying with podcasts and vidcasts, but not of my lectures. I want students to attend class! The cases would be interviews with area pros etc. as a social media version of a guest in class. I want to be sure I’m not just using tech for the whiz bang effect but that it enhances learning. The other thing I do is demonstrate how PR pros are using it, applying age-old principles to new media.

Q. Do you have any advice for other PR educators who are considering starting a blog or getting involved in social media?
A. Most importantly, have an objective. Secondly, be sure you have time. I did a "soft launch" to make sure I had time to do this regularly before I started letting people know it was out there. I have lots of students and alumni reading, which is a nice way to maintain relationships.

Q. I've noticed that your blog roll is an eclectic mix of PR, media, and other kinds of sources. Would you say this is indicative of your interests or your blog in general?
A. I aim to comment on advertising and PR in West Michigan. Sometimes that involves reports by area media. I haven’t had time to "report" and offer "scoops" on my blog often, though I will when I can. Mostly, my blog is commentary. I’m trying to offer my ideal, normative view of PR, to humbly offer that perspective to pros who see PR as only publicity or who may not always practice ethically.

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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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