Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Meet the (former) Teacher: David Phillips

This week's Meet the Teacher features David Phillips, formerly an instructor at Bournemouth University and, as he says, "now focusing on my PhD at Leeds Metropolitan University, leavened with consulting." I especially wanted to interview David because of a comment he made on one of my posts last summer, which made it very clear that Bournemouth is doing a lot more than most U.S. schools in terms of integrating social media into the curriculum. Here's what David had to say:

Q. How and when did you first get interested in blogging? What are the purposes of your blogs?
I go back a long way with the Internet. In 1995, I spoke to the Chartered Institute of Public Relations about the significance of the Internet. Most people did not have cell phones, or e-mail at the time. They were sceptical, it has to be said.

At that time interactivity online included chat and Usenet and pointed to where the Internet was heading.

The interruption came with Web sites and the dot-com bubble but all the evidence pointed towards improved interactivity. The marketers wanted to transpose their paradigm to the Internet and saw it as a channel and not a 'place'.

I chaired the joint Chartered Institute of Public Relations/Public Relations Consultant's Association Internet Commission in 1999 which really set the agenda and was heavily biased towards online relationship opportunities. We got it right - thank goodness. Most of the findings are in my books 'Managing Your reputation in Cyberspace' (Thorogood) and the CIPR book 'Online Public Relations' (Kogan Page). The latter coincided with Shel Holtz excellent book (Public Relations on the Net) in the USA - which is how I met him.

My first blog was about 5 years ago - I just wanted to try it out and really forgot about it until two years ago mostly because my web sites had discussion lists.

Tell us a little about your school and how PR is taught there. What would you most like to do with social media that you aren't already doing?
I am no longer with Bournemouth University but it has excellent Public Relations degree courses (MA and BA) and is one of the premier Universities for PR in the UK.

The BA course is a four year course with a year out in a placement with a consultancy or in-house department. The quality of placement is good so that in the final year, students come back with good practical knowledge to add to theory.

The BA course includes a number of compulsory and elective modules. Online PR is a compulsory, year long, module and is really about Internet mediated PR. Last year the cohort was 50, so its quite a big class!

I cannot speak for the course this year but this is what we did last year:

The course is taught using a (closed) wiki, and a lot of Internet driven technologies as well as a range of communication platforms (PC's, Mobile, Games consoles etc). Students are introduced to communications channels and, mostly, try them out inside the wiki.:
1. Blogs (and, now, microblogs)
2. Chat
3. E-mail
4. File Hosting
5. Games
6. Instant messaging
7. Message Boards
8. Monitoring, measuring, evaluation and reporting
9. Mobile
10. New Media Release
11. Newspapers Online
12. Online community portals/social networks
13. Online conferencing
14. Podcasts
15. RSS
16. Search engines
17. Surveys online
18. Tagging/folksonomies
19. TV to mobile
20. Usenet(Google Groups)
21. Videos
22. Virtual environments
23. vlogs
24. Web 2.0 media relations
25. Websites
26. Widgets
27. Wikis
28. VoIP

In groups, they are tasked to write a comprehensive description of each and have to collect enough information (I have a set of rules) to enable a PR practitioner to use these channels using the information provided. It's a tough call. This is all maintained on the student wiki and is available to all students during and after their time at Bournemouth.

In addition we identify case studies of each type of channel being used in practice and each student has to select a channel/case study and write it up, once again, on the wiki.

We spend a lot of time on value systems and planning and management and I insist on rigorous understanding of risk management as part of the plan.

Midway through the year they have an assignment. It is the same organisation for all the students and (with attribution) they can use each other's work to develop an Internet campaign beginning with analysis of the value systems of the organization and audit of their online presence. They are encouraged to use McQuail's 'Uses and Gratification' theory for online evaluation. Student just can't believe that each assignment will be different with all this visibility and transparency - its a very good lesson to learn.

Additionally there are lectures and seminars on: Motivation, meaning and use of interactivity; The internet as a social medium; Virtual communities; Monitoring, measuring, segmentation (and an introduction to user created social segments); evaluating and reporting; Value systems; The law; psychology of Internet use and application and future proofing (how the practice of PR can stay up to date with the evolution of the Internet).

Of course, a lot of the information they need is scattered across the Internet (some provided by me but mostly from the best online expertise I can find - e.g. the nature of Internet Transparency Agency and Porosity by me can be found at The New PR Wiki or the debates on Network Neutrality will come from Jonathan Zittrain at Oxford. This is added by both me and students to a bibliography (again on the wiki) which in a year becomes very extensive. Even then, I find that in assignments some students find new references requiring reading an evaluation as I mark their scripts - it's a tough life teaching online PR!

It is a very intensive 20 week module with a written (yes - dead trees and pens) 2 hour end of course exam.

One of the real problems is that this has heavy practical stuff and a high theoretical element (and, of course is controversial because much of it runs counter to a lot of PR theory - and so a lot of critical analysis). There is also a need for much more research and we need more PR students doing MA and PhD online PR research (I guess I could keep a cohort of post degree students of 50 going most of the time).

What is interesting teaching this module is how fast it changes. Last year we had the rise and rise of Facebook (why?) and Twitter (what?) and the huge shift from traditional Web sites to social media (when?) which called for analysis of the motivations for use and all the information needed to be able to us channel in PR practice and research.

Do you have any advice for other PR educators who are considering starting a blog or getting involved in social media?
I could not possibly advise other tutors about online PR. So many are so good.

It is fun to follow the exchange of Q&A on Facebook as students come to terms with Internet Mediated relationship management and I do make myself available in Facebook and IM (and Skype and inside the wiki using a number of channels as we experiment with them) at any time just to bring home the immediacy of the Internet and its range of channels.

I think the golden rule is 'never ask a tutor or student to use social media if they do not want to'. The cross over from personal and professional is all to narrow. This is why the student wiki is closed. You can make mistakes there that would not be helpful elsewhere.

The mantra I use to all students is that 'All you and say do online is cached by someone somewhere and potentially available for all time - so handle with care' and, yes, when I include it in an early lecture, a lot of them blush when they think about IM conversations with girl/boyfriends in the past - but they get over it.

I saw that your blog enables audio comments. Why do you think this is important, and do you think it changes how people interact with your blog?
There are few books, so each of us has to try or confirm the other's experiments. Over time I have had all manner of devices and widgets on one or other blog just to try them out. The outcome for the course is very satisfying.

With this background most students get jobs easily (it's a great talking point at interview, I'm told) and about a third get online PR responsibilities in agencies and in-house in the first three months.

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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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