Friday, September 28, 2007

Meet the Teacher: Heather Yaxley

It's Friday at 9:30 p.m. and I'm just now getting around to this week's Meet the Teacher (amazing what gets accomplished once the child is safely tucked in bed). Fortunately, this week's featured PR educator is evidently much better at time management than I am -- as you'll see when you read about everything Heather Yaxley does. Heather made the top five on my "best PR blogs for students" list because of her consistently great content, which draws on her perspective as both an educator and a professional.

Here's what Heather had to say.

Q. How and when did you first get interested in blogging? What is the purpose of your blog? Are you using any other social media?
About 18 months ago, it became obvious that blogging was something that needed to be understood if you are interested in public relations and its future. Consequently, I organised a workshop led by Antony Mayfield who was writing about blogging in the short-lived PR Business magazine. He made it clear how easy it is to monitor and create a blog. So I started reading and decided to have a go myself. The Greenbanana blog was intended as an experiment initially so that I could gain a better understanding of the medium. It soon became apparent that I could use the blog to assist my students engage with topical PR issues, draw theory into reflections, make connections with other bloggers, engage in conversations, and gain some really useful online skills. One year on, my blog continues to do all this, but also acts to reflect my personal and professional "brand", which has opened up new opportunities for me and enhanced my credibility in PR more widely. As well as my blog and online educational site, http://www.greenbanana.biz/, you can find me on Facebook, and a few other social network sites. I also blog at the collaborative, international blog, http://www.prconversations.com/ -- and my avatar has been into SecondLife twice.

Q. Tell us a little about your school and how PR is taught there.
I have a portfolio of educational connections -- firstly in teaching the professional Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) qualifications. The students are all working in PR or, in the case of the Advanced Certificate, they may wish to move into the profession. Teaching for these qualifications is undertaken with day long teaching sessions over a 9 month period, supported by an online educational resource that I developed in 2006, http://www.greenbanana.biz/. That really helps in ensuring the course delegates are self-directed learners and enables connections to be made into the vast amount of discussion on PR available online. I also teach part-time at Bournemouth University, working with 4th year PR undergraduates on their dissertations and taking first year seminars. This year, my PR Theory and Practice seminars are actually with Advertising degree students. I think that is very exciting to be able to ensure they have a rounded perspective of PR -- and recognise it as much more than "free" publicity. We again support learning there with online and multi-media materials.

Q. In what ways do you incorporate social media into the classroom? What would you most like to do that you aren't already doing?
We’ve mainly be looking at the role of social media in PR terms -- so looking at case studies, exploring blogs and setting up monitoring using RSS feeds of particular brands or stories. We have looked at online petitions in respect of government relations and the use of YouTube in crisis management. I think Facebook will be a useful medium for communicating with the Advertising undergrads since they are pretty much guaranteed to be using it already -- and will be more comfortable with it than the University systems. I would like to investigate more the value of wikis as a learning resource and also gain skills to make better use of podcasts and video. What I would really like though is for the students to start challenging me rather than me having to introduce them to social media. As yet, there are few students who are active already in new media. Saying that, I had one CIPR Diploma student, Ellee Seymour, last year who was already an active blogger and very successful in using her site to campaign on issues that she cares about.

Q. Do you have any advice for other PR educators who are considering starting a blog or getting involved in social media?
I believe if you are going to start a blog, you need to be clear about its positioning and also committed to engaging in the wider blogosphere. As for anyone blogging, there are potential problems in respect of your personal and professional views compared to those of the institutes where you are employed. Having said that, I find the blog is a great way of giving students greater insight into PR and particularly, its wider relevance. For students, I think the social networks are more in tune with their lifestyles and this presents an opportunity to make a connection with them in a space where they are familiar. The problem potentially is maintaining a sense of distance -- there is a danger that they see the casual nature of the medium as appropriate for communicating matters that should not be done in that way.

Q. What are your thoughts on combining practice and education? What do you see as the pros and cons of having a foot in both worlds?
I believe we have to combine practice and education. I believe that if you are doing today, what you did yesterday, you won't be making a difference tomorrow. The world is changing so fast and the body of knowledge about PR is so vast, that if we aren't seeking to improve the way we practice PR, then we will be left behind. Practice that is informed by education means you avoid the obvious mistakes and can learn from others. Having said that, I believe there is also room for education that fundamentally challenges us regarding wider concepts in society. The benefits of having a foot in both worlds (boundary-spanning, I suppose), is that you can help students relate the models and theoretical concepts to their everyday life drawing on your own experiences. You can also challenge practice on the basis of principles and reflect on the value of theory in terms of whether it relates to real life experiences. The dangers are perhaps that you don't get the time to undertake your own reflection on theoretical concepts sufficiently -- although I'm hoping to start a PhD shortly, which will take me further into the academic world. Of course, my topic is intended to have application for practice too.

Q. You're the first educator I've interviewed who also writes for PR Conversations. How does that complement your own blog? How do you decide what to post to which blog?
I was very pleased to be asked by Toni Muzi Falconi to join the team at PR Conversations. My own blog reflects things that interest me and can be drawn from any source of inspiration. I see the posts on PR Conversations as a starting point to engage in discussing issues that are probably of wider interest in terms of public relations. I am particularly interested in the international collaborative process behind PR Conversations and the readers/commentators, who come from around the world. I learn as much from the conversation that ensues in the comments as from reading other posts -- and so I hope that my own posts will stimulate a good level of discussion that can be of value to readers. I generally think if it a topic is personal, local or quirky, it belongs on Greenbanana -- if it has greater international or PR dimensions, then could I take it to PR Conversations where others can participate in "chewing the fat".

Addition (October 2): I'm such an idiot! I just realized I failed to link to Heather's blog in my introducation. Sorry, Heather.

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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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