Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Meet the Teacher: Ross Monaghan

This week's Meet the Teacher features Ross Monaghan, who teaches public relations at Deakin University in Australia. I think he makes an especially good point about social media allowing PR educators to connect--this has been one of the biggest benefits of my blog.

By the way, Ross, I would love to come to Australia one day, too. ;-)

How did you first get interested in blogging? What is the purpose of your blog?
It was soon after I became an academic in 2004. Deakin University makes extensive use of online teaching technology, so I thought I should quickly become familiar with what we now call "social media". I experimented with some anonymous Xanga and Livejournal blogs to get a feel for the blogging technology and how to write for blogs. James Farmer, the founder and CEO of Edublogs.org, worked at Deakin at the time, and we had quite a few interesting discussions about the future of social media and education. James introduced me to blogger.com and RSS feeds (I remember thinking at the time, what use are these?) and that’s when I really started my first public blog, PR Hits and Misses. It summarised some PR case studies I found online and allowed me to mention these cases in lectures, and refer students to my blog where they could find more information. In 2006 I received a grant to establish http://themediapod.net/, which is a blog and podcast site.

Tell us a little about Deakin University and how PR is taught there.
Deakin is my Alma Mater. I was actually in the very first intake for our BA (Public Relations) degree back in 1985. It's great to have come full circle. The PR teaching discipline is in the Faculty of Arts. We offer a range of professional communication and media streams for undergraduate and postgraduate students including PR, journalism, literature and professional writing. We have campuses in Melbourne, Geelong and Warrnambool, and have an extensive "off campus" student population in regional and metropolitan Australia, and around the world.

I’m very proud of our PR degree. We have an excellent team with a variety of research and industry experience. The theme running through all PR units is the need to be open, honest and transparent, and most of the team are also members of the University's respected Corporate Citizenship Research Unit.

You’ve also experimented with podcasting. Can you describe that project?
I received a grant from Deakin to establish a podcasting and blogging site. With my journalism colleague Colleen Murrell, we established http://www.themediapod.net/. Whilst it is very much an experimental site, it does show what is possible on a limited budget. Teaching staff, working practitioners and students are able to contribute to the site, although it is primarily used to highlight outstanding student work, and case studies produced by teaching staff.

In what other ways do you incorporate social media into the classroom? What would you most like to do that you aren’t already doing?
If I can think of a way of using social media, I usually try it. I'm not afraid of pushing the boundaries, or of making mistakes for that matter. I'm not exactly shy either, so I don't worry too much about making a fool of myself on YouTube or my podcasts! As an example, I produced a podcast by pretending I was 10 years old and back in 1976. I found copies of magazines and newspapers from the time and talked about the stories, and what I thought might happen in the future. The Independent of London found it, and reviewed it as part of a feature they did on 1976.

I also have Facebook and MySpace profiles to keep in contact with current students and alumni, and of course I’m contactable on Skype and MSN messenger.

This year I received a fellowship to look at Second Life. So far I've initiated a project with Red Cross Australia, conducted a virtual tour of PR agencies online, and arranged some mentoring via Second Life. I also use YouTube to explain certain aspects of my courses. Naturally Deakin has internal resources for hosting audio and video, but for nonessential academic activities I try to use external social media sites so that students experience how they can be used.

I’ve also used blogs to assist students to reflect on their PR internship experience.

I guess another use of social media in my teaching is establishing contacts such as yourself. If it hadn’t been for our blogs, we would never have met. I recently met a fellow IABC member and author, Ron Shewchuk, online and I interviewed him for theMediaPod. Ron is based in Canada. After the interview we had a long chat, which concluded with Ron saying, "I’d love to come to Australia one day". I made a few phone calls, and arranged for Ron to speak at a conference, and conduct a workshop for IABC here in Australia -- both of which paid for his trip. Whilst here, Ron gave a lecture for my students, and is now an honorary staff member interacting with students online.

Do you have any advice for other PR educators who are considering starting a blog or getting involved in social media?
I understand that it can be daunting. Writing a blog is a completely different process to writing an academic paper. You need to quickly produce concise information, often without checking and rechecking facts. You open yourself up to criticism through work produced in a hurry. Spelling mistakes and grammatical errors are par for the course, too. That’s scary for someone who teaches communication at a tertiary level. It was one of the barriers I faced - I was very nervous about my first couple of posts. I saved them as drafts, asked someone to proof them for me, and carefully re-read them before posting them live. I’m over my hesitations now. The benefit it brings me and my students is worth the occasional red face I experience when I notice bad spelling or grammatical mistakes.

So my advice is: jump in. Perhaps try an anonymous blog to start with. Dabble. Get a MySpace or Facebook profile. Upload some photos to Photobucket. Get involved. Invest some time, and there will be some fantastic, and probably unexpected, positive returns.

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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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