Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Meet the Teacher: Bob Batchelor

This week I'm featuring Bob Batchelor of the University of South Florida -- he's relatively new to the blogosphere, but he sure caught my eye when he blogged about PR history! It's my area of expertise but, let's be honest, not one of wide public concern. ;-) Here are Bob's responses to my questions... it's the first time Johnny Cash has appeared in Teaching PR.

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?
My professional career in communications began roughly the same time the Web started taking off, which led to a longtime interest in technology. For example, I helped design and wrote content for a corporate Web site in 1996-1997 that was at the time state of the art. I do not recall an "aha" moment when the bulb went off regarding blogging, but rather my interest in the medium grew out of my writing for online publications. I used to write for some then-big Web sites, like and worked as a staff writer at in the heyday of the era. I also wrote quite a bit for Rick Shenkman’s History News Network (, which uses history as a vehicle for understanding today’s world. I see blogging as an extension of these attempts at creating a platform for myself as a popular culture specialist. My first (sporadic) blogging attempts began in March 2003 at Pop Goes Our Culture .

PR-Bridge grew out of my frustration with divide between the theory-laden, scholarly work going on among public relations academics and the buried under work, gut instinct driven world of practitioners. There are so many opportunities for true collaboration, but neither side (and they do seem like separate worlds!) seems that willing or interested in working with the other. I hope PR-Bridge grows into a place where some discussion can take place. My other hope is that professionals will recognize me as someone who can help them find new talent, thus getting my students jobs and internships.

Currently, I’m using a variety of other social media platforms, including personal and professional MySpace pages and a Facebook page. I also signed onto LinkedIn and MyRagan. I’m purposely avoiding most cell phone based social media, just because I like to be tuned out to have time to think, so I use my cell about twice a day to make short calls and in case of emergencies related to my two-year-old daughter.

Q. Tell us a little about your school and how PR is taught there.
The University of South Florida is the ninth largest university in the nation. We have gained a bit of notoriety over the last couple of years because the school football team joined the Big East and has been ranked. Also, there is a big push to become a nationally-recognized research university, so that has drawn attention.

Public relations is a sequence in the School of Mass Communications, which is approved by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, one of only 25 percent of the 450 journalism and mass communications programs in the United States accredited by ACEJMC. The School of Mass Communications requires students to apply for admission and pass an English diagnostic test, so most PR students are upperclassmen. My colleagues in the PR sequence include: Kelly Page Werder (sequence head), Kelli Burns, Rebecca Hagen, and Derina Holtzhausen, who is also the director of graduate studies. I also serve as faculty advisor for the Public Relations Students Society of America.

Public relations is a three-semester sequence, though students have strict requirements while completing the degree, from taking Mass Communications courses like Intro to Advertising and Beginning Reporting to taking management, marketing, economic, political science, and library research skills courses outside the major. Students take Principles of Public Relations their first semester. In the second, they enroll in Writing for Public Relations, Public Relations Research, and Public Relations: Issues, Problems, and Practices, which is a case study course. In their final semester in the sequence, students take our capstone Advanced PR, where they work in account teams for a real client. They also take PR Design that final semester. In addition, most of our students are juggling internships, jobs, and extracurricular groups, like PRSSA, Student Government, and a variety of activist groups and philanthropic activities. Most of our top students are graduating with two to four internships.

My primary class is Writing for Public Relations, though I also teach Principles and Issues on a regular basis. I also teach an introductory course Mass Communication and Society, which is a large course (I’ll have 300 students in January) that students from across USF can take. The PR sequence is difficult and we stress the competitive aspects of the profession. Based on my professional experience, I teach from an integrated communications perspective, which I feel best prepares my students for entering the field.

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?
I use blogging extensively in my courses. In the Writing classes, I make blogging part of their weekly assignments. Often, this entails giving the students a current article or op-ed to read and then having them post their responses on our internal (Blackboard-based) blog. Supplementing their textbook this way forces students to read about events and issues taking place right now and shows them the kinds of publications they should be reading to prepare themselves for their professional lives. I started experimenting with podcasting this semester. In the 45-student Issues class, I had them do group work and then each group answered the same four questions via podcasting. Next, they had to blog about the assignment after listening to the other groups’ podcasts. The student really enjoyed the work, so I plan to incorporate more podcasting in the future.

What I would like to do more of in the future is use Wikis as a way to build the class into an online community. Also, I hope to find a way to get more involved myself in the students' blogging efforts. Keeping up with them is a numbers game that I always seem to lose to some degree. That said, I am pretty harshly critical of myself as a teacher. I will always search for better ways to prepare my students, particularly by using new technology. In the future, I foresee this including actually teaching them how to build Web sites, blogs, post podcasts, and other technical skills that they lack as a group.

Q. Do you have any advice for other PR educators who are considering starting a blog or getting involved in social media?
Despite the effort that blogging requires, I find it valuable enough to dedicate the time. My priority is my students and blogging helps me understand social media better, thus giving me some credibility when discussing it as a teacher. My students are focused on building the skills necessary for them to succeed in the profession, so they want to know that I have the experience and background to teach them. PR-Bridge is a kind of "putting my money where my mouth is" exercise that shows students the value of social media. In fact, I challenged my students to build their own brand by starting a blog or joining the social media networks that I mentioned earlier. Here’s an example of a couple students who took me up on the offer: Meg Roberts and Tory Lynne.

On a personal level, I would love it if more PR educators blogged, particularly those who approach the field from a more scholarly viewpoint. There are big issues in this profession that need addressed and we could all benefit from more voices in the mix. For example, though I know Bill Sledzik by reputation, I had never met him prior to a recent exchange we had via blogging, looking at an issue from two divergent views. This conversation would have never taken place without social media.

Q. Like me, you're a historian, and you're currently studying for your doctorate in English Literature. What are your long-term career plans and how will you fit in your varied interests?
After a decade of corporate communications work, I needed a change of pace. Luckily, USF wanted to hire someone who had deep professional experience. But, academe requires a doctorate for tenure, so I took the steps to gain admission into the English Lit program at USF. I have always been a secret lit kind of guy, so working toward this degree has been a dream come true. The degree will help me get tenure and gives me a new perspective on teaching writing to PR students.

My primary goal, as audacious as it sounds, is to become the best college professor in America. That’s the kind of standard I hold myself to. I hope to write quite a bit in the future about how to best teach PR, which is another reason why I wish more of us were blogging.

As a scholar, nearly all of my work is broadly defined as popular culture. My long-term goal is to be a respected pop culture scholar, like my friend Ray Browne from Bowling Green State University. By labeling myself as a pop culturist, rather than narrowly defining my interests, I keep my work fresh and varied enough to encompass everything I want to write about. Currently, for example, I am working on a book on pop culture in this decade and editing a 4-volume encyclopedia on American pop culture in the twentieth century. My next project is editing a 3-volume series of original essays on cult pop culture. Then I’ll be onto a modern history of public relations, which the field sorely needs, and a short bio of Johnny Cash. I want to publish a book a year for about a decade then see what happens next.

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Small world. Bob's office is next door to my husband's office at USF. He's a good friend. GREAT PR teacher -- the students at USF really love him!

Ginger, who never blogs about PR (well, I did a little when I wrote about dealing with PF Chang's the other day...)
Ging, thanks to you that horrendous Disney World song has been running through my head all day. I will grant you that it's a small world. BUT... didja have to?!
I'll have to tell you more about my use of social media in my PR writing class -- it was very interesting and very good!

::Fleeing from threats over the small world after all song::
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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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