What’s Changing for Fall 2015? Experimenting With My Principles of PR Semester-Long Project

Happy start to the semester!

I want to quickly provide an update on my plans this fall as we are jumping right into classes here at Shepherd University.  Longtime readers know that I like to start the semester by highlighting fun changes to my classes as I constantly work to improve the education I provide my students.

Innovation, experimentation, and iteration are at the heart of what we do as educators. So the beginning of the semester is an exciting “rubber meets the road” time for all of us.

changefall2015

This semester, I’ll highlight my Principles of Public Relations class – our overview course for students in the Strategic Communication concentration. This is a class I haven’t talked about on this blog, even though this class of course does cover some about social media (That’s because, on this blog I have tended to focus on more upper division classes that target social media specifically, and which go into greater depth).

To switch things up, here’s a word on a fun change for my Principles of Public Relations for Fall 2015:

The big development here is that I have updated my “semester long assignment” for the semester into a two-part project. Originally, students worked in teams to address a mock scenario involving an online clothing retailer. I loved this assignment. Students had so much fun and it was an amazing opportunity to see the creativity of our diverse group of students here in the department. The project brought in talents developed in our array of multimedia classes. Each semester, students would impress me by their videos, websites, print materials, and social media.

Yet, I felt this assignment needed to be tightened up. Perhaps because I provided such creative freedom, there could sometimes be a lack of depth or critical learning regarding the application of course content to message design and strategy. Instead, there tended to be too much focus on creating glossy content.

In their presentations, students were proposing generic solutions that sounded in my head a bit like: “Social media will solve all their problems.” I sighed, provided feedback, and wondered how I could help students starting off their education in public relations gain a more detailed, specified understanding of various communication channels (both established and emerging) and how they could be used to address a problem or goal.

To address this, I’ve added an assignment that comes earlier in the semester where students have to learn about, and present to the class, an educational workshop about an established or emerging channel for reaching a target public. For example, students will choose from a list including native advertising and Google Hangouts On Air.  In this way, each group educates the other groups about the channel, its affordances, and cases where the channel has been used in creative or innovative ways to achieve a communication goal. Once the students know a bit about their channel, they will move on to the second part of the project.

Like in the past, this entire project is built around a mock scenario. In the second part of the project, each team comes up with a strategy for using their channel in the context of the mock scenario. In other words, the team focuses narrowly on their channel and how it could be used. This emphasis on depth should provide a more nuanced understanding and a more targeted application of course concepts to a mock scenario.

Yes, it is a trade off. But, I believe this will better prepare the students as they move into the more advanced courses. I will have to take the greater depth at a loss of breadth – that is, the array of proposed strategies to addressing the problem that I got with the old way I did this assignment. Still, I believe learning a more in-depth understanding of one channel and how to really prepare a plan for its application at this stage in the game is better than getting a bevy of proposed solutions that have not been well thought through – a sort of ‘throw it against the wall and see what sticks’ approach.

My aim is that students will be able to take this depth of experience in one channel and put it to practice in various scenarios as they move up in their studies. What do you think?

Let’s see how it goes. :) I’m excited to find out!

I wish everyone the best as they dive into the semester and hope that your innovations, changes, and experiments in the classroom go great!

-Cheers!

Matt

photo CC by TW Collins

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Why We Must Consider Social Media Certification Programs as Part of Social Media Education Curriculum

I just got back from an amazing #AEJMC15 conference in San Francisco.

There, my colleagues and I had the pleasure of presenting our study, “Hootsuite University: Equipping Academics and Future PR Professionals for Social Media Success,” as the top paper in teaching pedagogy in the Public Relations Division. I had the pleasure of working with some truly awesome social media professors!

hootsuiteuniversityresearchstudyThis was such a rewarding experience because this is such an important area of research. We expect our students to excel in a workplace that is evolving alongside lightning-fast changes to our media environment. But for them to succeed, it is vital that both educators and professionals in the social media space continue to explore what an education in social media entails.

There are big challenges ahead for all of us in the social media space. And there are lots of questions.

My colleagues and I have explored social media education certification programs as one avenue for helping students get the training they need to excel as professional communicators in a social media world. And this is an area that shows a great deal of potential that warrants further exploration and discussion. But many people aren’t familiar with social media certification programs and not enough is known about how to effectively use them.

  1. How can these programs benefit social media educators?
  2. To what extent do social media certification programs help students prepare for careers as communication professionals?
  3. How do employers perceive social media certification programs? Are they valuable? Why?

Educators, students, and business professionals have a vested interest in exploring the potential benefits of social media education certification programs and how these programs can be best utilized.

Hootsuite University is a social media certification program aimed at preparing professionals for expertise in the Hootsuite social media dashboard software. It also enables individuals to demonstrate proficiency in professional social media use.

SXSWedu Panel

To continue the conversation on how social media certification may benefit social media education, my colleagues (Emily Kinsky, Karen Freberg, and Carolyn Mae Kim) and I have put together a panel proposal for 2016 SXSWedu titled: “Incorporating Social Media Certification In Class.” Panels are accepted based on popular vote.

The panel will explore Hootsuite University and how professors can work with students to sharpen digital skills in today’s rapidly changing media environment. We aim to provide insights from our research as well as share key skills, tips, and takeaways from our own experiences for enhancing social media savvy among employees and students.

There’s no doubting that social media education is a vital area of skill and understanding for today and tomorrow’s communication professionals. And social media certification programs may help fill that role.

Presenting this panel at SXSWedu, such an important venue for the intersection of technology and education, would allow us to reach a wider audience, sharing best practices for using social media certification programs like Hootsuite in the classroom to enhance social media education.

To help us accomplish this mission, please support us by voting for our panel.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on or experiences with social media certification programs, or how we can continue to grow and adapt as a field to ensure students today are being prepared to excel in the social space.

Thank you so much for all of the support I’ve gotten as I work in this space. It means a great deal to me. And thank you for voting for our panel and for sharing this article!

Post originally published on LinkedIn.

Hootsuite University and social media education research to be presented at #AEJMC15

#AEJMC15 is just around the corner! This year I am truly thrilled to be traveling to San Francisco to co-present a study about social media education in the college classroom.

sanfran

Our study, titled “Hootsuite University: Equipping Academics and Future PR Professionals for Social Media Success”, investigated perceptions among students, faculty, and professionals of the social media certification higher education program, Hootsuite University, as part of a college social media course (I’ve written a bit about my own use of Hootsuite University in my social media class in the past).

The paper will be presented at the Top Teaching Papers session @ 9:15am, Sunday August 9 in Salon 15 (Conference program).

On this project, I had the pleasure of working with some truly awesome social media professors (Emily Kinsky, Karen Freberg, Carolyn Mae Kim, and William Ward). If you do not follow these folks, I strongly recommend it. They are great educators and inspiring resources for social media education.

Come see our presentation to learn more about our study and our findings. Tweet at me @mjkushin and please come say hello in person. I always love to meet friends and colleagues from the web.

Also, this year I’m excited to have been recruited to join the Public Relations Division Social Media Team. I’ve always loved the social media sharing the PRD does and their yearly coverage of the AEJMC conference leads the field. I’m looking forward to meeting the fellow team members and helping plan some great content for the upcoming year.

Hope to see you @ #AEJMC15!

-Matt

photo: CC

Web Round Up: Social Media Education Videos, Google News Labs, and Link Building

Summer is a great time for finding new resources to share with students in the classroom. And with that in mind, I want to share a few readings and resources you may find useful to use this fall in your classes, or just may want to stay on top of.

Social Media Education Videos – Online @UCF has a series of awesome social media videos called “The New Social” that appear to be produced by UCF’s Center for Distributed Learning. These brief videos cover a range of topics and you may find them very helpful to incorporate into class lecture or to assign students to watch at home. Here is Dr. Melissa Dodd’s list of “The New Social” videos on Vimeo.

New Google Labs Could Help Content Marketers from PR Daily – This is something to keep your eye on! Google just launched Google News Lab, a collaborative tool for working with journalists. The tool appears to enable journalists, and content creators more broadly, to harness Google’s data and resources in content. I’ll be interested to see how it is used in the months ahead. The PR Daily article offers some ideas for how content creators could harness the tool. I’m also excited to see if and how journalism professors explore this resource. p.s. Love the clips in the video of what looks like the Newseam in DC.

A PR Pro’s guide to link building from PR Daily – Link building is something I discuss in both my Writing Across Platforms and Social Media classes. The idea makes sense to students but this article provides an explanation of how to go about gaining links from authoritative sites . p.s. In explaining link building to my classes, I like to use the analogy of a student’s reputation in school. If lots of people are talking about you (linking to you), there must be something important and noteworthy about you (credibility). If the really cool people (authoritative websites) are talking (linking) about you, you must be really cool (higher credibility; authority). But if you associate with troublemakers (spammy websites) and they’re talking about you (linking), you’ll lose some of that ever-important credibility (with Google).  Kind of silly, but it helps the students easily understand the importance of inbound links.

Hope your summer is going great!

– Cheers!

Matt

Theory and Research Breeding Fear and Loathing In the Classroom? They Don’t Need To

I can’t believe it is mid-June! It has been a busy summer. The highlight so far has been 2 weeks in Spain. While the first few days I helped run a booth at an international meeting, the majority of the trip was spent backpacking via train.  I saw Gijon, Bilboa, Seville, Cordoba, Ronda, Toledo, and (for a few hours before catching a flight) Malaga. It was absolutely amazing!

With all that said, a blog post is well overdue!

Puente Nuevo in Ronda Spain

Puente Nuevo in Ronda Spain

One thing I’ve spent a bit of time this summer doing is preparing a new class I am hoping to teach in the spring or the following fall semester. The course is a persuasion course. It aims to enhance exposure to theories and research of influence and persuasion among students in the (still new) Strategic Communication concentration, and our department generally.

As the coordinator of the Strategic Communication concentration, I believe the students would greatly benefit from a focused look at how theories of persuasion and research findings in persuasion can be applied ethically in professional communication settings to improve message effectiveness. Of course, we talk about such concepts here and there in other classes. But, I am excited about having an entire course aimed at getting students to learn these concepts, evaluate their use in real-world examples, and work on a project aimed specifically at applying theoretical concepts to the design of a persuasive campaign (In this assignment, my students will pick a cause they want to advocate for).

I’ve been thinking about this class for the past few semesters. But what truly motivated and solidified my going forward with planning this summer is the very interesting series on the Institute for Public Relations website on behavioral communication. This great series highlights the importance of understanding social scientific research from various fields and its implications for communication professionals.

In his opening post on the series, Christopher Graves states: “When we approach public relations challenges such as changing perceptions, changing people’s minds on an issue, building engagement in climate change or changing behavior related to health, or restoring trust, we tend to gravitate toward intuitive solutions based on creative concepts. Yet we may be working on a false premise from the beginning (“doing the wrong thing righter”). Increasingly, behavioral and neuroscience research related to communications and decision making can better guide us into communications solutions that have a better chance of working.”

While the series focuses primarily on behavioral and brain-related studies, it makes a wider point for the importance of looking to applying research and theoretically-tested assumptions over intuitive assumptions. I always joke with my students that their fear and loathing in the college classroom centers on two words: Theory and Research.

I’ve heard my students express disgust and fear when it comes to theory. I’ve heard discussions among professors that students simply hate theories and research which leads to the question, what should professors do about it? Do we stop teaching theory and focus on more practical things? Do we use a tough love approach and teach students theory, paining both ourselves and our students through dry, intense lectures?

I believe this is a false dilemma. And I believe it stems from not seeing (or showing to our students) the applications of theory and research to practical settings. In a class such as the one I’m designing,emphasis should be given to bridging this gap.

A major goal I have is to help students overcome their aversion to theory and research and to help them see its practical value and importance. We can do so by highlighting examples where theory and research have helped inform effective message design, or by deconstructing an existing message to analyze what theoretical concepts or present or lacking. But we can also do it by taking the time in our classes to demonstrate how a theoretical concept or findings can be applied to a practical situation to better achieve communication goals, thus leading to desired outcomes. In my persuasion class, I plan to have sections of lecture called “Theory into Practice” where, after presenting a theory, I explain how that theory could be applied in a given scenario. I’ll also use mock scenarios students have to work through in class to apply concepts and solve a communication problem – such as through in-class simultaneous response prompts.

Ultimately, it is my goal to have students leaving the class not only more aware of persuasive strategies that can be used, but motivated and adept at using them in their coursework across the concentration (and of course, in their careers once they leave Shepherd). This, in turn, will help them become more cognizant communicators with an empirical mindset towards the choices they make as communication strategists.

It is more important than ever for our students to understand why certain approaches work and others don’t and be able to make informed, research-driven recommendations.

I know this is something we all work towards. I would love your thoughts and suggestions on how you help students see the value in theory and research and bridge the gap between “Oh, this is just stuff I learn in class” to “Oh! This scenario calls for me to apply what I’ve learned to be more effective.”

Cheers!
-Matt

 

Teaching Students to Use iPads for Survey Data Collection (2 of 2)

In my last post, I wrote about a Comm Research project where students use iPads for survey data collection.This is my favorite of the 3 projects we do in my Communication Research Class (see all posts on Comm 435; see syllabus).

This week, I want to follow up by discussing how to program the surveys to work on the iPads. I’ll talk through how I teach all of this in class and through activities.

Lastly, I’ll explain how I prepare the data for use in SPSS.

Once students have created their surveys, we need to get them onto ONA.io

Programming surveys to work on ONA.io – the free, open-source tool used by my class and researchers around the world – is a little tricky. It follows XLS formatting. Once you get the hang of it, it is super easy. And it is quick to teach and learn.

I go over this online Lab Guide (http://bit.ly/435_lab_digitalsurvey) that I created on how to program XLS forms in class. I then provide students with a practice activity to create a survey in Excel or Google Spreadsheets. The activity asks students to create:

1) A question of how many years they are in school

2) A check all that apply question – I usually pick something fun like their favorite movies from a list

3) A likert-style question. Ex: How much they like binge-watching on Netflix.

In sum, they practice creating an integer, select_multiple, and select_one question.

Once students get the hang of it, they log into an ONA.io account I create for the class. Next, they upload their practice survey to test in class using our department’s iPads. But, this could be done on a phone or even a computer itself (Instructions on how to do this are in the lab guide).

The #1 thing, is that things have to be done exactly in this formatting. So, little errors like forgetting to put an _ (and putting a space instead) for “list_name” will result in ONA.io kicking the survey back and telling you there is an error. If a mistake is made, no problem. Just fix your form and re-upload.

I check to make sure everything is done correctly. This saves time when they program their own surveys. If everything is good, I give students lab time to work on formatting their surveys and help out as needed.

After everything has been uploaded successfully – this usually takes time outside of class, so I make it due the following class – students are ready to go out into the field. This is where the fun happens!

Students always get great feedback when they use iPads to collect survey data. People tend to be interested in what they’re doing and happy to participate. Some students this year told me that people came up to them around campus and asked if they could participate. That is much different than the usual online survey where we often struggle to get respondents! I can’t express how rewarding it is to see students go out into the field, collect data, and come back having gathered data no one else has before. For most of them, this is their first time doing data collection of any kind. And so while the class is tough and a lot of work, it is rewarding. You can see the ‘aha’ moments the students have when they start drawing inferences from their data.

Preparing Data for Analysis in SPSS

If you only want to look at summaries of responses, you can check that out in ONA.io. But, if you want to analyze the data you’ve got to get it from the way students labeled it to the #s for SPSS.

For example, in the below example where the question asks the participant their favorite ice cream, if the ‘choices’ in our XLS code is:

Lab_Guide_-_FormHub_-_Google_Docs

And the participant answers “Vanilla” the data collected would be icecream2.

But, SPSS can’t analyze “incecream2.” It can only analyze a number. So, we need every instance when a participant selected Vanilla to be recorded as simply “2” in SPSS.

Here’s how to quickly do this:

Download the data Excel file of the completed surveys. Open in Excel. Replace “icecream” with “” (that is, with nothing – no spaces. Just leave the replace section blank). Excel will remove “icecream” from the Excel file and you’re left with the number for responses such that “icecream2” now is “2”. Repeat this step for each question. For check all that apply questions, ONA.io records “FALSE” for answer choices left blank, and “TRUE” for instances when the participant checked the answer choice. For example, if the question was “Check all your favorite ice cream flavors” and the participant checked “Vanilla,” ONA would record a “TRUE” and if they left it blank, ONA would record “FALSE.” These can be easily prepared for SPSS by replacing FALSE with “0” and TRUE with “1”.

Admittedly, this step is the drawback of using XLS forms. While a little tedious, it is quick and easy to do. Considering the advantages, I don’t mind taking 20 minutes of my time cleaning the data for my students.

When done, I send the student teams their data and we work on analyzing them in class.

 

Well that’s all for now! I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and consider using iPads for survey data collection in your research class, or other classes where surveys could prove valuable!

Here at Shepherd, finals week starts this week. I hope everyone has a great end to the semester!

Using iPads for Survey Data Collection in the Communication Research Class

Surveys are a common method uses in communication research class projects. Since I started teaching this class at Shepherd University, I’ve added a fun, cool feature that really brings the survey data collection process to life!

Students in my Comm 435 Communication Research class (see all posts on Comm 435; see syllabus) now use iPads for data collection in the field. My students grab a department iPad and go around campus to recruit participants. The participants complete the surveys on the iPads, and the data is synched to the cloud where it can be downloaded and analyzed.

ipadsurveys

Overview

For the final of three hands-on projects in my class, student teams identify a problem or question they have pertaining to Shepherd University or the local community. They design a study to research that problem. In my first two hands-on projects, students don’t design the methods or the measurements. They are based on scenarios I set up and materials I provide. For example, here’s a discussion of my computer-assisted content analysis assignment.

As a part of the assignment for today’s post, students are required to conduct 1) surveys, and 2) either focus groups or interviews. Let’s talk about the surveys:

After discussing surveys as a method, with a particular focus on survey design and considerations, each team designs a brief survey.

In the lecture before they create the survey, I lecture on important considerations in survey design. And then students do an in class activity to practice putting these concepts into motion using a mock scenario. I then provide feedback on their survey design, and help them make improvements.

The class the following time we meet is dedicated to helping students design measurements that meet the research objective and research questions they’ve developed that will help them get the answers to the questions they want to know. The day is also dedicated to helping them write effective survey questions (as well as interview or focus group questions, for that part of the assignment). I started dedicating an entire class period to measurement design after spotting this as a major weakness in the projects last semester.

Next, rather than using paper & pen, or surveymonkey.com (which limits students to only 10 questions), teams program their surveys into ONA.io. It is a free, open access web survey tool designed by folks at Columbia University. So, we spend the 3rd day learning how to use ONA.io to program their surveys. I’ll talk in detail about that in the next post.

During data collection week, students check out department iPads, load the survey onto their iPad, and go out into the field to collect data. A group of students will check out several iPads and hit up the student union, library, or campus quads and collect data fairly quickly. The data syncs automatically over our campus-wide wifi! That means, when all students get back to the computer lab, their data – from each iPad used – is already synced to ONA.io where it could be downloaded and analyzed.

Pretty cool, huh? It is my favorite project that we do in my communication research class and the students seem to really enjoy using the iPads for surveys.

There are a few caveats.

  1. After the data is collected, in order for it to be analyzed in SPSS it has to be cleaned. If you do formhub, you’ll notice that the data you get doesn’t quite fit in with the format SPSS needs. So, I spend a few hours before we meet as a class to look at the data that was collected and analyze it.
  2. This year, Formhub.org seems to be moving painfully slow. I’ve had trouble last week getting the website to work. And am still having trouble this week. With data collection set to start tomorrow, I am stressing that it may not work! – update: I’ve read in several places about ongoing stability issues with Formhub. I’m now using ONA.io instead which works the exact same way! I’ve updated verbiage above to reflect that.

I’ve provided a copy of the assignment below. Enjoy!

On my next post, I will provide info on programming surveys into the XLS forms format, which is a bit tricky. I spend a day in class teaching this. I’ll also show you how to load the surveys onto the iPads and get them synced up to the computer if you aren’t on WiFi when you collect the data.

photo: CC by Sean MacEntee