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

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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.


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!



photo CC by TW Collins

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