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Putting a Bow on PR Pubs This Semester

This post is a bit overdue, but with the semester wrapping up and summer projects getting off the ground, I just haven’t dedicated the time necessary to update the ol’ blog. Well good news! Friday has rolled around and the offices are quiet enough to finally write the last post on my series about the revisions that I made to the course I teach, PR Publications. You can read my previous posts under the JMC 3433 Category, but a quick summary is that I decided to build a web presence specifically for the course.

This semester (lets called it “Phase I” or “Version 1.0”) was for it to simply be an aggregator of the blog posts student’s made over the course of the semester. They blogged chapter responses to Aaron Walters book, “Designing for Emotion,” reflections on design assignments, they did a design blitz at the beginning of the semester, wrote new assignments for a student-generated assignment bank (both of these were DS106-inspired), and ended with a course reflection. These posts were incredibly valuable in gauging how this format worked with the students. Some common themes I saw:

1. Students didn’t miss lectures and appreciated the hands-on help.

While I spent less time lecturing, there was certainly more to do in class. A lot of assignment got bulked up a bit. For instance, if they designed a newsletter, they were also required to do a e-newsletter version with Mailchimp, etc. Students seem to really enjoy this active learning format.

Student quotes:

This course allowed me to learn. Imagine that learning by doing. – Dusti Gasparovic

More classes should have this structure – independent work with a helpful guide close behind. Sometimes you have to learn with trial and error, and that is a lot of what I did. – Courtney Kittrell

I really would like to see more classes done like this. The hands on aspect of this course made the environment so much better for learning and I think I retained so much more this way. Spenser Hicks

Overall, I would say that this is one of the best PR classes in Gaylord. Although the class could be tough sometimes with making sure to have enough time to complete projects or not knowing how to do something on InDesign or Photoshop, I really enjoyed everything I learned throughout this class. Sometimes I feel like certain classes I take not meaningful and will not help me throughout my life. However, this course is the exact opposite. – Megan Young

The lab intensive format was very different for me, but I got a lot out it. I learn a lot better when I can actually experience what I’m supposed to be doing instead of taking notes on it. So the fact that we actual got to do assignments and learn basic skills that way was so much better for me. I wish more classes were this way because the skills we’re supposed to learning as PR professionals will stick better with students. If we can experience things and learn from our mistakes I feel like we will be better prepared for the tasks we will have to perform when we graduate. – Mary Morton

I loved having the format of a lab intensive class. There was no time wasted in this class, which I can honestly say isn’t the case in other classes I have taken here at OU. Our professor lectured every once in a while, but the lectures were about important topics that helped us with our assignments. – Taylor Jurica

2. The class bonded because the environment encouraged them to do so.

And, by the way, that didn’t mean I had to assign group assignments to accomplish it. Instead I created a physical environment that welcomed collaboration and peer critique. Most days I would play light music so students felt more comfortable to talk to each other and ask questions. Additionally, we would have a feedback day after every major assignment where students would “pitch” their design and then get feedback to the rest of the class. Not only was the feedback valuable to them, but they were able to physically see each other’s work (rather than me grading it behind closed doors and then handing it back). And if they missed class, they could peruse student work on the syndicated blog. Throughout the semester, I would start to see students attempt to recreate a style that another student did in a previous assignment which was awesome.

Student quotes:

Everyone in our class seemed comfortable with each other and I loved that everyone’s work was always available to use upon completion to get ideas or push our creativity further. I also liked that class time went by fast from having something to work on and keep us busy rather than being lectured – Brooke Strother

I thoroughly enjoyed having a small classroom as well. I think the bond that our classroom created was helpful in my success in the class because I was not afraid to ask their opinion on my product. I wish more classes were set up this way because getting feedback on your work only helps a student. – Claire White

3. Students feel empowered by hard skills.

This theme was one that kind of caught me off guard, but after some thought makes incredible sense. There were several mentions of how empowered students felt now that they have a based knowledge of a couple design programs. Sure, they were equating design thought in terms of programs, but student’s are scraping for ways to get a leg up on the future workforce. Being able to add Photoshop, InDesign, WordPress, Mailchimp, etc to a resume is real value add to them. Some were harsh on theory-based courses they had previously taken, but rather than looking at other courses critically, I would say that they were thankful to have a place to individually apply what they had learned earlier. And that individual is more important than one would think think. In several courses that I took, when students were asked to create big works, faculty caved and made it a group project. Inevitably, I would miss out on some of the work that goes into  the creation experience. I’m not saying I’m against group work, but I do think students really enjoy knowing they can accomplish large quanities of difficult tasks independently.

Student quotes:

I have discovered I learn best when I am learning practical skills and when I can practice them and try them out. I think I learn and retain the most in this kind of setting because I do not spend my time cramming for tests I will forget the information on. I am learning how to actually do something. – Makenna Rogers

I have really enjoyed this class. I enjoy any class, be they ever so rare, that teaches me a hard skill. too much of my college life has been spent talking about ideas and hardly any has been spent teaching me things that make me employable. You can’t put theories on a resume, but you can put “good at InDesign”. – Wes Moody

This has honestly been one of my favorite classes since I have been in college. I feel like I learned a lot more than I have in most of my other PR classes, because I had more independent thinking. I was able to discover my creative side and do projects over things that I am passionate about. – Tyler Mahoney

4. Don’t assume blogging is easy.

This was another one that I hadn’t planned for. I guess because I grew up during the birth of blogs and know that several of my peers use(d) the format that students would naturally excel in this area. Unfortunately, it’s not as intuitive out of the gate. This era of students has grown up publishing to closed platforms with walled gardens to audiences that they have created for themselves. Of course they have no problem posting in their snarky sense of humor to that type of platform. Blogging publicly, and particularly with an academic slant, is a (albeit small) hurdle. My critiques on students usually had to do with lack of context around the blog piece. They would forget to wrap the blog with context of the assignment and write it as if they were writing just to me (i.e. Posts would start with “In this chapter I really liked…”). Students had to learn that this wasn’t an in class pop quiz that only I read. Even with this course evaluation assignment, I feel students were too easy on the course as a whole. I know the holes of the course and would love for students to vocalize the same so I could be extra motivated to fix them. Students–give me all the honesty you’ve got!!

Student quotes:

I had to blog my progress to the world, which in itself was not necessarily difficult as much as it was weird. – Courtney Kittrell

I will admit that writing for a public audience was hard. Although I am a PR major I find writing is the most difficult thing we do and we do it A LOT. Trying to choose the right words and placing it in the right place is really hard. It’s also exactly why some people pay other people to do it for them. (i.e. Why our profession exists) But I found that with the progression of the class I became more and more confident in my writing and in my designs. – Mary Morton

Writing for a public audience was definitely a different experience. I have never owned a blog before, especially not one for a class. I found it harder to write for a public audience because I never knew exactly who I was writing to. Because I was writing for a blog, I had to think about all different aspects of an assignment or reading before I posted it so I didn’t leave the reader with any questions. – Sarah Spence

5. This course is ‘uniquely mine’

At this point, I’m just rehashing things I’ve said previously, but this quote sums up what I was trying to essentially create with the course. The course is not simply for me to impart my knowledge that students then consume and consequently prove how well they have retained it. My goal is to provide enough prompt and guidance to ignite the student’s creativity. Then it’s up to them to push that as far as they wish. Either way, the outcome is uniquely yours.

Student quotes:

My favorite part of this course was creating my own domain name and making it uniquely mine. – Dusti Gasparovic

“Phase II,” which may or may not come this Fall, will include porting on more course content to the course subdomain. I want the site to become the course “hub” where students can get the most up-to-date schedule and assignments, not just posts from other students. Schedules change too often (for instance, this semester it was weather) to keep a printed syllabus any more and assignments don’t change necessarily, but students want clarified parameters which I could easily document on the website. In the end, 16 students published 200+ posts to the web on the number one blogging platform. Oh yeah, and they get to keep it. And my course evaluations were better than ever… Not bad.