Posts tagged "jmc3433"

PR Pubs Goes Online!

I’m back in the saddle with teaching PR Pubs at the Gaylord College. This semester is extra special because I’ve launched, for the first time in the college’s history, an online section of PR Pubs. The Gaylord College has not historically offered many online courses, so I was humbled when Dean Foote asked me to test out a version of it for the Spring. I built out a course site which you can peruse at Currently, 25% of the course is built out and I will continue to build out content over the semester.

I’m utilizing the Academy WordPress theme, one that I blogged about before and have used once before. I’ll be honest, I’m very lightly using the LMS-like features of it. Most of the functionality being leveraged is the custom “Lesson” pages, but no assessment takes place on here. That is happening inside of D2L (more on that later) because the theme is currently missing some key functionality that I needed (mainly deadlines and grade book views).

First, I need to give a nod to a couple different points of inspiration. The first is Laura Gibbs, who is using OU Create to blog about online course design. If you browse one of her courses, you’ll find a few similarities that are brand new for this course: orientation week and declaration “quizzes.” (read more from her on those aspects here and here). Many thanks to her for exposing a lot of her techniques on that blog and for building out her course on a pbworks wiki. I took a TON away from those resources. I take great admiration in how much she cares about online learning and, more importantly, her students!

The second is, Digital Storytelling from the University of Mary Washington, which was the original inspiration for what I consider the heart of the course, the syndicated blog hub. Thank you Jim Groom and Alan Levine for turning me on to the FeedWordPress plugin, so that I’m able to pull in all of the student blogs RSS feeds into one space. This enables students to be exposed to each others work and learn from each othek. I’ve done this before for the face-to-face course, but I feel that it’s power is only amplified in a fully online environment.

Last is Seth Hartman, in OU IT, who was instrumental in bringing to campus. My class isn’t super tutorial heavy (I subscribe more to the philosophy that you learn best through trial and error/feedback) but it’s very helpful particularly for the beginning of the semester when students are learning to first grasp design programs like Adobe Photoshop and InDesign. I’m using several videos from the Introduction to Graphic Design course on Lynda.

From a broad perspective, the course is VERY similar to the face-to-face course, which is already a fairly active learning environment as it takes place in a computer lab. For the online section, I’ve added a more robust structure with weekly quizzes. Students complete 15 lessons for the 15 weeks of the course (minus finals week). Each week they complete a series of activities such as writing blog posts, watching videos, building Pinterest mood boards, playing games (it’s fun to learn typography!), and commenting on each other’s post. On top of that are the five traditional design projects that my face-to-face course has always done. I enjoyed building the course structure so much that I’m having the face-to-face students also use as the course structure. In all reality, the face-to-face section will perform a majority of the activities in class so the declaration quizzes almost become a quasi-attendance policy with the flexibility of accommodating students who end up, for whatever reason, missing significant portions of class. For me, this is one of the biggest advantages to running an online and face-to-face version in tandem. At any point, a student can take advantage of course hub and work from wherever which is HUGE if something like, God forbid, a student loses a parent in the middle of class. Ultimately, my goal has never been to get students to come to 100% of the classes, though they benefit tremendously from consistent attendance. My goal is to see students be successful and the road that they take to get there can take many forms. More than anything, it’s an adequate safety net.

The last thing I want to note is that, as I mentioned earlier, I’m still using the D2L assessment functionality so that students have the grade book. While building my course this semester, I realized you have the ability to change the homepage to whatever website you want it to be so is literally inside of it:

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 4.39.43 PM infiltrates the LMS!

Remember that scene in Men in Black where Edgar devours Kay so Kay destroys him from inside? Yeah, something like that.


I’ve heard my fair share of LMS debates over the last year or so, but, for me at least, this seems to solve most of the issues I have with it. I genuinely enjoy building with WordPress and genuinely don’t enjoy building courses in D2L (I spent what felt like an eternity trying to figure out the quiz functionality). This allows me to use the CMS of my l liking when building it out and gives the added benefit of allowing the public to easily view the course’s contents. That said, there are some excellent benefits to the LMS. First, students know to go here for course work and get access (even mobile access) to the grade book. I’ve done a lot of testing and, from a user perspective, and the course site still has full functionality. I only seem to get problems when I want to enter the Admin panel, but that’s not a big deal and doesn’t impede the student experience. Last, and most beneficial, is that students works and efforts aren’t locked away. In fact, I don’t, nor does any large tech company, hold the rights to the student work. If they are using OU Create, their domain is registered directly in their name and they have full ownership to do whatever they wish to do with the content at the end of the course.

Speaking of OU Create, we’ve got a couple of new shiny features for users this Spring thanks to Tim Owens, so I’ll be writing a blog post about that shortly!

Header is a creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by fOtOmoth

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.

An Update On My Course’s Web Project

This semester, I decided to switch PR Publications, the Gaylord College course I teach, around a bit. I spoke about this in a previous post, but the main idea was that the final project students used to do, which was a web portfolio, was going to be moved to the beginning of the course, and the student’s would now be leveraging the blog portion of their portfolio to chronicle the course itself.

I decided that there would be three different types of assignments students would do: 1.) weekly reflective posts for an ebook I had assigned called “Designing for Emotion” 2.) a design “blitz” were they would go across campus and document design concepts in real lifeand 3.) reflection posts on each design project, which will ultimately reside in their end-of-class portfolio. Additionally, I would create a separate blog that aggregated all of the student’s RSS feeds. To see each of these assignments, you can go to and click the appropriate assignment tag in the sidebar.

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So far, my favorite portion of the blog has been reading the ebook chapter reflections. My prompt for them was short and sweet: tell me your biggest takeaway from the chapter and something, if any, that you disagreed with. I made it a point to encourage them to not simply summarize the chapter (since I had already read the book!). Very quickly, students were no longer just writing to that prompt but going above and beyond. Quickly students were using the blog as an outlet to connect the text to the design work they were doing inside, and sometimes even outside, of the classroom. Here are some of my favorite blog quotes from the first half of the semester:

“This chapter was one of my favorites so far. I loved the examples it gave on how to attract the customer and make them feel special. I have never thought about using surprise, delight and anticipation in such strategic ways. As a PR professional, giving one’s brand a personality is so important. This is something I will always remember once I get out of college and starting putting these strategies into play.” – Taylor Jurica

“This chapter was really just a big ‘agh haa’ moment for me because it explained the way we think about design and what appeals to us as humans the most. It made me reflect on what designs I like the most and why. I realized I do use sites that have a more human element to them, or even an element of surprise that makes me invested.” – Makenna Rogers

“That is when it started to click with me that I need to figure out before I begin my designs what persona I want it to have. Is it going to be my supervisor who is very uptight, but provides hard, factual information or is it going to be my college buddy who I can laugh with and trust?” Tyler Mahoney

“Something I have recently noticed and enjoy about this book is how everything Walter says is true and applies to Public Relations. For example, when he mentions that our goal is not to trick the public and “Your audience will catch on to your game and not trust your brand if you are deceitful,” this is extremely relevant to our field of study (Walter 49). In addition, I have always liked learning about new things, and this chapter is chalk full of them, such as Photojojo and Wufoo. I had never heard of these before, so it was interesting to read about them.” Megan Young

“I really enjoyed this book a lot. Usually, it’s really hard for me to pay attention while reading books (especially for school), but Walter did a great job at catching and keeping my attention throughout the entire book. I thoroughly enjoyed the examples that he used for each topic he talked about because I was able to picture it and relate it back to how I could personally use it.” Sarah Spence

My hope is that other courses (especially in the College of Journalism) considers a blog style format to their course. While students can be hesitant at first, they really seem to appreciate picking up the hard skills that come along with managing a blog. I’ve had multiple students who have since gained confidence in their web skills and have taken on roles in their clubs and organizations that give them website responsibility. Additionally, they’ve been able to watch other student’s work progress in the class and pick up tips and vocabulary from their peers.

Starting in two weeks, the students will be beginning their final project which will be to convert their blog into a portfolio-style presence. I’ll be sharing examples of those final projects when the semester is over. And, by all means, if you like what you see, I don’t think they would be mad if you hired them. :-)

Follow Along With My Students’ Work This Semester

This semester I’ve created a web space ( to aggregate all of the student’s blog posts for my PR Publications course (JMC3433 in the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication). The idea is that the students (and really anyone) can follow along as they (for the first time–mind you) begin to understand design technique and execution as it relates to public relations publications highly targeted at specific publics. Students are now required to standup an instance of WordPress on their own server space at the beginning of the semester, and they will use the site to 1.) document their semester progression through blog posts on assigned book reads and completed design assignments and 2.) create a portfolio website that can live on for them well beyond the 16 weeks they’ll spend in my JMC3433 course.

In previous semesters, I’ve had them write one page reflection papers to go along with their design assignments. But in early December, I was fortunate enough to attend the MOOC Research Conference in Arlington, TX and was inspired by what keynote speaker Jim Groom was doing with his DS106 digital storytelling course at the University of Mary Washington and how his students use blogs to not only document their own work but write create new assignments for future students. I wish I had a link to that specific keynote, but just watch his recent TEDx Talk to see how exciting this guy is:

His talk was convincing enough to make me move students off of reflection papers and onto the blogosphere, as well as leverage the blog RSS feeds through a plugin called FeedWordPress to create the aggregated version. The syndicated blog is the first step in moving all content elements of the course into an open, digital environment.

I will admit that this blogging format might not work for every course in every discipline, but I’ve adopted it JMC3433 for a few reasons:

1. Content creation has evolved beyond print.
Previous versions of this course have traditionally focused on print design, which is an excellent starting point for any designer. All design principles were essentially created and are rooted in this medium. But the late 20th century brought the rise of marketing public relations (MPR) and PR practitioners are leveraging online tools like blog and social media channels more and more to become real-time, vocal “brand ambassadors with a real understanding of their brand’s value proposition.” [ref]Apasolomou, I. & Melanthio, Y. (2012). Social Media: Marketing Public Relations’ New Best Friend. Journal of Promotion Management, 18 (3), 319–328.[/ref] I’m not saying anything that is earth shattering, but direct content creation no longer only takes place in a print design realm. But almost all of my students have never touched WordPress before, so the practice of that in and of itself is a valuable experience since it’s the content management system that powers close to 20% of the web and will likely be the platform most will use out of college to management websites.

2. Students get an e-portfolio out of the deal.
The content my students create (newsletters, post cards, business cards, etc.) naturally lend themselves to a blog structure and e-portfolio since they are visually stimulating. Educause has been a huge proponent of e-portolios and says faculty should encourage students to post samples of written work and projects (among other things) as a way to showcase their work for potential employers. I’m all for anything that puts my students ahead, so we make sure everything they produce for this course (and others) has the opportunity to broadly be seen.

3. Part reinforcement. Part self evaluation.
Student’s self reflection blog posts are essentially the students going through the motions of walking others through their thought and creative process. They are also able to tell me what they were attempting to create in the event it didn’t turn out they way they had originally planned (and in turn we can have conversations about what went wrong and how they might have got there).

4. To show that we are all in this together.
Last, I simply want the students to know they aren’t alone in this endeavor. At first, this course puts most of my students in an incredibly uncomfortable and vulnerable position since they have little-to-no computer design experience. The aggregated blog allows students to watch everyone else walk through the fire with them.

The first set of student posts are reflections on a book titled “Designing for Emotion” by Aarron Walter, from A Book Apart, a series of short books for web designers. As mentioned above, PR publication design focuses heavily on how to create targeted pieces for publics who share characteristics and interests. Emotional design, a term made popular by Donald Norman‘s book of the same name, speaks to how beautiful design can actually evoke a position emotional response to the brain, which is a response PR tends to constantly trying to elicit. While this book’s focus is primarily web design, we’ll be using the principles to thinking broadly about design beyond web. I picked this book in particular because it has some great modern examples of design application and it’s available in both ebook and paperback form. Students even get a decent discount if they wish to have both to fit multiple learning styles. Through the Gaylord College, several students have been given an iPad mini as part of a small scale tablet initiative, so I’m hopeful the ebook will be a viable option.

In the spirit of the idea, I’ll also be blogging about how the course is going and what the student response to the project is, as well as how the book adoption is going. I’m particularly interested in how many students like the shorter format, how many have opted for the ebook version, and how they are primarily reading the book (tablet, desktop, printed out, or print-on-demand by publisher). Until then, enjoy watching the class at!