Friday, August 10, 2007

DC 2--Educators on Educating

More from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference in DC.....

Educators really do care about doing a good job of teaching. One session included five papers on the subject. Key results from the research (oversimplified):

  • still today, too many PR programs teach primarily media relations and tactical skills, versus the strategy and relationship perspective the profession has become;
  • some programs have professors not really qualified to teach PR
  • curriculum for PR needs to be multi-disciplinary, involving courses in business, political science and liberal arts
  • some professionals at big agencies prefer to hire someone with a lib arts degree. The feeling is that critical thinking skills is paramount and the agencies can teach the tactical skills.
  • if we included all recommendations to enhance PR curriculum, students would have to be in school for 7-8 years.

    What this shows is that there is a diversity of perspectives on the field. My personal take on PR education is consistent with the Commission on Education in Public Relations report, which is what we do at Grand Valley:

  • the PR major should be its own major, not a track in journalism; if in journalism it tends to be taught as merely a media relations function;
  • the PR major should be within a school of communications, not the business college; if in business it tends to be taught as a ‘marketing’ function only concerned with product publicity and promotion;
  • courses should include skills such as writing but also research, ethics, management, cases, campaigns and other strategic based courses; ultimately students should understand that PR is about mutual relationship building and maintenance;
  • students should consider where they want to work or specialize in PR (such as investor relations vs employee relations, or corporate PR vs nonprofit PR) and then take electives or a minor in appropriate subjects to enhance their education;
  • the majority of students’ courses should be liberal arts so they are broadly educated, adaptable, and able to think critically and solve problems creatively.

    Ultimately, educators and PR practitioners need to keep in touch. We can learn from each other. Educators can learn about current trends in practice before it reaches the journals and books. Professionals can learn that “theory” is not a whimsical idea but a scientifically tested proposition about PR strategies that are likely to be successful.
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