FORUM Winter 2015 Vol. 47, Issue 2

Winter 2015 Vol. 47, Issue II Professors Bridge Industry and Classroom in New Ways BY RYAN BAUM UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA Internships have long been championed as the place for students to apply their studies and prepare for the industry, but professors are finding innovative ways to bring that same hands-on experience into the classroom. An interactive approach to learning creates better professionals by preparing students to think on their feet and excel in the skills and settings where they will be expected to thrive throughout their careers. “It boils down to one key thing: most people learn best when they are doing,” said Tracy Sims, University of Alabama PRSSA’s Chapter adviser and faculty editor for Platform Magazine. PUBLISHED WORK Platform Magazine is an online, student-run publication at the University of Alabama with content covering various aspects of the public relations field. The magazine is supported by the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. It began as a course in the 2007 spring semester, with goals of determining the new magazine’s purpose, structure, communications strategy and target audiences. Now that its identity has been established, the publication is supported by Sims’ online magazine writing and editing class. “My role as an instructor is really just to guide the team, so there isn’t much lecturing,” Sims said. “These students are truly running this publication.” Students serve on the editorial board which allows them to screen and edit content. In addition, they work on one of three teams: BY SAMANTHA WATSON THE UNIVERSITY OF TOLEDO Spring is a great time of year — the weather starts to warm up, school starts to wind down and it’s once again time for PRSSA Regional Conferences. This spring, 10 schools will host unique Regional Conferences all over the U.S., giving PRSSA members the opportunity to attend without having to travel long distances. This year’s conferences are: writing, designing or marketing. “This kind of class encourages students to get out of their comfort zones,” Sims said. “I’ve seen students who thought, ‘Well, I’m not creative,’ and they get on the design team and realize that they actually are.” CLIENT INTERACTION Innovative educational solutions like Platform Magazine are important in this constantly evolving field, but interactive experiences can be incorporated into more traditional courses. Juan-Carlos Molleda, public relations department chair at the University of Florida, has split his public relations strategy class into groups this semester to solve real communications dilemmas for three clients. Students spent the semester learning public relations theory through multimedia lecture sessions, with client strategies evolving each week to reflect new information — similar to the dynamic workflow of an agency environment. “I believe students learn best with service-learning projects along with creative illustrations in the classroom,” Molleda said. “This is an opportunity ... in which willing clients become a critical part of the learning experience.” DIGITAL EMPHASIS Robert French, a lecturer at Auburn University, also recognizes the correlation between client interaction and an engaged classroom. His students all interact with multiple clients instead of focusing on just one. French teaches a style and Public relations professors have been seeking innovative ways to give students the real-world experience they need to get hired. “It boils down to one key thing: most people learn best when they are doing,” said Tracy Sims, fac- ulty at University of Alabama. Photo courtesy of Laura Daronatsy. design course, which covers topics including principles of graphic design, typography, the Adobe Creative suite and content management systems. He said his class is commonly referred to as the “social media class,” but it is more than that. Students learn HTML, search engine optimization and other skills that are increasingly relevant as the industry continues its migration toward the digital sphere. French aims to do “as little lecturing as possible,” preferring focused, interactive assignments that build the students’ knowledge and provide work examples. “I build in the activities to teach them all the skills they need to complete the final project,” he said, “but then they also have all of this portfolio material to fill their new website.” RELEVANT PORTFOLIO That capstone project at the end of French’s style and design course is the creation of a digital resume and portfolio, which is then featured on the course website. Compelling portfolios are the final piece of the immersive learning puzzle, completing the picture by showcasing industryrelevant classroom experiences that set the students apart. “At DePaul, we are replacing the comprehensive exam option for graduate students with the more relevant e-portfolio,” said Ron Culp, professional director of the graduate public relations and advertising program at DePaul University. Prior to graduation, DePaul hosted an e-portfolio showcase that was attended by more than 60 Chicago-area agency and public relations executives who reviewed student portfolios. “Building an interviewready e-portfolio requires students to strategically think through how they organize their experience and capabilities in a compelling way,” Culp said. CREATE OPPORTUNITIES In programs without a focus on immersive learning, students can seek out these chances for industry-relevant experience elsewhere — or create new ones. From guest blogging, to coding classes, to web design, the more diverse skills students pursue, the better. These hands-on opportunities, whether taught or sought out, will give any student the experience to land tha Bf