Teaching social media

12 Aug

I’m confused. There’s always more we can and should be teaching students, but social media? What does a digital native, born close to 1990, need to learn from a digital immigrant who graduated before the IBM PC was launched in the UK, and who wrote magazine articles back in the 1980s about how businesses were adopting a new communications device, the fax machine? The telephone has been the most important communications device for PR practitioners for the last century – but we don’t teach students how to communicate by phone. Perhaps we should.

So I asked Natalie Smith to help me. She’s just completed her first year and is now on a placement at Wolfstar, and I’ll be using her list to guide me next year.

But note how Natalie’s learning through doing. It might be self-defeating for a university lecturer to admit it, but there’s something rather passive about only learning through teaching. Besides, here’s a list of some of the things I might have taught in the past that would seem useless today: WordPerfect for DOS; desktop publishing; using a scanner; network protocols; research using online databases; using bulletin boards; CB radio…

It helps to distinguish between teaching principles – which shouldn’t change – and teaching practice, which can date very rapidly. And to realise in all humility that it matters less what you teach than what students learn.

12 Responses to “Teaching social media”

  1. PRJack 12/08/2008 at 3:43 pm #

    Great article. As someone who ‘stumbled’ into a career in PR after an educational diet of Zoology and Animal Behaviour degrees and who is now teaching PR, I can’t agree more.
    Those of us who teach are not only charged with presenting information, but also to inspire students to learn. And through the process of status quo vs change we’re all going to learn something along the way.

  2. Chris Norton 12/08/2008 at 5:35 pm #

    Hi Richard, geat post as Natalie’s mentor at Wolfstar team and as a former student of the same degree. I think something which would really benefit students would be good and bad case studies of companies which have used social media as part of a communications strategy.
    As you say learning through doing is best but case studies are a great way of showing other people’s learnings and some of the more fruity ones are hugely entertaining too.

  3. A PR Guy's Musings - Stuart Bruce 12/08/2008 at 6:25 pm #

    Teaching PR and social media

    Leeds Metropolitan University PR lecturer Richard Bailey and PR student Natalie Smith (who is doing an intern placement with Wolfstar at the moment) have between them sparked an interesting conversation on how public relations degree courses should tea…

  4. Brandon Carlos 12/08/2008 at 7:28 pm #

    As you point out Richard, in all likely hood the practices of social media will change, and with them the way that PR pro’s can take advantage of them. As a recent grad myself, I was lucky to have a teacher– in Gary Schlee– who was as involved with social media as I am.
    There is no manual, no textbook on using social media. I suspect that we will be the generation of PR pro’s responsible for that undertaking. It feels good to be able to teach the teacher.

  5. Teaching social media on university PR courses

    How social media should be taught on public relations degree courses.

  6. Neeltje du Plessis 13/08/2008 at 7:35 am #

    Teaching social media: A useful website which I found helped when teaching the impact and use of social media in pr and marketing is the following website:
    (Thanks to Benita Steyn who forwarded the address to me!)
    Hope this helps other lecturers too!

  7. Heather Yaxley 13/08/2008 at 9:39 am #

    I agree with PRJack, inspiring students to learn is the essential requirement of any teacher. We do need to help them set of in a fruitful direction, ensure they are aware of any dangers lurking (eg creating digital dirt) and pointing out exciting opportunities (whether through case studies, technological developments, people to read, videos to watch or whatever).
    We also can help them make the connections with existing knowledge and theories, so that they understand the why as well as the how. That includes integrating social/new media into lessons on strategy, crisis management, etc.
    One final thought is that we may need to teach basic skills too. I’m constantly surprised by the lack of real ability many PRs have with Word, Excel and other software programmes that were once taught and now are an expectation.
    Indeed, I was stunned when using some little keyboard shortcuts with Powerpoint that my class stopped me and asked me to show them what I was doing.
    It may all be in the help function – but not everyone knows the potential or bothers to find out. That’s true of social/new media too.

  8. David Phillips 13/08/2008 at 11:00 am #

    Richard, I think I am getting fed up with the digital native argument. There are natives and lazy old men. By now, if people in PR and marketing have not learned that communication has changed and it is affecting their career, they really should take up gardening.
    The pretty debate was fun, but now its downright red in tooth and claw because PR’s and communicators who are not getting stuck into the new Web (as Don Tapscott put it in 2006 – Wikinomics) are a liability to their organisations.
    We are in the run into 50% of all retail sales being online. Planning for that now is essential, to meet the deadline in only two years time.

  9. PRJack 13/08/2008 at 2:29 pm #

    While you are not incorrect David, the limitation is often not in what the PR people want to be able to do (i.e. incorporating Web2.0 into strategies) but rather the hesitation – some will call it a lack of foresight – by clients or executives to jump in. And the big hurdle that many of these folks still have? Finding adequate and meaningful measurement. Clicks on pages and even comments on blogs doesn’t tell me if those who I’m engaging are actually one and the same with the target audience I have been charged with reaching.

  10. Nathaniel Southworth-Barlow 14/08/2008 at 7:47 am #

    As a young PR student currently in an internship, I’d have to say that teaching in and of itself isn’t “passive” so much as it is incomplete. The learning and the doing overlap and reinforce each other – I don’t believe one is a substitute for the other. Perhaps an obvious statement, but it highlights the value of getting work experience related to your field of study: the more work experience you get, the more course content you cover and can put into practice.
    Secondly, I don’t believe basic word processing skills should be taught. While perhaps the theory of making good use of said skills should be examined, the actual technique shouldn’t. Basic skills like that would detract from more relevant, course-sensitive topics; it’s a general skill, not PR specific. Such skills should either be taught far earlier than university level PR courses, or maybe study material could be made available online through the university or local library. If students feel the need for formal classes they are usually offered at adult colleges or they can be done online.

  11. Stuart Bruce 15/08/2008 at 7:55 am #

    I’m going to pick up on Heather’s point about people’s ability to use (or rather not use) Microsoft Office. Put aside anti-Microsoft prejudices and accept it is what most students will have to use, as interns or when they start work.
    But most, despite listing it on their CVs can’t even use Word. They might be able to type something, but most don’t have a clue about using even basic facilities such as styles, setting tabs correctly (NOT pressing the tab key five times!), numbering etc.
    When several people are working on the same document it is essential these features are used correctly, or it becomes a nightmare to edit and format.
    The help facilities in Office are so extensive that there really is no excuse for not understanding those basic features.

  12. Heather Yaxley 15/08/2008 at 11:06 am #

    It would be lovely to think that all University students and PR practitioners have a good understanding of essential computer skills – including how to get involved in social media. But the reality is that they don’t.
    I take Nathaniel’s point regarding general skills where instruction is widely available or should be taught earlier.
    But, the fact is that too many PR practitioners don’t bother learning (as Stuart takes up on his own blog).
    We need to be active as learners and recognise where our skills can be improved. Then, we can seek out the resources, which as Nathaniel indicates are available.
    Ultimately, we are all self-taught to the extent that we reflect on matters, practice to improve skills and look for improvements.
    It is the motivation and enthusiasm to learn that is vital.

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