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Delayed gratification

21 Jul

tweetsOne of the most important measures of performance in Higher Education is ‘student satisfaction’, as measured through the annual National Student Survey.

There’s nothing wrong in principle with gauging student satisfaction after three years of (expensive) education. But in practice final year students tend to be satisfied with manageable assignments and high grades. So higher student satisfaction can only be guaranteed by lowering educational standards, ultimately leading to dissatisfaction…

Wouldn’t it be good to gauge a student’s response to their education over time? My Twitter timeline gave some clues this morning.

One noted how far he’d come in five years since graduating, and how well his year group were doing.

Another blogged about his experiences in the workplace one year on, and polled some classmates for their experiences.

This isn’t scientific or statistically valid, but education should be a long-term investment – just as student debt is a long-term commitment. So a longitudinal study of graduate achievement and satisfaction would be valuable addition to the snapshot provided by the National Student Survey.

I’ll leave the final word to one of last year’s graduates who’s degree has been less directly useful to his emerging career.

As for working in PR, that didn’t really work out for me. I’m happier carving out a new career in Digital Marketing and SEO. I do still feel, however, that my degree has come to some use as it taught me to be more analytical and inclined towards finding concrete facts as opposed to swallowing assumptions whole.

I don’t know whether than amounts to a satisfied ‘customer’ or not – but it sounds like an acknowledgment of value.

 

How to be a student

12 Oct
Photo via @lookitsben on Instagram

Photo via @lookitsben on Instagram

There’s a good piece in today’s Observer newspaper on the marketisation of higher education.

The paradox is that as universities have become more expensive, they have managed to recruit higher numbers of students.

Yet a more expensive does not necessarily mean a better education, in part because of the transactional expectations of paying consumers. ‘I’ve paid. Just give me my degree!’

As a public relations lecturer, I’m comfortable with the expectation that a pricey education should result in above average earnings. There’s a strong story to tell in terms of employability – for the right candidates.

Yet I’m not comfortable with the idea of university simply as a vocational training course. For one thing, it’s an expensive and wasteful way to be trained, since most lessons learned in the first year will be forgotten by the third. More important, do 17 year-olds have an infallible instinct for what they will be doing as 30-year-olds?

I certainly didn’t, and spent part of my 20s doing things I was already aware of (teaching and publishing) before finding my feet in areas I’d not previously known about (technology journalism then public relations).

Training has its place, but you can only train people for existing industries. You cannot train people for the jobs of the future – but you can build this flexibility into a broader education.

So a university course has to provide a greater focus on education than on training. Students have choices: they do not have to go to university and they do not have to study specific courses.

If a school leaver is set on public relations, they have the option of an apprenticeship that will allow them to earn while learning.

University suits the open minded – those who’ve yet to settle on their future career, and those who are willing to learn. It’s about the journey, not just about the destination. It takes time.

Being a student is a full-time activity, even if classes only take up a small proportion of your week. Don’t moan about this – but celebrate your freedom. Look at your parents: I’m sure they have very little free time between the demands of jobs and the commitments of a family. You’ll be busier than you can imagine for decades to come, so do please revel in your new-found freedom.

As a student, you may be cash poor but you’re time rich. Here are some suggestions of how to use your time to invest in your future:

  • Make friends for life
  • Learn to cook
  • Try to manage your finances
  • Travel (lengthy journeys, not just short holidays)
  • Learn additional skills (eg languages, computer programming)
  • Dream up an idea for a new business venture

This overlaps with some more specific things that public relations students should be doing to help them stand out to employers:

  • Develop an online brand (across your blog, website and social media accounts)
  • Follow industry leaders and employers
  • Participate in online chats and attend industry networking events
  • Gain specific work experience
  • Volunteer for a cause, campaign or charity you care about

Not having a degree may exclude you from even applying for some jobs, as might not having achieved a 2:1 or above.

But please don’t become solely focused on your degree classification. Employers don’t hire you for what you’ve learnt at university: they take your good degree as an indication of your future potential. There are more and better ways to demonstrate your potential than your grades.

How to teach (step two)

20 Jun

So, you’ve built a relationship with a university lecturer and have given a guest lecture (see How to teach step one). Then what?

You may learn of opportunities for more regular – and paid – teaching. Universities are relying on more hourly-paid staff to front classes, given the constraints on recruitment and the demands on the time of permanent staff members (who have management roles as well as teaching timetables and research profiles). Sometimes these roles are advertised and formalised as ‘associate lecturer’ contracts. Often, they arise at short notice as members of the team are given other priorities, or fall sick, or take periods of study leave.

Hourly-paid teaching is unlikely to be lucrative, but it can be enjoyable. You get to teach students and avoid the course management and admin work. You’ll only be paid for your timetabled classroom hours: universities have standard pay rates and it’s usually in the £30-£40/hour range. This is a multiple of the minimum wage, but it includes preparation time, responding to student emails outside class and grading of assignments. Also, you can only earn these hours during the teaching period, which is only half of the year and you won’t receive travel expenses.

Some universities may be able to offer you a block of teaching on one day (so you can earn more hours and reduce the travel time and expense) – but on smaller courses the teaching commitment may be spread across the week making it harder to fit around your other work. But the advantage of an hourly-paid contract is that you are free to take on work if and when it suits you. I’d advise you not to chase hours at first: six hours of undergraduate teaching may sound more worthwhile, and three sessions repeating the same material to different groups may require less preparation.

But repetitive blocks of teaching can be boring and exhausting – an unfortunate combination for the lecturer and for the students.

Often, you’ll be part of a teaching team, delivering other people’s teaching content, and this will usually involve leading tutorials or seminars rather than delivering lectures. Yet there’s always flexibility in class for you to talk about the day’s news agenda, to use your own professional experience and for you to develop your teaching skills.

Teaching can be fun and it can be rewarding (like public relations, education is a relationship business). Hourly-paid work can be a good way to add something extra to your work portfolio.

In the final post, I’ll say what’s involved in gaining a permanent lecturer’s contract.

How to teach (step one)

16 Jun

I’ve had a few conversations with practitioners in recent weeks about teaching public relations to students. This post is the first in a small series summarising my advice, and giving the upsides and downsides of  teaching.

In brief: there are lots of opportunities – but vanishingly few jobs.

Step one: give a guest lecture

A practitioner talking about his career in a guest lecture

A practitioner talking about his career in a guest lecture

The best way to start is to give it a go. Course leaders and tutors welcome guest lectures from practitioners, so your best way to gain some experience and make some contacts with university lecturers is to contact permanent members of the team to offer a guest lecture.

Students enjoy guest lectures because they are a refreshing change from their regular (academic) lectures. Yet students like to take something out of each lecture or teaching session – otherwise they tend to feel the content is irrelevant.

So beyond telling them about your personal experience of work, you need to include a ‘takeaway’ element in your talk.

This could be tips on getting a job in your sector, or a reflection on how theory applies to practice, or a cautionary tale of how not to do something. A good guest lecture would describe your sector or specialism in some detail.

The upside of giving a guest lecture is that you’re experiencing the best bit of a lecturer’s job: educating through experience and example and communicating to a (reasonably) engaged audience.

Teaching, however, is only one part of the process of learning – the passive part. Students also need to learn by doing; to learn by reading, by developing relationships and they need to develop curiosity. The paradox of teaching is that the more you teach, they less they tend to learn…

A guest lecture will also help you develop a relationship with one or more members of the teaching team, who may need to call on you for a larger contribution (see part two to follow).

The downside of a guest lecture is that it’s inevitably mostly one-way, with limited opportunities for dialogue and developing relationships (though I would expect some of the class to start following you on your favoured social networks). You may also find it a humbling experience: students are given a lot of lectures, so tend to approach each new one with indifference. Very few practitioners or academics have the pulling power to fill the largest lecture theatres, as happened with Max Clifford (pictured).

You are also unlikely to be paid, though you may receive travel expenses if you’re prepared to fill out the university’s form, submit your receipts, and to wait a while for the payment to be processed.

PR practitioners will understand that this is a relationship-building tool, and that you need to invest your time up front.

In part two I’ll discuss the next step: hourly-paid teaching.

 

 

Disruption

14 Mar

Drew Benvie PR WeekDrew Benvie has resigned from Hotwire, launched a new consultancy business Battenhall and used his Huffington Post column to explain why the Comms Agency model is ripe for disruption.

So what does the future hold? I firmly believe a new kind of agency that is built for the social media economy can thrive, where everything starts with social, but the experience backing that up in each individual adds another dimension. Disruption of the agency model as we know it.

He’s not alone. Jed Hallam (author of The Social Media Manifesto) writes that PR isn’t dying, but PR agencies might…

It used to be that public relations was the pipeline to the public, but now that’s no longer true. So the role of PR now has to become more strategic. It has to evolve and has to take centre stage at a more strategic, and senior level.

Steve Earl and Stephen Waddington probably share this thinking. Last year they resigned from leadership roles within a mid-sized consultancy and are now in senior roles in different international consultancies.

To me, this suggests that boutique public relations businesses can thrive if they find their niche, but mid-sized businesses might be squeezed between the specialists and the large international networks.

I’m sure I’ll return to this theme because it interests me – but my blog’s theme is public relations education. For many of the same reasons, education is also ripe for disruption. That’s what I want to explore here.

Why I teach: it’s the biggest communication challenge

25 Feb

Teaching in Bulgaria Looking back on almost thirty years in the workplace, I think I can spot the twin peaks of my career.

Twenty years ago I was a public relations consultant with an outstanding list of clients in the fast-growing technology sector. Working life was hectic, and we were building and developing a great team of colleagues.

I'm now in full-time public relations education. Working life is hectic, but I'm helping develop some talented young people.

I've made one rather banal link between the two roles. Much better is this from Maister et al's The Trusted Advisor, a book about consultancy skills in business:

In many ways, advisory skills are similar to those of great teaching. A teacher's task is to help a student get from point A (what they know, understand, and believe now) to point B (an advanced state of deeper understanding and knowledge). It is poor teaching for the professor to stand at the front of the class and say "B is the right answer!" (As the old joke goes, a lecture is the fastest means known for getting ideas from the notes of the teacher into the notes of the student without passing through the minds of either.)

Maister et al 2000: 33

The one obvious difference between my two peaks is that the technology sector was fast-growing then, and has remained so ever since. Higher education has had a twenty year growth spurt in the UK (it was in 1992 that former polytechnics became universities), but the brakes are on right now.

We're still in business and our skills are still in demand, but it's a tougher world to enter now. That said, I'm always willing to talk to practitioners about the journey from PR practice to PR education, a journey that often starts when you give a guest lecture and discover it to be a very worthwhile communication challenge. Perhaps you too will come to find it the biggest communication challenge of your career.

Photograph from Apeiron Academy's photostream on Flickr

A week in the life

27 Jan

Increasingly it seems that education never sleeps. Particularly if there's an educational aspect to one's presence on social media.

I'm not complaining: it's a privilege to teach and I'm fortunate to be busy. Here are some things I'm looking forward to over the next seven days:

  • Teaching on a CIPR Diploma course in Bulgaria (Saturday and Sunday)
  • Teaching public relations to second year business, marketing and journalism students (Monday)
  • Moderating a batch of Diploma scripts and some MA PR Writing assignments (Tuesday)
  • Starting delivery of a new, experimental Public Relations and New Media module (Wednesday)
  • Giving positive feedback to returning CIPR Diploma students and first year PR students (Thursday)
  • Planning a paper for the International History of Public Relations conference
  • Discussing a proposed chapter for a textbook
  • Designing new social media modules for a revamped Sport Marketing course
  • Giving feedback to dissertation students
  • Hunting out more stories for our subject group blog
  • Attending the CIPR networking event on Thursday
  • Editing new stories for Behind the Spin
  • Keeping up with RSS, Twitter, blogs, news, email and books (last, not least)

We all fall short of our highest expectations, and I'm sure I'll slip up and forget some things I should be doing, but I like to keep my eye on the goal. If I can put it in one word, I aim to be encouraging.