It is absolutely glorious weather and I am enjoying the unseasonal sunshine and warmth enormously. Today I was especially happy to be out early listening to the skylarks and lapwings that populate the fields near my home as I had spent the last two days in the London area where the only sound seemed to be the constant thrum of traffic, interspersed all too often with the sirens of the emergency vehicles making their way round the capital.
I was making a pleasurable business trip to visit University of Lincoln Public Relations students at their placement year offices. The trip took me to Bracknell, Brentford and Camden Town; I seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time on trains but I got to see some amazing sites and some amazing people. Continue reading
What is a PR student? Based on my experience of these students initially as a visiting speaker and over the five years I have thus far spent in HE I have developed a view.
In line with the makeup of the profession most are female, white and middle class . Generally the students have outgoing personalities (but not necessarily confident) and are fascinated by celebrity culture, programmes such as ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ and ‘Sex In The City’ having influenced them more than ‘The Thick of It’. They have often done better in their ‘A’ levels or equivalent than needed to secure their place at Lincoln. Only a few of them have demanding jobs outside their studies (in terms of hours needed to supplement their incomes) and they do seem to be party animals – a useful trait for PR! Interestingly The PR programmes have provided Lincoln with two of its most effective Students Union Presidents in recent times (2006/7 and 2009 -11) and a successful VP Academic Affairs (2010/11). So, they know quite a bit about using their power and influence.
Overall students studying PR are doing so because they wish to work in the industry or a related area. They have therefore come to University with their eye on the prize of a job rather than learning for the pure pleasure of learning. Consequently they are very interested in practical relevance and this is demonstrate in their feedback – the sessions they most value are those they can see as being of direct use to firstly assignments and secondly in the workplace. As a consequence I endeavour to make the assignments useful as portfolio pieces to show employers and support students seeking work experience opportunities and placements with my (still) extensive industry contacts.
My top five….
- It should be interesting, fun and relevant to the student’s interests now and in the future.
- It should help students to develop critical thinking.
- It should challenge their beliefs and values.
- It should develop a ‘self starter’ work ethic valued by employers and a valuable ‘lifeskill’.
- It should help students’ find a direction for a future career or lifestyle.
I am committed to being available to the students at a time that is mutually convenient, so if this means outside the ‘normal’ working day or week and I can do so I will accommodate them. I acknowledge that for some students it is easier to ask a question by email or in a more informal setting than the seminar or lecture – and many of the burning questions occur just as the tutor disappears from view! Perhaps I make myself too available but it suits me to work this way for now.
I struggle with the trend towards the ‘marketisation’ of education and am uncomfortable with that arrangement, but we are where we are, for good or ill, and I must work within the system for now. However, Student as Producer addresses some of my discomfort and allows me to teach in a way that harnesses the creativity of the students and allows them to learn through a variety of methods.
I draw on some of what I learned as trainee teacher in the 1970s before I entered the world of communications. So, to me Student as Producer is a logical development of what I studied and takes me into the familiar territory of Jean Piaget in The Science of Education and the Psychology of the Child (1971).
I probably understand it better now than I did then. Constructivist learning as defined by Seymour Papert in Mindstorms: children, computers and powerful ideas (1993) and based on Piaget’s constructivist approach, probably fits best the way I instinctively approached my teaching early on – looking for ways to apply theory; Papert’s Principle states:
“Some of the most crucial steps in mental growth are based not simply on acquiring new skills, but on acquiring new administrative ways to use what one already knows.”
I want my students to challenge and be able to move PR on. The way we communicate is changing dramatically and they need to respond to those changes and harness the potential of future communications channels not just do what I used to do or blindly follow the texts. This does make me uncomfortable with the prescriptive way in which we impose Learning Outcomes on the structures. However, there needs to be some way of indentifying what success looks like in a programme of study or module and albeit they are blunt instruments they work and I cannot currently think of an alternative!
I recently (Dec 2011) successfully completed an application for Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy; this required me to produce a paper about my approach to teaching and learning and expose my approach to scrutiny by experts within the University. Having survived that exercise I plan to share what I said with a wider audience.
My background is as an industry ‘expert’, a former practitioner in the field of corporate communications, public relations and social marketing of some 25+years, all in the public sector. I have never wanted to work in the private sector as I have a personal commitment to strong public services presented in a way that people can understand how best to benefit from them. I originally trained as a middle years teacher back in the 1970s and during my communications career was also responsible for developing, motivating, training, coaching and mentoring staff at all levels and through various professional institutions.
I have a personal commitment to Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and Lifelong Learning undertaking my Masters in the 1990s and by participating in my professional body’s CPD programme, which initially included regular sessions as a guest lecturer at the University when it first opened. It was as a result of this involvement with the University that I found myself taking up this work as a HE Lecturer when I took early retirement. I still see it very much as putting something back and supporting the next generation of communications professionals.
It is my natural instinct to want to develop other people – colleagues, new entrants to the profession and so on. On two occasions when I have moved jobs, a team member whom I had helped to develop through coaching and mentoring has succeeded me. Both of these individuals were then able to take the role they were promoted to onto new heights continuing the philosophy of continuous improvement. The mentoring relationship with one of the individuals has continued in the over ten years since.
I believe it is helpful to know something of the individual as this gives a context for how and why they ‘do things as they do’. My preferred learning style is active and I am a ‘Shaper’ according to Belbin (1993), both of which probably explain why I have developed ‘on the job’ and have engaged enthusiastically in developing the programmes of PR study. Myers Briggs has suggested I favour intuition and feelings, I have come out as both extrovert and introvert depending upon when I have taken the test and in what context (as a personal exercise or as part of a recruitment exercise – who says you can’t change the scores!). Coinciding with the birth of my son I became less judgmental and moved more towards perception as my preference. This illustrates just how diverse human beings are according to life experiences, context and task. In my role in HE it ensures that I am able to be cognisant of difference and allow explorations of difference. This is quite a challenge for a PR professional as the PR role is very much about managing messages – control freaks abound in the profession! Self awareness makes us all more effective at whatever we do as it allows us to understand how we impact on other people and how it is OK to come at problem solving from different points of view and in different ways.
When I first arrived at the University (2006), I was very focussed on the workplace and ensuring the students would have the right skills set for the world of work. Consequently I took a very practical approach to my teaching, littering it with examples of practice from my own career and creating opportunities for the assessments to have a portfolio element to them. I was not convinced by a purely academic approach for what I considered a vocational subject area (Public Relations – PR). However, working alongside colleagues who had opinions and beliefs ranging along the continuum from very practical to the purely academic and by reading around the theoretical and academic approaches to PR I have begun to ‘find a voice’ that balances the two. I still hold dear to the idea of ensuring students can provide employers with evidence of their suitability for the profession they have chosen and so use portfolio style assessments .