My teaching philosophy: Setting the bar high enough that students have to jump

Following our end-of-the-semester project presentations this semester I had a student ask me what my teaching philosophy was. To be honest, I haven’t thought about this much since I created my philosophy during my doctoral studies (many, many moons ago). It was an assignment. Something we had to do to include in teaching portfolios and send out during job hunts. I think I may have included it in an award package at one time too…

Obviously, I haven’t thought about it or even looked at it for a while. Which is strange because it is supposed to guide my teaching. Have I been teaching on autopilot? Have I done my students a disservice? The answer to both questions is “NO.” And here’s why:

1. I read (in great detail) the comments from students, from colleagues and from professionals about what needs to be taught in public relations, advertising and strategic communication classes. I try to incorporate as much as possible from their comments into each lecture. I also find out where our students need the most improvement to succeed and make sure to focus on these items in assignments.

2. I have never taught the same material twice. This isn’t to say that I have not taught the same classes, but I never teach the classes the same way. I am always incorporating new technologies, new topics, new discussions, etc. Look at my syllabi from semester to semester and you will see that my classes constantly change to reflect industry trends, current events, etc.

3. I seek out opportunities to learn more. Recently, I spoke to a professional about job shadowing over the summer months. I haven’t been a PR/advertising professional since 2002. That’s 10 years since I have worked for a client. So, in addition to job shadowing I stay active in professional organizations, bring in guest speakers to my classes, and even take technology/skills classes to keep “up to speed.”

4. I set the bar high in my classes and keep it there. I know what is expected of them as professionals and I make sure they are doing professional-level work. I would be doing a disservice to students if I either: a) set the bar so low so that everyone got “As” and thus, no one who did spectacular work was recognized for it, or b) moved the bar for some people and kept it higher for others. In both cases I would be accepting non-professional work and telling students that was acceptable.

Which brings me to my personal teaching philosophy. I’m going to call it the “high jump philosophy.”

photo by dairytwirl on Flickr

photo by dairytwirl on Flickr

I was a track and field athlete from middle school through college (roughly 11 years), so this analogy is based on my time practicing, building strength and stamina, and focusing on my end goals… which is exactly what I try to get my students to do in my classes.

In high school track the starting height for girl’s high jump is 3’10.” Most high school girls can do this in their sleep — this is why it’s called the starting height. No one pulls out their best jump at the starting height. Some will pass until a “better” or “harder” height, some will practice their form at this height, others will simply mess around and do a goofy jump or scissor-leg over this height to show off. NO ONE tries to clear the bar by jumping 5’10” on the 3’10” starting height. NO ONE. Why? Because the bar isn’t set for their best jump. It’s set where everyone can accomplish something. 

This is a “C bar” in my class. Like I said, most high school girls can clear the starting height in their sleep (and so can high school boys since the height for the boy’s high hurdles is 39″ or 3’1/4″ — making the high jump bar just a mere 9 3/4 inches more than most boys can run and step over). This is average. Come to class, take part in discussions, turn in your assignments and you are guaranteed a “C” because you can basically do these things in your sleep.

In high jump, the bar increases 2 inches after everyone has jumped. That means the next heights are 4′, 4’2″, 4’4″, 4’6″ and so on. Each time the bar increases two more inches it gets harder for everyone to clear it. This is the same in my classes. If you want a “B” then you have to jump higher than you did for the “C”. If you want an “A” then you better pull out your best jump. You better work hard, practice, follow my training (and the grading rubrics) and show me your best work.

In the high jump the bar never goes back down in height. It just keeps going up. At some point you have your winners – gold, silver, bronze. In my classes these are all A’s — the students who distinguished themselves from their peers by pulling out their best jumps (i.e., their best work).

Not everyone will clear 5’10” in the high jump. Not everyone will have trained hard enough to earn that accomplishment. And guess what, not everyone should. There should be heights some people just can’t clear in their sleep. There should be some things that people must work hard at to earn. Just like in the high jump, grades in my classes are earned, NOT GIVEN.

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Missing Baton Rouge? Helping BRAC showcase the best of BTR using SCVNGR

I am a transplant to Baton Rouge. I was not born a Southerner. I was born and raised in Wisconsin and then lived in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and West Virginia for the first 35+ years of my being. As you can see on this map, I spent most of my life living above the Mason-Dixon Line.

Image from SonoftheSouth.net

Image from SonoftheSouth.net

As someone new to the area I want to take in everything I can of the culture, the cuisine and the surroundings. But, it isn’t easy to find out more about where you live. Often, many of the things you ask about people who have lived there forever either: 1) take for granted and don’t tell you about it ’cause they think you already know it, or 2) don’t know “why” a thing is the way it is. Things have been lost over generations. Stories that used to be passed on about local legends have been forgotten. While there are sites such as this one that help collect local folklore, the stories listed there are sparce. As you can see from this Louisiana listing, not much has been handed down and posted to the site.

Now, when it comes to the local cuisine, Southerners can tell you EVERYTHING. Where to locate the best, what spices they use, how to make it yourself at home, etc. Recently, a friend showed us how to do a proper Louisiana Crawfish Boil — and Wowee was it amazing!!!!!

Image from Commons.wikimedia.com

Image from Commons.wikimedia.com

Getting to better know my surroundings has been a bit more difficult. I want to visit all those places that make Baton Rouge unique. The places that aren’t necessarily listed in the brochures at the hotels:) That’s where the Baton Rouge Area Chamber (BRAC) and SCVNGR come in.

BRAC is currently working to promote Baton Rouge as the Creative Capital of the South. They are working with local businesses to bring new talent to the Baton Rouge area. To promote BTR they are using interaction, engagement and yes, even the geolocation-based mobile gaming application, SCVNGR. As part of the service-learning component of my MC4001- Public Relations Writing course at the Manship School of Mass Communication, students are building mobile treks to help BRAC showcase the best of BTR. Their hope is to get talented individuals to re-locate here permanently.

The treks BRAC and my students have planned are:

  • Discover/Re-discover BR
  • Nightlife
  • Arts and Culture
  • Get out of Town

Each of these will help people who are transplants (i.e., completely new to the area) or boomerangs (i.e., once lived here and are coming back) find out about established locations as well as new places they should try out.

So whether you are a boomerang who is missing your roots in Baton Rouge or a transplant who is missing out on Baton Rouge — we have you covered.

Continue following our progress on this project by checking out my students’ blog (see blogroll on left). You can also follow me on Twitter (@jensenmoore) or find me on LinkedIn.

The three types of students who scare me – PR or otherwise

I don’t scare easily. I come from a family made up of a lot of current and former military folk — and we are a pretty brazen bunch. Our family motto should probably be:

jpjones“I have not yet begun to fight.”
– Captain John Paul Jones (aboard the Bon Homme Richard)

So, when someone recently asked me if students ever scared me I had to think a bit.

The “Active Shooter” Scary Student

The faculty at the Manship School recently took part in “Active Shooter Training,” which is essentially how we, as faculty, should act if a person with a gun (usually with intent to harm) comes on the LSU campus. During this training the video stated that the profile of a student likely to become an active shooter is one who:

  • Acts depressed or withdrawn;
  • Reacts very negatively to constructive criticism;
  • Violates rules repeatedly;
  • Displays severe mood swings;
  • Displays unstable responses;
  • Displays anger easily;
  • Is narcissistic — thinks everything is about them; and/or
  • Is paranoid — thinks everyone is against them.

For more on active shooters and how to deal with them, refer to this document from the Department of Homeland Security.

I’m not going to lie, a student who acts like this scares me. I’ve seen only a handful of this type of student (knock on wood) in my 10 years of teaching. Despite what you may have heard or read about millennials, most students I have encountered are not entitled, rude or narcissistic. And despite the proliferation of helicopter parenting, a lot of students today accept responsibility for their actions.

Nonetheless, students with “active shooter” potential are ones I am scared will stalk me, put nails in my tires or push me down a flight of stairs if I say “boo” to them — much less criticize them or give them  a failing grade.

The “Amazing” Scary Student

This student is SOOOO Flippin’ good that you have no idea what you can possibly teach them. They defy the Bell Curve. You know not only know they will succeed, but they will exceed your expectations. Give them a task — any task — and they will blow you away with what they accomplish. They may as well have pure caffeine pumping through their veins ’cause they never show signs of stopping.

be-so-good

I have been honored to work with quite a few of these students over the years. They are respectful; they are kind; they are creative; they are strategic; they are organized; they are prepared; they are motivated; they are capable; they are responsible; they are accountable; they are ethical; they are mature. I am honored when they come to me for something because, quite honestly, I sometimes wonder if I have anything to offer them. They are so much further ahead of the game than I was when I was their age.

The “I’m Graduating and I’ve Got Nothing to Show For It” Scary Student

I am actually the most scared of the “I’m Graduating and I’ve Got Nothing to Show For It” student. These students have NOTHING on their resumes despite that it is the last semester of their college careers. They have spent 4, 5, or 6 years in college partying, sleeping and eating. They have not done any internships. They have not taken part in any extracurricular activities. They do not have any professional job experience – they don’t even have the excuse of bartending to pay their way through college. They (sometimes) made it to classes that they passed (just barely). They were just HERE.

From nurambus.deviantart.com

From nurambus.deviantart.com

I hope these students are either: 1) independently wealthy, or 2) inheriting mommy’s/daddy’s company when they graduate. Otherwise, they are going to join the ranks of the increasing number of students who live at home with their parents. These students scare me because they didn’t take advantage of any MANY opportunities provided to them in college. Overall, I’m not really sure why they bothered to attend college. I’m scared for their futures.

The rest of you students, you don’t scare me (yet).

Having PR students teach me about mobile, social, software, websites and more. Educate the teacher, please!

Some days I feel like a horrible teacher. There are all these cool new “things” (programs, applications, websites, etc.) out there that I keep hearing about and there is no way for me to learn enough about them to pass information on to my students. Here is just a partial list of what I want to know more about this semester:

  1. Facebook Insights
  2. Hootsuite/TweetDeck/Seesmic
  3. 3D Worlds/Second Life
  4. Alexa/Compete/Quantcast
  5. Pinterest
  6. Wikipedia
  7. Help a Reporter Out
  8. My6thSense
  9. Pitch Engine

10. Flicker/Picasa
11. Tumblr
12. Dropbox
13. Groupon
14. Loopt/Gowalla/MyTown
15. Delicious
16. Reddit/Digg/StumbleUpon
17. QR Codes
18. Reporting On
19. Journalisted (UK only?)
20. Beatblogging
21. Google+
22. Google Alerts
23. Google Adwords Keyword tool
24. Google Analytics
25. Google Insights for Search
26. PeerIndex
27. Klout
28. SocialMention
29. Hubspot
30. Prosyna
31. Mention.net
32. Foursquare/SCVNGR/Yelp
33. YouTube & Analytics
34. Website Grader and WooRank
35. Buzzstream
36. LinkedIn
37. Prezi
38. Ping.fm
39. Wolfram/Alpha
40. Boardtracker and Boardreader
41. CleanHaven
42. Diigo
43. Feedburner
44. Wibiya
45. Social Oomph
46. CoTweet
47. Kapost
48. GroupTweet
49. RSS Feeds
50. NetVibes
51. Veeple
52. Slideshare
53. MyAllTop
54. Landerapp
55. StatMyWeb
56. Wired Journalists
57. Radian6
58. Buffer
59. Bit.ly/Ow.ly
60. NameChk
61. Your Pitch Sucks
62. Sprout Social
63. Weebly

Some of these I know enough about to be dangerous — just give the students a brief overview of what the “thing” is, but not how or why to use it. But what I want is for them to understand the new tools available and how to best use them in their jobs. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible for me to keep up with all these. So, what’s a teacher to do? That’s when I am reminded of this fabulous quote about learning by Ben Franklin:

This is when we, as teachers, need to involve the students by  having them educate one another (and in the process, educate the teacher). I consider myself a lifelong learner. I love teaching, but I love learning more. And isn’t that the beauty of education? That  we can all learn from one another.

Take, for instance, what my students are teaching me about Instagram. Not only are they teaching me about photo streams and sharing, but they are teaching me they crave TRUTH. How? By posting photos of their food…. wait, what? That’s right. Think about it. In the past we saw food photos/ads like this:

…where the “ice cream” was most likely mashed potatoes and who know what the brown bits were made of. After all, we all know our ice cream, hamburgers, sub sandwiches, salads, etc. were never going to look like the photos, right? So what are people sharing the most on Instagram? Food that looks good, but also is real. I don’t think they are taking pictures of food because they are going to be food artists, I think they are taking them because they are seeing reality and they want to share a beautiful truth. That food/images can look good without being fake.

When students teach me about the various new tools out there; about how and why they would use them; about best practices for using them in the future, they are not just teaching me about the tool – I get to see their reality. That’s why I employ this method in my classes (though some say it’s because teachers are too lazy to keep up with new technology). For example, using SCVNGR in my PR Writing class not only lets me share a bit about this cool geolocation-based mobile application with them, but I also get to see how they WANT to use it in promotions. And they come up with some really cool stuff:)

Now, if I can just get one of them to teach me how to Dougie….

Formative evaluation and the SCVNGR service-learning project

I believe in formative evaluation. I don’t believe in completely re-inventing the wheel and recreating a course every time you teach it. I believe there is something good from every program, campaign, course, etc. that can be used again, improved upon or scrapped. Student feedback is an important part of this process. By this I do NOT mean the numbers students fill in on an evaluation form — I mean the comments they take the time to write.

Don’t try to re-invent the wheel. Get students to tell you what worked and what didn’t.

I generally use my end-of-semester teaching evaluation comments to help me make revisions for the next semester. Now, don’t get me wrong there are some suggestions I blow off — especially the ones that suggest changing my hair or clothing style. But suggestions regarding the content of the course or my teaching effectiveness definitely receive my attention.

Last semester, my public relations writing students made the following of what I call Most Valuable Suggestions for improving the course:

  1. Spread out assignments a bit more.
  2. Re-vamp the way the mini-campaign works.
  3. Have the teacher find a nonprofit client for each group beforehand.

Other suggestions included: dropping the personal branding project from the beginning of the class (which I did), removing the mini-campaign (which I did not do), providing detailed grading rubrics/checklists for assignments (which I did), lessoning the amount of writing assignments due each class period (which I did), and firing this teacher (which I decided not to look into further:).

With my MVS in hand I set out to revise the course.

This semester the public relations writing students (Manship Class MC 4001) are once again using the SCVNGR geolocation-based mobile gaming application for their mini-campaigns. During the summer I sought out four very different service-learning clients to work with (rather than have students put together a marketing plan and pitch to different nonprofits – item #3). The four nonprofits are: Louisiana Northshore Quilt Trail Association, North Rampart Main Street, Inc., SmokingWords, and Susan G. Komen of Baton Rouge.

I made several changes to the service-learning aspect of the course (the mini-campaign) so that students would understand what it truly means to learn through service. While the deliverables they create are wonderful items to put into a portfolio, students need to understand the importance of using their skills to give back to the community. So, this semester I have them using blogs to reflect on what they are doing for the nonprofit clients, what civic engagement means, professionalism, ethics and social responsibility. I also have them engaging with one another by reading and commenting on one another’s blog posts (item #2). Finally, I have them working together instead of in silos on each part of the mini-campaign.

I removed some of the “busy-work” writing assignments (previously there was one or more writing assignments due each class) and focused on giving them an overview of the different types of writing they will be expected to do in PR (item #1). In addition, I made some changes to the deliverables due to the client during the mini-campaign. Not only did the number of deliverables decrease, but I’ve given the students greater control over what they create for the client and how many they need to use in their digital portfolios. I’ve also taken the time to make it clear to them that the mini-campaign addresses the top 10 competencies employers look for (across disciplines – Korn Ferry/Lominger Model):

  1. Action orientation
  2. Dealing with ambiguity
  3. Creativity
  4. Decision quality
  5. Problem solving
  6. Motivating others
  7. Planning
  8. Priority setting
  9. Strategic agility/thinking ahead
  10. Time management

It is my hope that each of these changes improves: the students’ ability to work with the SCVNGR app.; the quality of observances students make regarding service-learning; the quality of work students deliver to the nonprofit clients; and the quality of work they have to put into their own portfolios at the end.

Follow us on this journey via Facebook (Discover Baton Rouge with SCVNGR) and Twitter (@discoverBTR).

Moments of perfection: Winding down PR writing for the semester

When I worked in baseball for the St. Paul Saints professional team in St. Paul, MN, my favorite time of the day was right before the stadium opened on gameday. I had completed all my PR tasks for that day (e.g., releases, meet and greets, event plans) and had to shift gears to get ready to work community relations for the game that night. I would take a few minutes and go out into the empty stadium and just stare at the field. I didn’t know how we were going to play that night; if we were going to win or lose (and to be honest, I didn’t care). I just knew that I had completed my PR tasks and I could take a moment to simply look over the beautifully prepared field and just relax.

Every homestand the field would look different. The Midway Stadium grounds crew were artists. Sometimes they would mow a checkerboard into the field, sometimes large swirls. The pitcher’s mound would be pristine and the chalk lines would be unmarred. The stadium was quiet, still and clean — with no signs of the roaring crowds that would be there in just a few short hours. It was perfection.

The field at Midway Stadium in St. Paul, MN where the St. Paul Saints play.

I’m a huge Battlestar Galactica fan (yes, I’m a nerd:). When I heard Sam Anders‘ speech on perfection in the final episode of the show (Daybreak, part 1) it really resonated with me. That’s what I look for every day — out of myself, out of my colleagues and out of my students. If you’re not a fan of the show (or even know what it is) I still think this clip will resonate with you.

“What matters to me…it’s perfection. That’s what it’s about. It’s about those moments when you, when you can feel the perfection of creation… And that is the kind of perfection that I want to be connected to” (Sam Anders, BSG 2009).

This semester my PR Writing students have been using SCVNGR, a geolocation-based mobile application, in a service-learning project called Discover Baton Rouge. Teams of 4-5 students have created smartphone treks for local nonprofits (BREC, Baton Rouge Zoo, Hilltop Arboretum, Capitol Park Museum) and then created promotional materials to support the new mobile treks. I’ve been looking over some of the items they have created and am so impressed. They have done amazing work and should be proud of themselves.

It’s those moments, when you can look back over a job well-done and sigh… or just relax and admire something beautiful that make PR (and teaching) worthwhile.

Follow us on this journey via Facebook (Discover Baton Rouge with SCVNGR) and Twitter (@discoverBTR).

Watching the transformation in PR Writing

The first week of class I have students write a press release. I give them the format and the topic (write to your hometown newspaper about your involvement in this class). I got this assignment from a former colleague of mine, Dr. Ivan Pinnell at the P.I. Reed School of Journalism at West Virginia University. Dr. Pinnell graded his and took one point off for each error. He told me that once he had a student start the semester -200 points in the hole (and come crying to him that they had to drop the class as they would never be able to recover). He didn’t, in fact, actually grade the assignment — he just used it to show the students how much they needed to improve.

I have taken the assignment a different direction. I don’t use it to scare them, but I do use it to show them how far they have come. My goal is to take them from this:

To this:

In the coming weeks, the PR Writing students at the Manship School of Mass Communication will complete their first service-learning opportunity. We spent the first 10 weeks of the course in the classroom learning how to research, create and distribute news releases, social media releases, blogs, Twitter posts, brochures, letters, etc. For the past few weeks they have been working outside the classroom on a grant from geolocation-based gaming application, SCVNGR, to help Baton Rouge nonprofits engage audiences. They set up a SCVNGR trek for each nonprofit and are now in the process of creating promotional materials regarding the mobile trek for the nonprofit. They went from learning to applying in the span of one semester. Pretty cool, huh?

I have to tell you, the quality of the writing has dramatically improved from that first week. The students have moved from creating basic, scattered news releases to creating wonderful PR documents. They have become more confident in their writing and editing skills. Check out their blogs (listed in my blogroll) and follow them on their journey.

The students are on spring break this week, but they will hit the ground running again on Monday when the return. I’m excited to see what amazing deliverables these teams will produce. I’m also excited to see what they will have for their final digital portfolios (which I’ll share at the end of the semester).

I have saved the initial news releases they wrote for me (just in case they lost theirs) so they can see just how far they have come in a few short weeks. I hope they are as impressed with their work as I am.

Follow us on this journey via Facebook (Discover Baton Rouge with SCVNGR) and Twitter (@discoverBTR).