Student blogs remain foundation of social-media lessons at Kent State

kentstateYou’ll find 14 new links on my Kent State “Student Bloggers ’09″ box today (right column) — bright young minds discussing niche topics in public relations.

The assignment: Find an area of PR that excites you, explore it, write about it, then work to engage others in the discussion.

Is the exercise effective? We think so. I see passion in the posts, and I hear some online voices stretching beyond the shallowness of tweets and Facebook updates. Blogs require critical thinking and clear writing. Most other social-media tools do not.

Engagement on the student blogs is minimal so far, but we’re only two posts into the exercise. I’m hoping this message will drive a bit of traffic their way.

We’re clinging to the blog assignment, even though weblogs haven’t become the mainstay of PR initiatives many anticipated in ’05, when we designed the course. Blogs are a useful learning tool, since they require students to explore topics and to write intelligently about them. We require that our student bloggers focus on PR in some way, since the blogs eventually become part of a digital portfolio.

The exercise isn’t perfect. A small number of students tell us they don’t enjoy it at all. And fewer than 10% continue blogging beyond the class requirements. Maybe we should be serving more SM Kool-Aid in the computer lab. :-)

When asked why they don’t blog on after the class ends, most students say they don’t have the time or they lack the passion. Blogging is work, even when you enjoy it.

My Top 5

At the risk of offending 2/3rds of the class, here are my “Top 5″ bloggers so far this semeseter, listed in no particular order. Students are under the direction of Professor Stefanie Moore.

Beltway PeRspective. Aaron Kaufman, a senior from the D.C. area, offers balanced and insightful analysis about PR in the political arena.

SM PRactice. Kim Rodia, a senior from Stow, Ohio, uses her blog to explore social-media applications in PR. Like the rest of us, she’s wrestling with what it all means. Great insights for PR students and young professionals.

An Appetite for PR. Marissa Mendel, a senior from Columbus, explores the uses of PR in food marketing. Her first post, about a campaign for the Potato Board, appealed to my Polish and Irish heritage!

The Wild Side of PR. Michelle Wilson, a graduate student from Hudson, Ohio, writes about PR for zoos and aquariums. The daughter of a former zoo director, her lifelong passion for animals and conservation comes through in the blog.

K.I.S.S. Mary Jo Spletzer, a senior from Newton Falls, Ohio, reminds PR students to “keep it simple.” Her first two posts highlight the importance of time management and good writing for young PR professionals.

Two more blogs of note

A Ton of Bricks. I didn’t put Ralph Divila on the “Top 5″ list, even though he’s in the same class. The guy  has a great blog, but an unfair advantage. Ralph completed his undergrad at PRKent in 2002 and has worked in the business for 7 years. He returned to Kent last year to earn his master’s. Ralph’s experience is evident.

Amanda and Chris

Amanda and Chris

Budding Heads PR. Amanda Hayes and Chris Sledzik, who took the PR Online Tactics class last semester, are now rivals on a blog featuring point-counterpoint discussions.

We’re looking for lots of humor and attitude from these two, and some insight as well.

Disclosure: Chris and I have known each other for 24 years, having met in the delivery room at Children’s Hospital in Buffalo, NY. He’s one or the few students who continues to blog even though it’s not required — hereditary madness, I suppose. Chris’ brother Todd designed the blog’s header.

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12 Responses to Student blogs remain foundation of social-media lessons at Kent State

  1. I’m also sticking with blogs as a form of assessment. It’s harder to gain comments now that most of the chattering has moved to Twitter and social networks, but the low profile of blogs today makes them a good training ground. The student has to figure out how to integrate blogging with their other social networks and participate in the conversation.

    There’s no low-hanging fruit to pick any more. No one’s going to get read just because they have a blog. Publish then filter…

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      Thanks for stopping in, Richard. I appreciate your feedback always, and I’m glad we agree on the value of the exercise. Critical thinking is the key to this exercise, and I know that can be accomplished via papers and essays. But we like the idea of opening up the conversation to others. We also find that students’ online work helps them build a profile in the professional world, particularly those who promote their blogs effectively using Twitter, Facebook, et. al.

  2. Hi Bill, the blog is an important part of my “Writing for Public Relations” class, with the students blogging at least weekly based on a group of readings about social media or writing.

    However, I use the internal blogging function on Blackboard, not a public blog. The students have to do that in a colleague’s course, so they are gaining that experience. Plus, I want them to feel that they can honestly talk through issues/topics without the whole world being able to read what they say as budding professionals. I do worry that if I opened it to the public view, some crazy idea or comment might have adverse consequences in the future.

    Of course, I urge students to find a topic to blog about and do this as a form of quasi-internship, particularly for students that complain about not having the time or money to internship with an organization.

    We’ve had a couple students take that initiative in the past two years, each building their “online brand” through consistent, interesting blogging. As a result, I would guess that Sydney Owen and Meg Roberts are two of the most well-known young PR professionals in the business. It all started when they took the initiative to blog.

    Keep holding them to the fire. Your students cannot write or critically think too much!

  3. Bill Sledzik says:

    We had a few discussions on whether students should blog “behind the wall” of our online course management system. But we decided that, while there is some risk to self esteem, students and the program benefit from showing their work in the public forum.

    The rationale (as I recall it):

    1) Students in the PR Online Tactics class are generally seniors, so their writing and critical thinking skills are about as good as they’ll get while still in school. Simply put, we think they’re ready for public scrutiny.

    2) Our students have experience in the public forum. All have spent at least one semester presenting their work in the Kent Stater, Kent NewsNet, or TV2 — some longer. And the audience for their work in student media is far greater than the audience for their blogs. Of course, the blog isn’t the same as objective reporting, since it’s about what YOU think, and you have to defend it in the comments box.

    3) Students are permitted (though not encouraged) to minimize the promotion of their blogs to the outside world — even so far as closing access to the search engines. We don’t evaluate students on the number of links or comments they attract, since that’s beyond their control. But I gotta tell you, the students who get those links and comments are the ones who are most enthused about the exercise. It becomes the true blogging experience.

    Anyway, you and I will have plenty of time to talk it over once you get up here. Can’t wait to have you on board. (For those needing context on that remark.)

    I should add that many, but not all, of our students do gain some experience blogging “behind the wall” in early classes. And they’ve had plenty of coaching on their writing before they enter this experience.

  4. Chuck Hemann says:

    Hi, Bill –

    Count me as one of the people that thinks writing a blog should be required of students (even though my vote doesn’t carry any weight). As you noted above, blog posts can be a great barometer of writing and critical thinking skills. I’m surprised to see that so many students don’t continue on given that, in theory, they are blogging about something that interests them within the PR field. But, as you note, blogging is a labor of love (with more emphasis on labor).

    I’m looking forward to checking out these blogs. Thanks for the recommendations.

  5. Andy Curran says:

    It’s a great way to practice writing and Web 2.0 skills.

    You be more creative than with a paper by incorporating other media and links.

    Brevity is probably more of a needed skill these days because of the way things are playing out on the web.

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      And Twitter, while it requires little in the way of critical thinking, is an excellent way to hone your skills of brevity. Tweet early. Tweet often.

      • Andy Curran says:

        A writer can hone the brevity skills in a blog, too. All of the great newspaper columnists had word limits which forced them to get to the point. You can have quality without quantity. You can even be brief while writing complete words and sentences. Imagine that! Too many blogs ramble on with unrelated comments. This also happens with amateur video and audio pices, as well.

        Admittedly, I struggle with this from time-to-time. It’s an acquired skill.

  6. [...] Student blogs remain foundation of social-media lessons at Kent State « ToughSledding toughsledding.wordpress.com/2009/10/11/student-blogs-remain-foundation-of-social-media-lessons-at-kent-state – view page – cached You’ll find 14 new links on my Kent State “Student Bloggers ‘09″ box today (right column) — bright young minds discussing niche topics in public — From the page [...]

  7. Congratulations, newest PRKent bloggers. And watch out for this Sledzik guy and this Moore lady: they know a thing or two about social media, so pay attention!

    Also, keep in mind that there is more to social media than just blogging, and I’m not just talking Twitter and Facebook or any of a thousand other channels. It is more than just conversations and conversions and connectedness. Far more than mashing multimedia apps on the web, mobility or mastery of code and design. It is all of that and then some.

    Social media is constantly evolving, and doing so faster than any of us can possibly imagine. And that’s perfectly okay. Heck, it’s what makes it so gosh darn fun (forgive me, trying to watch my cussing around a five-year-old).

    Remember to apply your PR jedi mastery, too. Think strategically, remember your audiences, stay on message, actually have a message and focus on the writing.

    Lastly, blogging is more forgiving in some ways (thank you, WordPress drafts) and less forgiving (curse you, Google cache). And if you’re lucky and find a massive following, everybody will tweet when you muck up. No pressure :)

  8. Greg Smith says:

    Blogs will remain a staple at Notre Dame Australia, too, Bill. They enable the students to be creative, investigative and to practice their writing skills – all while receiving a quick response to their posts. Regards, Greg.

  9. Janet says:

    This is SO crucial in the “real world.” I’m an ’09 grad, and 75% of what I do as an account coordinator is social media-related. I feel really lucky that I had professors who (despite some pressure from the department to focus on theory, writing old-school press releases, yadda yadda) personally created courses that focused on social media and inspired me to explore on my own. I think that blogging made me a better writer, and by having a blog of my own, I am able to build better relationships with the bloggers I pitch. So, just wanted to say that what you’re doing is hugely helpful for the students in your classes.

    PS – I went to KSU freshman year but I transferred. I never had you as a professor! :(

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