(Note: There is something wonky going on with the formatting here, and I can’t figure it out. I’m sure it has something to do with the CSS.)
Last semester, students in my Public Relations Campaigns class were responsible for maintaining a class blog on trends and issues in PR. The main goal of the assignment was to allow them to get their feet wet in social media, encourage them to read a variety of PR blogs, gain experience writing in a format unfamiliar to most of the students, and provide a forum in which they could discuss professional topics. I taught two sections of the course, and each section was broken into teams for their larger client projects. Teams from both sections contributed to the blog, which was also a way for them to interact amongst themselves despite being in different classes.
I didn’t provide many guidelines for the assignment, since my main purpose was to get them writing, and I didn’t want us to get bogged down in rules. Teams were required to post once a week, and individual students to comment on at least two posts by other teams. They were required to include at least one link, preferably to a public relations blog, and to explain the significance of their chosen topic to public relations. That was basically it. As a result, the quality of the posts was uneven, but at the end of the semester most of the students noted that they had enjoyed the assignment and learned a lot from it.
Next semester, the assignment is going to change considerably. For one thing, we are in the process of creating a microsite for our PR program within the larger school web site, and the student blog will be featured content. This greater visibility means that readership is likely to be wider, bringing in casual visitors to the site, potential students, local practitioners, and others. Furthermore, due to recent curriculum changes, more students coming into the class are likely to have a basic understanding of the mechanics of blogging and some experience with maintaining at least a personal site. And finally, although I incorporated plenty of social media into the course last semester, this time around I want to make sure that SM practices are even more deeply embedded into the course content and assignments. Somewhat paradoxically, I’m convinced that doing so will help prevent some of the “have hammer, will find nail” effect that leads students to attempt to incorporate social media strategies and tactics into their campaigns in ways that don’t really suit the client’s goals and objectives.
Since I try to give very detailed explanations of my assignments, outlining both the purpose and my expectations, I’ve been working on the assignment sheet for the new and improved class blog. What better place to look for feedback than among fellow PR bloggers? Details of the assignment are tucked away below, and your input is welcome.
Class Blog Assignment Details
Purpose of the assignment
Blogging is one important way in which public relations practitioners take part in conversations within the field, establish their expertise, and represent their organization to fellow professionals and the public at large. The blogosphere is a place where tribes form, grow, change, and dissolve.
The purpose of the JMC417 blog is to highlight and reflect on trends and issues in the public relations field. It is prominently linked from the new PR microsite within the Cronkite School web site. It is therefore your job to turn this blog into a valuable resource for the public relations community, as well as to represent our Public Relations program.
Reading widely among professional blogs will deepen your understanding of blogging cultural norms, and ensure that you stay abreast of changes and new developments in the profession; writing regular posts will give you practice in the genre and allow you to reflect thoughtfully on current topics; commenting on others’ posts and responding to comments on your own will help you become active, engaged participants in the online PR world.
Details of the assignment
Being an effective blogger involves three main areas of skill and activity:
- Writing engaging, thought-provoking, and intelligent posts that encourage others to respond.
- Responding to those who comment on your blog.
- Engaging with others in the blogosphere.
This assignment therefore also has three parts:
- Each team is required to post once a week, before 11:59 p.m. each Monday night. You may decide amongst yourselves who writes the post each week, or whether to collaborate. The category for the post should be your team name; use appropriate tags. See below for requirements and grading criteria for each post. Everyone on the team is responsible for making sure that a post is published by the weekly deadline.
- Someone from the team must respond to each comment made on the blog, whether by classmates or outsiders. Again, you can work out amongst yourselves how to handle comment responses.
- You must comment on at least two blog posts each week, also by 11:59 pm on Mondays. Early in the semester these comments may be limited to blog posts by classmates, but I will eventually require you to comment on posts within the broader PR blogosphere. I may also sometimes specifically assign a blog post or series of posts to comment on. Email me links to your comments as you make them, using the subject line “JMC417 Blog comment.”
Each blog post must:
- Link to at least one post in another blog (the blogroll is a good starting point for source material). Additional links are encouraged. If the post you are referring to addresses other online material, please include all links necessary to help your reader follow the conversation. Use meaningful link text.
- Identify all people and organizations named, with links and brief descriptions.
- Express an opinion or point of view on the issue addressed.
- Ask a question to encourage discussion.
- Be unique: do not link to the same items or address identical topics as other posts in the JMC417 blog. Search the blog before posting to avoid duplicates. If you are particularly interested in a given topic that has already been posted, you are free to participate in discussion in the comments thread.
Posts will be graded on:
- Meeting the basic criteria outlined above, for starters. Additionally:
- Presentation. Writing should be clear, professional, and grammatical. Links should be worded appropriately. Bolding, bullets or numbered lists, white space, and other formatting elements should be used to enhance the readability of the posts. Tags and categories should be accurate and reflective of content.
- Relevance. Topics need to relate to public relations practice, research, and/or education, and the relevance should be clear and explicitly described in the post. Timeliness is an added bonus, but topics of ongoing significance are also acceptable.
- Engagement. Posts should thoughtfully address the chosen topic using concepts addressed in class, internship experiences, or other reference material. The point of the blog is to engage in conversation, so make sure you have something worth saying. Readership is diverse, so explain any references to theories or other specific concepts from class to ensure that everyone can follow your post without effort.
- Persuasiveness. By “persuasiveness” I don’t mean that you necessarily have to “sell” a point, or avoid voicing your own doubts and indecision regarding the complex issues you may wish to write about. However, your opinions should be supported by evidence, including links wherever possible.
Comments will be graded on:
- Presentation. Comments should be written clearly and grammatically.
- Relevance. Comments should pertain to the post topic.
- Engagement. Comments should respond thoughtfully to the post, and contribute substance to the conversation.
Blogging will be worth a cumulative total of 15% of your grade for the semester. Post and post response grades apply to the entire team; comments are graded for individuals.