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Archive for September, 2009

On Sunday, September 27, 2009, The Washington Post ran this headline on its front page: “Sandwiching Older Metro Cars Was PR Move.”

The headline referred to the Washington Metro officials’ move to sandwich older rail cars between newer, more sturdy, rail cars in response to this summer’s subway crash that killed nine people. The older cars being sandwiched are similar to the one that was crushed in the crash.

Metro officials said the move was to improve safety, but as the Post reports, the practice was not based on engineering analysis. The initiative was called “PR”.  In a letter to the Tri-State Oversight Committee, Metro Safety official Alexa Dupigny-Samuels  said the Metro repositioned the cars “to provide an added level of reassurance” but did not cite any scientific support for the move.

The Post said that subsequently, the Committee concluded the move was “purely a public relations effort.”

It’s obvious neither the Metro nor the Committee knows what PR is. What the Metro did was a stunt, not PR.  The Metro needed to take methodical steps to study what went wrong and fix it, making rail cars and all aspects of subway usage safe.  Professional public relations management would have kept all publics informed during the process.

Finally, once the problem was fixed for good, then the Metro should have shared the information with key publics. If the Metro wanted to “provide an added level of reassurance”, then fixing the problem that led to the crash and keeping publics informed of progress was the reassurance sorely needed.

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A line from my favorite poem, To Lucasta, Going to the Wars, says, “true, a new mistress I now chase…” 

That fits me now. I have started a new blog as part of my doctoral studies in Instructional Technology at Towson University. My first love is and always will be More With Les, but the new blog allows me to focus on education and instructional technology in a more scholarly way.

But at times, there will be some correlation and overlap. Since I teach Mass Communication, PR Track, I will be writing about communication/PR/IMC on occasion. 

For example, I just posted some thoughts on technology standards in the comm/PR world. In it, I write about usage policies for social media, concentrating on corporate Weblog policies. Since that might be of interest to MWL readers, I wanted to tell you about it.

The new blog is named Les Potter on Education & Instructional Technology. Please visit and leave a comment at any time. I welcome your feedback.

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Media are merely vehicles that deliver instruction but do not influence student achievement any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition (Clark 1983).

 Take that, you teachers who use instructional technology in the classroom!

 For those of us who study the effective and efficient use of instructional technology, Clark’s words are startling. Is this true?

As an instructor in Mass Communication, PR Track, I see a parallel question with education’s use of media and media used in communication/PR.

 For trained communicators like me, one other name comes to mind — Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan is famous for saying, “the medium is the message.”  The focus is on the medium itself not so much the content of the message.

It’s Clark versus McLuhan in a steel cage grudge match.

If Clark is correct, then what matters in education? Perhaps it’s the teacher, the quality of instruction, the subject matter, what is presented, but not necessarily how it is presented. Clark argues that the media teachers use only conveys instruction without helping student achievement.

If McLuhan is correct, then the message content is less important than the medium conveying it. That seems to fit with today’s fascination with social media. The traditional media that communication/PR professionals have used for decades now seems to be foresaken for social media.

But are communication/PR professionals missing something? My best friend Communication Consultant Extraordinaire Robert J. Holland thinks so. Writing in his blog, Communication at Work, Robert says:

Communicators are still drooling over social media. We want to know everything about it — everything, it seems — and we want to figure it out fast so all our peers will be in awe of us. And before long, we’ll realize that social media are pretty much like all the other communication vehicles out there and we’ll move on to the next thing. For now, however, we’re still in the high hormone stage.

I think Robert nails it. The communication/PR profession’s fascination with social media as the newest and greatest may blind us to the importance of the message and to a proper media mix.

But what about Clark’s bold statement about media and instruction? For educators like me, especially Mass Communication instructors and anyone who wishes to use instructional technology effectively, is the media we use that unimportant?

I don’t think so. I think the media we use is important in helping students learn. But as Robert B. Kozma (2001) says, “whether or not a medium’s capabilities make a difference in learning depends on how they correspond to the particular learning situation — the tasks and learners involved — and the way the medium’s capabilities are used by the instructional design.”

Back to communication/PR, where the (social) media is the message. Holland says:

Too many of us have become obsessed with social media, treating them as if they’re the last cute girl (or guy) that will ever come our way. It’s clouding our judgment and we’re losing our grasp of the fundamentals. I get that social media have changed communication forever. I get that social media have caused a significant shift in how organizations engage and interact with their stakeholders. I get that it’s important for communicators to have a working knowledge of social media including some technical skill. I understand social media’s impact and importance. Last summer I told my public relations students that the change in communication brought about by social media was like that of the Gutenberg press.

To summarize, here is the situation:

  • In education, some argue that media merely conveys information without helping students learn.
  • In communication/PR, some argue that the media, especially social media, is all-important.

For a communication/PR instructor like me, I must find common ground. I think that common ground is captured in the following, which I will call “Lester’s Manifesto”:

I will use instructional technology that helps me create a two-way symmetrical dialogue with my students to help them learn. I will use all relevant media that helps me teach my students successfully. Media in all forms are a tool, whether used by an educator or a communication/PR practitioner. Each medium has its own characteristics. Each has a proper use. No one medium is better than all the rest. In fact, I firmly believe that a well-thought-out media mix is always better than heavy use of a single medium, whether the use is in education or communication/PR.

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Last week was the first week of fall semester. It’s a busy time for me, and every moment counts. There is so much to do to launch four classes and begin a new doctoral course.

Day two, my computer got a virus which shut it down completely. Being the first week of school, the help desk wizards were swamped. I went from Tuesday to late Thursday without a computer — no email, no blog, no Twitter, no Facebook, no student records, no Blackboard, no nothing. It was painful.

But it was also instructive. We are totally dependent on computer and internet technology to do anything anymore.

In reading today about the history of technology and learning, I was struck by the praise once heaped on a technology that would revolutionize education. This technological breakthrough was touted as the greatest system to contribute to learning and science ever invented.  The wording was from 1841, and the “system” was the blackboard. That’s the chalk blackboard, not the computer-based Blackboard.

Education has suffered through many such “breakthroughs” that were believed to be capable of transforming education. Among these are:

  • Audiovisuals using projectors, made less effective by expensive, high-maintenance equipment in the early days plus poor quality and variety of films.
  • Radio, which was simpler than film, but lack of equipment limited diffusion of the medium.
  • Television, loudly and fervently hailed as the greatest innovation to improve education, but didn’t.

When new technologies did not gain wide acceptance and live up to their hype, teachers were frequently blamed as being unwilling to adopt the technology or merely incompetent.

But computers are different. They work in education. Computers are by far the most effective teaching and learning machines ever to be tried in a classroom. But to be truly effective, computers must be used effectively by knowledgeable and dedicated teachers.

Add to that computers and computer systems with adequate virus prevention and correction.

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