Archive for the ‘Better instruction’ Category

After writing the sailing post below, I was a bit drained emotionally. But my spirits soon lifted with the visit of two students.

I was asked to dinner by a current student who wanted to share her good news with me personally. She had just been offered a great job with a top PR firm. Even though she is still a senior with a few more classes to take, she was heavily recruited and hired now for her formidable skills, especially in the word of mouth social media area.

I knew something like this would happen to this student. She was tops in my classes. She never missed a class. She always read her material and came prepared to discuss it. She writes on par with seasoned professionals. She is a leader in our student professional association chapter. She can always be counted on to get the job done on time with a high degree of professionalism.

The other visit was from a student who graduated about two years ago. She is working for a large non-profit organization in a major city. She came to see me to talk strategy about a promotion she has been offered. She wanted to discuss the pros and cons of the deal and to plan how she would handle the upcoming negotiations. Nice problem to have this day and time.

This student has the same characteristics of the other. She excelled in my classes and could always be counted on to do work above and beyond what was required. She also participated in our student professional association chapter. She has turned what was an entry level job into a much more professional and responsible position, and for her efforts, she is being considered for a promotion to a job with much greater responsibility.

Both students also had successful internships which gave them hands-on experience while in college.

These exemplary women make me so proud that they are my students. It is an honor to work with them, and it is especially pleasing to be friends and professional colleagues after graduation. While they are generous in crediting me with helping them, I did little but allow them to learn and grow into the success stories they are. It touches my heart and keeps me going.


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Since men are born tabula rasa, both cognitively and morally, a rational man regards strangers as innocent until proven guilty, and grants them that initial good will in the name of their human potential. After that, he judges them according to the moral character they have actualized.

                                                                                      — Ayn Rand

Rand captures the way I relate to other people. Everyone starts out “on my good list.” You get taken off the list by what you do.

I am currently involved with two situations that require me to start with Rand’s “innocent until proven guilty” premise. First, I am studying standards of validation and evaluation of qualitative research. Second, I am grading research papers submitted by students in one of my upper-level courses. Each situation requires judgment.

I accept the findings of a qualitative research project as trustworthy until I can validate it. I also accept students’ research papers as trustworthy until I can read, check, and assess them.

From John W. Creswell (2007), I am learning that “qualitative researchers strive for ‘understanding’, that deep structure of knowledge that comes from visiting personally with participants, spending extensive time in the field, and probing to obtain detailed meanings.”

As an instructor, I am striving to understand why my students did what they did with their research papers. In my previous post, “What exactly do you want?”, I explored how students want the most specific details about how to complete assignments in order to score the highest grades. This research paper was assigned the first week of the semester and due mid-term. The instructions filled one page of the course syllabus. Instructions were clear, concise, and complete. For example, APA style is APA style. How much clearer can you be? Point deductions for infractions were clearly spelled out.

Creswell and others are teaching me to validate my qualitative research. I will employ “validation strategies” in an attempt to assess the “accuracy” of the findings as best described by me (the researcher) and the research participants. I will conduct research, analyze my findings, then use validation strategies to check and re-check my work. At some point, I will be reasonably assured of the validity of my research.

Yet, when I read these research papers, I am appalled at the quality. I think of the qualitative research training I am currently receiving. Is there a way to get behind what I am reading, to go beyond the senseless errors to find out why the results are the way they are?

Creswell says to think in terms of credibility. Public relations professionals know that credibility is essential to persuasion. So, too, is credibility essential to qualitative research. And credibility is essential to a student’s research paper as well.

Creswell adds that self-reflection contributes to the validation of the work. In the end, I guess self-reflection is all I have concerning the disappointing research papers.

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How many times a week does a teacher or employer hear this question?

My colleagues and I in the Advertising/Public Relations Track at Towson University are hearing this question from students with increasing frequency. More and more students want exact instructions, step by step, on how to do assignments. This is true across a variety of advertising and public relations classes and of all grade levels.

The conflict lies in the fact that we do provide exact instructions in syllabi, in rubrics, and in classroom discussions.

But students want more. They want special time devoted to step by step, point by point guidance on every aspect so that they may make the highest grade. I completely understand the desire to score high, but what I do not understand — and cannot accept — is this level of hand-holding that precludes a student from taking ownership and practicing decision-making, problem-solving skills.

From 30-plus years’ experience as a practitioner, I can tell students with certainty that employers are not going to provide this level of instruction. They pay you to solve problems. It is best to develop these skills now, because the honeymoon period for new employee to scrutinized, performance-appraised  employee is quite short.

I wonder if this phenomenon is a characteristic of the Millennial generation?

To be fair to students, I believe that they are entitled to clear and comprehensive instructions on any given assignment — to a point. That stops short of instructions that eliminate the need for problem-solving. Learning to solve problems, developing some analytical ability, is the heart of the university experience, in my opinion.

In one of the best corporate communication/PR/IMC positions I ever had, my Type-A, MBA boss would regularly call me in, give me an assignment that to him was of utmost importance, yet came with vague general guidance. He focused on the outcome he wanted. Early in our relationship, I would ask him for more detailed guidance. He would quickly lose patience and tell me to figure it out. If I gave him a puzzled look, he would frequently say, “Les, go make something happen.”

I learned so much from this great mentor. True, I worked many long hours figuring things out to achieve the outcomes he wanted, but once I accomplished such an assignment, the next one was a little easier. Plus, I always overachieved on my quarterly objectives that qualified me for a bonus, and he always gave me a higher-than-expected bonus.

I do not know what is driving this “tell me exactly what you want” phenomenon, but it concerns me. Students and employees alike must step up, own an assignment, and make something happen. Anything less will result in lower grades and lower performance reviews.

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I have been giving much thought lately to writing. Metacognition does not, a priori, lead to frequent blog posts.

Cognition, or awareness or thought, is necessary for writing. When you add the prefix “meta” which means “about,” you are really saying “thinking about thinking” or “thinking about knowing.” You have to think about what you know on any given subject to write effectively about it.

However, thinking about writing does not put words in a post or on a page.

Driving this in large part is my Qualitative Research Methods in Education doctoral class. In it, we talk about writing, then we write, and then we talk about what we wrote, and then we write some more. It is an effective cycle of study and practice, of theory and application.

As an instructor of public relations writing, I engage in the same cycle in my classes.

In my previous post, I explored what I am learning about writing qualitative research from my reading about qualitative research writing, then compared that to writing for public relations.

But, if we are going to write really well, what do we need to study? Make that, to read?

Studying the work of Harry F. Wolcott and John W. Creswell is helping me learn to write qualitative research. Thomas H. Bivens’ wonderful textbook, Public Relations Writing, is the book I use to teach my PR Track students how to write.

Every week, I train PR Track students to write succinctly. And every week, I am learning the importance of “thick description” in writing qualitative research.

Possible joke: What is the difference between a PR person and a qualitative researcher? Answer: the length of their sentences.

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Towson’s fall semester begins September 2. Syllabi for my four classes are printed. Class rosters are ready for the first roll call. For weeks now, I’ve been planning lessons that hopefully will help my students learn to be competent communication/PR/IMC professionals.

But I also feel obligated to prepare my students for the “real world” of work and life in general. I wrote about this in the post below, “The Olympics has winners and losers, just like real life.” To effectively face that reality, students and practitioners alike must learn to make wise, ethical, and responsible choices. We all must do the right thing at all times. We must accept responsibility and be accountable for our actions. In so doing, we develop integrity.

Why is integrity important? Integrity, or probity, is all-important to living life responsibly, successfully, richly, fully, and eventually, as a self-actualized individual.

We have codes of ethics from IABC and PRSA to guide us in our work. Many of us have values that we derive from our spiritual beliefs to govern our personal conduct. And in the end, we must accept responsibility for our actions. That takes integrity.

How does this play out in the real world?

  • Students — study hard, follow instructions, do assignments on time, correctly, with attention to detail, show up on time to all classes ready to participate in a meaningful way, and do not cheat or plagiarize. Students who do this, who accept that they are responsible for their success, should achieve course objectives and score high grades.
  • Practitioners — devote themselves to continuous learning and professional development, do their assignments on time, correctly, with attention to detail, show up on time and participate in a meaningful way on the job, and practice ethically and morally. Practitioners who do this, who accept that they are responsible for their success, should achieve desired results and will earn higher salaries, bonuses, promotions, perks, and career advancement.

Common denominators with both groups are accepting responsibility, being accountable, and acting with integrity. These are fundamental ingredients for success.

Joe Gibbs, the famous football coach and owner of the NASCAR team, Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), provides us with a great lesson to support this thinking. NASCAR recently suspended seven of his crew members and stripped his drivers Tony Stewart and Joey Logano of 150 points each for cheating after last week’s Nationwide series race in Michigan. Two of JGR’s crew chiefs were suspended indefinitely and fined $50,000 each.

A man of integrity, Gibbs accepted the ruling and said he would not appeal the penalties. He apologized to all concerned, taking “100 percent” of the blame for his team. He also said he would take further disciplinary action against his team members.

Gibbs said that in 17 years of NASCAR racing, no representative of JGR ever knowingly acted outside of NASCAR rules. Gibbs is a man of honor and never would knowingly condone cheating to win. He does not need to. Gibbs’ cars have dominated the Nationwide series this season, winning 14 of 25 races.

Lessons learned: Gibbs runs his team and his life with integrity and accepts the responsibility and accountability for its and his own actions. So must students and practitioners (and instructors, too).

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It seems that every time I turn on the TV to watch the Olympics, beach volleyball is on. I had never before seen this event. But I have become a fan of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh. I want them to win gold medals.

In essence, I want them to succeed, like I always wanted my employees to succeed, and now, my students.

Watching the Olympics, the point driven home to me with all the force of a Misty or Kerri shot is this: The Olympics is a metaphor for life, especially work/careers. There are winners, and there are losers. Students must get used to it, for as anyone working today knows, that is the way it is in the workplace.

 In the Olympics, the best get either first, second, or third place. Everyone wants the gold, but there can be only one gold medalist.

On the job, I believe that most employees want to record good performance doing meaningful work in jobs that matter. Study after study proves this. My own 30-plus years of experience in Corporate America as both a manager and later as a consultant have shown this to be true.

Yet, I am seeing a disturbing trend among my Millennial students. Many have an unreal set of expectations about course performance that I fear will hurt their ability to make it in the workplace. In every class, an alarming number of students appear to believe that they should make only “As” no matter what. It appears that some simply feel entitled to As.

News flash — you earn “As” just like you earn job offers, promotions, and bonuses in the workplace. I have no problem with awarding high grades to students who earn them. I never had a problem with rewarding my employees when they deserved it either.

What disturbs me is the attitude when a student gets less than the coveted “A”: “But I worked so hard in this course! I tried so hard. It’s not fair!”

This is a meaningless argument. We are all supposed to try hard all the time. Life requires our strenuous efforts just to make it. It is not a question of fair or unfair. It just is what it is.

What if you heard a silver or bronze medalist whining, “But I tried so hard!” He or she probably did, and all the world saw it. We expect no less in the Olympics. Trying hard is a given; but there will be winners and losers.

Truth is, instructors and employers expect no less of students and employees, respectively. And there will be winners and losers in the classroom and workplace, too.

The individual has the power to affect outcomes in the classroom and the workplace. Just as Olympic athletes prepare themselves for competition, students and employees must prepare themselves to compete as well. That means training, discipline, and mental toughness.

The best prepared will succeed, and many times that includes those who work and try the hardest. These select individuals will “win the gold” whether that gold is an A grade or a job offer, promotion, or bonus. Others will not.

When we enter the classroom or the workplace, we are not automatically entitled to the “gold” just by being there. We all must prove ourselves worthy. There is an old expression heard frequently in business: “What have you done for me lately?” It means that we must continually prove our worth.

Unfair, you say? Perhaps, but it’s the truth. But the good news for both student and employee is that in both settings, there can be more than one gold medalists — more than one student can earn an “A”, and more than one employee can earn a job offer, promotion, or bonus. All it takes is the right attitude, a strong work ethic, and discipline.

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I’ve been having a running conversation with some of my colleagues in the Master’s and Doctoral programs at Towson about digital literacy. We’ve discussed at length whether or not blogging helps or hurts literacy.

Many of my fellow educators who teach Mass Communication or Public Relations, especially writing, require students to blog. I do not. But I do use blogs in my course work. In fact, blogs and blogging are prominent features of any classes I teach. The impact of blogs on the communication/PR/IMC industry is profound. Therefore, no communication/PR/IMC course work is complete without blogs and blogging.


Approximately 1.4 new blogs are created every second of every hour of every day. Over 12 million Americans, or about 8% of adult Internet users, blog.  About 57 million Americans, about 39% of the online population, read blogs (Pew Internet & American Life Project).  


The trend appears to show no signs of abating. According to Torill Elvira Mortensen, Volda University College, Norway, there are three directions of blogging: One is that human beings desire meaning because we are thinking beings as well as communicating beings. This leads to:

·       Most recent, most sophisticated technology is built for communication.

·       Via the Internet, individuals can find, share, and contribute information.

·       Blogging’s best gift is just that – the opportunity for individuals to express themselves.

·       Impact on traditional news media is powerful.

Second, blogs are changing the concept of the sender-message-receiver model conceived in 1949. Most communicators studied this model. Mortensen says the new image of the users emerges from the personal publishing power the Internet gives the individual. This needs a new model to describe it. Much more research is needed.

Third, speaking of research, Mortensen says there is a clear distinction between the online and offline community. The computer world offers symbols, while the real world offers real sustenance. Therefore, all study of human behavior online becomes a study of the human exchange of symbols online. Sender institutions are no longer monolithic. The audience and the senders are all becoming participants.

It is an exciting new world, full of opportunities for self-expression, research, collaboration, and community.



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