Views from Five Faculty Members on the Edelman PRWeek Academic Summit ’08

Five of the faculty members attending the Edelman / PRWeek New Media Academic Summit kindly agreed to interviews recently in Chicago. My apologies for not getting more, but this is a fairly representative sample.

The five faculty members come from diverse universities, both large and medium sized. Sorry, I didn’t get any from small schools. My bad.

Enrollments range from 11,000+ (Howard & SDSU) to 22,000+ at Northeastern, while the enrollment is 31,000+ at UNT and 32,000+ at UGA. Two are private (Howard & Northeastern). Three are public (UNT, SDSU & UGA).

With regard to their programs, UGA’s is a college unto itself while four are in departments within the college of Liberal Arts/Arts & Sciences.

I mention these bits of information to perhaps highlight how broadly the interest in emerging digital media is for their respective curricula. It also, IMO, reflects how many universities are now seeking to broaden their academic programs to include emerging digital media.

I really like what all five had to say about the conference and, more importantly, how they hoped to use what they learned in the classroom. All of them were truly very nice and I thank them for taking the time to chat with us. This experience actually makes me wish I was attending more conferences like this. But, of course, I wish there were more conferences like this. Sad reality is, this is the only solely higher ed focused conference of its kind.

The faculty members are:

I chose to put all five together so we may get an idea of their motivations for attending such a conference. The video runs 4:50.

Questions? I note that only two are actively blogging – Carl & Russell. (Unless I’ve just missed something.) I know about Karen and Walter, as I follow their blogs. So, should the others consider blogging? Are they active online? What are your thoughts on this?

I did find a bit of a trail (I believe) for Ford, but not sure. If she’s into art in Georgetown, and using MeetUp, then it may be her. A book chapter authored by Lambiase is referenced in a few blog posts, but no sign of her online and active. Searches for Tiernan proved fruitless, too. So, are they active, but doing so anonymously? Who knows, but it would be interesting to learn what they may be doing re: online activity. Are these faculty members into the whole experiential learning idea? We’ll see.

Also, I don’t know if all five schools have their students actively involved in online experiential class activities. Are their students blogging, using wikis, social networks, etc.

I’m wondering if they are actively monitoring the Web, too? Let’s see if they find this post and will expand upon what they are doing with their classes in the comments below. Honestly, I’m not trying to pick on any of them by talking about what they are/aren’t doing online. I’d like to learn what their ideas are about faculty blogging. Let’s just call it a test of the personal brand search (or ego search) we tell our students to have running in order to see what people are saying about them online. Hey, ya’ gotta manage your personal brand, too.

Find more videos like this on PROpenMic

Still to come, interviews with Neville Hobson (FIR and Blog), Mary Metcalf (Edelman Digital/Auburn Alum), Gary Goldhammer (Senior Vice President, Edelman), and Alexandra Wheeler (Director, Digital Strategy, Starbucks – I’ll get them up ASAP. You’ll probably see the rest of them this week.

Finally, if you’re wondering about the intro/outro music … hey, I’m just having some fun trying out different ideas for PROpenMic. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Please, humor me.


0 thoughts on “Views from Five Faculty Members on the Edelman PRWeek Academic Summit ’08

  1. Greg Smith

    Of course they should be blogging, particularly if they are teaching in this area. Maybe they needed to attend the conference to realise the worth of social media. If they are teaching in this area and don’t practice what they preach, then they shouldn’t be teaching. I know of one Professor who has just written a book on social media and technology and doesn’t know how to set up a blog. Amazing. There are some good academics in this realm out there (Karen Russell, Richard Bailey and Bill Sledzick, to name a few). But there are also some pretty lousy ones. Come on, people, get with the program.

  2. Robert

    Hey Greg,

    I’m hesitant to reply too soon, as I don’t want to discourage other faculty. But, let me offer this viewpoint.

    I am, of course, a big proponent of experiential education. It may well be that your possible conclusion is closer to the mark, “Maybe they needed to attend the conference to realise the worth of social media.” These faculty members may be just now exploring the area. So, if that’s the case, let’s see if they do start blogging.

    Let’s think of some of the barriers to entry, perceived and/or real.

    Blogging and other emerging digital media may, for some faculty, pose such a contrast to their idea of academic writing and involvement as to discourage them from jumping in. Of course, they don’t have to write in such a conversational style and they don’t have to be assertive in their viewpoints (like so many blogs).

    Also, as you point out, there is a bit of technology involved, particularly if they are going to set up a hosted blog.

    Last, but certainly not least, for so many in the academy blogging really offers no tangible sense of ROI. Still, even today, I doubt one’s blog plays any role in annual reviews for tenure and promotion. I’d love to hear of an instance where it really played an important role, if any. Blogging, still today, is perceived by many in academia as a sort of self-stimulation ego stroke. That is changing, but quite slowly.

    I hope they find the post and share their thoughts on what best practice is for faculty and students regarding emerging digital media.


  3. Jennifer Tiernan

    Well, I am one of the five faculty referenced above and I really resent the assumptions that some of us must not blog or are out of touch or ineffective teachers. I blog anonymously for a variety of reasons. Blogging about my classes or my students could easily violate FERPA regulations – I do not even comment on my students’ blogs because of FERPA. I also believe in keeping my personal life private. If you look at my Facebook profile, you will see I do not include very much personal information – that is my personal preference, but also part of my teaching philosophy. I am not a buddy, I am a professor.

    I’m not sure how Robert searched for me online. If he was just looking for blog posts, he won’t find much. Like I said, I blog anonymously (sort of – I’m sure you could find my blog if you looked hard enough) and the message boards I post on are private, registration only sites. If you use Google, you would certainly find more information about my academic background and accomplishments and creative endeavors.

    The issues of online behavior, privacy and ethics were not really addressed during this conference and I believe these issues inform many academics as they choose how to use online technology. Our students need to understand these issues as well, so I believe I do practice what I teach.

    I teach classes in which students blog on a regular basis – they use Blogger to do so. They also create content (including multimedia) and learn about the ethics of online use and communication.

  4. Greg Smith

    Thanks, Jennifer. That’s good to know. But methinks you’re taking forum comments it a little hard. I said if you weren’t blogging then it would make your teaching pointles. And how is anyone to know, if you do it “under the radar”? The whole point about blogging is to engage. If you’re doing it anonymously, that’s hardly engaging. But now you’re in the open. Sorry, I couldn’t find you on line.

  5. Tiffany Derville

    Robert, thank you for recording the faculty interviews about the conference. If you think of it, will you remind your readers about this conference next year? I didn’t find out about this conference until it was too late.

    As for barriers to social media for faculty, the biggest one I encounter is time. With research projects, class preparation, grading, and student e-mails, blogging does not fit into my work schedule. And by “blogging,” I refer to both updating my blog and monitoring and commenting on others’ blogs. I make it fit into my day, but it comes out of my personal time. I’m sure this is not anything new to you, but I thought this explanation might help some of your readers who question why most PR faculty do not appear to have blogs (or at least not public blogs). And as you mentioned, faculty incentives of rank and salary do not seem to be affected by having a blog — at least we do not know of any evidence for it yet.

  6. Robert

    Gee, ya’ go away for a day and don’t check the blog … then return to this. My apologies. I’ll offer my opinions here based upon my observations re: faculty impressions of blogging and practitioner impressions of blogging, especially those that are heavily engaged in the practice. I note, before you do, that my observations are anecdotal, at best.

    Jennifer, I wasn’t intending to place you (or the others) in a bad situation by asking those questions and I don’t intend to state or imply anything about your teaching and/or professionalism. I was asking questions because I forgot to ask you about it in Chicago. In retrospect, I wish now that I had written to each of you first, before writing. My apologies as I believe I have created a bad situation. I don’t blame Greg, either. My following opinions will, I hope, explain that, too.

    Now, to the issues that have been raised.

    It is my opinion that Greg’s views are likely not that different from many other practitioners, especially those that are heavily involved in emerging digital media. I look at how practitioners blog and then how faculty blog. There is a big gulf between styles and assertiveness.

    This interests me because I see a bit of a disconnect with regard to each side and their perception of the other, awareness of each other’s environments. That’s one reason why I think this conference (and others) can be so useful. I do wish the expectations of the practitioners/firms and those of the faculty had been discussed in the conference. That is an area that *really* needs to be discussed in an open public forum.

    I feel that there is an expectation among the more strident advocates for PR higher ed to participate energetically. I understand this, yet also realize that those in the academy will want to see this practice offer some or all of the following before getting involved heavily themselves:

    – proven efficacy (for students and faculty)
    – proven ROI (re: tenure & promotion)
    – acceptance of the practice by their colleagues and the administration re: time commitments
    – opportunities for research and publication

    There are more issues, to be sure, but those seem to be key to the initial discussions.

    Jennifer, your concerns re: FERPA and being a professor rather than buddy are understandable. My Facebook profile is similarly bland. Ask my students and I believe they’ll tell you I’m not a buddy. :o) Also, Tiffany’s comment highlights the barriers to entry that I mentioned earlier, too.

    Regarding FERPA, we offer our students a waiver (that has been vetted by IT) at the beginning of each semester for any class where they are engaged in public online activity. They do not have to sign the waiver and we will gladly provide alternative activities for anyone that wishes to abstain from any online public activity for class purposes.

    Regarding your presence online, I used Google and Yahoo! and Technorati searching for your name. I did find much *about* you, but did not find any of your own writings. That really doesn’t mean anything except “I” didn’t find anything.

    Finally, I know how I like to approach digital / social media. Still, I try *not* to project my views on others and their chosen course. Surely, I encourage others to explore the medium. But, I understand why they don’t.

    I do blog rather stridently at times. This has been seen and accepted? approved? by my supervisors in the department and college. Well, let’s just say that at least they haven’t asked me to stop. In fact, I believe they feel it has actually helped our program gain visibility and enhanced awareness of Auburn.

    I still do not know the right answer to the question, “Should faculty be actively involved online in a public manner?” I don’t know if it is actually required. I’ve heard some people expound wisely and share great insights into online communications, without really blogging very much, for instance.

    I hope we can continue to discuss these questions in the future.

  7. Robert

    Hey Tiffany,

    Sorry, forgot to come back and respond to your comment, too. Whew! Busy night.

    I agree with you about the issues of blogging and following student blogs / projects, too. It is more time consuming than I think anyone believes – until they do it. ๐Ÿ™‚ Sheesh!

    Certainly, the issues of faculty incentives for rank and salary have a long way to go, if blogging is going to be accepted by colleagues and the administrations of many schools, IMO.

    I’m sorry you didn’t learn of the conference. I believe I only found out about 3 weeks in advance myself. A former student that works at Edelman casually asked if I was attending. I think (I hope) next year they are going to do a much broader sweep of PR faculty. I will certainly remind you of it if I hear, too. Perhaps they can just search PROpenMic’s members section for “faculty” and invite all of them. :o) That would be cool.

    Thanks, Tiffany. I keep running into y’all’s students online. They’re great!

    Take care.

  8. Tiffany Derville


    I second your idea of recruiting faculty members for the conference through the faculty group on PR Open Mic. Hopefully the conference planners will give widespread, early notice for the 2009 conference. The sooner the better because it sounds like a must-attend event!

    Also, I read your recent two comments with fascination. I thought it was interesting that you observed differences between practitioner and faculty blogs in terms of styles and assertiveness. Your comment about the need to understand one another’s environments sparked my interest. This would be a great subject to discuss at next year’s conference. I would like to see a study about it too; in fact, a co-orientation project would be fun to take on (where each side is interviewed about itself and then its perceptions of the other), and the results could be presented at the 2009 conference.

    I am optimistic that with time, a faculty member’s social media will count with regard to rank and salary decisions. I’m glad to hear that your department and college recognizes the value of your efforts, and I know that social media are highly encouraged at the University of Oregon too.

    There is no doubt that using social media benefits universities. I would be downright gleeful if I heard that someone had the opportunity to study public relations with you, and I would recommend Auburn in a heartbeat because I know you and your innovative classes — and I can say the same of the other PR faculty bloggers I follow.

    Thanks for the conversation. One thing I did not mention in my last comment is that despite the barriers to blogging and engaging online, I have found my participation to be personally and professionally enriching. I am happily, eagerly blogging.


  9. Karen Russell

    OK, I’m entirely too late to this conversation because I had to work up the nerve to watch myself on video. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I noticed at the conference a very large number of the faculty said they blog, but I’m not aware of their blogs. I assume that they are blogging about stuff other than PR or education — such as family or travel blogs, a hobby, etc. I think a lot of people are more comfortable getting the experience of blogging without talking about work. That’s probably why we don’t know about them.

    As for the experiential part, at UGA we taught two special topics courses that focused on social media last year, in addition to hosting the Connect conference and Edelman Digital Bootcamp (both planned by student teams). Now we are working on integrating social media more broadly across the curriculum, which is getting easier because many of the students have a stronger foundation in social media than they did a year ago. I think it’s important to incorporate social and traditional media into classes and projects. For example, my campaigns class this summer is doing a media advisory and an SMPR, pitching reporters and pitching bloggers, visiting business owners face-to-face and starting Flickr and Facebook groups to promote our event, a fundraiser for children’s health charities. When they graduate, they should be comfortable with all different kinds of engagement.

    I have to say we’ve never done FERPA waivers, though, so I’m glad this conversation took place. We’ve always allowed students to blog, microblog, or whatever anonymously if they don’t feel ready to go public. Does anybody know if that’s good enough for FERPA purposes?!

  10. Robert

    Hey, Karen! :o) I liked your interview. In fact, when I got back and started to edit them, I thought that we had talked more than just that one question. My bad, I should have asked you more.

    I wish I had spoken to more of the faculty about their blogging. Glad you did, Karen. I do remember a question where it seemed the majority (or maybe half) raised their hands when asked “Are you blogging.” But, I didn’t notice who the were.

    I agree completely, the traditional aspects of PR still rule. This is particularly true for most PR practitioners where they are focused on local campaigns – and not in major urban areas. (Sorry, my lil’ soapbox.)

    The FERPA waiver came about when AU’s legal counsel decided that we needed to be ahead of the curve on any issues that may be raised. So, IT went through a process with all faculty, particularly those that were active online with their classes. Gee, guess who they called in at the beginning. :o) Hey!

    Thanks for coming by, Karen. See you at Connect! ;o)

  11. Pingback: What academics think about social media :

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