• Course: COMU1052 Introduction to Public Relations, 1st year undergraduate communications course (230 students)
  • School/Faculty: School of Communication and Arts, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Delivery: two-hour tutorials, one-hour lecture and two two-hour workshops
  • Active learning approach: videos with industry professionals; industry tutors, guest lectures, workshops, small group work; industry client-based project
  • Assessment tasks: weekly reflective journals, a case study based on a real-world public relations brief, and group presentation. 

Key issues and anticipated outcomes

This project aimed to address the issue that students find it difficult to understand public relations planning and how this relates to the types of work they could do in industry. 

It also aimed to: 

  • explore how active learning could be used to connect public relations theory with public relations practice
  • enhance student understanding about working in public relations and embed the UQ employability framework into the course 
  • educate students about consultancy vs internal public relations roles

Active learning approach

Learning activity 1: A series of 10 short videos with public relations professionals were produced and made available to students on Blackboard and a closed Facebook group, discussing an aspect of public relations planning. Each video was linked to a chapter of the textbook and was pre-circulated via Blackboard and via a closed Facebook group. Students were requested to watch and respond to these videos outside of the classroom in their own time. 

Learning activity 2:  An employability framework was embedded in the course via invitations to practicing public relations professionals to tutor in the course. The professionals were sourced from a range of industry connections.

  • Aligned assessment: Tutors brought to life the industry-based videos, drawing upon current industry examples from their own work.  They also sat in on in-class pitch presentations where they provided feedback to students.

Learning activity 3: The UQ Art Gallery and Museum acted as an industry client providing students a public relations brief in Week 5 to which student groups responded in Week 11. In two group workshops, students were provided with opportunities to critique existing public relations plans and to review best practice industry frameworks. Class discussion was facilitated in small groups, which were then brought back together for further discussion with the full class. Peer and self-assessment of group work (PAFs) were used.

  • Aligned assessment: Each group presented their public relations briefs, and the highest performing teams presented recommendations to the UQ Art Gallery and Museum senior management team and Director in Week 13.

Learning activity 4: Guest lecturers were also invited to present to students on different aspects of public relations planning.
 

Evaluation

Students were asked to participate in the following assessment activities:

  • Quantitative and qualitative – SECaTS 
  • Quantitative and qualitative – Survey Monkey (two surveys) – including mid-way check-in survey and end-of-semester survey
  • Qualitative – interviews with all seven industry tutors 
  • Student reflective journals
     

Project outcomes

Benefits

  1. Active learning aided the students to understand different types of PR:
    • “To me, the video interviews with PR professionals have been the most helpful. I particularly liked hearing different aspects of PR from various industries. I also liked how each video was not repetitive as they each had a different focus every week. However, the last question at the end that was kept consistent, 'What do you look for in PR graduates?' was extremely helpful. Most of the PR professionals stressed on, and helped me to see the importance of hard work and having various work experiences through internships." (Student journal reflection)
    • “I have also learnt that there are many different career options within public relations. I would say the most helpful information sources which shaped my thinking were the industry interviews and guest lecturers. I found that they inspired me and gave me a sense of what I could potentially experience in the future.” (Student journal reflection)
    • “The weekly video interviews with the PR professionals are definitely what I found most helpful throughout this course. It was very interesting to hear how they ended up in the industry, what specifically their company does, and how so many of the companies they worked for specialise in different fields. It was also very comforting to see that they all seemed to thoroughly enjoy working in the industry. It was great that they provided real-life tips, for example, what they look for in potential employee's resumes, and how some of them suggested finding what you are truly passionate about and entering that field of PR.” (Student journal reflection)
  2. Active learning aided student understanding of content:
    • “The experience of learning across multiple platforms provided a useful mix of theoretical knowledge through the lectures, readings and video interviews, coupled with hands-on practice of the theory in the tutorials and workshops.” (Student journal reflection)
    • “What I liked about the industry videos is [that]– each topic was aligned to what they were learning that particular week. The other thing I liked about it is there was all different age groups in those videos. So, you had the people that were just out of uni, they’d just got their jobs, the intern, someone who was four years out, and the people who have been in the industry for 20 years. So, they actually can see a progression of where they can go, and they can relate to those people. I think that was really good.” (Tutor interview)
  3. Active learning assisted students to understand the nature of real-world public relations work:
    • “They had a real client and they had to produce real work, and the best ones pitched that work to the client. That’s real, that’s real work, that’s a real PR role. The industry tutors also provided guidance in that regard, and I think having two tutors mark the pitches I think was really useful because the students got comments from academics and industry practitioners. I thought that was really helpful.” (Tutor interview )
    • “It gave real-life experience and an opportunity for students not only to learn about the PR profession but to actually experience it.” (SECAT Course valuation)

Tips for implementation

  • Students related best to the videos with practitioners who were early in their career as they found them easier to relate to.
  • As evidenced from the Survey Monkey online survey and journals, students were strongly in support of the use of videos with industry professionals and valued the use of industry tutors. This perspective was reinforced by the industry tutors.

Further work

The results and lessons from this case study have been used to:

  • Develop additional digital content for the purpose of assisting student learning in COMU1052.
  • Refine the existing assessment in the course.
  • Work with student partners to create and share additional digital content for the purpose of assisting student learning. This included a short presentation at the Students as Partners symposium about how student partners can be used to support and extend the scope of digital learning. 
     

Contact

Dr Caroline Wilson-Barnao
Lecturer, School of Communication and Arts