learn by doing

Research, as I tell my students at the University of Georgia, bookends every public relations campaigns. That is, every campaign begins and ends with research. Whether your acronym for a four-step campaign process is RPIE or ROPE, you very clear see formative and evaluative research surrounding the process to a successful campaign.

As such, we educators need to get it right when teaching research methods. We need to make sure that while the majority of our students will go straight into practice, not graduate school, that they each understand the importance of rigor in their approach. And maybe, if you’re lucky, along the way your infectious love for research might rub off on them.

My way approaching this in the undergraduate PR research method course at UGA has been to have students work in teams and conduct a real academic study over the course of the semester. The students come up with their own research topics, which often range from crisis to social media.

They find quality instruments, obtain IRB approval and in short conduct ethical, high quality research.

After teaching 3 semesters using this method, I am now proud to have racked up some impressive stats of my own:

  • 2 student project papers presented at academic conferences (AEJMC & NCA)
  • 2 student project papers published in Public Relations Review
  • 4 undergrad PR student teams’ end-of-semester presentations received more than 1,140 views on YouTube (combined)
  • 9 press releases from the college announcing the results of their studies

I held the students to a high academic standard, and the promise of presenting their research at a conference or later publishing it kept me focused on ensuring their projects were of the quality to reach that level.

The students’ research now has a greater audience than the 30 people registered in the class, as it lives on digitally and ascends to the next level of academic peer-review.

If you want to have the same results for your research methods students, consider my tips:

  • express your expectations (conference-quality research) at the beginning of the semester
  • be prepared to help the students along the process, letting them find their way but never allowing them to get lost
  • have each student group separately over to your house one weeknight to run their SPSS results (pizza party!)
  • video the student presentations then post on YouTube
  • post pictures, audio and/or video of student presentations on your own Facebook page then tag each student – it will attract the interest of each student’s friends & let them see what the student has been up to all semester
  • offer bonus points at the end of the semester for students to write a press release you can then edit & submit to your college’s PR person to distribute to media (or post on the college Web site)

Happy researching!

This item is cross-posted on the PR Profs blog.

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