Category: Teaching

Fall Means School

By , 09/08/2010

Even though I have a day job, this summer felt a bit like a summer break of sorts because of my break between teaching in the spring and fall semesters. The class I teach at NYU begins again this evening, and I’m looking forward to meeting a whole new group of students.

MN State Fair Butter Sculptures

So in between my regular work, including client activities and work travel, what did I do this summer?

  • I read a number of books for fun. In fact, more than I have in quite some time, thanks in large part to Karen Russell’s How Mysterious! project. I’ve always loved mysteries (my mom is a voracious reader, mostly of mysteries), but between work and teaching, and the large number of things I read online, I hadn’t been reading many fiction books. How Mysterious! served as both inspiration and recommendation source. I’m happy I did read so much this summer – it really helped clear my brain.
  • I took a lot of weekend trips. Between friends’ weddings (quite a few!) and family gatherings, I managed trips to Santa Barbara, CA; Chattanooga, TN; Mykonos, Greece (ok, that was more than a weekend); Cape Cod; a rural lake in upstate Maine; and my hometown of St. Paul, MN. All wonderful, and hard to pick a favorite. Although the butter sculptures of Princess Kay of the Milky Way at the Minnesota State Fair this past Labor Day weekend were pretty amazing.
  • And of course, all the usual summer things: friends, food, music, sun… It was a scorcher of a summer in NYC, but still summer.

Coming into work this morning, it definitely felt like fall was here. New York City public schools started today, and I passed a long line of families taking their kids to the first day of school at my local P.S. (primary school). Subways were packed like they haven’t been in months. Daylight’s getting shorter on both ends. Welcome back, fall.


What I Learned: A Spring Semester of Student Blogs

By , 04/29/2010

Multitasking by foreverdigital

Yesterday was the last class of my first semester teaching Social Media: Objectives, Strategies, Tactics at NYU. I’ve heard from many that the first time teaching any new class is always the most challenging, and while time will tell if that’ll be true for me, it was an interesting and rewarding challenge along the way.

In addition to examining the theoretical and practical application of social media, students were required to maintain individual blogs, comment on other blogs, use Twitter, and keep abreast of ongoing developments in social media, PR and communications. (Our class wiki, Google Reader and other tools were optional.)

There were 29 students in the class, and the students had about as diverse a range of experience with social media as you could get going into the course. The NYU program is a Master’s in PR and Corporate Communications, and because it’s a professional master’s program in New York City, students have a particularly diverse range of backgrounds in general. Some work full-time and go to school part-time, while some are full-time students (particularly many of our international students); some students have worked in professional communication jobs for many years, some are fairly fresh out of college, and some are relatively older students working on career transitions; and then some students had experience using social media not just for personal use but also professionally, while some were opening Twitter accounts for the first time at the start of the semester.

Into that mix came the individual blogs. The students could write about any topic they wished, as long as they made some connection between the topic and social media, PR or communication. (Some took more advantage of this freedom than others, but I think it did allow those who wanted the option the ability to blog about something they were really passionate about.) Some weeks were open topic weeks, and some weeks had a general assigned theme, like nonprofits and social media.

The blogs were a significant part of their ongoing semester assignments, and this past week I asked that they use their last post to evaluate their semester of blogging. These emerged as the common themes from their reviews:

  • Blogging well takes time. I think many thought initially that a blog post could be dashed out in 15 minutes before the start of class, but they quickly realized how much time was needed to write thoughtful, well-written and clearly organized posts.
  • Blogging’s harder than it looks. Again, with many coming at the assignment from a more personal perspective, many students went into it thinking that you could just jot down anything you’d like that came to mind. In practice, many talked about learning to capture ideas along the way, as well as how they learned to overcome writer’s block when they didn’t know what they wanted to say.
  • Blogging publicly can be scary. Many commented on their initial reluctance to post their thoughts for all the world to see, but almost all said that in the end the assignment helped them become more confident in writing online.

And what did I learn from their blogs? These may not be earth-shattering conclusions to some who’ve been assigning blogs to students for years, but it was interesting for me to see this in person:

  • Doing it trumped reading about it. I don’t think they would have come away with the same experience by reading about or being told how to blog. Getting their hands dirty made the learning much more sticky.
  • What they learned isn’t blogging specific. In the end, the blogs were a means to an end. To become more comfortable with a slightly different style of writing, to become more confident sharing their work and opinions online, to habituate to the social norms of different online environments and groups, and to begin to adapt to more real-time feedback and communication loops.
  • Their experience will help them be better professional communicators. I truly believe this. Many of the class don’t plan to continue their blogs, and I told them I’m agnostic about whether they do or not. On a personal level, not everyone’s going to want to blog. (Social technographics, and many other things, tell us this.) But what I wanted them to get out of it, and I think they did, is a better professional sense of the dynamics at play and the questions to ask. Not just about blogs, but about social media in general. So when their boss or client says, “We should have a blog (or a Twitter account, or…),” they can say, “Why? What are we trying to accomplish? How will we manage the time needed? Who’s accountable?,” etc. And they can have a sense of why those kinds of questions are important in the first place, and why the answers matter too.

So that’s my review of their semester of blogging. What do you think?


To Austin and Beyond!

By , 03/11/2010

SXSW Interactive '09 Tote Bag Design- Flat by Mike Rohde

I’m not quite sure how the first half of my class at NYU flew by so quickly. I’ve heard from many that the first time teaching a class is always the hardest, and I already have some ideas about a few things I’ll do a little differently next time around. But it’s been interesting and rewarding, and I’m really proud of how far everyone has come. We’ve covered a lot in the relatively short period of time we’ve had together, but overall I think most of the class is finding it engaging and useful.

Now that the midterm is over, I can turn my attention to Austin and SXSW Interactive for the next five days. I went last year, and I’ll be interested to see how things compare between the two years. I’ve tried to connect with some people I met last year before I arrive, but I’m also looking forward to making new connections.

One of my goals for SXSWi this year is to try to distill my thoughts and impressions from the various daytime sessions as the event progresses, and I hope to share more here as I go along.


Back to School

By , 01/21/2010

Bobst Library at NYU

Last night was the first night of the new course I’m teaching at NYU this spring semester. The course is Social Media: Objectives, Strategies, Tactics, in the Master’s in Public Relations and Corporate Communications program. I first started working with the directors of the program on developing the course almost a year ago, and after it went through the NYU and New York State approval process, it’s exciting for me to see the class come to fruition.

I have about 30 students in the Wednesday night section I’m teaching, and the students are really a cross-section of our program as a whole. Some students are fairly soon out of school, some are professionals who have worked in PR or communications for many years; there is an interesting variety of international students; a few students changing careers; and a majority of women but some men too.

I’m teaching in exactly the same room where I started in the program almost five years ago as a student, in the fall of 2005. You really can’t escape your past, can you.


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