“As well as teaching, examining and certification, college education creates social capital. Students learn how to debate, present themselves, make contacts and roll joints. How can a digital college experience deliver all of that?” – The Economist, The Future of Universities; The Digital Degree, June 28, 2014

After spending 16 years in Silicon Valley, the author of digital communications blog, Almost DailyBrett, and social media evangelist, fully gets it when it comes to destructive technologies.

Social, mobile and cloud have changed the world as we can self-publish and exchange views via the Internet to anyone around the globe instantaneously on a 24/7/365 basis.

When it comes to drinking the cyber Kool-Aid, there is one area in which I am pushing back and displaying a healthy dose of skepticism, not cynicism: teaching public relations online, particularly advanced courses.onlinegraduate

Couldn’t help but note the web ad for Ball State University (Muncie, Indiana), championing its only PRSA-certified graduate level PR program, about earning a master’s degree in public relations online. Check out the Ball State website language:

“Our online students have ongoing interaction with their instructors and classmates via e-mail, discussion boards, file sharing, online chats, web page posting, and other communications. These courses are typically taught asynchronously—meaning you can log on for class participation whenever you wish.”

My issues pertain to the incongruity of  (presumably human) “interaction” with the words, “online discussion boards, file sharing, online charts, web page posting, and other communications.” That doesn’t sound very touchy, feely to little ole me.

Making Love … Online?

Let’s get straight to the point: Can you make love online? … Real “From Here to Eternity” physical contact between two hormone-driven, amorous individuals? File sharing may fall a little short, when it comes to the real thing.eternitybeach

Now let’s take the discussion to the next logical step: Public relations is working with … target publics. Right? It is stakeholder relations. It is working in teams. It is making in-person presentations. It is motivating the public to take a favorable action that benefits your employer or your client. These are living-breathing human-to-living-breathing human interactions

There is little doubt that you can teach theory (i.e., Agenda Setting, Uses and Gratifications, Hierarchy of Needs, Diffusion of Innovation, Two-Way Asymmetrical, Two-Way Symmetrical) in the classroom, so why can’t you do that online? You can.

The same applies to ethics including responsible advocacy, honesty, guarding against copyright and/or trademark infringement, protecting intellectual property, and taking steps to avoid slander, libel and/or defamation. Yes, we can teach them all online.

In fact, I should come clean and tell you right now that I am indeed teaching online COM 270 Introduction to Public Relations and COM 280 Advertising Fundamentals, using Panopto recordings, Canvas and old-fashioned email at Central Washington University this summer. CWU’s School of Education this week was honored for its online teaching of School Administration master’s level curricula. As Martha would say, “This is a good thing.”

Where I am getting off the bus comes to the absence of eyeball-to-eyeball (Skype or FaceTime are not the same) human communication associated with online-only curricula. Sure, it may work wonders for more reclusive disciplines, such as statistics, accounting, software code writing, but when it comes to qualitative interplay with target audience Homo sapiens that needs to be done face-to-face. And that’s where online teaching falls short … it just has too.alonetogether3

Grading, Not Teaching? 

In my last few years in Silicon Valley, your author remembers the opinions of C-level publicly traded technology executives pontificating and bloviating that online schools were essentially degree factors, selling diplomas for a King’s ransom.

The Washington Post recently reported about the 20 colleges with one-fifth of all the federal student loan debt in the 2013-2014 academic year. Number one was online superstar, Walden College at $756 million. University of Phoenix was second at $493 million; Capella University was sixth at $399 million and Kaplan University was #13 at $226 million.

These numbers represent serious student loan debt and what are these mostly online students getting in return? Are the faculty at these institutions merely grading or are they actually teaching?

Another concern that comes to mind is the recent book by M.I.T. professor Sherry Turkle, “Alone Together: What We Expect From Technology and Less From Each Other.” Her main points pertain to the literally hundreds of thousands, who are in physical proximity with other humans, but their full attention is on their mobile devices. Some even sit in restaurant tables, pay attention to their smart phones,  ignoring their dinner companion(s).alonetogether1

Successful public relations professionals must be knowledgeable and practiced in digital communications – blogging, social media, websites, images, video, infographics – and must be adroit enough to adopt the next round of destructive technologies … they are out there. We must know them all.

Having made this point, we still must interact with people. We need people. We need to see the look on their faces. We need to see the reaction in their eyes. We need to deduce the inflection of their voices. We need to experience first-hand their culture.

This is the essence of public relations.

There must be a real face time component, when it comes to teaching and mentoring.

Online is good, but not good enough. 

http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21605899-staid-higher-education-business-about-experience-welcome-earthquake-digital

http://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/articles/2015/02/27/4-questions-to-ask-before-enrolling-in-a-for-profit-online-program

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/get-there/wp/2015/07/09/these-20-schools-are-responsible-for-a-fifth-of-all-graduate-school-debt/?tid=sm_fb 

http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21646986-online-learning-could-disrupt-higher-education-many-universities-are-resisting-it-not

http://www.cwu.edu/cwu-online-education-master%E2%80%99s-programs-rated-among-best-country

http://cms.bsu.edu/academics/collegesanddepartments/journalism/graduateprograms/mapublicrelations

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2015/03/08/the-rebirth-of-pettiness-the-death-of-conversation/

 

 

 

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