Virtual poster session provides students ‘latitude’ to succeed

Students in Associate Dean Kenn Gaither’s Public Relations and Civic Responsibility class brought international public relations case studies to life with an asynchronous poster session – accompanied by some kind words for one another.

Effusive. That is how one could describe the comments left by fellow students regarding Marshall Grayson’s digital poster.

As part of their Public Relations and Civic Responsibility class, Marshall Grayson ’23 (left) and Julie Levine ’21 created posters detailing international public relations case studies. “The assignment made the course content easier to understand because it packaged several real-world applications of PR into an easily digestible poster format,” Levine said.

Scrolling down the Moodle page, one piece of positive feedback after another explained how the first-year student’s poster, highlighting a public relations case study in Brazil, stood out.

“This poster is so cool!!” wrote a fellow student in the Public Relations and Civic Responsibility class.

“Your copy is really succinct and makes it easy to understand Brazil’s PR problem,” added another.

“Marshall, this is such a great poster!” wrote a third student. “I think you really captured the information in a creative and colorful design/layout that both gets the information across and is pleasing to the eye!”

This is just a snippet of the remarks left for Grayson. And best of all, other students received similar feedback on their respective posters.

For Associate Dean Kenn Gaither, the course’s instructor, this level of engagement was what he had hoped for when he assigned the asynchronous poster assignment last week. Each student was responsible for reading a long-form international PR case study from one of the course’s textbooks, “The Evolution of Public Relations: Case Studies from Countries in Transition,” then creating a poster in the format of their choosing – to be shared with the class.

The course’s 33 students were tasked with providing a country overview, highlighting the issue, describing the PR tactics, and presenting the results. They were then instructed to pose for a photograph holding their poster, upload it online, and then make at least two comments on other posters.

“I wanted to give them a great deal of latitude – that was part of the assignment – and the enjoyable part was to see what direction they took with their poster,” Gaither said. “Students did everything from an actual hand-written piece of paper, to a poster with magic markers, to an iPad screen.”

While it was not a graded assignment, the posters count toward the students’ participation for the course. And Gaither purposely kept the restrictions short. But there was one important note: Make sure the text was legible. Plus, leaving feedback for others was imperative to the process, as Gaither wanted students to engage with one another.

Ali MacDonald ’22 (left) and Bella Adinolfi ’22, who are both studying strategic communications, show off their poster projects.

The Public Relations and Civic Responsibility class is the introductory course for the Strategic Communications Department, and the students ­– predominately sophomores –  have focused on the global nature of public relations, understanding that PR is not just a Western discipline.

“It shows the great diversity of public relations practice in countries and cultures that are dramatically different than the United States,” said Gaither of the class.

Admittedly, the long-form case studies can be tedious, most of them averaging about 20 pages. But Gaither hoped the assignment would flip the classroom – which it did.

“From a pedagogical perspective, what I like about this assignment is that it is not just students doing a poster, they are essentially teaching others,” he said. “I also like that it is not just focusing on well-developed Western nations. Places like Nigeria, Peru, Australia … there are a range of cultures and countries presented and I think that makes for fascinating comparisons and differences in public relations as a global practice.”

The case studies themselves covered a variety of topics. One looked at the removal of an arthritis and acute pain medication, and the subsequent communications plan led by the Brazilian National Health Surveillance Agency. Another case study examined UNICEF’s media alliance campaign to protect children’s rights in Nigeria. A third highlighted the Trademark City Gaziantep Project, an award-winning campaign that drove business investment in the Turkish city.

By and large, the case studies highlighted organizations that are not well known, but some of the individual causes and PR tactics might be.

For Bella Adinolfi ’22, who researched the Trademark City Gaziantep Project, the assignment gave her a better understanding of the execution of a successful PR campaign. The strategic communications major added that the “assignment has shown me how essential communication is to the survival of a business, organization and country,” she said.

Adinolfi added, “Having real life examples has helped me gain a better understanding of how public relations is similar yet very different depending where in the world your targeted publics are, taking into consideration their culture and customs.”

The opportunity to physically construct a project was appealing for Julie Levine ’21. And it is a big departure from her other recent assignments, said the communication design major.

“Since classes have gone online, most of my work is created and submitted through technology,” Levine said. “This was more engaging for me because I had more freedom to choose the medium and was required to actually hold the assignment.”

It was great how everyone was actually holding up their unique posters and didn’t just post a file to the forum. – Julie Levine said.

Grayson, whose poster received tremendous feedback, said the assignment was both enjoyable and memorable. The latter, obviously, an important component of education.

“It was a great way to connect class content and individual research with a creative and interactive activity,” said the strategic communications and policy studies double major. “This assignment made the content easier to understand because not only was I able to see a ‘real-world’ case study, but I was also able to make an engaging and creative poster that helped me remember what I had learned.”

According to Gaither, it took about three weeks to find a rhythm once the course went to online instruction in March. And he credited the early feedback from students for helping ease the transition. Likewise, his weekly email recapping assignments and important dates has helped reduce some anxiety and confusion.

The associate dean also feels the class had an advantage coming into the remote learning environment having met physically before spring break.

“That has made all the difference,” Gaither said. “Although we did not have a significant amount of time together in-person as a class, we had just enough. It made it so much easier to get to know them and develop a relationship with them before entering this virtual environment.”

This familiarity is especially important since the students are now scattered across the globe – one in Guam, a few in California and others throughout the East Coast.

“The great challenge today is you don’t want engaged learning to stop once you leave the physical classroom,” Gaither said. “You take some of the things that work in a classroom and try to reproduce them and make that experience as engaging as possible online. That is the challenge we have faced.”