Public Relations Group Project Assignment

Author

W. Bradford Mello

Department Chair of Communications

Saint Xavier University

Citation

Mello, W.B. (2015). Public Relations Group Project Assignment. Saint Xavier University.

Description

Students in my Public Relations class work in teams to create fictional non-profits to address a particular social issue or problem.  The assignment is for a sophomore/junior level Public Relations course.  The assignment is introduced on the first day of the course.  Teams are created and the assignment will be worked on throughout the course culminating in final presentations near the end of the semester.

Background and Context

I used this assignment in this manner for the first time in Spring semester 2015.  In previous iterations of this assignment I required students to propose a non-profit on their own and attack a similar problem in a much less detailed manner.  In this assignment I raised the level of work required by the assignment and addressed various student-learning outcomes as articulated in the DQP.

DQP Connections:

This course seeks to address outcomes outlined in the following areas identified in the DQP: Applied and Collaborative Learning, Civic and Global Learning, and Communication Fluency.

First, as outlined in the DQP Applied and Collaborative Learning section, students at the bachelors level, this assignment requires students to “prepare and present a project, paper, exhibit, performance or other appropriate demonstration” that links knowledge together.  By requiring students to design a non-profit meant to address a social issue, and create PR strategies to promote the mission of the non-profit, students must integrate their knowledge of organizations, their knowledge of persuasion and their knowledge of PR strategies.  Since it is a team project that requires a final substantial paper and presentation, they also must, “negotiate a strategy for group research or performance” by involving all team members in the completion of the project.  Teams will have to think creatively and use their communication knowledge to address a social issue.

Second, as outlined in the DQP’s Civic and Global Learning section, students must address a “contested public issue” and “collaborate with others in developing and implementing an approach to a civic issue.”  The assignment in question, by requiring students to create a non-profit to address a social issue, ensures students identify a public issue and develop a strategy to address the issue by suggesting various PR strategies to implement.  The assignment may not necessarily address the global aspect as students may select a local or national issue, but it is possible that team members may select a global issue for their project.

Third, as outlined in the Communication Fluency section of the DQP, students must construct, “sustained, coherent arguments, narratives or explications of issues, problems or technical issues and processes, in writing and at least one other medium, to general and specific audiences,” which this assignment requires via a 10 page written paper and a 30-minute oral presentation delivered by the team.

Students are expected to integrate various visual technologies such as Power Point, Prezi and the like to enhance their oral arguments and aid in articulating their approach to solving a social dilemma/issue.

Alignment and Scaffolding

Associated in-class activity: Crisis Dejour:  a Public Relations Crisis Management Course Activity

In order to add a sense of reality to these projects I designed this ungraded class activity. I create for each team a crisis that realistically could occur given the project their team is working on and ask each team to prepare a crisis response as outlined below.  I conduct this exercise in one 80-minute class period, but the exercise could easily be modified to fit in other formats including on-line formats where teams could video record responses and the subsequent ‘press conference’ could be held via a chat function in a course management system.

I send out an email via our course management system the evening before explaining that the class period the following day will be devoted to this exercise so they have less than 24 hours to ponder an appropriate response to the assigned crisis.

Exercise Description {as given to students]

Each team will have 20 minutes at the start of class to work to create a 3-5 minute response to the crisis assigned.  Your team should choose one spokesperson to be the point person to deliver this response.  After the response, the rest of the class will take on the role of “journalists” and ask questions of each team – at which point all team members can respond as necessary.  The question and answer portion will last 5-7 minutes.  Feel free to be creative in your response and fill in details (i.e. invent) as necessary. “Journalists” feel free to be tough in your questioning of each team as they respond to their particular crisis.

Be sure to take into account best crisis management strategies as discussed in class and summarized on this website: http://sterlingpr.com/2012/10/crisis-communications-plan-a-must-have/

Crisis Examples

The possibilities are endless in terms of what crisis you provide students to respond to.  Here are a few examples:  For a team focused on creating a smart phone AP to provide voter information, they faced the issue of their application crashing a week before the election.  For a team creating a local community center for underserved populations, they faced the issue of a young attendee to one of their programs having the measles, likely exposing many others.  For a team creating a dog adoption and training team, they faced the problem of a dog attacking one of the children sending them to the hospital for stitches to repair a bite to their leg.  These are but three examples and potential crisis are only limited by team topics and instructor creativity.

Reflections on the crisis exercise

Students take to this exercise with enthusiasm.  They work hard to prepare their opening statements and the best teams create a unified message strategy so that even in the question and answer portion of the process all team members stay on point.  “Journalists” are often very tough in their questioning, as they are not concerned about hurting their fellow students grades since this activity is ungraded.  After each presentation we discuss the various effective crisis management techniques employed and how each team could have improved their crisis response.  Students learn to apply crisis management concepts to a realistic situation, and to think critically and evaluate various potential message strategies as both a creator and recipient.

Reflections

Raising the level of this assignment from a short individual assignment to a more comprehensive team assignment challenged the students a great deal.  Raising the level of the assignment forced students to apply what we study in class to a more realistic situation.  Students worked hard to put together their final products and presentation.  Using the rubrics was very helpful in terms of assessing the final products.  I was concerned that using multiple rubrics might be confusing but the rubrics allowed me to focus on different aspects of each team’s work and provide clear detailed feedback on their final product.

The rubrics also allowed the students to understand more specifically the learning outcomes that they were to demonstrate through their work.  By observing in-class teamwork meetings I was able to evaluate their collaborative learning.  They demonstrated civic learning through their various choices of topics.   Finally, I think including the oral communication rubric in the mix encouraged each team to thoroughly prepare for their presentations.  Often presentations can be an afterthought but final presentations for this project were more engaging and well prepared than typical final presentations.


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