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The first week of class I have students write a press release. I give them the format and the topic (write to your hometown newspaper about your involvement in this class). I got this assignment from a former colleague of mine, Dr. Ivan Pinnell at the P.I. Reed School of Journalism at West Virginia University. Dr. Pinnell graded his and took one point off for each error. He told me that once he had a student start the semester -200 points in the hole (and come crying to him that they had to drop the class as they would never be able to recover). He didn’t, in fact, actually grade the assignment — he just used it to show the students how much they needed to improve.

I have taken the assignment a different direction. I don’t use it to scare them, but I do use it to show them how far they have come. My goal is to take them from this:

To this:

In the coming weeks, the PR Writing students at the Manship School of Mass Communication will complete their first service-learning opportunity. We spent the first 10 weeks of the course in the classroom learning how to research, create and distribute news releases, social media releases, blogs, Twitter posts, brochures, letters, etc. For the past few weeks they have been working outside the classroom on a grant from geolocation-based gaming application, SCVNGR, to help Baton Rouge nonprofits engage audiences. They set up a SCVNGR trek for each nonprofit and are now in the process of creating promotional materials regarding the mobile trek for the nonprofit. They went from learning to applying in the span of one semester. Pretty cool, huh?

I have to tell you, the quality of the writing has dramatically improved from that first week. The students have moved from creating basic, scattered news releases to creating wonderful PR documents. They have become more confident in their writing and editing skills. Check out their blogs (listed in my blogroll) and follow them on their journey.

The students are on spring break this week, but they will hit the ground running again on Monday when the return. I’m excited to see what amazing deliverables these teams will produce. I’m also excited to see what they will have for their final digital portfolios (which I’ll share at the end of the semester).

I have saved the initial news releases they wrote for me (just in case they lost theirs) so they can see just how far they have come in a few short weeks. I hope they are as impressed with their work as I am.

Follow us on this journey via Facebook (Discover Baton Rouge with SCVNGR) and Twitter (@discoverBTR).

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