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I believe in formative evaluation. I don’t believe in completely re-inventing the wheel and recreating a course every time you teach it. I believe there is something good from every program, campaign, course, etc. that can be used again, improved upon or scrapped. Student feedback is an important part of this process. By this I do NOT mean the numbers students fill in on an evaluation form — I mean the comments they take the time to write.

Don’t try to re-invent the wheel. Get students to tell you what worked and what didn’t.

I generally use my end-of-semester teaching evaluation comments to help me make revisions for the next semester. Now, don’t get me wrong there are some suggestions I blow off — especially the ones that suggest changing my hair or clothing style. But suggestions regarding the content of the course or my teaching effectiveness definitely receive my attention.

Last semester, my public relations writing students made the following of what I call Most Valuable Suggestions for improving the course:

  1. Spread out assignments a bit more.
  2. Re-vamp the way the mini-campaign works.
  3. Have the teacher find a nonprofit client for each group beforehand.

Other suggestions included: dropping the personal branding project from the beginning of the class (which I did), removing the mini-campaign (which I did not do), providing detailed grading rubrics/checklists for assignments (which I did), lessoning the amount of writing assignments due each class period (which I did), and firing this teacher (which I decided not to look into further:).

With my MVS in hand I set out to revise the course.

This semester the public relations writing students (Manship Class MC 4001) are once again using the SCVNGR geolocation-based mobile gaming application for their mini-campaigns. During the summer I sought out four very different service-learning clients to work with (rather than have students put together a marketing plan and pitch to different nonprofits – item #3). The four nonprofits are: Louisiana Northshore Quilt Trail Association, North Rampart Main Street, Inc., SmokingWords, and Susan G. Komen of Baton Rouge.

I made several changes to the service-learning aspect of the course (the mini-campaign) so that students would understand what it truly means to learn through service. While the deliverables they create are wonderful items to put into a portfolio, students need to understand the importance of using their skills to give back to the community. So, this semester I have them using blogs to reflect on what they are doing for the nonprofit clients, what civic engagement means, professionalism, ethics and social responsibility. I also have them engaging with one another by reading and commenting on one another’s blog posts (item #2). Finally, I have them working together instead of in silos on each part of the mini-campaign.

I removed some of the “busy-work” writing assignments (previously there was one or more writing assignments due each class) and focused on giving them an overview of the different types of writing they will be expected to do in PR (item #1). In addition, I made some changes to the deliverables due to the client during the mini-campaign. Not only did the number of deliverables decrease, but I’ve given the students greater control over what they create for the client and how many they need to use in their digital portfolios. I’ve also taken the time to make it clear to them that the mini-campaign addresses the top 10 competencies employers look for (across disciplines – Korn Ferry/Lominger Model):

  1. Action orientation
  2. Dealing with ambiguity
  3. Creativity
  4. Decision quality
  5. Problem solving
  6. Motivating others
  7. Planning
  8. Priority setting
  9. Strategic agility/thinking ahead
  10. Time management

It is my hope that each of these changes improves: the students’ ability to work with the SCVNGR app.; the quality of observances students make regarding service-learning; the quality of work students deliver to the nonprofit clients; and the quality of work they have to put into their own portfolios at the end.

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