PRSA Educators Academy Super Saturday Thoughts

Today, I am presenting at the PRSA Educators Academy’s Super Saturday. My topics are service learning and online education. Here are some compiled thoughts that will guide my discussion.

Service Learning:

  • Service learning is pedagogy and a philosophy (Jacoby, 1996). It is learning that combines public service with related academic work.
  • Service learning has multiple definitions:

National Service-Learning Clearinghouse: Service-learning combines service objectives with learning objectives with the intent that the activity changes both the recipient and the provider of the service. This is accomplished by combining service tasks with structured opportunities that link the task to self-reflection, self-discovery, and the acquisition and comprehension of values, skills, and knowledge content.

Bringle and Hatcher: (1995): Service-learning is a credit-bearing, educational experience in which students participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs and reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility.

American Association for Higher Education (1993): Service-learning means a method under which students learn and develop through thoughtfully organized service that: is conducted and meets the needs of a community and is coordinated with an institution of a higher education, and with the community; helps foster civic responsibility; is integrated into and enhances the academic curriculum of the students enrolled; and includes structured time for students to reflect on the service experience.”

American Association of Higher Education: Service learning means a method under which students learn and develop a thoughtfully organized service that: is conducted in and meets the needs of a community and is coordinated with an institution of higher education and with the community; helps foster civic responsibility; is integrated into and embraces the academic curriculum of the students enrolled; it includes structured time for the students to reflect on the service experience.

Lubbers and Gorcyca  (1997) listed 10 practices that encourage active learning in the classroom: (1) conduct of research projects; (2) field trips or volunteer activities; (3) student-initiated trips, projects, or activities; (4) role-playing and simulation in class; (5) relating outside events to class and theories, and (6) student challenge of ideas and course materials. Although

“a form of experiential education where learning occurs through a cycle of action and reflection as students. . . seek to achieve real objectives for the community and deeper understanding and skills for themselves. In the process, students link personal and social development with academic and cognitive development. . . experience enhances understanding; understanding leads to more effective action. — via

  • Sigmon’s Three Principles: These principles are the bedrock of service-learning principles:
    • Those being served control the service(s) provided.
    • Those being served become better able to serve and be served by their own actions; and
    • Those who serve also are learners and have significant control over what is expected to be learned.
  • If you work in an environment that is openly hostile to public relations and/or resistant to change (e.g., see my pinned tweet for an understanding of PR education at GSU), service learning may be the only way for your students to get meaningful experiences about public relations as well as a true understanding of how public relations can work for good.
  • Service learning can take multiple forms:
    • One-time project
    • Embedded optional course requirement
    • Optional course project
    • Project that stretches over multiple classes
    • Capstone project in one class
  • At Georgia State, given our student population, I have moved away from doing community-based service learning and opted for university service learning experiences.

Online Education and Digital Learning:

“E-learning is the use of information and computer technologies to create learning experiences” (Horton, 2006, p.1).

McVay and Roecker (2007) elaborate on this definition with the following addition, “E-learning is facilitated and supported through the use of information and communication technology, e-learning can cover a spectrum of activities from supported learning, to blended learning (the combination of traditional and e-learning practices), to learning that is entirely online” (p. 6). Learning is the critical element and objective regardless of the technology used.

  • We don’t have hybrid classes; we have hybrid learners.
  • A variety of online educational opportunities exist for educators to explore: fully online, hybrid, asynchoronous, synchornous, residency, blended, and flipped classrooms that incorporate experiential learning.
  • Some classes are beneficial for online/hybrid experiences. Other classes may not be.
  • We assume that students are “digital first” and “digital natives.” That may not be true about your student population. Also, you should consider the Internet access of your students (e.g., what devices they are using, what speed of Internet they have at home, where and how they access the Internet and class materials).
  • Online education isn’t just plopping your resources online, dusting your hands and walking away. You have to spend time recreating the class environment and reshape the roles. Online requires interaction and involvement from both the students and the instructors.
  • Consider what it is to have a “meaningful learning experience.” Your goals for online classes should be the same as they would be in a traditional class. Reflect on how people learn, think about pedagogical theories and principles, and develop the class.


In order for meaningful learning to occur according to Jonassen, Howland, Marra and Crismond (2008), the task that students pursue should engage active, constructive, intentional, authentic, and cooperative activities. Rather than testing inert knowledge, educators should help students to learn to recognize and solve problems, comprehend new phenomena, construct mental models of those phenomena, and given a new situation, set goals and regulate their own learning (learn how to learn) (p. 2). (For more, visit this site.)

  • Strive for presence, according to Bill Pelz.

    When participants in an online course help establish a community of learning by projecting their personal characteristics into the discussion — they present themselves as “real people.” There are at least three forms of social presence: • Affective — The expression of emotion, feelings, and mood • Interactive — Evidence of reading, attending, understanding, thinking about other’s responses • Cohesive — Responses that build and sustain a sense of ‘belongingness’, group commitment, ore common goals and objectives

  • Work with your university’s online and digital learning teams. Consult with instructional designers.
  • Don’t feel bad. You will mess up the first time. You may have an awkward, clumsy experiment the first time. However, we all teach what we don’t know in our traditional teaching lives. The same applies to online learning, according to this author. As these authors noted: “Both faculty and students must recast their traditional teaching and learning methods to benefit from this..instructional model…Instructors can create very effective and flexible teaching environments with hybrid courses. However, to do so successfully, instructors must learn new skills.”