Taking Learning Online

Despite the fact that they are lined up on a screen like the opening of “The Brady Bunch” or “Hollywood Squares,” students in JOUR 415 this quarter are going about their usual coursework: developing public relations activities to support Mustang Media Group.

 Zoom class meeting
Students have adapted to Zoom class meetings.

The class meets once a week via Zoom video conference, and they carry out their assignments in Canvas, which recently replaced PolyLearn as the university’s online learning management system. No face-to-face contact. No gathering for in-person group meetings. The course takes place in a virtual world that is the new normal at Cal Poly.

COVID-19 has had multiple impacts on the capstone public relations class, Advanced Public Relations Practicum: CCPR. In addition to meeting virtually, the class is responding to the drop-off in advertising revenue for student media, and to the annual KCPR pledge drive, which, this year, will be conducted completely online so that DJs can follow social distancing orders. 

The students’ goal is to help MMG’s fundraising efforts, and they have started with audience research in preparation for developing and carrying out a PR campaign online. Cognizant of how COVID-19 has left many jobless or in a tough financial position, the campaign also will highlight alternative ways to support student media, such as following Mustang News and KCPR online and reposting Mustang News stories.

Despite the virtual format of the class, one element that students will tackle is maintaining external relationships, such as those with the local business community. Internally, they will try to maintain and strengthen community within Mustang Media Group during these tough times. Assistant Professor Yan Shan, who teaches JOUR 415, sees the class crafting fun, virtual events to help boost morale within MMG and beyond. 

Associate professor Richard Gearhart works from home
Associate professor Richard Gearhart works from home

In Associate Professor Richard Gearhart’s Advanced Broadcast Practicum (JOUR 353), students are taking on the challenge of reporting virtually. 

“I know it’s possible because I have to do it myself,” said Gearhart, who is currently anchoring the KSBY evening news from his living room. 

Students are shooting video on their smartphones (while practicing social distancing) and conducting interviews via Zoom. Gearhart is also working on a Zoom setup that will allow the class to put together two 15-minute newscasts a week. The on-camera talent, anchors, sports, and weather will all be on Zoom, and individual students, working from home, will introduce the stories they’ve created. 

“We send the final product each week to the cable company for airing on the educational access channel just like we do now,” Gearhart said.

Samantha Spitz, this year’s student Video Manager, said she was skeptical at first of producing a show without a studio. Both Swanson Studios and KCPR are closed for the quarter. 

“Honestly I had no idea how JOUR 353 was going to work when Cal Poly announced spring quarter to be online,” Spitz said. “But we’ve made it happen.”

by Monique Ejenuko & Sydney Brandt

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