In an effort to improve a problem on campus while gaining real life experience, a public relations class spent this past semester working to improve public relations efforts for the University of Rhode Island theatre department.

Led by Public Relations Professor Regina Bell, PRS442: Strategic Media Communication was one of four “UnClassroom” courses offered last semester.  Unclassroom is a method of experiential learning currently being developed by the Harrington School of Communication and Media where students tackle substantial, real-world projects to benefit an organization. 

“Experiential learning projects are an important aspect of the public relations program and also for other faculty in the Harrington School of Communication and Media,” Bell said.  “Bringing a real world problem, situation into the classroom makes the whole experience for the student this much more appealing and relevant and just more exciting for all of us to think we are dealing with something real opposed to just another case study.” 

Bell volunteered to be one of the professors leading an UnClassroom experience because of her firm belief in experiential learning. The nature of PRS442, a public relations elective open to students majoring in communications, journalism and public relation, lent itself readily to an UnClassroom experience according to bell. 

“The course dabbled in social media strategies and also how an organization or individual utilizes the media to advance their own message,” Bell said.  “This was really an ideal course in which to plant this seed.”

Within weeks, Bell had the class divided into the different components of a pubic relations agency.  The students volunteered for positions including project managers, a research and development team, a videographer, social media experts and a final project team.  The final project team compiled the semester’s research and PR recommendations of short and long term goals for the department in a 40 page paper that will be presented to the theatre department tomorrow. 

“I say it’s a paper but it’s more than a paper.” Bell said.  “It’s an analysis of what are our competitors doing, what should we be doing, it contains recommendations for how to use social media effectively…and then it has an overview of the theatre department, where its been and where its going.”

In order to create “buzz” about both the upcoming  the theatre department’s upcoming show “Chicago” and the theatre department as a whole, Bell’s students used videos on the televisions in the Memorial Union, articles in The Good 5 Cent Cigar, social media and a video on the URI website to generate interest. 

“They really charged us with how can we get a typical URI student to come over to the Fine Arts Center and be part of a play, be a spectator,” Bell said.  “The students saw we have a real client that we need to service, they have a real issue, a real need, the need to attract customers.”

In order to assess student learning, Bell graded how well students participated in their assigned PR firm rules, engaged in class discussion and posted on an online forum. In lieu of a textbook, the class used “hotshot PR guy” David Meerman Scott’s book “The New Way of Doing PR and Marketing.” 

Though Bell is extremely happy with the end product produced by her class, she admits that at times the process was not easy.  Student learning was at times difficult to assess and the loose curriculum lead to occasional “chaos” in class. 

“It could be very chaotic at times because we’re dealing with 30 people working on a project and they’re all in different places at different times working on the project and that can be very frustrating for a student because this is not at all typical,” Bell said.  “It is not at all a typical project where you start on this day and it’s due on that day.  This was going [on] all semester, lots of moving pieces, deadlines.”

Despite the bumps in the road, Bell is still a firm believer in experiential learning and encourages more professors at URI to lead an UnClassroom experience. 

“I am a firm believer in experiential learning and every semester I integrate what I consider to be a meaningful project in my curriculum and I just think this is the way we should be conducting our courses to make a real world application part of the classroom,” Bell said.  “I consider myself to be very fortunate to participate again and I really endorse it.  I hope other faculty members will consider this opportunity because it really is a great, great opportunity.”