From word processing software to ChatGPT, technology is a vital part of the lives of public relations (PR) professionals. But how do you keep up with learning how to use each new program?
Assistant Professor of Practice and Assistant Chair for Public Relations Gregg Feistman, Assistant Professor of Instruction Steve Ryan and Assistant Professor Meghnaa Tallapragada are researching the use and implementation of emerging technology in the field of public relations.
The trio first connected after realizing that there was little research on how public relations education programs teach their students how to use these tools, which include virtual and augmented reality, generative artificial intelligence (AI), geolocation and more.
“Where is the nexus of the professors and educators teaching this stuff meeting up with the needs of the industry?” Ryan asked himself. And where do the students as consumers and young professionals fit into the equations?
Determined to find new answers, Tallapragada, Ryan and Feistman surveyed PR educators, practitioners, and students to learn more about the realities of teaching emerging technologies, as well as the need for learning them.
In March, the trio presented their preliminary findings at the Institute for Public Relations’ Bridge Conference and facilitated a discussion amongst other educators. Rather than just running through the list of new technologies, they presented a list of recommendations to their colleagues. One such recommendation involves encouraging public relations firms to offer internships that provide students with experience using emerging technologies while allowing the firms to test these technologies with limited investment.
In May, the trio spoke to an audience of professionals at the Philadelphia Public Relations Association. The audience came to their presentation with an eagerness to learn about how higher education institutions were planning to implement emerging technologies in their programs and what it meant to the industry. A question-and-answer session followed, and the conversation turned toward how to move forward.
“It’s our thought that we need to guide [students] into positive uses of it, and show them potential negative uses of it,” Feistman said.
Ryan teaches PR 4502: Innovations in Public Relations, a course dedicated to teaching students about the technologies they may encounter in the field.
In addition to PR 4502, many other courses in the public relations program incorporate the use of emerging technology. Ryan is requiring the use of generative AI in his 3000-level PR writing course. Generative AI such as ChatGPT has dominated much of the conversation surrounding technology in recent months, and Ryan, Feistman and Tallapragada want to make sure their students know how to use it ethically and efficiently.
“Using that kind of AI doesn’t make you a writer any more than knowing how to use Illustrator makes you an artist,” Ryan said.
Another key takeaway from their research is organizations cannot wait until they see other people using technology to start implementing it themselves.
The future isn’t tomorrow, it’s today, Tallapragada said. If you wait too long, you will fall behind the curve and have a hard time catching up.
One thing is for sure: Klein is committed to helping students understand emerging technologies. The same questions Tallapragada, Ryan and Feistman had are relevant to other majors in the college, as well. At the spring commencement ceremony, Dean David Boardman even recognized this direction in his address to the graduates.
As technology evolves, Klein curricula will evolve, too, thanks to professors like Tallapragada, Ryan and Feistman who are determined to equip their students with the knowledge and experience they need before they enter the workforce.