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MCCC Introduces iPads to the Classroom For New PR Course

There's an app for that. Or at least, there will be when Montgomery County Community College is through.

Writing for a public relations campaign? There’s an app for that. Or at least there may be soon.

Thomas Donlan, assistant professor of speech communication at Montgomery County Community College, is featuring Apple’s iPads in his Writing for Public Relations Campaigns course for the fall 2011 semester.

The hybrid course will be conducted mostly online, according to a release issued by the college. However, students will come to class in the middle of the semester to participate in a four-session writers’ workshop using the new Apple iPads.

The course is intended to provide the social media skills students need as they enter the communications field or to update their skills in their current jobs or as they pursue their careers.

“Tablet technology is a game changer for [public relations],” Donlan said in an email interview. “Handheld technology like iPods and smartphones were game changers for marketing and advertising, but not so much for PR because public relations messages are still primarily text driven.”

iPads facilitate those text-driven messages. “But they also force us to think more visually because that is the norm on tablets. Messages written for display on iPads or any type of tablet technology require visual components to supplement the written word,” Donlan said. “Graphics are the norm.”

Tablet technology opens up the world of apps for PR practitioners, Donlan said, but it also creates opportunities for collaboration between PR students and information technology students.

“I am working on a partnership with our app development class at MCCC so that my PR students can, perhaps, create ideas for apps for their clients that might be passed along to the students in the app development class for possible creation,” he said.

It’s one thing to teach about the principles of using social media, but allowing students to master social media in class by using the iPads is more effective, he said. 

“Students need the opportunity to use the latest technology to understand it and get to know it well enough to use it successfully,” Donlan said.

The iPads were acquired thanks to a multiple-year gift from an anonymous donor. The ongoing gift will initially be used to purchase the iPads and a cart to house and recharge them.

The course is being offered at MCCC for the first time this fall.

“I taught a very similar course at Illinois State University,” Donlan said. “I loved teaching the course at ISU and am really looking forward to teaching it at MCCC. The real payoff of this course for the students and me is that students are working with clients that really need the extra help to promote their services and events. At ISU, most of my students worked with nonprofit organizations that do so many great things for the community.”

If there is a downside to the online courses, it is that students and their professor do not meet face to face at every class.

“I have grown used to not having regular contact with my students,” Donlan said. “The Introduction to Public Relations course is offered entirely online. I also teach a hybrid version of our Introduction to Speech Communications class. While I do prefer meeting with my students regularly, the only way for the college to meet the demand for a community college education that has been created by the downturn in the economy is to offer more online and hybrid classes.”

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