By Dr. Margaret Murray and Moejay Jaafar
In 2021, Dr. Margaret Murray and UM-Dearborn alumni Mohamad “Moejay” Jaafar worked together on a podcast called PR-Maggedon exploring public relations. They pair co-designed in the hopes of engaging students in a flexible and familiar medium during the heights of the pandemic. Below Margaret and Moejay discuss their experiences working together on this student-faculty partnership.
Margaret: To start, moving my capstone course entirely online because of COVID was saddening. There are things to love about online teaching and I have been teaching online on-and-off since 2005, but that course was never designed to be online. The purpose of COMM 460 was for graduating seniors to really start to think of themselves as PR professionals, to get to know each other, and to network with people already in the field. I was in a situation where the goals of the course didn’t seem to match the modality.
I knew that if I wasn’t excited about the course, no one else would be either. Moejay had recently taken 460 with me in person, so I then asked if I could pick his brain: if he had to retake 460 during the pandemic, did he have any ideas about how it could still be effective? Moejay was the one who had the idea of a podcast.
Moejay: I was so excited to hear from you, especially amidst what felt like an isolating time. What I appreciated the most about the invitation to give my thoughts on how to design the course was that it considered the perspective of a recently graduated student. Students have a lot to learn from faculty, but I believe it goes both ways: faculty also benefit tremendously from hearing from students, so it is absolutely critical to keep an ear on the ground, ensuring teaching approaches are relevant and fresh.
Margaret’s courses were such an essential part of my undergraduate education. They were strategically designed to build your skillset, expand your knowledge of PR practices, and most importantly, learn how to work on real-life PR projects. It was an invaluable learning opportunity to work directly with real-life clients in two of your courses, and I can’t think of anything that prepared me more for my current job. Margaret also made it feel safe to be curious and always offered extra support in office hour. So, working on the course redesign was not only an exciting opportunity, but a way to extend my gratitude for all that you taught me!
Margaret: Well, co-designing the course with you absolutely made it so much better. Students loved the podcast and the evaluations were very positive.
Moejay: There is also the question of, “should we formally mandate that course curricula consider the thoughts and contributions of students?” How do we move beyond just collecting feedback from students at the end of the semester, but proactively engage them in course development. Learning behaviors change over time, but courses don’t always catch up. I remember hearing about a student who used his uncle’s notes for the same science course he took in the 80’s!
Margaret: Course evals leave so much to be desired. They are like putting a message in a bottle: one-way communication that may or may not be understood. It also calls to mind online reviews and the consumer model: did you like this product you received? Why or why not? It isn’t collaborative at all.
Moejay: Additionally, I think students might sometimes feel too intimidated to speak up and share their ideas when working with faculty. This is why it’s so important to make students feel comfortable and reassure them that their contributions are welcomed and appreciated. So many young people are plagued by major imposter syndrome – I catch myself falling for it too sometimes! I’m grateful for faculty like Margaret, who not only invited me to share my ideas, but actually moved forward with my contribution!
Margaret: I do not remember any conflicts, either. You are unique because you’re not just open to the ideas of others, you enjoy differing ideas.
Moejay: No conflicts. I think the framework we were working out of was rooted in empathy and understanding. We were all living through turbulent times. We kept this in mind when designing the course. Students are stuck at home, battling a deadly pandemic, while still balancing the responsibilities of work, school and family. It was stressful. The podcast idea came to me based on what I was hearing from my friends in school who were saying, “WE DON’T WANT ANOTHER TWO HOUR LONG VIDEO LECTURE.” This was an exercise of listening to our audience and building something centered around what they wanted. Podcasts are relatively short, fun, lighthearted, and give you the option to multi-task. We were not only offering grace and empathy to students, but also to each other, as fellow citizens of the world, all going through something difficult.
Margaret: Ok, that’s eloquent! You’re right: it was a stressful time and everyone was already spending way too much time on their computers. The podcast idea immediately resonated because students could listen to it while driving or folding laundry or doing whatever else they needed to do.
Chris: How did this experience compare to the “typical” student-faculty relationship?
Moejay: First, from a practical standpoint, students working closely with faculty is critical since faculty typically are more knowledgeable of how to navigate formalities like compensation/grants, research submissions, etc. Secondly, although this shouldn’t be the case, the normal course of student-faculty relationships can feel very transactional. “I give you knowledge. You absorb knowledge. I give an exam. You receive a grade.” Even if the relationship is more substantial, both parties, the student and professor, are really in service of the students’ learning. The benefit is for the student. In a student-faculty collaboration like this one, the dynamic shifts, changes and evolves. Both parties are contributing their energy to a project with both their names on it. In the process, they both teach each other, challenge each other and learn from each other. It’s a true collaboration, where both parties are colleagues in innovation. In this project, Margaret brought with her a wealth of knowledge on PR and pedagogy, but also her network of weekly guests. I contributed my technical skills and my recent experience as a student learner. We leaned on each other for our skills, while also inviting each other’s feedback on our respective parts of the project.
Margaret: I love what you said about transactional relationships. That is absolutely true, and it can be exhausting for anyone. What’s deceptive about them is that they are alluring because they’re straight-forward and easy, but you’re not connecting on a human level. It’s, “I do X, and I know Y will happen.” Something like curriculum co-design or collaborating on a research project can be intimidating because they are time consuming, but I’ve found that they’re also very energizing because they are not transactional at all. They are about creating something new together. You don’t know what is going to come out of it.
Moejay: Overall, this was such a meaningful experience to me. Not to mention, I felt like I gained a whole PR certificate after listening and editing all those episodes. It was a win-win-win!