Tag Archives: accessibility

Thriving in “The New Normal”: Student-Centered Practices, Design, and Tools of Hybrid and Online Learning Environments

Online learning became our new normal over two weeks in Spring 2020 and remains a critical component for instruction at many institutions as the process of vaccination and return to campuses continues. The rapid shift brought technological integration, pedagogical shifts, and evolution in assessment. This left many educators and students overwhelmed, frustrated, and confused in the process. Originally presented in a panel as part of the 2021 AEJMC Public Relations Division’s Virtual Conference, this team of educators in public relations and media production offer insights on online instructional design and share tools and resources valuable to public relations education used during the pandemic response, with applications beyond the pandemic. In addition to providing a review of several tools, this article will share perspective on managing diverse learning styles, content delivery for diverse platforms, ensuring accessibility for all learners, class engagement, and assessment, while providing some personal reflection on their experiences in offering traditional public relations offerings during the pandemic.

Key Words: Online Learning, Pedagogical Tools, Accessibility, Certifications, Project-Based Learning


In the spring 2020 semester, public relations educators joined faculty around the world in migrating their courses totally online in two weeks or less, and were expected to deliver a high-quality course, even as this likely meant scrapping existing client partnerships, cancelling project deliverables, or fundamentally adapting them to accommodate the platform shift. Additionally, our approach to connecting with students to provide counsel in project development, building learning communities, and ensuring quality of outcome became severely limited by the quality of the technology and broadband of faculty and students alike. Finally, the socioemotional toll on both faculty and students alike has  been a source of concern when determining methods of evaluation and making appropriate accommodations when accounting for those dealing with the various forms of trauma, we have all encountered in this time (Madden & Del Rosso, 2021; Scannell, 2020). 

In addition to the pandemic’s impact on the way we live and work, and the personal losses many of us have incurred due to its impact on public health and the economy, an election year, and the ongoing civil unrest over issues of race and class have permeated the public consciousness and found its way into classroom dialog around the country. These factors further complicate our challenges in making it all work as scholars, educators, and servants to our discipline and community.  Not surprisingly, most of us have been asked to make these changes without institutional guidance or logistical support to execute the task at hand. 

In February, we held a panel where we offered our perspectives, along with resources to help those who are still working to adapt to online and hybrid learning. The conversation was rich and opened some channels of dialog with peers across the discipline who are veterans and novices of distance learning alike. In the weeks that followed, the editorial team invited us to develop an article loosely based on the review structure commonly adopted by the Journal of Public Relations Education to provide insights on new or existing resources to faculty across the discipline. In addition to traditional considerations of software platforms and technologies in this piece, the authors are offering personal insights and perspective on specific practices common to teaching in our discipline and how we individually adapted our own practices to accommodate student needs. 

The authors offer these topics and resources as examples of  resources at your disposal, and to offer support to those who may still be struggling with adapted formats. That said, we know these tools and advice may prove valuable to educators who may be developing online courses in the discipline for the first time. In each case, each of us have a wealth of experience and are certified online course developers, so we consider ourselves fortunate to have been trained to manage this process well in advance of the crisis at hand. We know this edition of JPRE will provide some early assessment of the impact of the pandemic on teaching and learning during the pandemic. Our intent is that this review and commentary on our own process of adapting to and accounting for elements specific to online learning and public relations pedagogy proves a valuable complementary resource, as well.

Online Recording/Presentation Delivery
Rafael “RC” Concepcion

One of the biggest challenges of the student experience in a pandemic classroom was maintaining a level of connection with the students and ensuring educational continuity.  Teaching in an online environment requires the breakup of curricula into smaller digestible components (Bao, 2020) so it is important to ensure that you cover the educational material in a way that makes the most impact and has a measure of assessment tied into it. 

Leveraging asynchronous content allowed for organization of material based on our “new need,” but also allowed the creation of online content that students could watch with whatever device they wanted to use (Islam et al., 2020). This afforded the opportunity to foster better student progress and address any learning gaps in online synchronous (live) sessions.

In developing asynchronous content, it was also important to consider students’ tendencies to watch content on mobile devices or in a second screen experience. Any content that is developed for this student experience would have to be tailored to these students’ viewing habits and attention needs. To reach them, a recorded PowerPoint lecture simply is not enough.

To develop asynchronous content, we used two software applications- Screenflow from Telestream for the Mac operating system and Camtasia for the PC operating system. This screen recording software allowed us to develop the presentations in a “two camera” setup – one camera being the WebCam and the second camera being the slide content or software being taught. Once completed, the recording was edited in the included software editors for each project.

Recording presentations in this manner allowed us to switch between the slide content and a host more frequently – helping keep student attention. Further – by addressing key topics on screen and switching back to a presenter to talk about the application of these key topics, the student is left with the impression that the asynchronous recording was planned to fit a larger developed component of the classroom and not just a replacement of a lecture that would have been done in-person were it not for COVID-19.

The professor would present the foundational concepts of a lesson in an asynchronous topic, leading to a series of questions that would serve as a formative assessment at the conclusion of the presentation.  This allowed the professor to gauge how the students fared with the concepts before meeting for the live session. 

During the live online session, the faculty member can steer the class facilitating discussion about the topic and provide his experience of the topics that were presented asynchronously.  Using the synchronous time to connect, discuss, and share – you leverage the online medium to foster a “front row” to every student in the class and elevate connection in an environment where human connection was in short supply. 

In using the Camtasia and Screenflow recording software to make the asynchronous content, we were able to pause, highlight, zoom, and call out specific portions of a lecture or demonstration. With students being more inclined to view content on their mobile device, most presentations that are designed for a laptop or desktop presentation will appear small in the mobile device. In addition to the student’s inability to read or decipher content on that small of a video, the student is left with a feeling that the education they are receiving is not flexible enough to meet their needs and an after-the-fact experience. 

By formatting the content with this extra level of production value, it demonstrates to students that the content is tailored for their medium and encourages mobile use. Encouraging them to use a second screen during presentations also prompts students to use their laptop or desktop devices to follow along and make notes – deepening the connection with the material. 

Once the content was rendered, it was uploaded to the Kaltura Media Space or unlisted on the YouTube video platform for hosting. When uploading the video and setting the language, YouTube will generate captions for the presentations, streamlining the process.  

Ensuring that the content is available for mobile platforms and varied to keep student attention would be incomplete without ensuring that the content was viewed and assessed.  To help with this, the content would be linked using the Playposit Interactive video platform. 

Playposit allows you to create a series of Bulbs – a combination of video links and organized questions for students to review. The Playposit bulbs allow you to create stop points in the video where questions can be asked on the topic that is presented. Playposit allows you to prevent the student from advancing ahead on the video without answering the questions – giving you greater control over the student experience. 

As students interact with the Playposit bulbs, professors can monitor their progress using Playposit built in reporting. From here, professors can analyze how the content is being adopted in an asynchronous format and adjust the live sessions in response.  

Online Recording Software Summary

Screenflow by Telestream


  1. Can record multiple monitors.
  2. Can record regions of a screen for tailored presentations.
  3. Can record iOS devices for use in presentations.
  4. Easy-to-use post production features.


  1. Cost (Check  on your university’s licensing agreements).
  2. Available on Mac only.

Camtasia by TechSmith


  1. Can record multiple monitors.
  2. Can record regions of a screen for tailored presentations.
  3. Can record iOS devices for use in presentations.
  4. Available for Mac and PC.


  1. Cost (Check on your university’s licensing agreements).
  2. More of a learning curve than Screenflow.



  1. Create Bulbs (videos plus interactive questions).
  2. Can prevent users from fast forwarding through video.
  3. Can control video playback speed.
  4. Great reporting controls to monitor progress.
  5. Incorporates into a variety of question types for the video.
  6. Can be organized and stored for re-use.


  • Monthly cost ($12 USD) for instructors.


Playposit – Creating and using Bulbs:  http://rcweb.co/playpositdemo

Ensuring Accessibility of All Learning Abilities 
Christopher J. McCollough, Ph.D.

In the past decade, to force compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, nonprofit organizations working on behalf of students with a wide spectrum of impairments are filing lawsuits against universities which fail to comply with web accessibility standards on the main Web sites and on course content delivery systems. A recent case involved the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University facing suit from the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) for failing to comply with provisions of the ADA when they failed to provide closed captioning on their entire catalog of instructional videos housed on online course pages (McKenzie, 2019). Other cases include matters of failure to optimize photos, videos, course pages, and slide presentations for learners who are dealing with visual impairment, hearing impairment, and color blindness, among others. In short, there is a growing movement to ensure Web content on university and college platforms are compliant to avoid being swept up with other institutions in a suit. Unfortunately, the movement to comply with these measures is an inconsistent priority across higher education. The rapid pace at which many of us had to migrate content online likely means many of us have done so with little attention paid to or support for ensuring compliance. As such, the author wanted to share some resources they use in course development. The author was introduced to these tools at a previous institution when serving as an accessibility champion for the university’s Center for Online Learning. Using these tools have ensured my courses are ADA compliant.

WCAG is the Key to Compliance
To help educators comply, the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (A3 WG) established the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Because our understanding of and best practices for supporting differently abled learners continues to evolve as medicine and science cultivates a sharper understanding of meeting needs, A3 WG maintains a living document approach to WCAG, and currently abides by what is called WCAG 2.2 (W3C Web Accessibility Initiative, 2021). Educators should review WCAG periodically to ensure they are accounting for updates to the guidelines that happen over time. As the organizations filing suits for failures in ADA compliance cite precedent from the WCAG standards, using these standards as a means of developing content and course presentation ensures compliance.

Identifying the WCAG Standards
The WCAG consists of four standards for the content developer to meet using a checklist, which includes subcategories that must be satisfied to meet the standards. The four standards are:

  1. Perceivable – 11 components pertaining to visual and audio presentation that ensures learners coping with impairments have a clear means of accessing content logically.
  2. Operable – 5 components pertaining to logical organization and clarity of function of headers, hyperlink destination descripts, and elimination of time limits and automations that may limit clarity of the content.
  3. Understandable – 4 components pertaining to clarity of site navigation, sequence of the document, languages used, and guidelines for how one writes equations adherent to accessibility standards.
  4. Robust – 1 component focusing on whether the author has provided thorough accessibility to third party tools and resources essential to course learning.

Resources to Support Educators in WCAG Compliance
Given the volume of expectations for educators in meeting these standards, the following  offers public relations educators (and the larger community at your respective institutions) with a list of links to tools and resources to ensure ADA compliance. The first suggestion is to seek out your institution’s support network for online learning to identify what resources they may house to support WCAG and ADA compliance online. One strong example is at my former institution’s Online Course Accessibility Guidelines, which are put together by the Online Course Accessibility specialist Ann Newland. Look around to see what you may be able to draw on from your institution.

Absent of that, here is a comprehensive list of resources for educators who need tools to ensure development of WCAG compliant content:

The following links provide accessible checkers for content developers to test each piece of course content prior to site launch:

Given the growing trend of filing suit to force compliance, adapting to WCAG now ensures not only that you are compliant, but that the content is easy to follow and facilitates learning for multiple styles of learning, especially important to pandemic pedagogy when students may not have their usual access to learning support. This only works to strengthen what we offer in the public relations classroom and provides the same quality of content for learners of different abilities.

Certifications, Simulations, and PBL Software

Jamie Ward, Ph.D.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2020), employment of public relations  specialists is projected to grow seven percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. A key component for career success in PR today is both knowledge about, and experience with, digital marketing and communication. Student preparation requires classroom training along with applicable experiential learning activities. The use of digital certifications, simulation-based training and project-based learning can enhance student engagement and facilitate an educational environment where students become adept in the skills required for success in the public relations industry.  

Digital certifications such as Google Analytics or Stukent’s Digital Marketing Certificate have become a popular addition to many college and university courses in recent years and their applicability has only been heightened with the shift to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Certifications can serve as an extension of the classroom, provide up-to-date training in areas that are constantly evolving, and add a level of innovation to course work. There has been little research conducted on the benefits of digital certifications within public relations curriculum. Therefore, research focusing on certifications and marketing courses has been utilized to highlight the curricular and professional benefits to students.

According to Professor Donald Bacon, “Keeping courses up-to-date with the latest theories may be less important than developing pedagogies that engage students, challenge their thinking, and inspire them to improve their communication and interpersonal skills” (Bacon, 2017, p. 121). Student success is heightened when professors not only endorse the content, but can also speak to the value of content and how it can be included in professional materials.

Cowley et al. (2021) found that faculty often select the digital certifications they offer in their courses based on recommendations and endorsements from industry professionals, professional advisory boards, or administrators.  Faculty also develop assignments and craft curriculum to assist students in obtaining critical skills necessary for success in the job market (Madhavaram & Lavarie, 2010; Schlee & Karns, 2017).

Student acceptance and excitement over certifications is largely linked to the way the certifications are explained and integrated into the syllabus. An examination of student feedback from 2018-2021 in the author’s fundamentals of social media course shows a correlation between the student’s perceived value of digital certifications and the amount of time the professor has spent highlighting the skills that can be acquired through certification.  

Based on student feedback, some best practices for incorporating certifications into public relations curriculum include:

  1. Make sure to get certified yourself before assigning certifications to students. This means watch all the videos and take the exams as if you were the student.
  2. Identify pain points, plan for questions, and incorporate that information into lectures.
  3. Remain the star. Certifications should supplement the knowledge that is already being presented in a classroom.
  4. Highlight the value in obtaining the certification so students are encouraged to work for their scores as opposed to simply looking for an answer key online.  

Some of the most common certifications being used to supplement or enhance curriculum include:

There is a myriad of different certifications available. A more comprehensive list can be located at https://digitalmarketingcompetition.com/

In addition to certifications, simulation-based training has also shown significant value to educators. Public relations education is most effective when it bridges theory and practice with real world application (Gleason & Violette, 2012). Students need to understand how to apply what they are learning. Students who are confident in their understanding of public relations and in how to effectively counsel clients, will have a much easier time finding positions in the industry and to that matter, be far more effective in the industry than those who are unsure and question their skills. The more hands-on experiences educators can integrate into their course work, the more prepared the students become. There are two simulations, Mimic Public Relations and Mimic Social, both developed by Stukent, that are well suited to address the needs of both public relations professors and students.

Mimic Public Relations helps students gain experience and practice creating and targeting media pitches, writing press releases, creating targeted social media posts, developing content for crisis management, and reinforcing Associated Press Stylebook formatting. The content can integrate well into many introductory public relations and public relations writing courses. Asal and Blake (2006) claimed that “simulations, particularly human-to-human interactions, offer social science students the opportunity to learn from firsthand experience, and can be an important and useful addition to an educator’s teaching repertoire” (p. 1).

Mimic Public Relations provides targeted training in public relations writing. Pitching is a unique activity, and pitches are developed based on the relationships with media – bloggers, editors, and reporters. This simulation, with its characters and archetypes, allows students to select different media – journalists, bloggers, etc.  and learn the intricacies of working with each of them. The press release portion of the simulation takes a scaffolded approach. Students initially select content from set choices and then eventually build up to crafting content on their own. This allows students the opportunity to think content sequencing throughout the piece.

The Mimic Social simulation helps students obtain practical experience with formal and informal social media strategies. Students gain experience:

  1. Creating targeting ads on a variety of different social media platforms.
  2. Testing and adjusting their strategies. Students can engage with the simulation for a period of four to eight weeks, they have an opportunity to adjust their strategies, including days and time of posts, based on KPIs.
  3. Targeting influencers. This includes selecting influencers best suited for the brand and deciding how much compensation to offer for posts. The simulation is designed to have the influencers turn down insufficient offers. Most students do not get the opportunity to gain experience in this type of strategy before they graduate.
  4. Managing a budget. Students manage a $5,000 budget each week.

Educators can effectively guide students through these simulations while also assisting students in articulating their experiences and the value to potential employers. Many instructors have had great success implementing simulations and find simulations to be effective pedagogical tools (; Dorn, 1989; Olson 2012, Shellman, 2001; Wang, 2017).

Project based learning models put students in the driver’s seat and allow them to serve as public relations practitioners in a safe environment where they are encouraged to learn and make mistakes. The instructor provides guidelines in areas unfamiliar to students such as guidelines on copyright for photos or helping to develop strategies for engagement. The key to success here is for the instructor to give up some of their control and to let the students take the reins and implement what they have been taught. In public relations courses, project-based learning is often done by having students work with classroom clients.

Project based learning encourages students to think, speak, and act as competent public relations professionals. Project based learning allows students to identify with course concepts, find the course material relevant to real-life situations, and become more familiar with the theoretical course content and more confident in the application of that content in the classroom and beyond (McCollough, 2018).

Designing Capstone, Internships, and Projects for Online Learning 

Adrienne A. Wallace, Ph.D.

Lucky for us, best practices for online learning began long before the COVID-19 pandemic flipped higher education topsy-turvy. For those who were already certified in online learning through our institutions, we had the advantage and likely found the transition smoother from an in-person to an online classroom. As an adjunct, the author took advantage of all the training and resources made available to me in this role as I thought it was more like a benefit offered to me than something I was required to do through the institution and as you know there are not many benefits afforded to adjunct faculty members. 

Many scholars and practitioners have reported the positive outcomes of a flipped, or inverted, approach to instruction (Baker, 2000; Bates & Galloway, 2012; Lage et al., 2000; Lo & Hew, 2017; Pearson, 2012; Wright, 2011). Very few articles are published on the idea of flipped learning in public relations and even fewer on a flipped classroom online in public relations, but Enfield (2013) looked at this model for multimedia journalism courses. A researcher at the author’s institution, Robert Talbert, has an active blog that the author began to engage with to help develop and maintain active classrooms.

Much later researcher H.O.U. Zhi-quiang (2018) published a conference paper which was a reflection on a public relations and tourism classroom that confirmed the author’s experience, the quality of her own teaching, the quality of student input and prep was greatly improved with the flipped classroom idea. Other tools that helped the author inform my classroom and course design, were the books Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning (Brown, 2014), Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning (Vanderbilt, 2021), Out of Our Minds: The Power of Being Creative and The Element (Robinson, 2017, 2009), Creative Confidence (Kelley & Kelley, 2013), Outliers (Gladwell, 2008), The Culture Code (Coyle, 2018), Poke the Box: When Was the Last Time You Did Something for the First Time? and Linchpin: Are you Indispensable? (Godin, 2010, 2015). Finally, of course, the author can shoehorn anything by Brené Brown into a classroom to build confidence in new pros and have hooked many on her podcasts. While the author reads a lot of pedagogical material, she probably spends more time trying to transform the classroom through business acuity. It differentiates my classroom (online or offline) from others’ and allows the author to really tap into the 22 years of experience she has in communication practice. She does not cater to a passive student experience. Students regularly acknowledge how much they like the “active” classroom and “crowdsourcing” conversations through starters from book chapters to podcasts and anything in between to keep learners active outside of “just” textbooks. 

The author believes that a flipped classroom allowed me to seamlessly take her classes, with very few syllabus or schedule changes, online when COVID-19 struck, and our campus shut down. Students often mock the author’s love of spreadsheets and project management, but they were the calm for many in the storm that was the end of that first COVID-19 semester. Like many colleges and university settings, the author was given very few days (two to be exact) to prepare my courses as we ventured online when our campus shut down. An unexpected bright side of taking a flipped course online was this is the exact way a student would operate in a professional environment with clients or work teams and so in my campaigns and capstone classes, The author was also showing students how to create workflows and best practices regarding time management, project management during our prep and class periods as well as how to better work in teams on large-scale projects remotely. So, the next transition, from college to a job during COVID-19 becomes much less of a stressful transition and more of a curious continuance into the working world. 

While not all my experiments and assignments have worked out, the author has learned from each failure and side-step along the way in the spirit of continuous improvement. Here are a few things that have made transition from in-person campaigns courses and capstones easier: 

  1. Adopt and embrace cool tech. Utilize a project management system (PMS) and deploy it alongside your learning management system (LMS) at school. The author has used Asana, Trello, Monday, Airtable, and Basecamp over the last few years and I like Basecamp best in my classes. It seems to be the quickest to learn, their support is instant and amazing, and there is a great blog and rich video library for the students to learn tips on working remotely, team dynamics, group project tips, and project management tips of all kinds. The books It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work and Rework (a New York Times Best Seller) are also must reads for anyone tackling large-scale projects, managing multiple teams, and remote work. There are drawbacks and bonuses to each system listed above. This is not a one-size-fits-all situation. You should practice with a few and be comfortable trouble shooting in the one that you pick. Basecamp has a free education program which also sweetened the deal for me as my institution does not have the budget for tools like this for just one professor.

    Reduce anxiety with instant exchanges. Engage in the use of an instant message platform like Slack (or Google Hangouts/Chat) even if your PMS has a chat feature for quick informal exchanges and to monitor group progress. Assign class-wide interest channels, team channels, and allow for direct messaging with your students. Slack uses a great mobile application the author finds far superior to Basecamp’s app which includes “Campfire” as a messaging tool, but their mobile interface has been heckled by the author’s students due to its poor functionality. So, the author works with her class to pick the best tools, based on their advantages and functionality. Slack is a crowd favorite, and students report they have used it at work, in internships, and in other classes to communicate with classmates and peers. Slack is much like Microsoft Teams chat which makes it nice to show how to communicate better virtually, but leaves room for students to feel confident learning any new platform for messaging as they progress through school and jobs. 

Training for adaptability and platform-agnostic students to me is more important than specific platform training. When the author provides professionalism and support, the students will be able to hack any tool they encounter into submission. As an aside, the author knows this seems like a lot of accessibility to the professor, and maybe it is too much for everyone, but the author finds this “concierge-level” communication of higher quality between the students and herself as they can express something more easily that is maybe personal or professionally curious in a direct message or gain feedback from their classmates in a general channel on something like an assignment or an internship. These platforms can also allow the professor to eliminate issues before students stew on them, leading to decreased anxiety about small issues — before they become bigger issues. This platform has allowed crowdsourcing help for students from other students when the author is delayed in responding to students. The author sets firm expectations about my accessibility to students. I realize this approach is not for everyone. 

  1. Introduce time management and distraction management early on. New tools bring increased accessibility of all involved. When the communication is easier the flow of information is faster and more frequent which introduces for some the feeling of being overwhelmed or stretched too thin. In every class taught, the author does exercises for speed researching and writing to demonstrate that three hours it took a student to write that 800-word blog post for your client, should and could be 45 minutes with time for a healthy edit experience. Using speed exercises in classes sans distractions does wake students up to the idea of less notifications is better for not just their writing life, but their whole life. The author performs a lot of tech support in class demonstrating how to mute notifications on phones and laptops for time blocks, how to use apps to our advantage with timers, or how to use calendar blocks to commit to a project for a while. Demonstrations are often followed up with a reward like a 20-minute walk or 15 minutes of TikTok. Whatever the case, there is a reward out there for everyone. 

In the first day of class, which is full of onboarding activities and networking, we each access the “lifestyle” portion of our phone which unlocks how much time you have spent on apps that day, week, month, etc.; there are always gasps of horror in this newfound knowledge. Usually, students’ progress through this discovery much like they experience other forms of grief. First in denial: I do not spend that much time on TikTok. Next, pain and guilt: I could be working on schoolwork or training for a marathon, but I am on TikTok? Then, anger and bargaining, masking the effects and beating down the resentment: Well, if TikTok were not so entertaining and if only I did not need to use it for work/internship/to keep up with friends then I would not have to use it. Next up depression: quiet emotions and the feeling of confusion about how they let social media get this far. Then finally, acceptance and hope: I am going to set limits and timers for my social media consumption and try to spend more time in self-care screenless activities. 

This ultimately lays the groundwork for the idea of time block scheduling using a tool like Todoist, mind mapping, Design Thinking, process building, Pomodoro Technique, and use of Google calendar and to-do lists in Basecamp. This has led to the adoption of timekeeping apps on teams (to fill in time slips – just like “real life”) like Toggl and Clockify. In general, discussions the author has with students are about how to best project manage oneself for better performance in all life activities, not just school and to avoid scheduling every moment of your day including your leisure time which can lead to burn out and dissatisfaction with your work (Tonietto & Malkoc, 2016; Malkoc & Tonietto, 2019). 

  1. Demonstrate how all the pieces support the whole. Students used to complain about “too many things to look at” until the author spent time during the first classes on a software demo about how everything works together to create the experience with the tools, along with a discussion on creating successful processes for improved organization and learning potential. Many classes have a Google Drive, an LMS, an PMS, a chat, and more. This can be confusing until you define the utility of each item, and as I mentioned earlier, “right size” the experience, meaning take the students through why choices were made in the first place and showing them how the decisions were made has since made for much less resistance in the space. The author has students suggest tools, and they pilot them in classes through mini-project briefs that we share with the class. Discovery then becomes part of the class norm. This doubles as job training as many times between client apps, files, and systems plus your own firm’s apps, files, and systems, things can seem chaotic at first glance. Defining utility and improving understanding helps reduce anxiety about digital natives using new tools for professional projects. 

Digital literacy is something the author strives to improve in every class; it is no secret that digital natives are not professionally digitally literate (Luttrell et al., 2020). The author uses radical transparency to show the behind-the-scenes operations so that students understand the author knows how to use these tools and can help them improve their skills too. The idea of “learning together” is something that makes the author feel vulnerable, but it has helped students get comfortable being uncomfortable. The class makes it work together. 

  1. Ditching perfection for utility. The author is not a video producer, a scriptwriter, or a podcast host. That is okay. 

The author has long given up on the made-for-TV movie she thought she would be making, and instead am thriving in my gifts of imperfection (thanks Brene’ Brown). Flipped learning can mean a lot of content creation, but it does not have to mean the instructor has to create all the content. The author prefers to use videos of herself less, audio of herself more, and mix it together with industry pros, and great industry articles in a smorgasbord which is created for consumption each week. Over time, the author found this to be a “best practice” in several books and articles, at least until she took a direct hit through a student evaluation where they said there should only be instructor-made videos in the class, that the author was not working hard enough if they are watching, say the introduction video produced by Basecamp to serve as the tutorial for the platform. The list went on and on. The author wore this shame around my neck for assigning certification videos in my tech class and tutorials made by software companies to introduce things like our PMS or our Slack for our chat. 

One day the author came to a realization: making content is not her job. Curating content IS her job. Translating and providing meaning and purpose to the content IS ALSO my job. So, she gave herself the deserved pass for those videos and carries on. She is not a tech company. She uses radical candor when  introducing the videos. helps the student pull out the concepts of the prefab tools, and applies them together. The author advocates for the position that if you are putting your students through anything, and she means anything, whether it be Google certification to Slack tutorials to Hubspot social media training to Facebook Blueprint – you do the damn thing yourself and come back to the class and unpack it with the class. The experience and knowledge transfer should be led by you. It does not have to be made by you. How can you make them care if you do not? Make the time, do the prep.


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Cowley, S., Humphrey, W., & Muñoz, C. (2021). Industry certifications in digital marketing and media education: Examination of perceptions and use among educators. Journal of Marketing Education, 43(2), 189-203. https://doi.org/10.1177/0273475320948570 

Dorn, D. S. (1989). Simulation games: One more tool on the pedagogical shelf. Teaching Sociology, 17(1), 1-18. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/1317920.pdf 

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© Copyright 2021 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: McCollough, C.J., Concepcion, R., Ward, J., & Wallace, A. (2021). Thriving in “The new normal”: Student-centered practices, design, and tools of hybrid and online learning environments. Journal of Public Relations Education, 7(3), 144-169. https://aejmc.us/jpre/2021/12/27/thriving-in-the-new-normal-student-centered-practices-design-and-tools-of-hybrid-and-online-learning-environments/

Captioning Social Media Video

Editorial Record: Original draft submitted June 29, 2020. Revision submitted August 9, 2020. Manuscript accepted for publication September 11, 2020. First published online May 2021.


Lakshmi N. Tirumala
Assistant Professor
Digital Media Production
Drake University
Des Moines, IA
Email: lakshmi.tirumala@drake.edu

Ed Youngblood
Professor and Associate Director
Media Studies Auburn University 
Auburn, AL
Email: ney0002@auburn.edu


Research suggests that the majority of Facebook users typically watch videos with the audio off and often skip over videos that require them to turn on audio, particularly when users are on a mobile device. To counter this tendency, content creators need to caption their social media videos. In many cases, content creators should also be captioning their video because of legal accessibility requirements, particularly if they are producing content for educational institutions or government agencies. In the U.S., these laws might include the Americans with Disabilities Act and Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. This article offers instructions for preparing captions for videos distributed on social media, including guidance on writing quality captions, using captioning tools, and suggested classroom activities. 

Keywords: accessibility, captions, ethics, public relations education, teaching

Ethics is a critical component of public relations (PR) education and interviews with leading PR professionals suggest there are gaps in the ethical components of PR education (Bortree, 2019). While there is little discussion in the PR education literature about making content accessible to people with disabilities, accessibility fits into the Commission on Public Relations Education’s call for incorporating ethics across the curriculum, including the need for students to be knowledgeable in making information accessible, respect for others, and acting in the public interest (Bortree et al., 2019). Accessibility is important to the general public. The presence of website accessibility credentials can positively affect public perceptions of company corporate responsibility (Katerattanakul et al. 2018). There have also been broader calls for incorporating accessibility, including captioning, into the mass communication and PR curricula (Youngblood et al., 2018). 

Why Teach Captioning?

Social media (SM) is a critical PR element and PR students need skills in SM tools and practices that help them effectively reach their target audience (Kinsky et al., 2016). Video is an important part of the PR SM toolbox and students should understand how to make video accessible. Captioning, onscreen-text describing a video’s audio component (Federal Communication Commission [FCC], 2018), is an important element of that process. Captioning makes sense from an ethical perspective because messaging needs to be inclusive. Almost 8 million Americans are deaf or hard of hearing (DHoH) (Brault, 2012) and captioning allows DHoH audience members to participate in the video culture. In silent films, dialogue appeared as on-screen text, so DHoH only missed music played along with the film. Sound-based movies, introduced in 1927, disenfranchised DHoH and captioned films in the US did not appear until 1951. US television captioning began with WGBH’s 1972 captioned version of Julia Child’s The French Chef, which relied on open captions—text that is an integral part of the film/video and viewers cannot turn off (Downey, 2008). Broadcasters soon switched to closed captions, captions viewers can turn on and off, a technique that can also be used for SM video.

Captioning SM video prevents disenfranchising DHoH SM users and also makes sense based on how many people use SM video. Around 85% of users consume SM video with the audio muted, (Patel, 2016), and SM platforms, particularly Facebook, stress captioning’s importance in meeting audience expectations (Facebook for Business, n.d., 2016). Captioning offers benefits when the audio is not muted as well. Dual-coding theory argues people absorb information better when presented simultaneously in multiple modalities, (Paivio, 1990), and captioned video has broad societal benefits among the non-DHoH population, including promoting language acquisition and increasing literacy. Captioning helps with recall. Students retain information better when they watch videos with captions and, more importantly from a PR perspective, people have better brand recall when watching captioned material (Gernsbacher, 2015). Closed captioning improves search engine optimizations (SEO) as search engines can crawl the caption files. Search engines cannot read open captions (3Play Media, n.d.).

Many organizations fall under online-accessibility mandates, particularly government agencies and schools (Youngblood et al., 2018). Federal laws addressing captioning include 

  • Television Decoder Circuity Act (1990): requiring televisions have closed caption Circuitry Act;
  • Telecommunications Act of 1996: established broadcast caption requirements;
  • Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act: required government and education electronic media accessibility;
  • Twenty-First Century Communication and Video Accessibility Act (2010): required increased online video captioning. 

While the 1990 Americans with Disability Act (ADA) was designed for the brick-and-mortar world, in 2012, federal judge Michael Ponsor extended it to the virtual world in the National Association for the Deaf’s captioning lawsuit against Netflix, making it all the more important that PR students understand captioning (Youngblood et al., 2018). 

This combination of ethical and legal imperatives, coupled with user preferences, argues that understanding captioning should be an integral part of teaching PR students about SM video. This article provides background material to help set up an introductory lesson in captioning, including captioning best practices, multiple approaches to creating captions, and outlining a captioning assignment and how to assess it. The article assumes students already have a basic understanding of working with timeline-based media.

Captions and Creating Quality Captions

Captioning is not just repeating on-screen dialogue. The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) offers a captioning framework: captions should be accurate, synchronized with the video, complete (all voices and important sounds captioned), and well placed—not obscuring important information (FCC, 2018). If you watch captioned video, you will find that captioning practices vary. For this article, we are drawing on The Described and Captioned Media Program’s (n.d.) Captioning Key. If only one person is speaking, captioning can be relatively easy—make sure that the captions match exactly what is said, typically including grammatical errors and ‘errs’ and ‘ums.’ With the exception of live television captions, most closed-captioned text should be sentence case, with all uppercase indicating someone is speaking loudly. When additional voices are added, captioners may need to add identifiers to clarify who is speaking, putting the name in parentheses and the spoken text on the next line:


Aunt Linda, how great to hear from you.

Again, conventions vary, as it would not be uncommon to see this caption written on a single line. Important background sounds may need to be captioned, typically setting the sound inside brackets, such as an engine revving up being [engine revving]. Off screen sounds can also be important. If a person looks up when an off-camera door is heard closing, the sound should be captioned [door closes]. Music should be captioned. Examples include [music] and captioning the music’s tone [relaxing music]. In the captions shown in Figure 3, the lyrics for the background music were included because they were important to the video’s content. The captions identify the artist and the song [The Newbeats play “Bread and Butter”] and mark the lyrics with a musical note—♪—at the beginning and end. The key is making sure captions convey all important audio information. Viewers also need to know when there is not any audio for the video [no audio] or unexpected quiet [silence] (Described and Captioned Media Program, n.d.). Captioners need to be careful how they format caption text, and the readability section of Table 1 provides some highlights based on Captioning Key (Described and Captioned Media Program, n.d.)—an article that can be used as a reading assignment. Readers interested in a deeper dive into captioning should read Reading Sounds (Zdenek, 2015) and Closed Captioning (Downey, 2008).

Closed captions work by pairing a video file with a text-based caption file. There are over 30 closed captioning formats (3Play Media, n.d.). U.S. students will most likely use SubRip (.SRT) and the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Video Text Tracks (WebVTT or .VTT) and  need to be aware of which format a given SM platform supports. These text files provide media players with caption text and how long to display the captions. The captions below are from an .SRT for a documentary on the first Apollo moon landing. The number at the beginning of each section identifies the order of the captioning segment. The paired set of numbers on the next line tells the player when to display the caption that follows. These numbers are written in hours: minutes: seconds: milliseconds. 


00:00:10,500 –> 00:00:12,900


We copy you down Eagle.


00:00:13,000 –> 00:00:16,700

(Tranquility Base) 

Houston, Tranquility Base here.


00:00:16,800 –> 00:00:18,400

The Eagle has landed.

In some cases, the final set of time code digits may indicate a frame number and set off by a semi-colon rather than comma. As an example, 00:00:04;18 describes the 18th frame after the four-second mark. Be careful when editing captioning files in a text editor to make sure the correct number of digits are present or the media player may not render the caption correctly. .VTT code is similar, but uses a period rather than comma to separate seconds and milliseconds, e.g., 00:00:47.564 –> 00:00:49.49 and has the option to include formatting and placement information (W3C, 2019). As .VTT and .SRT are text documents, they can be created in a basic text editor such as Notepad. The process is easier with a captioning tool, whether built into the platform like Facebook’s or a stand-alone tool, like Kapwing’s. 

Bringing captioning into the classroom

This captioning assignment was used in an upper-level video production class that included PR majors. The students responded well to the assignment and reported gaining an appreciation of what captions bring to audience members and the effort it takes to create quality captions. The assignments objectives are 1) to understand the ethical responsibility of making media content accessible, 2) to learn the importance of captioning video content, 3) to understand captioning best practices, and 4) to acquire the skills to use captioning tools. Students should learn to include captions as soon as they begin planning and producing SM video and need to understand which captioning type to use. Facebook and Twitter support closed captioning, while Instagram does not and needs open captions. Captioning is particularly important to integrate into client-based projects where students have the opportunity to serve as captioning advocates, helping educate clients about best practices. When setting up the captioning assignment, students need to understand why captioning is important. In addressing this issue, the instructor should discuss

  • Ethical imperatives for inclusive design and meeting the all users’ needs;
  • Legal requirements for inclusive design and captioning, particularly for government and educational institutions (Sections 504 and 508) and the federal court’s 2012 application of ADA to the virtual world; 
  • Meeting user captioning expectations, particularly for mobile devices; 
  • Added PR benefits, particularly SEO and increased brand recognition when captions are used alongside audio. 

Next, the instructor should discuss captioning best practices (see Table 1), including FCC guidelines, and have students watch a muted video and discuss what information they are missing without captions. Crisis/emergency communication is particularly suited for this exercise and encourages discussing ethical and legal concerns. The instructor should then introduce a captioning tool and discuss how to use the tool. We provide discussions of Facebook’s captioning tool and Kapwing’s Subtitler below (see Table 2 for additional tools). Drawing on captioning best practices, the students should caption 30-seconds of video provided by the instructor. The video should have important background sounds and music, as well as off-camera voices. Depending on time, students can begin with auto-generated captions or be given a script. The instructor should stress that copy-and-pasting the scripted lines is not effective caption. Evaluate student captions using the rubric in Table 1. As an alternative, faculty can use this first attempt at captioning as an opportunity for discussion and have students compare their captioning choices, either in small groups or as a class, and discuss their decisions. 

Facebook’s Captioning Tool

Facebook auto-plays muted videos as users scroll through their feeds (Constine, 2017), and having a text-version of dialogue helps draw user attention. The captioning tool is not available for personal feeds, so students need to choose their distribution methods carefully. This tutorial covers captioning during upload, but the process is similar when captioning existing video and when adding second-language subtitles. To add video content find the “Video” option in the left-hand menu—you may need to click “See more.” On the Video page, upload the video by clicking “Upload Video” and locating your video in the file browser. On the left side of the Upload Video page (see Figure 1), add a title, description, appropriate tags, and the video’s spoken language. Select “Subtitles & Captions (CC)” on the page’s right-hand side to begin captioning and confirm the video’s main spoken language. Facebook offers three options: uploading an .SRT, auto-generating captions, and writing captions. In all three cases, you will probably use the caption editing tool. 

You have to use the correct file naming convention when uploading an .SRT: filename.[language code)_[country code].srt. As an example, the filename for Fred and the voice of food safety (Food and Drug Administration [FDA], n.d.) might be “fredFoodSafety.en_US.srt,” identifying the SRT as encoded in English as spoken in the U.S. Facebook provides a list of supported language and country codes (Facebook, n.d.). Once you upload the .SRT (see Figure 2), a “Captions Added” box with the text “English:Uploaded” appears with a pencil (edit) and x (delete). Underneath select the default captioning language, which sets a default caption version to show if the user’s preference is not available. You can add additional captions/subtitles in other languages. Watch the video to confirm the captions imported correctly by selecting the pencil (edit). Watch for timing and for encoding problems, such as an apostrophe appearing as ’. Use the editor to fix any errors.

You can have Facebook auto-generate captions by clicking the Auto-Generate button. The “Captions Added” option will show “English:Autogenerated.” The captions will need editing, which you can do by selecting the pencil (edit) option. In addition to fixing mis-transcribed words, add identifiers to show who is speaking and caption important background sounds. 

The last option is to create captions from scratch by clicking “Write.” This process is easier if you have a script to cut-and-paste text from. When you open the caption editor, it will ask you to select what language the captions are written in. Once you select the language, you will see a list of time markers on the right side of the editor (see Figure 3), including predefined time ranges. The numbers are measured in minutes:seconds:thousandths-of-a-second. You can adjust the numbers by clicking on them, but time spans cannot overlap between clips. To start captioning at the beginning of the video, enter captions in the first time-block, usually starting a half-second into the video. Each time-block represents a single captioning line. As you add lines of text, you will need to adjust the times for each box accordingly. You can adjust a caption’s time on screen in the editor underneath the video, clicking on the beginning or end of the blue captioning box and dragging it to the desired time. You can also drag captions around on the timeline, though at the time of this writing, the drag option does not always work correctly. 

If you need to add captions after you upload or edit captions, you will need to open your Video Library to get to the caption editor. To get to the editor, follow the Publishing Tools link in the top page navigation bar and then look for the Video Library link in the left-hand navigation. When you hover over a video title, there will be a pencil icon that will let you edit the video. Select the Subtitles & Captions (CC) button to get to the captioning options. 

Facebook does not provide an easy way to retrieve the caption file it creates, making it difficult to reuse captions in other applications. Getting the caption file requires opening up the Facebook video in a web browser, using inspect code to find the caption file, opening the file in the browser, copying the text into a text editor, saving it as a .VTT, and converting the .VTT to an .SRT (Mbugua, 2020). Students planning to distribute captioned material on multiple platforms may want to do their initial captioning outside of Facebook, particularly if the videos are more than a few minutes long. 

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3

Kapwing’s Subtitler: A dedicated captioning tool

Not all SM platforms provide a built-in captioning tool. Twitter allows for closed captioning and subtitles but requires you upload an SRT. To add an .SRT, go to your Media Studio library, find the Subtitles tab, select the subtitle language, upload, find your .SRT, and select “update file.” Some SM platforms, such as Instagram, do not support closed captions, meaning you have to create open captions that are an integral part of the video. 

Kapwing’s online Subtitle Maker (see Figure 4) lets you create both .SRT and open-caption versions of your video. The free version limits you to projects under seven minutes. As with Facebook, you can upload an .SRT, auto-generate captions, or manually enter captions. This example uses auto-generated captions to create an open-captioned video. Once the source video loads, click the green Auto-generate button and select the video language (see Figure 5). After captions are generated, they need to be edited and timed (see Figure 6). You can edit caption text by clicking into it. You can adjust caption timing by moving the white start and stop circles above the caption text. Be careful that captioning timing between sections do not overlap. Under Text Options on the interface’s left side, you can adjust font type, size, color, background, and alignment. Video format depends on your target platform and the Video Options menu can help with the decision making (see Figure 7). Changing the video proportions while using the Fit option, may result in a black border below the video. Using this border space is a popular way to create open captions (see Figure 8). To export an open-captioned video, click the red “CREATE >” button, which will create an open-caption .MP4. If you have a paid account, you can also download the .SRT.

Figure 4
Figure 5
Figure 6
Figure 7
Figure 8


Teaching PR students to create usable captions for SM videos prepares them to meet viewer captioning expectations, meaning their message will more likely reach its audience, particularly on mobile devices. Closed captions improve SEO, making closed captioned videos more findable than non-captioned or open captioned videos. Most importantly, teaching captioning emphasizes ethical best-practices in content accessibility and prepares students to be accessibility advocates. While this article focuses specifically on captioning SM video, faculty should consider including accessibility more broadly in their teaching—audio podcasting courses might include having students produce transcripts, web design classes should teach students to build accessible websites, and document design courses should include how to create accessible PDFs. 


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© Copyright 2021 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Tirumala, L.N. & Youngblood, E. (2021). Captioning Social Media Video. Journal of Public Relations Education, 7(1), 169-187. https://aejmc.us/jpre/?p=2419