Preparing Students for the Global Workplace: Current Practices and Future Directions in International Public Relations Education
- Rajul Jain, DePaul University
This study examines the various ways in which international public relations courses are being taught at academic institutions in the U.S. Course curricula from over 300 universities that have a Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter were analyzed to identify international public relations focused courses. Subsequently, 26 course syllabi from 23 educators were examined to understand the approaches, means, and methods that they employ to prepare future practitioners for cross-cultural and global assignments. The findings show that international public relations courses are still missing from curricula. However, existing courses cover a range of topics demonstrating varying levels of adoption of professional and scholarly recommendations. Examples of current practices and future directions in international public relations education are provided.
Keywords: International public relations education; Culture; Global context; Course syllabi
Contemporary public relations is undeniably “a global profession in an increasingly-connected world where mutual understanding and harmony are more important than ever” (Commission, 2006, p. 6). While the term “public relations” itself was first coined in the U.S., the profession has developed and formalized in several parts of the world (Curtin & Gaither, 2007).
Even traditionally underdeveloped and largely ignored countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East have become lucrative markets for practicing public relations (Sriramesh & Verčič, 2001). The fluidity of and access to communication platforms have also leveled the playfield, enabling even smaller organizations to compete globally. Public relations practitioners are uniquely positioned to serve this growing need for global integration through communication, because the value of the profession is in cultivating relationships between organizations and publics (Tench & Deflagbe, 2008).
Relationships between organizations and publics are often complicated by the social, cultural, political, economic, and other contexts in which relational exchanges take place in the globally interconnected and interdependent world. As a result, public relations practitioners are expected to perform the role of cultural intermediaries responsible for communicating across national, social, and cultural boundaries. In other words, for public relations practitioners to add value to their organizations, they must demonstrate cultural sensitivity and an awareness of the global community (Hatzios & Lariscy, 2008; Taylor, 2001). The more public relations practitioners know, the greater help they will be when building intercultural bridges and filling ethnocentric gaps between organizations and key stakeholders. For many future professionals, this understanding will begin in the classroom.
Evidently, the virtually homogenized world, with its blurred boundaries, has made public relations an attractive career choice for students who want to serve the industry in both domestic and international roles (Culbertson & Chen, 1996). However, previous research has found that only a few institutions offer international public relations courses (Culbertson & Chen, 1996). Hence, it becomes imperative to conceive effective ways in which academic institutions and educators can impart knowledge that can prepare future practitioners for cross-cultural and global assignments.
Recognizing the importance of global issues and contexts in public relations, The Commission on Public Relations Education (CPRE) has time and again released guidelines for curriculum development with an emphasis on global competence (Commission, 2006). And yet, public relations pedagogy has often been criticized for its U.S. bias and exclusion of experiences and perspectives from other countries (Sriramesh, 2002; Toth & Aldoory, 2010). What is even more problematic is that the discipline lacks a comprehensive understanding of the current status of public relations education and the extent to which it integrates global perspectives. While a few studies have examined public relations pedagogy in the U.S. as well as other countries, these studies did not specifically focus on the global aspect of teaching public relations (Gonçalves, Spinola, & Padamo, 2013; L’Etang 1999; Toth & Aldoory, 2010).
Therefore, the purpose of this study is to bridge the gap in the body of knowledge by examining how international public relations courses are being taught at academic institutions in the U.S. Using the recommendations from CPRE and other scholars as a benchmark, this study analyzes the public relations curricula and course syllabi from U.S.-based universities that have a Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter to identify and describe the various approaches and methods being used to prepare future practitioners for their role in the global workplace. This study contributes to our understanding of whether or not public relations education is responding to the growing demands and challenges of globalization. The study also identifies future directions and provides recommendations contributing to the ongoing development of scholarly and practical knowledge in teaching international public relations.
Public Relations in the Global Context
Culbertson (1996) defined international public relations as the practice of public relations internationally and in a cross-cultural context by governments, multinational corporations, and international non-government organizations, among other international players. Similarly, Curtin and Gaither (2007) defined it as the practice of public relations across national boundaries and cultures.
While writing for the Institute for Public Relations’ Essential Knowledge Project, Molleda (2009) defined global public relations as “strategic communications and actions carried out by private, government, or nonprofit organizations to build and maintain relationships with publics in socioeconomic and political environments outside their home location” (para. 10). This implies that international public relations is practiced by organizations that intend to communicate and cultivate relationships with publics outside their country of origin (Wakefield, 2008). Along these lines, Molleda (2009) argued that global public relations is simultaneous strategic communication and action initiated by organizations in relation to home, host, and transnational publics.
Over the past few years, the practice of international public relations has experienced significant growth. According to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the global public relations industry is a multibillion-dollar enterprise employing over 60,000 people (“Industry facts & figures,” 2012). The field has also gradually developed its knowledge base with the contribution of scholars from various parts of the world. These scholars examine the practice in various contexts, describe the challenges and opportunities, and identify avenues for future research. In recent years, several books covering international and intercultural public relations have been published (e.g., Curtin & Gaither, 2007; Freitag & Stokes, 2009; Parkinson & Ekachai, 2006; Sriramesh & Verčič, 2009, 2012).
Given this momentum in international public relations practice and research, and as well as the growing global recognition of our discipline, it is critical to evaluate the various ways in which university education is preparing students for the challenges of communicating across countries and cultures. These sentiments have also been echoed by leading scholars (Sriramesh & Verčič, 2001; Tench & Deflagbe, 2008; Toth & Aldoory, 2010) and professional organizations (Commission, 2006) in our field, and they emphasize how public relations curriculum should integrate courses that raise students’ international/ global and cross-cultural intelligence.
Public Relations Education and the U.S. Bias
Education and training are key pillars of a discipline and are crucial in defining and establishing it as a profession (Cutlip, Center, & Broom, 2005; Ehling, 1992; Grunig & Hunt, 1984; Tench & Deflagbe, 2008). Undeniably, any established profession is recognized by a dynamic body of knowledge that is transmitted to the professionals through education. In public relations, education is considered a, “primary means for providing the necessary knowledge and skills needed to fulfill the tasks and responsibilities of any public relations activity,” (Ehling, 1992, p.439), which could also include communicating to publics outside of one’s home country.
Public relations pedagogy is often criticized for its U.S. bias and exclusion of experiences and perspectives from other countries (L’Etang & Pieczka, 2006; Sriramesh, 2002). Scholars believe that this is primarily because public relations education started in the U.S. long before such courses were introduced in other countries, which parallels the late development of the profession in other parts of the world (Tench & Deflagbe, 2008). The vibrant body of knowledge in public relations has remained dominated by U.S.-centric studies, particularly from a theory development perspective. Between 2006 and 2011, only about 200 articles with an international/global focus were published in top tier journals in the field, of which, only 62 contributed to theory development (Jain, De Moya, & Molleda, 2014).
Other scholars have also pointed out this inadequacy in public relations scholarship (Sriramesh & Verčič, 2001). While there has been a significant influx of articles recently contributing international perspectives, these articles have mostly evaluated public relations practice using the models and theories developed in the U.S. Therefore, they have not truly enhanced our understanding of how country and culture-specific influences permeate and define the practice of public relations. For instance, in their examination of articles regarding public relations research, Jain, De Moya, and Molleda (2014) found over half primarily used U.S. literature, while only about 20% of the studies included literature primarily from other countries.
This American bias in our field’s scholarship implies that educators have limited resources or at least, limited materials for teaching the subject. Such impediments can influence the ability of educators to adequately prepare students for multicultural assignments and performance in global workplaces (Sriramesh, 2002). Even when public relations in other countries, to some extent, was modeled after the U.S. to some extent, each country has institutionalized the practice in its own manner reflecting its unique context, needs, and stakeholders’ expectations. For example, in Latin America, public relations practitioners are expected to perform the role of agents of social change and development (Molleda & Moreno, 2008), whereas in Europe, the concept of the “public sphere” is emphasized in the way public relations is conceived (L’Etang, 2004 p. 6).
Therefore, two pertinent and timely questions are whether or not such diverse perspectives regarding our profession are transmitted to students, and how educators and academic institutions integrate international public relations knowledge in their curriculum and/or course syllabi.
Previous Research on State of International Public Relations Education
While there hasn’t been any attempt to comprehensively evaluate the current status of international public relations education in the U.S., a few studies have examined public relations education in general, ranging from a country-specific assessment (Azarova, 2003; Ferrari, 2009; Ferreira & Verwey, 2004; Gorpe, 2009; L’Etang, 1999; Pirozek & Heskova, 2003; Sriramesh, 2002; Zhang, 2009; Zlateva, 2003) or regional evaluation (Cotton & Tench, 2009) to a more global inspection (Tench & Deflagbe, 2008; Toth & Aldoory, 2010). For the purpose of this investigation, four of these studies provide valuable insights regarding the prevalent pedagogical approaches in public relations that could serve as a good reference point.
In 2008, the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management initiated a multi-year research study of public relations curricula around the world and released two reports based on an extensive literature review, website analysis, and in-depth interviews. The first study by Tench and Deflagbe (2008) provided an extensive background on public relations education and its relationship to professionalism while detailing the development of the practice in different countries. It also discussed the different schools of thought in public relations education and the main approaches to public relations theory (e.g., systems, rhetoric, relationship, critical, political economy).
The study found that there is no consensus in the way public relations itself is defined, which could negatively impact our profession and, “allow other fields to appropriate PR concepts and functions” (Tench & Deflagbe, 2008, p. 23). These differences not only stem from the different origins and historical development of public relations in other parts of the world, but also reflect the influence of cultural understanding on our practice. As a result, there is a tension in our field between those who desire uniformity in curriculum and teaching practices and those who advocate against it on the grounds of marginalizing diversity and variety. The study found that while, in general, the discipline advocates for shared concepts, “uniformity is not necessary for the creation of global PR and may limit the conceptualization of the field” (Tench & Deflagbe, 2008, p. 24). The study also cautioned against the pervasive dominance of U.S. public relations education on other countries’ understanding of the profession.
The second study by Toth and Aldoory (2008) evaluated 218 institutional websites in 39 countries, followed by in-depth interviews with public relations educators in 20 of these countries. It ; it also reported a moderate American and European bias in the educational standards of other countries. The findings showed that educators regard public relations as a strategic management function responsible for relationship cultivation, and consider it important for undergraduate programs in preparing future practitioners for the challenges of the workplace. The study also found that while curricula follow the five-course standard prescribed by CPRE rather closely (Commission, 2006), cultural nuances are also incorporated within programs to increase students’ cultural awareness and sensitivity.
A 2009 study profiled both undergraduate and graduate public relations programs offered mainly in Europe (Cotton & Tench, 2009). The study conducted an online survey of the members of The European Public Relations Education and Research Association (EUPRERA) and other public relations educators. The survey gathered 80 responses on both external and internal aspects with the aim of presenting the various approaches to public relations education and program placement (whether or not to use “public relations” as the label; focus on theory or practice; program location; definition of public relations, etc.). The study provided educators with an opportunity to be involved in a constructive conversation around curricula and pedagogical experiences, share best practices, share literature, and discuss the impact of new media technologies in and outside the classroom.
The study found that a majority of educators relied on textbooks and syllabi as study materials rather than articles, case studies, e-tools, team projects, and practical experience. Respondents suggested that they would like to incorporate a balance of theory and practice in public relations education and should offer classes that increase students’ knowledge of international affairs, and national and international organizations (Cotton & Tench, 2009).
Another study pertinent to this research was conducted by Stacks, Botan, and Turk (1999) who collected responses from 258 educators and practitioners regarding their general impressions about the status of public relations education, desired educational outcomes, assessment of students’ learning, elements of public relations curricula, and teaching practices. For both educators and practitioners participating in the study, knowledge of cultural background and other languages were desired skills to excel in public relations. In addition, international public relations was ranked one of the specializations that should be integrated into public relations curriculum.
Finally, Hatzios and Lariscy (2008) conducted in-depth interviews with 21 participants – nine practitioners and 12 educators – to understand their views on the importance of international public relations courses, how these courses are being taught, and the challenges and opportunities in this area of public relations education. The study found that while the respondents strongly agreed with the importance of international public relations curriculum, such classes are not as prevalent in most U.S. public relations programs.
The other studies in this area have mostly profiled public relations education from a country-specific focus and, while valuable, do not offer much insight into how American college education is preparing future public relations practitioners to take on the global challenges and opportunities that our field faces today. Overall, these studies points out the growing need to include international/multicultural focus in public relations curricula.
Recommendations on International Public Relations Education
Recommendations regarding public relations education focused on international and multicultural issues have emerged from both scholarly and professional sources (e.g., Botan, 1992; Commission, 2006; Cotton & Tench, 2009; Kruckeberg, 1998; Taylor, 2001; Tench & Deflagbe, 2008; Toth & Aldoory, 2010; Sriramesh, 2002; Sriramesh & Verčič, 2001).
Making a case for building a multicultural curriculum, Sriramesh (2002) advocated that more international content should be introduced in public relations programs by making international public relations a required class at the undergraduate and graduate level, rather than offering this important course as an elective. Sriramesh also suggested that students could benefit even more if such a course is co-taught by instructors from different countries coming together as collaborators who could rely on virtual technology as a medium of instruction.
Tench and Deflagbe (2008) also provided similar guidelines for developing a global public relations curriculum with emphasis on diverse perspectives. Their study argued that despite its country-specific variations and differences, there is a possibility of creating a global curriculum. However, such a curriculum should reflect an appreciation for multiculturalism, diversity versus uniformity of concepts and program elements, and should be developed in close collaboration with industry practitioners. More specifically, Tench and Deflagbe provided concrete recommendations including: “(1) Educators were urged to integrate cultural awareness into curricula; (2) member associations were encouraged to debate tensions between unity and diversity of curricula; (3) curricula should be designed to reflect the range of theoretical approaches to public relations” (as cited by Toth & Aldoory, 2010, p. 7-8).
Other scholars have also provided feedback, such as building a “global teaching tool kit…that simultaneously offers some global perspectives and understandings of today’s public relations, but also allows for local, cultural distinctions for teaching in the discipline” (Toth & Aldoory, 2010, p. 18). The authors recommended that educators should not rely too heavily on U.S.-derived case studies and examples, in order to impart global knowledge.
For the purpose of operationalizing the factors of inquiry for this study, three specific recommendations are relevant that are essentially a synthesis of the other suggestions described earlier in this section. First, The Professional Bond, issued by CPRE in 2006, prescribed including global implications as one of the foundational pillars for public relations curriculum development. Further, the report discussed seven levels of analysis to evaluate public relations education: “cultural values and beliefs; laws and public policies; external groups, organizations and associations; institutional factors in the academic setting; international exchange programs; inter-personal factors within an institution; and intra-personal factors among students and educators” (p. 4).
Sriramesh and Verčič (2001) suggested a second set of factors. Despite the authors’ recommendations being in the context of research and scholarly activities, they have value for public relations education as they provide the framework to study public relations in each country. These three environmental variables include infrastructure (economic, political, legal, and activism), culture (determinants of culture such as technology, social structure, ideology, and personality; dimensions of culture such as power-distance, collectivism, masculinity/femininity, uncertainty avoidance, and Confucian dynamism; corporate culture), and media (control, outreach, and access).
Along similar lines, Taylor (2001) recommended five competencies that an international public relations course should include: “Cultural Variation in Interpersonal and Organizational Communication, The Impact of Societal Factors on Public Relations, Ethics in International Contexts, Professional Development of International Practitioners, and Geography and Current Events” (p. 75). To evaluate progress along these five skills, she proposed a range of evaluation tools including quizzes to test knowledge of current events and geography, essay tests to monitor students’ understanding of cultural, societal, and ethical considerations, and application papers that challenge students with real-world scenarios involving international communication planning and execution. Taylor also proposed that in addition to a stand- alone international public relations course, instructors and institutions should consider internationalizing their curriculum by infusing global perspectives in their core classes.
Admittedly, there could be many more dimensions and factors that should be included in a curriculum that is truly multicultural and international in its focus. However, these recommendations provide an adequate guide to initiate an examination of the current status of international public relations education in the U.S. with hopes to discover more insights to add to this line of inquiry.
The research questions that drive this exploration are:
RQ 1: How do U.S. academic institutions incorporate international public relations courses in the curriculum?
RQ 2: To what extent do international public relations courses reflect the recommendations of scholars and practitioners with regard to integrating global implications in public relations education?
RQ 3: What pedagogical approaches, methods, and means are educators using to impart international public relations knowledge and skills?
Data Collection Procedure
The study was conducted in two phases. In the first phase, curriculum from 344 academic institutions that have a PRSSA chapter was accessed on their websites and analyzed. These schools were specifically selected because they have been recognized as demonstrating the highest standards in public relations education by following the PRSSA guidelines based on the CPRE curricula recommendations (Waymer, 2014). In this manner, the study was able to capture insights from not only the colleges that are part of journalism or mass communication schools or departments but also those listed under communication, English, or business, making it a more inclusive sample.
During the first phase, course catalogs available on college or university websites were accessed and closely examined to identify any courses relevant to international public relations. Considering that institutions might not offer such courses on a regular basis or offer them under a different title, course descriptions from the online course catalogs were examined to assess their relevance to international public relations. All relevant course titles and descriptions were recorded for further examination. Whenever offered, the corresponding contact information was also noted for the second phase of the study. This exercise was employed to identify the extent to which international public relations courses are embedded in undergraduate and graduate curriculum and the format in which they are integrated (required versus elective).
After eliminating schools that did not seem to offer any relevant international public relations courses, the second phase comprised of reaching out to 278 colleges or departments with a request to share sample syllabi for international public relations courses, if they offered such a class at either undergraduate or graduate levels. The first email was sent on February 24, 2015, followed by a reminder request sent one week later on March 3, 2015. To increase the response rate and to encourage institutional participation, the researchers also called the contact phone number reported on the college or departmental websites. During this phase, responses from 60 schools were received yielding a 22% response rate.
Coding Process and Data Analysis
The syllabi collected during the second phase were examined using the frameworks suggested under the global implications section of The Professional Bond (Commission, 2006) and the environmental variables described by Sriramesh and Verčič (2001), as well as the competencies put forth by Taylor (2001). All the content in the course syllabi, including course objectives, teaching approach, course structure, textbooks and other reading materials, assessment of student outcomes and learning, and other course deliverables, were assessed.
The study used a standard codebook consisting of three major sections with each section divided into more comprehensive sub-categories. The first section coded the title of the course, the name and contact information of the instructor, and the textbooks used for instruction. In the second section, topics covered in the course were recorded. For this purpose, both emergent and a priori coding schemes were used. Using the recommendation offered by Sriramesh and Verčič (2001), Taylor (2001), and the global implications suggested in The Professional Bond (2006), six core topics were identified: integration of cultural awareness through theoretical perspectives and case studies (cultural influences and structural comparisons); theories and cases demonstrating public relations practice in other parts of the world (country or region-specific public relations); international/global public relations definition and challenges; international/global public relations theory, models, and research; explanation of environmental and contextual variables that influence the practice of public relations (international/global public relations contexts such as social, cultural, economic, political, regulatory, etc.); ethical and legal issues in international/global public relations; and the evolution of public relations in the U.S. and in other countries or regions. Any topics that emerged in the syllabi and were not in the original list were then added as a new category. When a core topic (e.g., culture and structural comparisons) was found on a syllabus, the coders also recorded the subtopics (e.g., Hofstede’s cultural dimensions) covered under that category.
Finally, in the third section, all the readings (required and supplementary) were examined to identify their focus and context classified into U.S.- specific, national (other than the U.S.), regional (e.g., Europe, Asia, or Latin America), or global. For national and regional categories, specific country or region was also recorded. The articles that described global issues in public relations and/or public relations of supranational organizations (e.g., United Nations or World Health Organization) and issues related to them were classified under the global public relations category. Finally, the coders also recorded whether or not a reading was a case study. Each of these categories was kept mutually exclusive with a nominal measurement (absent or present).
To examine the goals, objectives, and/learning outcomes of each course, Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956) was adopted. According to Bloom’s hierarchical classification, there are six layers of teaching goals and objectives with each layer leading students to a higher level of learning and thinking. The lowest levels are knowledge/remembering, comprehension/ understanding, and application, while the higher levels are analysis, synthesis, and evaluation/creation. Essentially, students who have mastered the highest level can not only remember the information but can also understand, apply, analyze, and evaluate it, and finally, can use the knowledge to create new patterns or structures. Ideally, courses should incorporate each of the six levels to ensure students gain a full spectrum of understanding of the topics (Mak & Hutton, 2014).
A graduate student was trained to assist the researcher during the coding process. The unit of analysis was the entire syllabus. A pretest was conducted with a subsample of data to define categories and diffuse disagreements and concerns. As recommended by scholars (e.g., Kaid & Wadsworth, 1989; Lacy & Riffe, 1996), a 20% sample (n = 5) was analyzed to assess intercoder reliability. The intercoder reliability using Holsti was .95 and Cohen’s Kappa was .89. These values represented good agreement between coders beyond chance (Fleiss, 1981). Data was entered into and analyzed with IBM® SPSS® Statistics Data analysis comprised of descriptive statistics including frequencies and percentages.
With this framework in mind, both the coders noted common themes that were further synthesized, expanded or collapsed during multiple rounds of discussions and debriefings. Together with the researchers’ reflections and narratives, these themesare discussed below, uncovering valuable insights as to whether or not public relations education in the U.S. is addressing the challenges of globalization.
Below is a summary of the key findings and themes that emerged during our analysis of 344 academic curricula and 26 international public relations course syllabi. For each finding, further evidence and explanation is provided using specific examples and, in some cases, tables.
International Public Relations Courses are Still Missing from Curricula
During the first phase of the study, it became apparent that international public relations courses are still absent from public relations curricula. While communication colleges and departments seem to understand the value of multiculturalism and diversity, as evident by the wide variety of classes being offered on these topics on a regular basis, relevant international public relations classes are still taught on an ad-hoc basis. In fact, only 74 (21%) course catalogs showed an international or global public relations class under that title. This finding was also confirmed during the second phase in which 39 of the 60 colleges (65%) reported that they do not offer any international public relations or related courses.
The analysis of the course catalogs showed that several communication classes are being offered with an aim to increase students’ cultural awareness. These topics include: inter/multicultural communication, communication in the global age, issues of race, ethnicity, gender, and diversity in communication, global/international media, communication in global/international/multicultural workplaces, communication in a specific country or region, and critical approaches to intercultural/international communication. These categories, with a few sample courses gathered from the catalogs, are shown in Table 1.
Educators Possess International Experiences
During the second phase, 24 educators from 15 academic institutions shared their course syllabi, with some sharing more than one from the different classes that they teach on this topic. For instance, one instructor teaches international public relations in the U.S. as well as a study abroad class in London. Similarly, two instructors shared their syllabus from undergraduate and graduate classes. Because these classes serve different purposes, all syllabi were included in the sample. One syllabus titled “International Communication and Negotiation” was found to be unrelated to international public relations and hence, was not included in the final sample. Therefore, the final sample included 26 course syllabi. Each of the 26 courses was offered as an elective.
The academic and professional profiles of each educator were examined by reviewing information on their faculty page, LinkedIn profiles, as well as curriculum vitae in instances where they were available. In terms of academic background, 21 instructors held a Ph.D., one held a bachelor’s degree, and one a master’s in communication or a related discipline. All of the educators received their highest degree in the U.S., except for one who received it from Scotland. There were 10 female educators and 13 male educators in the mix. Additionally, each instructor’s profile was examined to see whether or not they had any form of international experience (personal, academic and/or professional). Such understanding can prove to be a great asset for educators teaching international public relations courses because it allows instructors to draw from these experiences in the classroom. All of the educators had some form of academic or professional experience internationally in locations such as China, India, South Korea, UK, Europe, Sudan, Africa, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and the Philippines. Several educators also conducted research in this area in the form of books and journal articles, contributing international perspectives to the public relations body of knowledge.
Courses Cover a Wide Range of Topics
In each syllabus, the researchers examined the course description, goals and objectives, method of instruction, evaluation metrics, readings, and other content to identify the strategies and approaches that these educators used within and outside the classroom. “International Public Relations” was the most commonly used course title followed by “Global Public Relations,” and “International and Intercultural Communication.” One course was titled “Communication in Global Contexts.”
Table 2 shows a list of topics that were covered in these courses. Each course addressed a variety of areas. The most popular areas included: being cultural influences and structural comparisons; country or region-specific public relations practice; definition of international/global public relations; international/global public relations theories, models, and research; and environmental/contextual variables that influence public relations practice in other countries (e.g., social, political, economic, regulatory, and media).
Others (theories of signs-languages, symbiotic interaction, structuration, convergence; non-verbal interaction- action, sound, and silence; coordination and control; 11 job opportunities; role of technology; activism; and global audiences).
Under cultural factors, a wide range of issues were being taught including Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, differences between high and low context cultures, customs, traditions, and norms, circuit of culture model, and other cultural dimensions and their impact on international public relations. Structural comparisons are mostly focused on media, legal, ethical, and other contextual environments in which international public relations is practiced. Educators also emphasize introducing students to the practice of public relations outside of the U.S. This topic included the evolution of public relations in a specific country or region, current trends and best practices, and any specific variations or nuances that uniquely define the profession in that context.
Most of the discussion on theories, research, and models of public relations tended to be U.S. focused. This topic included how well current public relations concepts and theories, such as relationship management or excellence theory/symmetrical communication, apply to other national contexts. Research originating from a particular country or region was less commonly included in the syllabi examined in this study.
Finally, educators also commonly included at least one class session on societal factors such a legal/regulatory framework, media systems, economic development, level of activism, and political ideology, and their impact on public relations.
Readings Reflect a Variety of International Perspectives
While educators used an eclectic mix of supplementary readings, the most commonly used textbooks were International Public Relations by Curtin and Gaither (2007), Global Public Relations by Freitag and Stokes (2009), and The Global Public Relations Handbook by Sriramesh and Verčič (2009). Five educators did not use any textbooks but rather prescribed supplementary weekly readings.
In addition to the required textbook, 315 distinct readings (required and supplementary) were recorded across the 26 course syllabi. Each article was reviewed to determine its context and focus. Only about 9% (n = 28) of these articles were U.S.- specific, while the others either described public relations in a country than the U.S. (n = 88; 28%), a specific region, such as Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, or Latin America (n = 104; 33%), or discussed global issues, such as culture, technology, public diplomacy, or nation building (n = 95; 30%). Additionally, a small percentage of the readings were case studies evaluating organizational public relations efforts in an international context (n = 36; 11%).
Within the regional readings, Europe (n = 30; 29%) was the most frequently discussed region, followed by Africa (n = 20; 19%), Asia (n = 19,;18%), and the Middle East (n = 19; 18%). Overall, instructors had the least number of readings in the context of Latin America (n = 16,;15%). In terms of country-specific readings, Japan (n = 7; 8%) was the most prominently discussed country in international public relations courses followed by India (n = 6; 7%), the UK (n = 5; 6%), Mexico (n = 5; 6%), China (n = 5; 6%), Australia (n = 5; 6%), and Russia (n = 5; 6%).
Educators Incorporate Different Outcomes and Tools
Each educator focused on different learning goals and key objectives regarding what they wanted the course to achieve and students to learn about public relations in an international setting. Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956) was used to examine and classify the various objectives and learning outcomes incorporated in international public relations syllabi examined in the study.
Findings showed that instructors most commonly included the first two levels of thinking skills: knowledge and comprehension. International public relations courses are designed to introduce students to the fact that public relations in the globalized world is as heterogeneous and diverse as the world itself and that it is deeply influenced by the social, political, cultural, and other contextual factors that affect the practice as well as the practitioner. All of the syllabi (n = 26, 100%) contained some form of these objectives that are mostly related to the provision of information and knowledge during the course. Objectives under these levels frequently used keywords such as understand, recognize, and explain. An example of such an objective was: “Students will be able to understand how culture and power shape public relations practice.”
The next levels – application, analysis, and synthesis – can be characterized by goals and objectives related to what students will be able to do as a result of the information that they would receive in the course. These goals fundamentally describe the application of the knowledge to acquire competencies, such as being able to analyze and contrast public relations in other countries and contexts, develop international public relations plans and strategies, describe the contextual influences that define public relations in other parts of the world, and evaluate international public relations programs. These three levels were not as often integrated in the courses as the first two levels. In fact, only 17 syllabi (65%) contained language reflecting these levels of learning.
Finally, the level that was least commonly integrated in international public relations syllabi was evaluation/creation, reflecting the most superior form of course learning by demonstrating international/global acumen in practice. An example would be developing (and/or implementing) a campaign for an organization engaging in cross- cultural or international communication. Only five syllabi (19%) were found to address this level.
Educators used a wide range of assessment tools to evaluate students’ learning and performance (Table 3). Case studies, exams, and country profiles were the most common, with at least half of the syllabi using these tools. Other methods included quizzes, class presentations, reflection papers, and in-class activities.
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
This study examined the various ways in which international public relations courses are being taught at academic institutions in the U.S. Using a curriculum audit of 344 academic institutions that have a PRSSA chapter followed by a content analysis of 26 course syllabi, the study identified common approaches, means, and methods that educators use to develop global and cross-cultural understanding in students. The key findings of this study are: (1) international public relations courses are still missing from curricula, (2) educators offering such a course possess international experiences, (3) courses cover a wide range of topics demonstrating varying levels of adoption of professional and scholarly recommendations, (4) educators incorporate readings that reflect international perspectives, and (5) courses contain different levels of learning outcomes and assessment tools.
Despite the growing recognition that public relations today is a global profession that demands cultural sensitivity and an awareness of the global community (Hatzios & Lariscy, 2008; Sriramesh & Verčič, 2001; Taylor, 2001; Tench & Deflagbe, 2008), only about 20% of the course catalogs carried an international/global public relations class under that title. Strikingly, during the second phase of the study, 65% of the colleges reported that they do not offer any international public relations or related courses. In instances where an international public relations course is offered, it is categorized as an elective. Admittedly, institutions offer a range of other classes that cover topics such a multicultural communication, global/international media, and communication in a specific country or region, but these are not taught from a public relations perspective. A class grounded in public relations can provide future practitioners with a broader framework of how cross- cultural and international contexts influence the practice by exposing them to relevant theories, models, and practical examples that better prepare them for future assignments and roles (Culbertson & Chen, 1996; Hatzios & Lariscy, 2008).
With regard to content, educators seem to take an approach that is aligned with the recommendations made under The Professional Bond (Commission, 2006) as well as those put forth by Sriramesh and Verčič (2001) and Taylor (2001), oriented primarily with introducing students to the cultural, societal, and other contextual aspects of the practice. However, each syllabus addresses a different subset of the topics recommended under the guidelines. A discussion on culture and cultural influences was one of the most commonly integrated topics in the course syllabi. Other topics included public relations practice in other parts of the world, explanation of environmental and contextual variables (e.g., media infrastructure and control, regulatory environment, cultural dimensions) that influence the practice of public relations, international public relations definition and challenges, and description of U.S.-based public relations theories and models as they apply to other countries and regions.
Further, there is great variation in the way these topics are being taught. For instance, while culture is a topic covered in almost all of the syllabi examined in the study, each educator approaches the topic in a different manner. From a discussion of Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, low versus high context cultures, to the circuit of culture model, there is a wide range of indictors and dimensions that are covered under this topic.
Similarly, educators have established a variety of goals and learning outcomes in these courses. Most commonly the learning outcomes relate to the transmission of knowledge centered on international complexities of the profession. Goals and objectives related to the application of the knowledge acquired through the course were less commonly integrated in the syllabi. These include demonstrating international acumen by applying classroom knowledge to real-world situations, problems, and campaigns in international environments. As a result, educators also seem to use a wide range of assessment tools to evaluate success against these learning outcomes including case studies, exams, country profiles, papers, class activities, and presentations.
A majority of the educators use one or more required textbooks with International Public Relations by Curtin and Gaither (2007), Global Public Relations by Freitag and Stokes (2009), and The Global Public Relations Handbook by Sriramesh and Vercic (2009) being the most commonly prescribed. Five educators did not use any textbooks but rather prescribed supplementary weekly readings. It is worth noting even the most recent editions of these commonly used textbooks were published in 2009. This is a concern considering the fast pace at which public relations practice is evolving in response to emerging trends in communication, technology, and other societal developments. In order to provide future practitioners with the most cutting-edge skills, tools, and knowledge, international/ global public relations textbooks should be updated. This also presents an opportunity for academics and practitioners to collaborate on book projects in the future, or publishing case studies that could supplement these texts.
All of the educators in the study also commonly supplemented these textbooks with a variety of readings that reflect international perspectives. Only a small percentage of the readings were found to be focused on the U.S., while a majority discussed public relations practice in a country or region, or reviewed global issues that impact the profession. In the content analyzed syllabi, about a third of the readings focused on Europe, with about a fifth discussing public relations in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. However, less than 10% of the readings were in the context of Latin America. This could be a result of the fact that Latin America is also one of the least researched areas in public relations scholarship, as concluded by Jain, De Moya, and Molleda (2014) in their examination of research articles published in top 12 public relations academic journals from 2006 to 2011.
Along similar lines, only a few nations were prominent in the syllabi, including India, the U.K., Mexico, China, Australia, and Russia. While it can be argued that these are probably the countries where public relations has advanced the most (and hence, are most relevant for future practitioners in terms of opportunities), there is definitely a need to introduce other developing economies into international public relations courses. Educators who do not cite these areas are missing out on important components of international public relations practices, including how public relations is perceived and the role practitioners are expected to perform in these countries. A holistic approach should be adopted that provides equal attention to these non-traditional hubs.
While inclusion of other countries outside of the U.S. in course syllabi is an encouraging sign considering public relations pedagogy has often been criticized for its bias and exclusion of experiences and perspectives from other countries (Sriramesh,2002; Toth & Aldoory, 2010), an in-depth analysis of the topics and readings showed that the focus is still on how U.S.-based theories and models apply to international contexts. Educators are encouraged to incorporate more readings originating outside of the U.S. to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the practices abroad using native concepts, theories, and cases.
Implications for Public Relations Pedagogy
The present study is among the first to examine and document the state of international public relations education in the U.S. using a curriculum audit and content analysis of course syllabi. The findings provide a snapshot of the range of topics, methods, approaches, and assessments that are currently being used by educators to prepare future practitioners for the global workplace.
Overall, while there are common themes that were discovered across the 26 course syllabi, each instructor approached international public relations courses in a distinct manner. It appeared that educators were basing their course content on previous experiences and what they deemed interesting or important. This system has a potential drawback when an educator’s experiences are outdated or their perceptions are misguided.
This situation calls for a larger discussion surrounding the need to develop a universal international public relations course based on a core set of cross-cultural and international competencies, the accruement of which would create more successful, global practitioners in the future. It could be beneficial to start a discussion among educators who already teach in this area to share experiences, best practices, and recommendations. This discussion could reflect on CPRE’s guidelines as well as other scholarly recommendations. summarized in this article to develop a template based on common goals and outcomes. Discussions with professional organizations and industry leaders could further strengthen this conversation and provide a clearer vision on what skills and competencies future practitioners should acquire to be successful in international/global roles. Education and training are key pillars of a discipline and are crucial in defining and establishing it as a profession (Cutlip, Center, & Broom, 2005; Ehling, 1992; Grunig & Hunt, 1984; Tench & Deflagbe, 2008).
Future practitioners are increasingly being expected to demonstrate global sensitivity and cultural awareness. Instead of enforcing a narrow set of requirements and expectations on educators, perhaps developing a cohesive set of guidelines can benefit educators and students alike in obtaining these desired learning outcomes.
To this end, this study provides the following guidelines regarding what an international public relations class could look like based on the literature review and findings of this study. These guidelines could help instructors, especially those who are just starting to set up an international public relations class, by providing them with a set of best practices in this area.
- Incorporate these six core topics: integration of cultural awareness through theoretical perspectives and case studies, theories and cases demonstrating public relations practice in other parts of the world, international/global public relations definition and challenges, international/global public relations theory, models, and research, explanation of environmental and contextual variables that influence the practice ofpublic relations, ethical and legal issues in international/global public relations, and evolution of the profession in the U.S. and other countries or regions (see Appendix 1 for a sample weekly list of topics).
- Include a discussion about public relations in developing nations. This could be implemented as a collective topic (global perspective) or divided into a series of lectures describing the profession in specific countries (national perspective) or regions (regional perspective).
- Incorporate supplementary readings originating from outside the U.S. to expose students to theories and models of public relations in other parts of the world. This could be accomplished by referring to readings in journals such as Public Relations Review, Journal of Public Relations Research, International Journal of Strategic Communication, Journal of Communication, Journal of Public Relations Education, and Journal of Communication Management. Other valuable resources are the research databases provided by the Institute for Public Relations, Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, Public Relations Society of America, and Chartered Institute for Public Relations.
- Include all the six levels of learning outcomes mentioned under Bloom’s Taxonomy to provide students with the opportunity to remember, understand, apply, analyze, and create knowledge gained throughout the course (see Appendix 2 for examples).
- Rely on a range of assessment tools and not just exams or quizzes to coordinate withthe five levels of learning outcomes mentioned above (see Appendix 2 for examples).
- Invite guest speakers with experience in international public relations. These guest speakers can provide first-hand experiences and expertise but also can provide career guidance to students making them understand the long-term impact of the knowledge they are gaining through the course.
Limitations and Future Research
This study was conducted with a small sample size and should be expanded to include more instructors and course syllabi in the future. Further, in addition to the content analysis, future researchers should conduct interviews with educators to better understand their approaches to the course as well as the challenges and limitations that they have faced. Another area for future research is examining study abroad programs that are offered to students to increase their cultural awareness and sensitivity to international issues. Public relations students often benefit immensely from these opportunities of cultural immersion. Despite its shortcomings, this study provides a useful analysis of international public relations courses being taught around the U.S. and can serve as a benchmark for studies in the future.
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