Tag Archives: crisis communication

Inter-Institutional Service-Learning Collaborations in a Remote Environment: A Case Study

Editorial Record: Submitted May 25, 2022. Revised September 17, 2022. Accepted October 28, 2022. Published May 2023.


Michelle M. Maresh-Fuehrer, Ph.D.
Department Chair & Professor of Public Relations
Communication and Media
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
Texas, USA
Email: michelle.maresh-fuehrer@tamucc.edu

Michelle Baum
CEO of Moxie + Mettle
Colorado, USA
Email: amichelle@moxiemettle.com

With the purpose of giving students real-world experience in teamwork and remote project management pre-pandemic, two instructors taught their undergraduate crisis communication courses collaboratively for an entire semester. Students from comparable public 4-year Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) located in the south-central and southwestern regions of the United States worked together on a service-learning project requiring the development of a crisis communication plan for a client representing a nonprofit organization. The following themes emerged concerning lessons students learned: navigating cultural uncertainty, using tactful communication via technology, managing distance and adapting to challenges. The results correspond with reports by the National Association of Colleges and Employers and the Commission on Public Relations Education emphasizing the importance of preparing students for the challenges posed by a technological work environment. Along with anecdotes from the instructors’ observations and students’ evaluative comments, suggestions for future applications of this type of service-learning collaboration are provided.

Keywords: service-learning, crisis communication, inter-institutional collaboration, public relations, remote work

The COVID-19 global health pandemic accelerated organizations’ adoption of digital technologies, as many nonessential businesses were forced to embrace hybrid and remote work environments to sustain business activities. During the pandemic, nearly 70% of full-time employees in the U.S. worked from home (OWL Labs, 2020). As a result of the work-from-home (WFH) surge, organizations now rely heavily on technology to power connectedness among employees and processes in hybrid and remote work environments, and systems that were once manual are now digital and automated (Craig, 2021). 

College graduates face the reality that employers seek new hires with relevant work experience (Craig, 2021) which now includes navigating the plethora of professional technologies required to enable WFH settings. Adequate preparation has challenged college graduates for years and spurred the need for hands-on experiences and internships (Thompson, 2014). While Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012) are referred to as “Zoomers” because they have grown up in a digital world and are hyperconnected, comfort with technology does not necessarily equate to professional prowess (Gentina & Parry, 2021). 

To help students overcome these challenges in preparation for today’s job market, educators need to consider modern career readiness competencies and strategies for incorporating opportunities to practice these skills in the classroom. In the context of public relations, scholars have argued that education must include collaboration and industry tools to support PR practices (Formentin & Auger, 2021), as well as “the need to help students learn about their digital presence” (Kim, 2022, p. 9). Furthermore, a roundtable workgroup sponsored by the Commission on Public Relations Education (CPRE) argued that “a significant element in public relations education is developing a student’s presence to effectively deliver content, lead groups, and engage in interpersonal dimensions online” (Kim, 2022, p. 11).

Service-learning is one high-impact practice (HIPS) shown to help students develop competencies while providing a service for the community that allows for hands-on experience in a real-world situation (Dapena et al., 2022). Through service-learning experiences, students may develop a sense of personal and social responsibility and work ethic, retention of course content, the ability to apply theory to practice, and leadership and communication skills (Jacoby, 2015). In fact, researchers have found that service-learning and collaborative learning approaches “can successfully bridge academic concepts and practice” (Maresh-Fuehrer, 2015, p. 187) by fostering an environment where students take personal initiative, become a better team member or emerge as a team leader, and feel connected to their community (Johnson, 2007; Maresh-Fuehrer, 2015).

While many researchers have studied the benefits of service-learning in singular classrooms and across academic departments and colleges, an exploration of inter-institutional collaborative versions of this teaching practice is lacking (Chang & Hannafin, 2015). Some researchers have found that inter-institutional collaborations result in unique benefits (Fraustino et al., 2015), so it is worthwhile to explore how such a collaboration addresses the need for exposing students to the technological practices required in today’s professional environment.

 Thus, the following case study reflects on a collaborative semester-long service-learning partnership led by two instructors at comparable, public 4-year Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) in different regions of the United States. Although this remote collaboration occurred pre-pandemic, the results provide important support for the CPRE recommendations for online pedagogy and guidance on how to improve such instruction. 

University and Student Comparisons

This service-learning project was implemented in senior-level crisis communication courses at two accredited universities located in the south-central and southwestern regions of the United States. Because of their geographic locations, the campuses are in two different time zones with a one-hour time difference. One institution is a comprehensive university located on a tri-institutional commuter campus with 95% of its students coming from in-state. The other institution is a research university that has both on-campus and commuter students, with 93% of its students coming from in-state. More than 40% of enrollment at both institutions is first-generation college students, and both are federally designated Hispanic Serving Institutions. However, the differences in geographic locations and student characteristics made this collaboration particularly appealing to the instructors. The class at the southwestern university was composed of 11 upper-division journalism and public relations majors. Each of the enrolled students had completed several courses in AP style and journalism-centric writing techniques. Conversely, the south-central university class featured 39 students from a variety of majors, many of them had limited or no experience in public relations or journalism writing but with backgrounds working in related industries such as emergency response. 

Service-Learning Project

Prior Applications

Prior to embarking on this collaboration, both instructors modeled their crisis communication courses to involve team projects and a semester-long service-learning experience where students develop crisis communication plans for community-based clients. As such, both instructors were familiar with choosing appropriate clients for service-learning projects and how to balance client needs with student learning outcomes. 

Curriculum Coordination

Curriculum coordination began approximately one year in advance of the project. Since students would be registering for the course at their home university, the instructors felt it was important to discuss the time zone difference and try to teach the courses at the same time to build in time for team teaching and collaboration. However, an unanticipated challenge arose when scheduling courses as both institutions use specific time blocks, none of which were shared between campuses. As a result, the instructors selected times when the classes could overlap for 30 minutes. In the class periods leading up to a major assignment deadline, students were expected to use the overlapping time to work together and submit a report to both instructors detailing their progress.

The next step required examining course syllabi and policies, discussion content and grading rubrics with the purpose of creating a unified voice between the classes. Each syllabus incorporated the same policies, resources, deadlines and expectations except for university-mandated statements. Both instructors shared lecture notes and determined the content to be taught but, recognizing that no two instructors share the same teaching style, allowed for individuality in selecting examples and instructional methods. All documents were shared with both classes in their independent Blackboard shells. Several class periods were scheduled via Zoom to provide the students with an opportunity to participate in lessons taught by both instructors. In these class periods, the instructor in charge of the lesson for that day broadcast their lecture live via Zoom, while the other instructor and their students were sitting together in their own classroom, attending via Zoom. 

New grading rubrics were also developed for each of the assignments. During the semester, the instructors graded each group assignment separately and then discussed and agreed upon scores before providing a unified grade to students. Little to no variation in the instructors’ individual scores occurred.

Technology and Collaboration

In addition to the Zoom class meetings, students used a variety of technology applications to communicate and collaborate outside the classroom, including the text messaging app, GroupMe. Students were encouraged to post questions and examples in a class group and create subgroups for discussions within their assigned teams. Students were also encouraged to participate in an optional Twitter discussion using a unique hashtag for the course. To encourage collaboration, students were prompted to share something interesting they learned in class or in the readings, an example of a course concept or commentary about a crisis that was not discussed in class. Fourteen students (28% of the class) contributed 119 posts with an average applause rate (likes) of 1.96. While the engagement rate is modest, it is worth noting that the students’ examples were referenced during class sessions to spark face-to-face discussion. Also of interest is the fact that many of the engagements were from persons who were not members of either class, thus evidencing increased visibility of the institutions and the PR profession among students’ networks.

The Assignments

The instructors used the crisis management plan (CMP) project developed by Maresh-Fuehrer (2013), which consists of four major assignments and a written/oral presentation to a client. Three of the assignments required students to work in different groups to collaborate, and one assignment allowed for individual work. Since group work can be daunting for students, the instructors assigned the most graded weight to the individual assignment. The instructors used a shared rubric to independently grade each team’s work and then briefly met to discuss and finalize scores and feedback before issuing grades to the teams. Students were told that their team assignments were being graded collaboratively by both instructors. However, for the individual assignments, instructors used a shared rubric but only graded the work of students enrolled in their class sections. Students were required to complete revisions of each assignment based on the feedback they received. The revisions were compiled into a Google document that students presented to the client at the end of the semester.


A component of service learning is reflecting on what has been learned and how it applies to a real-world project. The instructors’ observations of student communication coupled with comments from student reports of instruction (SRIs) suggested that students gained individual insights and exercised newly acquired skills from the challenges posed when collaborating with peers in another region to complete a major academic project for a real client. 

Navigating Cultural Uncertainty

The first learning experience for students emerged during the early weeks of the semester. While the instructors expected students to share their excitement about the collaboration, a different attitude was apparent. An “us versus them” mentality seemed to dominate students’ communication about their classmates and the project. Students at both institutions emphasized the difference in geographic regions by referring to the collaborating class as the “[State] class” or “[State] students,” rather than using inclusive language such as “our class” or “our group.” The tone was negative and competitive and became most obvious during a situation where a few teams submitted late assignments, despite the instructors’ shared policy on late work. The students tasked with submitting the assignments on behalf of the teams were all from the same campus, so the students from the collaborating campus expressed anger at the fact that the “[State] students” were negatively impacting their grades. Some students even used stereotyping to make sense of the experience, saying things like “You’d think people from [State] would be more laidback.”

This language and behavior seemed to signal the existence of implicit cultural bias among students, which was especially exposed due to the teams being geographically dispersed. However, this allowed the instructors to engage in a discussion with all of the students about recognizing how cultural differences may impact communication among the members of their teams, respecting those differences and knowing when personal accountability can be used to avoid conflict. After having this talk with the classes, the instructors observed an increase in communication between the groups and more individual students demonstrating accountability. One student shared, “This course really demonstrated ‘real world’ situations when working with groups of different backgrounds. Involved VERY tactful communications within the groups and individuals. Conflict resolution was tested to the extreme.” However, it is unclear whether the students ever fully escaped the “us versus them” mentality, as one student reflected, “There were times that working with [State] class was a little difficult, but we worked it out and made it happen – that proved to be a learning experience in itself.”

Using Tactful Communication via Technology

Students were overall receptive and comfortable using new technologies, such as GroupMe and Zoom to communicate with their classmates; however, they were faced with differing expectations for communicating on these platforms. For example, students experienced a great deal of conflict when communicating using GroupMe. A specific anecdote occurred early in the semester when students formed their initial groups for the organizational history assignment. Students from one campus were using the app for casual/social messaging, such as connecting with each other to identify their location (such as studying in the student union or eating lunch at a particular restaurant). This irritated some students who were not on the same campus, prompting them to post derogatory comments that sparked even more unrelated text exchanges that further created division among the classes. One student wrote, “The smaller chats worked better but still had problems, like people using it to find what room they should meet in. I think a training on how to use group chats would help these problems.”

Thus, when this issue arose, the instructors used class time to discuss professional text messaging conduct and provided a handout that offered tips for professional engagement. They also directly addressed concerns with select students and prompted the students to reflect on how they may have approached their text responses differently. As the semester continued, students adapted to the norms for professional technology use and realized that tactful communication was necessary on these platforms, especially to resolve misunderstandings. At the end of the semester, one student shared, “TIL [today I learned] collaboration can actually go smoothly across time zones when communication is respectful. Looking back, this project has taught me more than I thought…”

Managing Distance

For each assignment, students were randomly grouped with classmates from both campuses. During class, the students who shared a physical location would coordinate their schedules and select out-of-class meeting times to work together on their assignments. The ease of communicating with classmates that shared a physical location made it common for them to forget to reach out to the remote group members. This resulted in frustration when the classmates who were left out of the arrangements were unable to meet at the time their group chose to work on the assignment. When referring to this scenario, one student described, “Working with the…team was difficult because there were some instances where they were not willing to support team work. There were a few times where it was hard to communicate with them.”

This dynamic opened the pathway to discussing the differences between collaborating virtually and face-to-face. When the instructors learned of this, they quickly reminded the students of the importance of including everyone in conversations that impact the team or the project. They utilized an analogy of the students being stakeholders in the project and connected this to the core public relations principle of the need to inform stakeholders about matters that concern them (Center et al., 2012). The instructors expressed that the communication tools available–such as GroupMe–are meant for fostering collaboration, especially in these types of moments. 

Adapting to Challenges

When the instructors approached their classes about a lack of participation in team meetings, several students shared that they were uncomfortable in virtual meetings because they could see themselves while talking and became self-conscious. Sharing these challenges in the classroom helped students realize that others had the same feelings. The instructors shared tips for navigating this situation, such as hiding the self-view on Zoom. 

A second challenge that emerged was based on student characteristics (differing class sizes, majors and PR writing experience). The instructors observed several benefits and challenges students faced as a result of this mixed class configuration. The heterogeneous nature of the group contributed to the discovery of a robust set of potential risks (335 unique risk scenarios) that illustrated students’ specialized knowledge of the law, environmental science and other technical risks that may not have otherwise been considered in a class of only PR/journalism majors. At times, however, students in both courses approached the instructors with frustrations over the varying degrees of professional writing skills, AP style proficiency and personal worth ethic present among their classmates. Some students reported that they made extensive edits to their group’s work, while others expressed frustration that their individual contributions had been edited to a degree that changed the intended meaning of their content. These concerns led to the instructors discussing the nature of collaborative projects in the workplace, which included a discussion of French and Raven’s (1959) bases of power. The instructors emphasized that professionals often work with people from different departments and locations that may not share the same knowledge base. However, each person must be valued for the unique strengths that they contribute toward the success of a group. At the end of the semester, one of the students shared about the remote work experience, “Working with different individuals throughout the semester helped me jump out of my comfort zones.” Another student emphasized that the challenging nature of group work was “a real example of how life may work sometime.” Much to the instructors’ satisfaction, one student shared 

This class was a favorite of mine this semester! It was definitely a challenge every minute, but it taught me so much in just a short 4 months. I learned how to work with various individuals on a large project with a wonderful outcome.


As Kim (2022) describes in the Commission on Public Relations Education’s Spotlight Report, “online education should prepare students to develop their digital presence by providing opportunities to learn about, practice, and reflect on digital interaction” (p. 11). Since COVID-19, the professional world–including education–has seen a rise in the use of different modalities to collaborate with workgroups. Although the project described in this case study was a remote collaboration that only partially took place online, the lessons learned from this inter-institutional project show that this approach makes it possible for instructors to expose students to the “ways that remote and hybrid workplaces practice presence across teams and between managers and their teams” (Kim, 2022, p. 9).

The students’ experiences are consistent with previous research on the benefits of service-learning and inter-institutional collaborations as “mirroring the type of work PR professionals regularly perform” (Smallwood & Brunner, 2017, p. 450) and providing mutual benefit to the students and client (Maresh-Fuehrer, 2015); however, the added component of remote collaboration resulted in several added benefits. Students were suddenly thrust into an environment where communication deficiencies were realized. They had to learn to adapt to cultural uncertainty, differing skills and communication expectations, and challenges posed by geographic distance and their own insecurities. As Berger and Calabrese (1975) explain, people feel uncertainty about others that they do not know. Given the nature of the collaboration, students anticipated future interaction with one another, so their interest in reducing uncertainty was high. Unfortunately, the brief overlap between the two classes provided only limited opportunities for verbal and nonverbal warmth and self-disclosure among students. Additionally, moments of conflict–such as in the cases of the frustrated GroupMe messages or late assignment submissions–may have led to uncertainty remaining high, despite the collaborative environment. This challenge is important to overcome because a sense of closeness results in higher contributions from students (Gilmore & Warren, 2007).

Another advantage of the collaboration was the numerous teaching moments the instructors were able to have with students to help them navigate challenges, as described in the Results section. This corresponds with the CPRE’s recommendation to incorporate “topics such as leading a Zoom presentation, nonverbal communication through technology, and other elements that hold the potential to elevate or inhibit their future success” into online instruction (Kim, 2022, p. 11). This seems especially important as the instructors observed that, although both classes were mostly comprised of “digital natives” (Prensky, 2001), it became clear that students did not understand how professional technology use differs from personal use. Overcoming this issue is necessary, as “students’ efficacy with the technologies…may lead to…positive attitudes and performance expectations when using such technologies in future on-the-job environments” (O’Malley & Kelleher, 2002, p. 183).  

In many cases, diversity in skill sets were an asset in helping students avoid groupthink, which occurs when a homogenous group of people allow the desire for harmony in the group to result in poor decision-making (Janis, 1997). The instructors observed students gaining insight into their strengths that required them to recognize how they operate within a team (e.g., do they take on a leadership role or do they hold back their questions or concerns? Do they criticize others’ work, or do they help improve the end product?). Students arrived at these realizations by being asked to regularly reflect on their experiences throughout the class and during the instructors’ one-on-one or team conversations with them when concerns arose. These discoveries helped students understand how to be more effective team players and work through disagreements and miscommunication, regardless of the geolocation of their team members. More research is needed on the benefits and pitfalls associated with learning in remote inter-institutional service-learning activities, especially when students have varying levels of competency.

Another significant contribution of this project is the experience and benefits afforded to students while requiring few additional resources beyond what is normally required to manage a classroom. While O’Malley and Kelleher (2002) remarked that “the extra resources required to coordinate two distant university classes did not seem worthwhile…” (p. 183), the instructors of the CMP project did not arrive at the same conclusion. The primary resource required to formulate and run this class was time. The instructors developed their own syllabi to reflect university-specific language and classroom conduct expectations but collaborated on the development of each assignment, rubric, and grading structure, and determining audio and video technology requirements to sync classrooms. Each instructor also prepared lectures for joint classroom instruction, and the instructors graded some of the projects together to ensure consistency in evaluation. When student concerns arose, the instructors took time to turn them into teaching moments, but these lessons did not exceed what would normally occur as part of classroom management.

Recommendations for Future Applications

The areas where students struggled present opportunities to improve the design of a PR curriculum focused on providing students with real-world experiences. Based on their shared experience, the instructors offer the following recommendations for future applications of inter-institutional service-learning projects.

Schedule Time for Team Building. As evidenced by the exemplars provided in the Results section, students struggled with aspects of intercultural communication which, at times, contributed to a feeling of hostility among students. The intense course schedule necessary to cover the material allowed little room for team building exercises. The instructors agree with the need to integrate team-building exercises into the curriculum to build trust, develop team identity and promote information exchange to help improve virtual team dynamics (Jarvenpaa et al., 1998). Students would also benefit from a discussion of the similarities and differences among the institutions and student skill sets, as well as more specifications for assigning roles and deadlines and streamlining communication when working in groups.   

Discuss Professional Technology Use. Collaboration, especially in a virtual environment, requires guidance and some level of oversight by instructors. Initially, the instructors believed setting communication parameters, such as establishing a GroupMe text channel, offered sufficient room for students to successfully connect. However, instructors quickly found that students would have benefited from more information about what constitutes professional communication in mediated platforms. Additionally, students’ lack of comfort seeing themselves on Zoom also supports the notion of teaching them how to use technology. This finding is especially salient, as the CPRE report discusses the need to help students learn “how to do direct engagement with groups in virtual settings, how to leverage software…for successful group projects, and what effective Zoom engagement looks like in various professional settings” (Kim, 2022, p. 9).

Balance Class Sizes. Furthermore, the instructors would recommend considering comparable class sizes as a factor in selecting a cross-collaboration partner. A lack of balance in class size resulted in lopsided group representation. The natural in-person collaboration that occurred among students in the larger class meant the students in the smaller class often reported feeling out-of-sync with their teams. According to O’Leary and Cummings (2007), it is common for geographically dispersed teams to experience unequal distribution across locations. As the National Research Council (2015) explains, this results in a phenomenon called the “hub and spoke model,” where the “culture and communication style of the headquarters typically dominate, and the group members at remote locations may experience lower status and less power, while their needs and progress are invisible to others” (p. 154-155). In this case, the larger class seemed to be perceived as the main class or a centralized “hub,” where the smaller class’ students felt as though they were just the “spokes” feeding into the larger hub, though this was not the case.

Course Extensions. By fine-tuning aspects of communication and balancing the size of teams, an international inter-institutional course is possible. Such a course would enhance students’ exposure to different cultures, ethnicities, communication nuances, social norms and technologies in a way that extends what they are able to experience working with students in another region of the same country. According to Molleda (2009), gaining a broad understanding of the global economy and standards of communication practices in various regions of the world is increasingly important. This data is confirmed by the career readiness competencies outlined by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) in its job outlook report: career & self development, communication, critical thinking, equity & inclusion, leadership, professionalism, teamwork and technology (NACE, 2021). 

In sum, while data exists illustrating the benefits of service-learning, little information exists about the value of experiential learning in a remote inter-institutional environment. With globalization and the ability to telework expanding, it is imperative for students to learn how to work collaboratively and virtually and with people who are different from them (Kim, 2022; NACE, 2021). With structured facilitation of such projects, remote inter-institutional collaborations are a highly effective method for honing the interpersonal and technological skills required in today’s workforce. 


Berger, C. R., & Calabrese, R. J. (1975). Some explorations in initial interaction and beyond: Toward a developmental theory of interpersonal communication. Human Communication Research, 1(2), 99-112. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2958.1975.tb00258.x

Center, A. H., Jackson, P., Smith, S., & Stansberry, F. R. (2012). Public relations practices: Managerial case studies and problems (8th ed.). Pearson.

Chang, Y., & Hannafin, M. J. (2015). The uses (and misuses) of collaborative distance education technologies: Implications for the debate on transience in technology. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 16(2), 77-92. https://manowar.tamucc.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1705959003?accountid=7084 

Craig, R. (2021). How higher ed can prepare students for today’s digital jobs. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2021/11/how-higher-ed-can-prepare-students-for-todays-digital-jobs

Dapena, A., Castro, P., & Ares-Pernas. (2022). Moving to e-service learning in higher education. Applied Science, 12, 5462. https://doi.org/10.3390/app12115462

Formentin, M. & Auger, G. A. (2021). Pivot now! Lessons learned from moving public relations campaigns classes online during the pandemic in Spring 2020. Journal of Public Relations Education, 7(3), 7-44. https://aejmc.us/jpre/?p=2709

Fraustino, J. D., Briones, R., & Janoske, M. (2015). Can every class be a Twitter chat? Cross-institutional collaboration and experiential learning in the social media classroom. Journal of Public Relations Education, 1, 1-18. https://aejmc.us/jpre/2015/08/04/can-every-class-be-a-twitter-chat-cross-institutional-collaboration-and-experiential-learning-in-the-social-media-classroom-journal-of-public-relations-education/

French, J. & Raven, B. (1959). The bases of social power. In D. Cartwright (Ed.), Studies in social power (pp. 150-167). Institute for Social Research.

Gentina, E., & Parry, E. (2021). Generation Z: When it comes to behaviour, not all digital natives look alike. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/generation-z-when-it-comes-to-behaviour-not-all-digital-natives-look-alike-155694

Gilmore, S. & Warren, S. (2007). Emotion online: Experiences of teaching in a virtual learning environment. Human Relations, 60(4), 51-68. https://doi.org/10.1177/0018725707078351

Jacoby, B. (2015). Service-learning essentials: Questions, answers and lessons learned. San Francisco. Jossey-Bass.

Janis, I. L. (1997). Groupthink. In R.P. Vecchio (Ed.), Leadership: Understanding the dynamics of power and influence in organizations (pp. 163-176). University of Notre Dame Press. (Reprinted from “Psychology Today,” Nov 1971, pp., 43-44, 46, 74-76).

Jarvenpaa, S.L., Knoll, K., & Leidner, D.E. (1998). Is anybody out there? Antecedents of trust in global virtual teams. Journal of Management Information Systems, 14(4), 29–64. https://doi.org/10.1080/07421222.1998.11518185

Johnson, D. (2007). The state of cooperative learning in postsecondary and professional settings. Educational Psychology Review, 19(1), 15-29. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-006-9038-8

Kim, C. (2022). Fast forward: Updates on public relations education. Commission on Public Relations Education. http://www.commissionpred.org/commission-reports/cpre-fast-forward-updates-on-public-relations-education/

Maresh-Fuehrer, M. M. (2013). Creating organizational crisis plans. Kendall Hunt Publishing.

Maresh-Fuehrer, M. M. (2015). Service-learning in crisis communication education. Revisiting Coombs’ objectives for the crisis communication course. Communication Teacher, 29(3), 173-190. https://doi.org/10.1080/17404622.2015.1028554

Molleda, J. C. (2009, March 19). Global public relations. Institute for Public Relations. https://instituteforpr.org/global-public-relations/

National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). (2021). Competencies for a career-ready workforce. https://www.naceweb.org/uploadedfiles/files/2021/resources/nace-career-readiness-competencies-revised-apr-2021.pdf

National Research Council (2015). Enhancing the effectiveness of team science. The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/19007

O’Leary, M. B., & Cummings, J. N. (2007). The spatial, temporal, and configurational characteristics of geographic dispersion in teams. MIS Quarterly, 31(3), 433–452. https://doi.org/10.2307/25148802

O’Malley, M., & Kelleher, T. (2002). Papayas and pedagogy: Geographically dispersed teams and Internet self-efficacy. Public Relations Review, 28(2), 175-184. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0363-8111(02)00124-8 

OWL Labs. (October 7, 2020). State of remote work: How employees across the U.S. feel about working remotely in a post-COVID-19 world, their new workplace expectations and what employers need to know to recruit and retain top talent. https://resources.owllabs.com/state-of-remote-work/2020

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-6. https://doi.org/10.1108/10748120110424816

Thompson, D. (2014, Aug. 19). The thing employers look for when hiring recent graduates…isn’t something that can be done on campus. It’s an internship. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/08/the-thing-employers-look-for-when-hiring-recent-graduates/378693/

Smallwood, A. M., K., & Brunner, B. R. (2017). Engaged learning through online collaborative public relations projects across universities. Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, 72(4), 442-460. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077695816686440

© Copyright 2023 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Maresh-Fuehrer, M., and Baum, M. (2023). Inter-Institutional Service-Learning Collaborations in a Remote Environment: A Case Study. Journal of Public Relations Education, 9(1), 147-165. https://journalofpreducation.com/?p=3564

Crisis Exchange Program

Editorial Record: This article was originally submitted as an AEJMC Public Relations
Division GIFTs paper, with a February 25, 2022 deadline. Top papers were submitted to
JPRE June 2022, and accepted for publication at that time. Published November 2022.


Kalah Kemp
Associate Professor
Communication Arts
College of the Ozarks
Point Lookout, Missouri.
Email: kkemp@cofo.edu

Colleen Palmer
Assistant Professor Communications and Digital Media
Carthage College
Kenosha, Wisconsin
Email: cpalmer5@carthage.edu


Crisis communication is a fast-growing field in industry and scholarship. This teaching brief incorporates Benoit’s image repair and Coombs’s Situational Crisis Communication Theory.  Two crisis case studies are presented to two different public relations classes by two different professors at two different institutions. The first case study is presented toward the beginning of the semester, and the second case study is presented at the end of the semester, after students have learned theory and strategy. Once the crisis is presented in each class, students have 45 minutes to develop a news release, a 60-90 second spokesperson video, and a social media post in response to the crisis, as a simulation of what would occur at an organization facing a crisis.  Then, the responses from the colleges are shared with one another, providing an opportunity for competition, critique, and objective feedback.

Keywords: Image repair theory, situational crisis communication theory, crisis communication

Brian Solis (2013) tweeted, “we live in a time where brands are people and people are brands.” Reputation management, including crisis management, is an ongoing process as crises are expected and often unpredictable (Coombs, 2014). Due to this, as educators it is our responsibility to prepare students to maintain brands with strategic, theory-grounded responses to crises of all types within various organizations. This simulation involves two crisis case studies that actually occurred being presented to two separate public relations classes by two different professors at two different institutions. The cases should represent differing crisis typologies and affect one nonprofit organization and one for-profit organization. This way, students gain experience responding to unique crises on behalf of various organizations.

Once the case study is presented, each class uses the remaining class time, about 45 minutes, to complete a news release, a 60-90 second spokesperson video, and a social media post in response to the crisis. Competing with another institution incentivizes students to present their best work and encourages peer feedback, which studies show enhances educational relationships, fosters deeper learning, and develops students’ critical thinking skills. The professors together decide which class’s response might be more effective for each crisis to declare a winning team.  Additionally, the Spider Web pedagogical method challenges students to collaborate with one another. This discussion method involves students sitting in a circle to problem solve within a group, while the instructor sits outside of the circle and records the discussion pattern, which often takes on the appearance of a spiderweb (Wiggins, 2010). Additionally, the instructor notes the nature and significance of students’ conversational contributions. Students become less concerned about interacting with the instructor to seek approval and more focused on working together to problem solve with this method. We also found that students are better able to criticize the work of their peers with whom they have no personal connection than peers in the same class. Therefore, this teaching brief explains the process of the crisis exchange program, student learning goals, theories foundational to this project, and ways in which to assess the student learning goals.

Step 1: Selecting the case studies

To ensure the crisis exchange program best meets the student learning goals, selecting appropriate crises for analysis is paramount. The first case study is presented to students toward the beginning of the semester, before they have learned the value of a crisis management plan, crisis communication theory, or strategy. As such, we select a simple, straight-forward case study involving a human error made by a nonprofit organization. We present this case study to each of our classes on the same day, so the sharing of responses and feedback is timely. Students  feel the pressure of time that would exist in such a scenario. They first discuss their possible responses amongst the class and then quickly divide into smaller teams—one to write a news release, one to write a social media post, and one to record a 60-90 second video response. Students must email the professor their responses so they may be shared with the other professor after class.

The second case study (Appendix A) is presented to students toward the end of the semester, after students have learned how to develop a crisis management plan, crisis communication theory and strategy. We select a challenging case study that is difficult to classify. This incident occurs at a for-profit organization, and students take their time to strategize before breaking into smaller teams to develop the response. Students are encouraged to serve on a different team (video, news release, or social media post) than they selected in the first case study so they may gain practice with a second response type. Toward the end of class, students compare their news release, video response, and social media post for accuracy and consistency. While the students discuss the crisis, we record the discussion using the Spider Web model. We use this record to provide detailed feedback on the contributions of each crisis communication team member (students).

Step 2: Critiquing the responses

Once the responses are collected and shared with the other professor, the next class meeting is used to critique the crisis responses. During the first crisis case study, students are often distracted by outfits worn by the other team or unique contextual features shown in the video. However, they also enjoy critiquing other students’ work and uncovering important conclusions. These conclusions are summarized and shared with each of the two classes. We then show students how the organization responded, which helps them to critique their own work.  

After the second case study, students are eager to show their best work to another class and professor, and eager to strategically critique the other team. Students apply theory, strategy, and textbook language to identify areas of concern from rhetoric to video details and even social media contextual factors. Similar to the first case study, students are then exposed to the way in which the organization responded to the crisis, which again helps them to critique their own work more thoroughly.

Step 3: Personal reflection

After these class meetings, students complete a self-evaluation form (Appendix C) questioning their individual contributions and teamwork throughout the crisis response and critique process.  Feedback is given to the students based on the record of spider web discussions. We record how students interacted and the nature of their contributions to the conversations. The self-evaluation form also challenges students to summarize what they learn through the crisis exchange program. This final step is especially important as they articulate the challenge of crisis response, the quality of their responses or critiques, or even lessons learned about teamwork.

Student Learning Goals

To best implement the crisis exchange program, student learning goals must be considered. This teaching brief is designed to meet four student learning goals. First, students will synthesize and evaluate a complex crisis scenario. Presenting students with two different crises at two types of organizations challenges them to incorporate textbook concepts with examples from the professional world.  

Secondly, students will exhibit an understanding of professional strategies used in crisis communication. Since students work to develop a crisis response, they demonstrate their writing, video, and social media prowess. Thirdly, students will apply crisis theories and strategies in a simulated activity. For the second case study, we provided students with a worksheet outlining Coombs’s Situational Crisis Communication Theory and Benoit’s Image Repair Theory. This way, they use the language of theory to best articulate the crisis and ensure the responses fit the crisis typology and attribution level.  

Finally, students will collaborate to develop a professional crisis response and provide critical feedback to students at another institution. Through the critique of their own work, work from another college, messages from the organization, and self-evaluation, students work together to critically analyze professional crisis responses.

Connection to public relations practice and theory

The crisis exchange program is underpinned by Benoit’s Image Repair (1997) and Coombs’s (2014) Situational Crisis Communication (SCCT) theories. Heider’s Attribution Theory is briefly discussed, but only within the context of SCCT. Regarding SCCT, Coombs asserts that to best respond to a crisis, the crisis type, history of the crisis, and the reputation of an organization must be considered. Once these elements of Coombs’s SCCT are discussed, the classes are required to consider Benoit’s Image Repair postures to develop their response content and tone. During the critique process, students are challenged to uncover the image repair strategy used by the other class and the organization. They also revisit their own crisis response to discern whether their posture is the best strategy for clear and effective crisis communication.

Evidence of learning assessment

At the core of designing the crisis exchange program is student learning goals and ways in which we may evidence their learning. The student learning assessment for this project is four-fold. First, pertaining to students evaluating a complex crisis, the professors employ the Spider Web discussion model, as described by Alexis Wiggins (2010), to document students’ contributions to discussions. Students may use the textbook and crisis response strategy worksheet (See Appendix B) to guide their conversational input.  

Next, students’ understanding of professional crisis strategies is assessed through students’ completing a reflective self-evaluation and nature of contributions made to the Spider Web discussion. Students’ abilities to apply crisis communication theories is assessed by evaluating the news release, social media post, and video response of the other class to analyze their response and provide feedback to those students. Feedback from the Spider Web discussion is also considered.  

Finally, students are required to develop a crisis response and provide a critique of a crisis response. This goal is assessed through the self-evaluation and level of critical analysis made about both college classes and the organization’s responses to the crises. Not only is this program engaging for students, but they learn and apply crisis communication theory to simulated crises.


Benoit, W. L. (1997). Image repair discourse and crisis communication. Public Relations Review, 23(2), 177-186. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0363-8111(97)90023-0

Coombs, W. T. (2014). Ongoing crisis communication: Planning, managing and responding (4th ed). Sage Publications.

Solis, B. [@briansolis]. (2013, March 22). We live in a time where brands are people and people are brands [Tweet].  Twitter.  

Wiggins, A.  (2010). The best class you never taught. ASCD.

© Copyright 2022 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Kemp, K. and Palmer, C. (2022). Crisis exchange program. Journal of Public Relations Education, 8(3), 89-100. https://aejmc.us/jpre/?p=3227

Crisis Response Plan Group Project

Editorial Record: Original draft submitted April 12, 2021. Revisions submitted July 22, 2021. Accepted August 17, 2021. Published March 2022.


Nia Johnson, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Communication and Media
Howard College of Arts and Sciences
Samford University
Birmingham, AL
Email: vjohnson@samford.edu


This project allows students to take an important chapter from the course text and apply it to a real-world situation: they create and respond to a hypothetical crisis, based on the information discussed in class and in the text. In doing so, they utilize information literacy, critical thinking, and other analytical skills. Learning objectives, steps and procedures, and assessment information are discussed.

Keywords: bloom’s taxonomy, group project, crisis communication, crisis response, crisis management

Introduction and Rationale

Textbooks and case studies can only take students so far in mass communication curricula; the best learning involves experience and application. This may be especially the case for public relations education. While traditional textbook knowledge is important, particularly for beginning PR students, helping those students see the information played out in reality is a great way to ensure actual learning has taken place, rather than simple exposure or memorization. Kolb’s (1984) work on Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) posits that learning is a process where knowledge is acquired by experiences. According to this theory, knowledge obtained from successful experiential learning is cyclical, “where the learner ‘touches all the bases’—experiencing, reflecting, thinking, and acting—in a recursive process that is responsive to the learning situation and what is being learned” (Kolb & Kolb, 2005, p. 194). Nilson (2016) also provides researched-based findings to help understand how students learn best, and suggests that true learning can be achieved by “thinking about the meaning of the new knowledge and connecting it to what [students] already know; …interaction with others; …actively engag[ing] in an activity; …receiv[ing] the new material multiple times but in different ways; …[and] making and correcting mistakes [rather than] being correct in the first place” (Nilson 2016, pp. 4-5). 

One subject area that fits naturally with experiential learning methods is crisis management, which is an important part of the overall public relations curriculum. Well-known crisis management researcher and theorist Timothy Coombs (2001) stated that:

“crisis management moves the public relations role to the managerial function and requires the development of many skills and knowledge points… the need for crisis management in practice increases each year as the technology and stakeholders continue to create new crises and pressure how organizations should respond to crises.” (p.89) 

The internationally recognized accreditation program for public relations practitioners, Accreditation in Public Relations (APR), stresses crisis and issues management as 15% of the knowledge, skills, and abilities tested as part of the examination process (Universal Accreditation Board, 2021). Further, after in-depth interviews with 29 advertising and public relations agency leaders, Neill and Schauster (2015) reported that the necessity of crisis and issues management skills for undergraduates was emphasized 70 different times by 25 of the participants. 

The activity described here was designed to foster the learning of crisis management and communication by utilizing an experiential learning method that helps students engage in their own learning, interact with others, and actively, critically think about the material. This project allows students to take an important chapter from the course text and apply it to a real-world situation: they create and respond to a hypothetical crisis, based on the information discussed in class and in the text. In doing so, they utilize information literacy, critical thinking, and other analytical skills. 

This project is designed as the second of two main assignments for an introductory public relations class. The first assignment involves cold-calling and interviewing a public relations practitioner who has been in the industry a minimum of five years, and writing and presenting a report about the information learned in that interview. That assignment helps students to understand clearly what public relations is and that a practitioner needs to be knowledgeable of and skillful in an array of areas. Typically, the students in the class are sophomores or juniors who will be starting their PR practicum sequence in the next academic year. This class is their first introduction to the profession, but this assignment takes place in the second half of the semester after learning and being initially assessed on the material needed to complete the assignment. 

Learning Objectives

This activity enables students to demonstrate knowledge and application of every step in the crisis management lifecycle, as discussed in class and in the assigned text: chapter 10 of Wilcox et al.’s (2015) Public Relations: Strategies & Tactics. Wilcox et al.’s (2015) approach to crisis management involves a lifecycle, where a potential crisis is first identified in the proactive stage, developing crises are planned for in the strategic phase, full-blown crises are responded to in the reactive stage, and reputation damage is assessed and addressed in the recovery stage. The reactive and recovery stages also include applying Benoit’s (1995) image restoration strategies.

Students are able to master this new-to-them material through an assignment that caters to a variety of learning styles and applies multiple categories of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Bloom, et al., 1956). Therefore, this activity is designed to achieve six learning objectives (LO):

  1. Explain the role public relations plays in responding to a crisis.
  2. Explain the four phases of the conflict management life cycle.
  3. Identify and research issues facing an organization that require attention or that could lead to a crisis situation.
  4. Identify important steps to deal with a crisis as it occurs.
  5. Design a crisis communication response plan.
  6. Present your plan and defend your decisions.

The activity: Steps and Procedures

The students are first divided into groups of roughly equal numbers. The instructor should be the one to assign students to groups, making sure each group contains students of mixed-ability and is as diverse as possible. Each group is instructed to choose a company or organization that most group members are already perfunctorily familiar with, and pretend that they are the public relations department for that organization. As the PR department for their chosen company, each group is tasked with crisis response: they are to anticipate any issues that might turn into crises for their organization and be prepared to respond to crises that occur. Together, each group is to:

  1. Choose an organization to “work” for and research that chosen company.
  2. Analyze the company’s current situation, based on the research collected. This involves writing a basic situation analysis, including an analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT).
  3. Scan the environment of the company and industry to identify potential issues that could develop into crises for the organization. 
  4. Choose one of the issues identified, and envision how that issue could develop into a crisis that could plausibly impact the organization. This step involves designing and describing a particular crisis in detail.
  5. Develop a specific crisis communication plan to respond to the designed crisis.
  6. Present the research, designed crisis, and crisis response plan to the class.

With this activity, students are able to “produce new or original work,” the pinnacle of Bloom’s taxonomy, but it also requires them to work their way through each of the proceeding categories (Bloom, et al., 1956). In addition, the collaborative effort of the group work component contributes to the educational process. “The research on the effects of group learning has focused on several variables—achievement/productivity (learning), positive attitudes and ethics, the quality of interpersonal relationships, and psychological health—and group work enhances all of them for students at all educational levels and of all backgrounds” (Nilson, 2016, p. 180).


Students are instructed that this project will result in a 5-10-page paper that should include the information described below, which also serves as the grading rubric for the paper. Each section of the paper corresponds to one of the stages in the crisis management lifecycle as presented in the assigned text (Wilcox et al., 2015). In addition, each group will also present their research, designed crisis and crisis response plan. The presentations should be 10 minutes, involve every member of the group, and include a visual aid. An additional 30-point value is added to the final paper grade for the presentation. 

  1. Company information and background (10%)

At a minimum, this section should answer: What is the company; what do they do; what services or products do they provide; how many employees and locations do they have? Have they ever faced any major crises? If so, what was their response or the result? This section should also include a SWOT analysis and any other background information deemed relevant.

  1. Environmental scan (Proactive Phase; 10%):

Identify emerging trends, concerns, or issues—both within the organization, within the larger industry, or within society—likely to affect the organization in the next few years. Predict problems and anticipate threats to the company. This involves the reading, listening, and watching of current affairs with an eye to the organization’s interests. Identify and describe at least five issues with the most potential to develop into crises for the organization. Why were those issues selected? What makes them the most likely to cause a crisis?

  1. Crisis (15%):

Choose one of the issues identified in the environmental scan to develop into a full-blown crisis. Consider all possible factors about that crisis. Every detail about it is up to the group to design: What is it? Where did it start? Who does it involve? What level of blame could be accurately placed upon the company? How long does the crisis last? Does the media make the crisis public before the company is able to? etc.

  1. Crisis Response Plan (Strategic and Reactive Phases; 25%):

Design the crisis management and communication plan for the crisis described in the previous section. At a minimum, this section should answer: What are the main messages? Who are the spokespeople and what employees will be made available for comment? What/where is the media headquarters? What main crisis response strategy and image restoration strategy should be employed (denial, excuse, justification, etc.)? Explain the reasoning behind every decision (why were those choices made regarding messages, strategy, spokespeople, etc.).

  1. Conclusion (Recovery Phase; 10%):

What is the final result? What is the anticipated result if the company followed the crisis response plan exactly as designed? What next steps should be taken once the crisis is over?

Evidence of Student Learning

Working with a group to identify issues, create a crisis and respond to that crisis provides a cooperative learning experience, similar to the “think, share, pair” method that Nilson (2016) has found to be a particularly effective learning style. It also helps ensure that students have not simply learned the material in a way that allows them to just answer a question, but to reason with the material and fully apply it to real life scenarios. All of this is enabling the students to move through Bloom’s Taxonomy in a demonstrable way.

In practice, I’ve found that students tend to split up the major sections of this paper and work independently on those sections. Most of the collaboration happens in the beginning, while choosing the company and the design of and response to the crisis, and at the end, in planning the presentation. Allowing some class time for work on this project allows me to monitor each individual’s contribution to the project and the overall group dynamic, answer any major questions groups may encounter, and ensure each group completes the assignment correctly.

Linked below are examples of papers that were submitted during the spring 2021 semester, based on the assignment instructions. Please note that these examples have been linked in their originally-submitted form, without any comments or grading information, and are shared with student permission.

Student Example 1: Chick-fil-A: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1gM0nPvhDxTx8h4NQF9BFvFewtzuPLM4V/view?usp=sharing

Student Example 2: American Eagle Outfitters: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1fs5NKrwVQfJ7QYt_jtkAMf84fssSq8E7/view?usp=sharing

During the spring 2021 semester, I administered a volunteer survey to gauge reactions to this project. One-third of the students in this class participated in the research and answered questions about their experience with this project using a Likert-type scale. The questions and their responses are presented in table 1. While this represents an extremely small sample, it does provide some indication of students’ perspectives of this project. Overall, during this semester, the students who responded enjoyed the project, did not find it too easy or overly difficult, self-reported gaining a better understanding of the material, and overwhelmingly understood the instructions and assignment expectations. Unsurprisingly, the group work aspect of the assignment drew mixed reviews.

An additional, open-ended question regarding the group dynamic was also included, which allowed students the opportunity to relay any serious concerns about their groups or particular individuals. I also regularly encourage students to inform me if there is major group discord or work disparity, so those issues can be assuaged before the project is due.


Crisis management abilities are necessary for success in public relations practice, and experiential learning techniques, such as the project described above, can help students thoroughly learn this important topic. By being introduced to this information early in their academic careers in a way that helps foster real learning through engagement and critical thinking, students can become proficient in this subject, leading to greater success in senior-level classrooms and, eventually, in the workforce.


Benoit, W. L. (1995). Apologies, excuses, and accounts: A theory of image restoration strategies. State University of New York Press.

Bloom, B. S., Engelhart, M. D., Furst, E. J., Hill, W. H., & Krathwohl, D. R. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. David McKay Company.

Coombs, W. T. (2001). Teaching the crisis management/communication course. Public Relations Review, 27(1), 89-101. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0363-8111(01)00072-8

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Kolb, A. Y., & Kolb, D. A. (2005). Learning styles and learning spaces: Enhancing experiential learning in higher education. Academy of Management Learning & Education , 4(2), 193-212. https://www.jstor.org/stable/40214287 

Neill, M. S., & Schauster, E. (2015). Gaps in advertising and public relations education: 

Perspectives of agency leaders, Journal of Advertising Education, 19(2), 5-17. https://doi.org/10.1177/109804821501900203

Nilson, L. (2016) Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors (4th ed.). Jossey-Bass.

Universal Accreditation Board (2021). Study guide for the examination for accreditation in public relations. Retrieved July 22, 2021 from, https://accreditation.prsa.org/MyAPR/Content/Apply/APR/APR.aspx

Wilcox, D. L, G. T. Cameron, & B. H. Reber. (2015). Public relations strategies & tactics (11th ed.). Pearson.

© Copyright 2022 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Johnson, N. & (2022). Crisis Response Plan Group Project. Journal of Public Relations Education, 8(1), 144-153. https://aejmc.us/jpre/?p=2881

Crisis and The Queen

Editorial Record: Submitted September 14, 2020. Revised April 2, 2021. Accepted June 7, 2021. Published March 2022.


Michelle Groover, Ph.D.
Senior Lecturer, Public Relations Department of Communication Arts
Georgia Southern University
Statesboro, GA
Email: mgroover@georgiasouthern.edu


The in-class activity explores how Princess Diana’s death turned into a crisis for the British monarchy. The movie, which is interspersed with actual footage, explores how the monarchy responded following the death of Princess Diana. After watching the film The Queen the class discusses aspects of the crisis, response strategies, and how it may have been handled differently today due to social media.

Keywords: film, social media, crisis communication

Introduction and Rationale

Examining a real-world crisis through the lens of a film can help students better understand how to respond to real-life public relations crisis. This activity allows student to explore whether what took place was a crisis or paracrisis, the mistakes made, the response strategies used, and what they would have done if they were in the position of the Prime Minister or the Queen. Although some students may not have been aware of Princess Diana’s life or death, they find the accident and what followed to be an interesting look into how a real-life crisis was handled.

The movie, which is set shortly after Diana’s death, is a study in crisis communication and how to, and not to, address a crisis. Zaremba (2010) noted the film “illustrates how the newly elected Prime Minister, Tony Blair, attempted to defuse a developing crisis for the monarchy in Great Britain” (p. 113). Additionally, the inclusion of actual footage of mourners and the flowers outside Buckingham Palace can help to bridge the gap between what actually happened and Hollywood’s version of events.

Shift in response time

While still time sensitive, prior to social media an organization had the benefit of a bit more time to craft a response to a crisis. Birch (1994) wrote, “The one thing that is in short supply during crisis is time” (p. 33). Additionally, Fishman (1999) stated, “The level and extent of media coverage directly influences the degree of ‘urgency’ placed upon an organization to provide a coherent explanation or to undertake corrective action” (p. 348).  Tony Blair, prime minister of the United Kingdom at the time of Diana’s death, gave a speech the morning she died where he historically called Diana “the people’s princess.” Queen Elizabeth did not make a public statement until five days after her death which caused some controversy among the people of the United Kingdom and a decline in her popularity (Kirby, 1998).

In today’s 24/7/365 world, organizations are expected to respond within the hour of a crisis, if not before. Claeys and Opgenhaffen (2016) discuss the term “golden hour” which is “the first hour after the scandal breaks” (p. 239). This “golden hour” is important as the organization can get its side of the story out before the media. The faster an organization, or in this case a monarchy, can respond to a crisis, the better for its image and reputation (Claeys & Opgenhaffen, 2016).

A crisis response must address the issue with as much transparency as possible, providing information to the key publics about what took place and how the organization will address it ( Millar & Heath, 2004). Further, “strategic actions in response to a crisis can enhance an organization’s legitimacy” (Veil et al,, 2012, p. 333). Rather than waiting for the Queen to respond, Tony Blair, the Prime Minister at the time of Diana’s accident, took action through his press conference and decision to speak to the media. Eventually, through pressure, Queen Elizabeth did provide a response to her public via a televised statement.

Connection to Practice

Incorporating an actual crisis example through a film provides students an opportunity to apply what they have learned about crises and how to address them. The film is shown at the end of the semester so that students can point out and discuss the topics discussed throughout the semester from lecture, readings, guest speakers, and other in-class discussions.

The 2020 Global Communications Report (USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations, 2020) noted COVID-19 “taught us, future-focused PR executives must be prepared to manage unexpected events and controversial issues” (p. 12). As many crises a public relations practitioner may encounter in their career are unexpected, including Princess Diana’s death, this activity allows students to understand how to be better prepared to confront these issues should they arise.

One of the benefits of this exercise is first, the students are exposed to a piece of history (although it is a film which assumes some parts of what happened behind the scenes), and are able to identify the crisis aspects. Second, the exercise allows students to explore the various crisis response strategies used (which have been discussed in class prior to watching the film) and if, in their opinion, they did or did not work. Third, it provides an opportunity for students to explore what they would have done differently in the situation, as well as how modern technology, such as social media, may have changed the course of the discussion and the crisis response strategies employed by all parties involved.

Assignment and Implementation

Toward the end of the semester, students in an upper division public relations and crisis communication course would watch the film The Queen. By showing it at the end of the semester, which takes two class periods to watch, students can apply what they understand regarding what constitutes a crisis and the various crisis response strategies. Further, students witness a “crisis in action” without the stress of having to handle it themselves. 

If teaching a crisis communication class, before watching the film, the professor should cover the following topics over the course of the semester:

  • Definition of crisis
  • Difference between a crisis and paracrisis
  • Identifying the trigger event to a crisis
  • Responding to the crisis
  • Identifying the appropriate crisis response strategy(ies) to apply in a situation
  • Identifying an organization’s audience(s)
  • Identifying and selecting a crisis management team and spokespeople
  • Ethical communication prior to, during, and following a crisis
  • Monitoring throughout the crisis
  • Evaluating the situation post-crisis

Having discussed and read this information throughout the semester, students should be able to discuss how they believe the crisis addressed in the film was handled and what they would have done differently. Through written responses discussing the following questions, students can work out the best response strategy in their opinion and determine how they would go about implementing it if this were to have happened today. They are also able to demonstrate how, if at all, they understand the concepts which have been discussed throughout the semester in this application exercise. Students would need a minimum of one day to work on this assignment before submitting it to the professor for grading. It should be submitted prior to the next class meeting day following the viewing of the film to facilitate the debrief in-class discussion. The professor can then elaborate on the responses provided, which enables a more in-depth class discussion around the crisis itself and recommendations they have for crisis messaging during and after the event.

As students are watching the film, encourage them to take notes on the crisis elements they witness throughout. Once the film ends, on the second day, provide students the following discussion questions and ask them to submit their responses to them thoroughly, demonstrating their comprehension and understanding of crises and the content of the film: 

  • Is this a crisis or a paracrisis? How did you determine this?
  • What was the trigger event for the crisis?
  • Could the crisis have been prevented?
  • What should have been done to prepare for this type of crisis (the death of a royal/non-royal)?
  • What crisis response strategies did you notice?
  • What did Blair and his team do well? Need to improve on?
  • If you were in Blair’s role, what would you have done differently/the same? 
  • If you were the Queen, would you have waited so long to respond? Why/why not?
  • Do you think the people of the UK believed Queen Elizabeth and her statement? Why/why not? 
  • Diana died in 1997 when social media did not exist; if this were to happen today how do you think this would have changed the management of the crisis and the response to it?
  • How would you have responded to this event if you worked on the public relations team for the Prime Minister? For Queen Elizabeth? Explain your response.


The key learning objectives for the written assignment are to: 1) Identify the trigger event for this crisis; 2) Identify the crisis response strategies implemented in the film; 3) Discuss what the various parties did well and needed improvement regarding the crisis response; 4) Discuss how social media may have changed the crisis response by the various parties involved.

The written assignment is evaluated by the student’s ability to accomplish the following: 1) to demonstrate knowledge of the types of crisis response strategies; 2) to identify the crisis response strategies used; 3) to effectively discuss the crisis response strategies and what they would have done in the situation; and 4) to edit and proofread their response prior to submission. This assignment counts as 5% of the total grade in the course. 


The author has observed that students seem to enjoy learning through watching and discussing this particular film. The author has also found this activity has helped students better identify the various crisis response strategies which have been discussed throughout the semester. Additionally, the students have been able to apply their public relations knowledge to this situation pulling not only from the crisis course, but from courses including social media, writing, and others. One challenge has been some students not effectively or completely answering the questions posed. One way to address this has been after grading the written assignment the professor uses the next class meeting to hold a debriefing to discuss the questions with the class. The debriefing also allows the professor to further discuss the crisis strategies and responses and lets students hear the perspectives of their classmates and continue the discussion. Finally, this debriefing permits those students who did not provide complete or effective answers to discuss their thoughts verbally.

Following the debriefing with the class, students remarked how they enjoyed the use of outside media to talk about and make clearer the topics which had been discussed in class. Others stated the group discussion allowed them to see other classmate’s point of view and build off each other when determining the course of action during and following a crisis. One student stated it was their favorite assignment as they were able to learn how to deal with a crisis on such a large scale, and how an institution like the British monarchy could recover from such a crisis.

As technology continues to change and evolve, other questions could be added to the list of discussion questions provided such as questions related to international public relations. A variation of the assignment could be having students discuss the questions in groups in class to develop a response, then with the class as a whole. These discussions could count toward in-class participation points for those who participated in the conversation.


Birch, J. (1994). New factors in crisis planning and response. Public Relations Quarterly, 39(1), 31-34.

Claeys, A., & Opgenhaffen, M. (2016). Why practitioners do (not) apply crisis communication theory in practice. Journal of Public Relations Research, 28(5-6), 232-247. https://doi.org/10.1080/1062726X.2016.1261703

Fishman, D. A. (1999). ValuJet flight 592: Crisis communication theory blended and extended. Communication Quarterly, 47(4), 345-375. https://doi.org/10.1080/01463379909385567

Kirby, M. (1998). Death of a princess. Capital & Class, 22(1), 29-41. https://doi.org/10.1177/030981689806400104

Millar, D. P., & Heath, R. L.  (Eds.). (2004). Responding to crisis: A rhetorical approach to crisis communication. Routledge.

USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations. (2020). 2020 global communications report. http://assets.uscannenberg.org/docs/2020-global-communication-report.pdf.

Veil, S. R., Sellnow, T. L. and Petrun, E. L. (2012). Hoaxes and the paradoxical challenges of restoring legitimacy: Dominos’ response to its YouTube crisis. Management Communication Quarterly, 26(2), 322-345.

Zaremba, A. J. (2010). Crisis communication: Theory and practice. M.E. Sharpe.

© Copyright 2022 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Groover, M. (2022). Crisis and The Queen. Journal of Public Relations Education, 8(1), 154-161.https://aejmc.us/jpre/?p=2941

Social Media and Crisis Communication


Heather Robbins, Pennsylvania State University

Social Media and Crisis Communication

Editors: Lucinda Austin and Yan Jin

Routledge, 2018

ISBN: 978-1138812000 (paperback)


At a time when an increased amount of reputational issues pop on social media platforms, and organizations’ constituents are more willing to take them to task publicly, the window for public relations professionals between getting it right and getting it right now continues to narrow. For many professionals, this calls for a need to reset leadership and constituent expectations while rethinking their approach to issues and crisis planning and online engagement strategy, especially as the two areas continue to merge. 

In the book Social Media and Crisis Communication, book editors Lucinda Austin, assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Yan Jin, associate professor at the University of Georgia, take a comprehensive look at the state of crisis communications research and the implications that the rise of social media has had on the field. This book couldn’t have come at a more important time as the quick and public nature of social media allows anyone with a handle to more easily challenge organizations, causing many public relations professionals to rethink their issues and crisis response strategies and approach to online reputation management.

This is the first book that explores the nexus of social media and crisis communications research and the new challenges that have emerged. For example, Chapter 2 author Timothy Coombs notes how social media has pushed many prevention and mitigation efforts by organizations in the traditionally private pre-crisis phrase into the public eye (p. 25). This public challenge by a stakeholder, organizational faux pas, or angry customer complaint is referred to as a paracrisis. In Chapter 4, Valentini et. al. note that “social media have become the milieu in which many crises are discussed, if not formed” (p. 57).


The book covers a large body of research and is divided into themed sections, including current and emerging issues of social media and crisis communication, overviews of dominant research streams, emerging theories and frameworks, areas for special consideration, future directions, and applications in specific areas of crisis. Additionally, the editors note that the book addresses some themes throughout different chapters, including the need for more dialogic approaches to crisis communication via social media and measurement of social media engagement in crisis communication response. These recurring ideas show a consistent need for implementation in public relations strategies and potential ideas for future crisis research.

The Dialogic Approach

Because of the interactivity and user-generated nature of social media, multiple chapter authors argue that crisis communication practices need to shift away from typical stakeholder-informing communications toward a more dialogic approach. For example, Valentini et al. say that little research currently exists, but it is needed to understand organizations’ potential use of dialogic communication with stakeholders via social media. They argue that two-way dialogic communication is an important step toward establishing credibility and trust and that stakeholder interactions can also be leveraged to add third-party voices to the mix. 

The book also covers the shift over the past decade from organizational approaches to audience-oriented and public-centered approaches for crisis communications, focusing on dialogic communication and stakeholder engagement. In Chapter 19, Guidry and Messner acknowledge that social media opens up two-way communication opportunities, but many organizations have been hesitant to embrace the possibilities and continue to use the platforms ineffectively as a “one-way megaphone” (p. 270).

In Chapter 9, Fraustino and Liu surmise that in crisis scholarship and, to some extent, social media crisis scholarship, a focus on an audience’s perspective is on the rise, placing an emphasis on ethical communications. They add that some gaps remain as the scholarship shifts, including the need to consider publics and outcome measures that aren’t just focused on the organization’s short- and long-term survival, but more so on the social good—the audience response during a crisis as a whole. In Chapter 5, Hung-Baesecke and Bowen add that organizations need to consider the ethics of engaging with stakeholders on social media when planning crisis strategies, including the fact that being “authentic” helps organizations in the long-run (p. 74). 

Measurement of Social Media Engagement in Crisis Communication Response 

Along the theme of measurable goals, Austin and Jin suggest more research is needed to continue to assess the effectiveness of crisis communications messaging, especially on different social media platforms. In Chapter 3, Goodman, for example, explained that the quality of proactive issues management (monitoring for issues, building and maintaining relationships, and implementing an effective issues-response system) is “usually a direct result of how rigorously those efforts are measured” and how specific goals are defined, especially in the “issues mapping” process (p. 65). In other words, the more you can show the value, the more support organizational leadership will have for proactive prevention. Conversely, as evidenced by Fraustino and Liu, the value to the organization should not be the only consideration. Ethically, organizations should have a concern for the effectiveness of communications on directing audiences during a crisis, to create not only a good organizational image but also to benefit the public.

Social Media Crisis Communication Models

The book explores the development of different types of crisis communications models, including Coombs’ situational crisis communications theory (SCCT), Benoit’s image-repair theory, and Cameron and colleagues’ contingency theory of strategic conflict management, in conjunction with the role of social media in crisis communications. It also explores the only social-media specific crisis communications model, Austin and Jin’s social-mediated crisis communications (SMCC) model. 

The authors did a nice job of explaining these models and showing examples of putting them into practice. Austin and Jin identify the need for a focus on developing better theories and frameworks specific to communicating a crisis on social media platforms, instead of attempting to adapt the existing theories. Austin and Jin suggest this approach for future research, citing the need for “prescribing strategic solutions and recommendations for crisis managers who look for science-based insights tailored for a relatively focused and specialized crisis communication arena” (p. 450). 

Visual Elements and Social Media Crisis Communication

The book also addresses the visual nature of social media, including the potential benefits of integrating images and graphics into crisis responses. In Chapter 19, Guidry and Messner show how the more visually focused platform Pinterest contributes to pro- and anti-vaccination health communications. Janoske expands on the benefits of visuals in Chapter 22, writing about how natural disaster images help the public understand and emotionally cope in recovery. She shows how social media allows members of the public to form communities when sharing emergency information and photos during a crisis and how crisis communicators can use these online visual communities to better understand the situation and inform their communications strategies for the publics they serve.

Austin and Jin conclude the book by acknowledging new areas of research opportunities, noting the fact that social media technology is so rapidly changing calls for continued research as crisis communications adjusts to developing platforms.


This is an excellent, informative, and well-researched book with contributions from many well-established authors in both the crisis communications and social media research fields. The book gives a comprehensive overview of the current state of research and offers suggestions for the future as these two areas continue to overlap. It thoroughly covers the emergence of crisis communications theory and its increasingly common intersection with social media, and, I would argue, will serve as a bedrock resource for the next wave of research. 

The book is valuable for academics and professional practitioners alike. The variety of examples of organizations and types of crises studied in the “application” section makes it a great tool for public relations practitioners, in particular. At 461 pages, this book is expansive, but its thoughtful organization and high-level approach lend it to easily be used as a textbook for a graduate course on the topic.

PDF of book review:

What Are Your Students Doing Over Spring Break? Using Disaster Relief Work to Teach Students About Crisis Communication

PRD GIFT Winner AEJMC 2019

Editorial Record: Submitted to AEJMC-PRD GIFT Competition by Feb. 22, 2019. A blind copy was peer reviewed by the PRD Teaching Committee, led by Chair Brigitta Brunner, and selected as a Top GIFT. First published online on August 17, 2019.


Cessna C. Winslow, Tarleton State University


Public relations instruction does not need to be limited to classroom dialogue and textbook lectures, such as discussing theory or case studies. Adding service learning to the curriculum allows students to apply a meaningful experience to their education. By combining service learning with disaster-relief work, students are able to see a direct connection to the definition of public relations and how building good relationships benefits society. This experience is even more powerful when the disaster hits close to home. 

Student Learning Goals

The service-learning project contributed to the following course goals noted in the syllabus:

  • Understand the processes involved with crisis communication.
  • Understand the roles the media, relief agencies, and first responders play in crisis situations.
  • Understand effective communication techniques.
  • Employ critical-thinking skills to crisis communication.
  • Use teamwork skills to assist in disaster relief.
  • Use storytelling skills to share experiences. 
  • Develop materials suitable for inclusion in portfolios. 

Connection to Public Relations Practice and Theory

This service-learning project supports the theory that the public relations profession “involves a combination of practical experience and expertise, balanced with a solid grounding in the history of the practice and the social science that informs it” (Gleason & Violette, 2012, p. 281.) By assisting disaster survivors and meeting with community leaders who employ PR methods to address a crisis, students are able to connect history and information to application. The requirement that students produce a publishable artifact provides tangible evidence of their ability to create a product used in the practice of public relations.

Evidence of Student Learning Outcomes 

Students write a reflection paper and produce a publishable artifact that shares highlights from their service learning experience. The artifact projects are presented at a showcase and reception open to the university community, public, and local media. The media reported on the service-learning experience both years, thus helping the students see how positive public relations efforts can enhance goodwill. Additionally, the 2018 team was featured in the university magazine and presented at the President’s State of the University address. In his showcase presentation, one student summarized it well: 

For me, the trip was absolutely life changing. It gave me a new perspective on how I should appreciate things I previously took for granted: Electricity, fresh water, sewage, and shelter to name a few. Listening to the mayor and the survivors’ stories shows me just how amazing humanity can be when we come together to help those in need.

Sample projects students have presented (shared with permission):



Fink, S. (2013). Crisis communications: The definitive guide to managing the message. New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

Gleason, J., & Violette, J. (2012). Integrating service learning into public relations coursework: Applications, implications, challenges, and rewards. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 24(2), 280-285. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ996274.pdf


Description and Assessment

As part of a hybrid crisis communication course, a team of students and faculty members spent their spring break in Rockport, Texas, assisting in the ongoing rebuilding efforts following Hurricane Harvey. During the day the team partnered with a disaster-relief agency to help rebuild homes. In the evening, they met with survivors, community leaders, first responders, and disaster-relief workers and learned about their experiences. Leading up to the service-learning project, students studied crisis communication strategies and public relations theory and practices. After they returned, they shared what they learned from serving in a disaster region and applied it to the class discussions, readings, and projects. When the idea for a course on crisis communication was being developed, Hurricane Harvey had hit the Texas Coast—not far from where some of the students call home. This course (specifically the service-learning project) has created a positive response to a tragedy while enhancing the learning environment.

Prior to the Service-Learning Experience 

For the first seven weeks of the semester, the class met face-to-face once a week. During that time, students read and discussed Crisis Communication: The Definitive Guide to Managing the Message, which served as the course textbook. They also assessed case studies on public relations strategies and participated in team-building activities and assignments. This grounding helped prepare them for the disaster-relief service-learning experience.

Over spring break, the class traveled to Rockport, Texas, where we helped survivors of Hurricane Harvey clean up and fix their homes.  For this, we partnered with Samaritan’s Purse—a relief agency that assists with rebuilding efforts following natural disasters. Samaritan’s Purse has a volunteer application process that takes four to six months to complete, so the paperwork had to be started the September prior to spring break.

During the Service-Learning Experience

After volunteer teams are approved and assigned a site to work, Samaritan’s Purse provides meals, lodging, construction materials, resources, training, and supervision. The students’ cost for the week-long service-learning project was minimal, as volunteers are only responsible for transportation and personal necessities. The fact that students can spend spring break doing something productive and educational without spending a lot of money adds to the popularity of this course and the appeal of the service-learning project.

While volunteering, the team painted, caulked, landscaped, and removed and installed doors, windows, siding, drywall, cabinets, and countertops for residents whose homes were being rebuilt by Samaritan’s Purse. When we returned from the worksites, we had dinner with the Samaritan’s Purse staff and fellow volunteers. After showering and eating, the students were encouraged to tour the area and visit with residents, business owners, and others affected by the hurricane to find content for their showcase project and reflection paper assignments. Additionally, while in Rockport, we had the privilege of visiting with local mayors, first responders, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Long-Term Recovery Team. Not only did the students learn from these meetings, but the meetings also allowed the speakers to personally express their gratitude for the volunteers who helped rebuild their community—a PR gesture that was not lost on the students. 

Post Service-Learning Experience

After the students returned, they met online discussing what they learned while working on their reflection paper and project. At the end of the semester, they presented their projects at a showcase where they were evaluated by outside professionals. The students have used photography, video, and essays to share their experiences. They are free to choose the medium and topic, but their projects must be approved before the showcase. Projects have focused on survivors, businesses, pets, and the service-learning experience, along with the role disaster-relief agencies play in the recovery efforts and the ongoing need for volunteers. 


Participation in the service-learning experience accounts for 30% of the course grade. The reflection paper and showcase project count for 20% each. Other assignments and an exam make up the remaining 30%.


Assignment Examples

Pre-Trip Example

For this assignment you are to find two news stories about recent hurricanes or another natural disaster.  For each article, provide the link, briefly summarize it, and reflect on it. Is it enlightening? Does it provide adequate information? Does this story benefit survivors? Is there any PR value?  Post each article as a separate discussion so that you have two entries. 

Post-Trip Example

For this discussion you are to share what you are doing for your showcase project. Make sure you include the following information in your post:

  • What you are doing. Is it a solo or partnered effort?
  • Why you chose that project.
  • Project status.
  • Any assistance or guidance you need from me.
  • What technology or display items will you need to present your project?


Service-Learning Experience Grading Rubric         

_____/10 You showed up!

You get points for being there!

_____/20 You worked hard!

Did you put your heart and soul into the work? Did you whine? Did you go above and beyond?

_____/10 You’re a team player!

This score assesses your ability to follow directions and work as a team.

_____/10 Your engagement showed!

This score assesses how well you engaged guest speakers and sought information for your project.

Additional Comments                               



Reflection Paper Instructions and Prompts

Reflection Paper Instructions 

You are to reflect on the service learning experience and summarize/share your experiences. This paper needs to be reflective and worthy of inclusion in your portfolio.

Please respect the following directions:

  • Use the Reflection Paper Prompts document as your writing guide.
  • Upon completing all of the required elements, provide a word count at the bottom of your paper.
  • Since this should be a portfolio artifact, you need to have it reviewed by the Writing Center. Please plan accordingly to allow time for that requirement. 
  • Follow the syllabus guidelines regarding font and spacing requirements. Attached is the grading rubric to help you assess your work. 

Make this a valuable experience and find joy in reflecting. I look forward to reading these and learning from your reflections.

Reflection Paper Prompts 

For your Applied Learning Experience reflection paper, address and respond to each of the areas noted below. Please label each section of your paper accordingly. 


  • Your name
  • Description and dates of your service-learning experience
  • Rationale for choosing your service-learning experience

SECTION 1 – Application of College Courses

What skills did you learn in this course and/or other college courses that helped you on this learning experience? 

In 3-4 paragraphs be descriptive as you analyze the knowledge and skills you acquired in your college courses that you utilized in this experience.

SECTION 2 – Student Involvement and Life Experience Skills

What skills did you learn in your student organizations or other college employment that helped you with this service learning experience? 

In 1-2 paragraphs be descriptive as you analyze the essential knowledge and skills acquired in experiences outside the classroom that were utilized in this experience. Provide specific examples.

SECTION 3 – Global Awareness

Share how this service-learning experience impacted your view of cultures and society.

In 1-2 paragraphs analyze and describe how this experience enhanced your awareness of the diverse world and society around you.

SECTION 4 – Implications

Share how this service-learning experience impacted your view of crisis communications and disaster relief efforts. 

In 2-4 paragraphs be descriptive as you analyze the impact this service-learning project had on understanding of public relations and the role disaster relief agencies play in assisting disaster victims.

SECTION 5 – Putting It All Together

Drawing on your responses to the above prompts, share your service-learning experience story.  

This section needs to be 5-10 paragraphs and demonstrate reflection and application. 


Showcase Project Grading Rubric and Examples

Showcase Project Grading Rubric                                        

_____/30 Content

This score assesses the depth of your project and presentation. Do you demonstrate passion and interest in your project?

_____/30 Clarity and Professional

This score assesses the clarity of your project and your presentation professionalism. Can we understand your objective? Are you professional?

_____/30 Creative and Interesting

This score assesses your creativity and presentation skills. Is it creative? Interesting?

_____/10 Proofing skills

This score assesses your grammar and how well you proofed your presentation.

Additional Comments:


To cite this article: Winslow, C. C. (2019). What are your students doing over spring break? Using disaster relief work to teach students about crisis communication. Journal of Public Relations Education, 5(2). Retrieved from https://aejmc.us/jpre/2019/08/17/what-are-your-students-doing-over-spring-break-using-disaster-relief-work-to-teach-students-about-crisis-communication/

PDF of this GIFT: