We can all agree this year has had unforeseen impacts on almost every aspect of life. Some of the current members of the Alpha management team were interviewed to gather information on how COVID-19 has influenced them in the virtual classroom. 

What differences have you noticed learning PR since covid? 

Because of COVID-19, school has become a more individualized process. Assistant Managing Directors Anna Ferko and Amanda Carr,, both noted this could be because of the asynchronous option of some classes. This is when classes do not meet at specific times online through programs like Zoom and instead have pre-recorded lectures and materials due on Canvas. 

In regard to synchronous classes, the students still found that group projects are harder now than ever. 

Ferko said, “Group projects already require a lot of communication and it’s harder to brainstorm ideas with people you have never met before.” 

“I’ve seen that students are burnt out and less motivated to complete projects,” Richard Forbes, Managing Director, said. “Learning PR has become something of a self-taught course.” 

Do you think these differences are because of the transition to remote learning? 

“I do credit these changes to remote learning,” Forbes said. 

Students seem to be in agreement that the changes they noticed in learning were mostly due to remote learning. Carr and Ferko explained how they found the UF Public Relations Department was understanding of the trying times students and professors were facing. 

Ferko said, “My professors this semester have been so empathetic and are quick to respond to questions.” 

Carr explained how compared to the departments her friends are in, professors in the PR department have been “understanding” and haven’t focused on “busy work.” 

Are there other factors that caused these differences? 

Ferko credited some of the difficulty of this semester to “social justice movements, the election, and worrying about finding jobs or internships.” 

Carr explained how she might be noticing changes in her learning experience because she is now enrolled in more advanced classes with a more rigorous schedule. 

Furthermore, students have been struggling with their mental health.

Ferko said, “There are so many things that demand our attention that it’s hard to separate yourself and focus on your classes.” 

How did you navigate these differences when they interrupted the traditional teaching/learning style? 

Across the board, students had to adapt and, for some, they had to start using a calendar to organize themselves. Carr showed us one of her daily checklists she creates because it was hard for her to stay on top of assignments without one. 

Carr noted how the situation and urgent need to find normalcy in the transition was actually practice for the master’s program she recently applied to. Carr plans to get her master’s degree through the UF Online program; the routine she created this semester helped her to see she’ll be ready for graduate school. 

What advice do you have for other students who are now learning and entering the industry in this environment?

“I would tell other students to not take this time as a vacation,” Forbes said. “However, also find ways to unwind. Find ways to get out of your room or from behind a computer.” 

Carr mentioned how important it still is to get to know classmates. Carr recommends using the email feature on Canvas or connecting with students via social media or LinkedIn to build relationships with peers. For Amanda, she misses “regular classroom banter” when working online. This semester, she found it helpful to network and make friends in classes to have people to text and work with.

What effect will these changes have on the future of PR? 

The future is working from home and the digital industry. Ferko also noted how COVID-19 brought more attention to corporate social responsibility. 

“When the pandemic started wreaking havoc on the United States in March, people were paying attention to what brands were doing,” Ferko said.“If a company was apathetic to the economic crisis the pandemic put their employees in, consumers are going to remember that.” 

Forbes urges students to accept the fate of a future with Zoom calls and Google Meets. 

Carr advised students to explore sectors of PR, including healthcare and technology, because of the expansion of these areas she foresees after the pandemic. 

Alpha PRoductions’ faculty advisor, Natalie Asorey, was also asked how she thought teaching public relations has changed because of the pandemic. Asorey said, “Students at Alpha PRoductions and The Agency are learning to work, connect and collaborate virtually, much like we do in the industry with national and international clients and partners. I’m proud of how they’ve persevered, embraced change and supported one another during a challenging year.” 

These students certainly showed that they have adapted themselves to the changes brought mostly from the transition to online learning. They have learned to accept the future of working from home with many Zoom calls insight . As an industry, public relations continues to grow and nearly three-quarters (73%) of respondents to a recent Market Profs survey say they feel confident about the value of PR amid COVID-19. Although the learning tactics for current PR students is seeing a new approach, there has never been a better time for the field. 

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