McNeese State professor using pandemic as teaching opportunity

Chris Hebert, mass communications instructor at McNeese State, is using the current COVID-19 pandemic as a teaching opportunity for his now online students. Focusing primarily on his social media and public relations courses, Hebert said the pandemic serves a real-time case study on various facets of media communications HebertHebert

Special to the American Press

“I figure my students are still active participants and active consumers and creators of media so why not use what we’re seeing to teach the principles,” he said.

Students have taken particular interest, he said, in the roles government and political agencies have in shaping the narrative of the pandemic. “They’re very interested in that even more so than in some of the election cycle stuff, which is amazing to me.”

Hebert said public relations, organizational and crisis communications are also especially prominent right now as once heavily covered brands like celebrities, tourism and sports take the backseat to more pressing health-news matters. “Those brands are being adversely affected…These brands are having to tell a different story.”

As students watch popular brands pivot their commercial presence, Hebert said he thinks this will have a “lasting impact” on the way students navigate the world of communication in their future careers. “There will never be a world without the idea of what coronavirus is,” he said.

The type of unique storytelling currently being displayed as businesses attempt to capture audience attention during times of stay-at-home orders and social distancing is important for students to learn and may be the skills that land them a job one day. “Brand, media outlets, nonprofits, government agencies are all looking for people who can tell the story…Those students who are these story tellers are the ones who will be in demand.”

Focusing on various forms of media, however, is not the sole purpose of his course this semester, Hebert said. “On the flip side of things, we talk about ways to decompress…I’m probably the only social media instructor who’s ever told student to get away from the screens.”

Taking time for self-care and maintaining “meaningful human connections” is essential to success during these unusual times. “I always try to balance everything out,” he said. “And that’s resonated with quite a few of them.”

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