A communication program that is anything but 'basic'

by Anne Reynolds

A communication program that is anything but 'basic'

Each year, the National Communication Association brings together practitioners, educators, students, and researchers to examine the state of the communication discipline, including its role in preparing future generations of communicators. This November, as part of its awards program, the Basic Course Division of the Association presented the Program of Excellence Award to George Mason University’s Basic Communication Course program. Mason is the eighth university to receive this honor, which recognizes introductory communication courses that can serve as best practice models for other programs across the country.

The reviewers of the program were enthusiastic about Mason’s presentation:

From innovative sections for special student populations to an enviable balance between consistency and creativity and a focus on teacher training, this is a program that should be highlighted and modeled after. Well done!

The course administrators are doing an outstanding job leading this course. The course is cutting edge in its approach to course design and its ongoing assessment. This program would be a wonderful model for other programs across the country. The use of disseminated assessment data illustrates the strength of this program and shows that it is a model for best practices.

Mason’s Basic Communication Course program includes COMM 100: Public Speaking, and COMM 101: Interpersonal and Group Interaction, the two courses that meet the Mason Core Oral Communication requirement. All Mason students take one of these courses before graduating. Moreover, recognizing this course will be the only communication training that many students will receive during their university education, these courses are geared towards helping the students build the communication skills they will need to succeed in their future in academia and beyond. The courses are generally a part of the first year course of study, and with this in mind, are designed – hand in hand with the core values of the university -- to assist the students’ acclimation to the Mason experience. The courses also reflect the diversity of the student body of Mason and emphasize an understanding of diversity and intercultural communication skills.

George Mason University’s appreciation for the diversity of its student body is so fundamental that it is reflected in the university’s values statement. Since arriving at Mason in 2013, Melissa Broeckelman-Post, director of Mason’s Basic Course in Communication, has worked with a team of instructors to redesign these courses to meet the needs of all of these students. This includes the development of customized versions of the course for INTO-Mason, ODIME STEP, Mason-Korea, and Distance Learning students. Each year, she and basic course coordinator Lance Schmeidler train and supervise a team of 50-60 instructors who teach individual sections of the course, and then collect and use student assessment data to make additional improvements for the following year.

In addition to the impact that these courses have on undergraduate students at Mason, reviewers found this program notable for its emphasis on instructor development and its collaboration with other units on campus. Each fall, nearly half of the instructors are new to teaching at Mason, so Broeckelman-Post has worked to build an extensive instructor training program that prepares instructors to teach these courses while also helping to prepare graduate students for careers as future faculty members. One of the most noteworthy collaborations in the Basic Communication Course is the Speech Lab, which provides free communication coaching by volunteers from Mason’s top-ranked forensics team in one of the presentation practice rooms in Mason libraries.

Broeckelman-Post appreciates the recognition from the National Communication Association, but emphasized that the real winners are Mason’s undergraduates.

"Surveys have shown that employers rate oral communication skills as the most important skill for college graduates, so this program is a critical part of Mason's goal of producing 100,000 career-ready graduates by 2024,” she explained. “I'm really proud of this award because it recognizes the work that our entire Basic Course team and our many partners across campus have done to help ensure that all Mason students build the communication skills that they will need to be successful in their future courses, careers, and communities."