New Communication Pilot Course Redesigns Public Speaking Classes

This article was originally published in the Feb. 3, 2014 issue of Fourth Estate

by Kelsey Byerly

The communications department at Mason could be looking at major changes in the upcoming years due to a new pilot course in COMM 100 implemented by Dr. Melissa Broeckelman-Post, basic course director for the Department of Communication.

As a general education requirement, every student at Mason is required to take a communication course regardless of their major. Broeckelman-Post views COMM 100 and 101 as “the front porch of the communications department.”

She believes that these general education courses are the first introduction many students have to the field of communication that can either turn students away from the subject or interest them in potentially majoring in communication.

Due to the significance of these early communication courses, Broeckelman-Post and the Department of Communication decided to implement the pilot course in COMM 100. She also cited the massive change in the student body as being a reason for this experiment.

“The campus has changed greatly in the past few years, going from a commuter campus to more of a residential campus,” Broeckelman-Post said. “And with that students have changed. Students at Mason are diverse and more prepared than in the past and are ready to be challenged more.” 

The current curriculum for COMM 100 and 101 was designed by Dr. Don Boileau, who will be retiring at the end of this semester. While this curriculum has been very successful in the past, Broeckelman-Post believed that it should be tested to ensure the students are getting the best education possible. 

“Our communications students today are generally more prepared than students have been in the past. There is more attendance in classes and students are more willing to do group work,” Broeckelman-Post said.

Broeckelman-Post also points out that communication is essential to how people interact in society. Strong communication skills can be the deciding factor in whether or not you land an internship or job, and it vastly affects how people conduct themselves, not only their professional lives, but in their everyday lives.

For the purpose of exploring different methods of teaching, the COMM 100 pilot course has eight sections being taught by four different instructors, using four different texts and four different assessments for speeches.

One method is implementing a structure in which preparation for online assignments, including quizzes that check for reading and comprehension, is done before class. The goal of this is to free up teaching time in the classroom, enable professors to not have to “regurgitate the text book” and promote a more engaged classroom-learning experience.

Another method being tested is having students present their speeches in small groups where they can receive more peer feedback.

One section of the pilot course involves experimenting with writing epiphany papers. Undeclared freshman, Jake Lahah, who is enrolled in the pilot course, describes these papers as a “better learning tool.”

“It gives students a chance to write about a couple of topics that are in best interest to them and that they can apply to everyday life or the professional field,” he said. “I feel that these epiphany papers are a better learning tool because it isn’t forcing students to learn something that they are not going to use. Instead, they can pick out pieces of the assigned readings that are most useful to them.”

Each section of the pilot course teaches the exact same material but in different ways. The courses are using different textbooks, aiming to pinpoint the ways in which  students learn more efficiently.

At the end of the pilot course, students will have the opportunity to participate in a survey providing their overall thoughts of the class. Broeckelman-Post is certain that regardless of the results of this pilot course, the survey will provide valuable information about Mason students.

“I am responsible for the larger picture,” Broeckelman-Post said. “It is my job to make sure that these students are getting the best education possible. This type of study hasn’t been conducted anywhere else, so we are the first ones to try it out. Regardless of the results, it will give us very valuable information on Mason students and how they learn.”

Once the pilot course for COMM 100 has been completed, a similar course will be applied to COMM 101. After the results of the course and students’ reviews are analyzed, this first mass study of this kind could be bringing major innovative changes to the way students study communication at Mason.