Background: The syllabus and calendar examples provided here are from an Introduction to Communication course taught at Guilford Technical Community College. Students at GTCC and in this particular course come from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds, educational backgrounds and objectives, and socioeconomic backgrounds, which was important in the planning and carrying out of plans, tasks, and objectives. This course covers a variety of topics in communication including public speaking, interpersonal communication, and group work.
Purpose: My main teaching objective in this course was to provide this diverse group of students with an applicable overview of the major areas of communication. This was, of course, challenging as I struggled with the tension between being thorough and focused, but also getting through all the material. Further, I wanted to provide students with a variety of ways to learn the material and for us to achieve the learning outcomes of the course.
As you can see in the assignment breakdowns in the syllabus, I provided a variety of ways for students to engage with the material without overemphasizing one particular component of the course. In an introductory and survey-style course, it did not seem fair to put all the emphasis on public speaking or all the emphasis on group work. All of these components are important and the level of importance will vary by student and student career goals. This all had to be done along with abiding by the overall career goals of the college, (provided on the syllabus–these are required to be a part of the syllabus throughout all departments at the college and are the same for every single syllabus in the college) which include using technology and job preparation. Therefore, students in this course were expected to speak, write, converse, and actively participate both in the face-to-face classroom and online with the use of technology (such as forums and wikis).
Reflection and Plans for Future Use: I received positive feedback in this course during the two semesters that I taught it. I made several minor changes in the grading breakdown between my first semester and second semester teaching. I also clarified some of the assignment descriptions in the syllabus. If I teach this class or one like it in the future I will keep some of the same components and will make adjustments to others.
One thing I’ve learned as a teacher is that it is impossible to please everyone. However, I still strive to provide methods of learning and applying material that will best suit the students. In a course such as Introduction to Communication I felt it was necessary to allow different types of assignments for evaluation purposes with the goal that at least one of the assignments would be more comfortable for each student and the other assignments may be more challenging. Therefore, speaking, participating, writing, team work, and quizzes (multiple choice and short answer) were all included as methods of demonstrating understanding of the course concepts and theories. Students seemed pleased that these varying methods were provided–it allowed the honing of communication skills like writing and speaking, while working through communication concepts. I did have a small handful of students bring up the fact that if one type of learning or demonstration technique was not to be significantly more or less valued than others, then the speech assignments (5% and 20%) should not have been worth as much as they were and I’ll address that here. To this I responded and will clarify more fully next time I teach this course that the final speech, which is indicated as worth 20%, should be worth a bit more because it asks that students apply several concepts in one assignment. Students are instructed to make sure they have a solid organizational pattern, think about message clarity, their audience, and to anticipate misunderstandings. All of these are emphasized throughout the semester, in addition to the public speaking concepts discussed.
A couple of assignments I will keep in the course, but modify slightly. The first assignment I’ll discuss is the final analysis paper. The paper itself was not conceptualized clearly enough from the beginning and was, therefore, slightly confusing for students and for myself. I modified this slightly between the two semesters this was taught. However, similar issues arose. I have made major changes. The second assignment is the journal. I asked students to keep journals throughout the semester. At the end of each unit (with the unit quiz) they were required to turn these journal entries in. During the second semester, I utilized wikis on the course Moodle site for these entries. After learning the technology the wiki was a great tool. Students knew the entries were not shared with anyone else besides the teacher, they could write and save as the unit went along, and I could provide feedback directly on the wiki and interact with the students. This turned out to be much less of a hassle for both the students and me. In the future, I will continue to use journals in this way, but I will need a clearer rubric for points earned and allow students to pass on one unit. The pass would be useful because there are a lot of assignments and while I expect my students to work hard, I also understand that some times there is just too much going on. I believe this extension of flexibility would be warranted. It may also be worthwhile to include more frequent, but shorter writing opportunities or “minute papers” as an alternative to journal assignments. These may be beneficial to consider for use in this type of course as these will keep students accountable for readings while still maintaining the goal of leading up to the final analysis paper.
Beyond the assignments, I would like to reflect on the attendance and tardy policies in this syllabus. The college’s attendance policy at GTCC was strict. While each department was able to modify and each instructor was able to implement at discretion, it was expected that students would not miss more in-class time than given in a week (ex: if the class meets twice a week for an hour and half, students should not be permitted to miss more than 2 or 3 classes). I also included a tardy policy. I did this for a couple of reasons. First, I firmly believe it is rude to walk in late and interrupt class after it has started. Second, GTCC emphasized the compatibility of courses to the work environment and students should not expect to be able to come to work late and leave early and keep a steady job. I admit, though, that I found this hard to enforce and to keep track of tardies. In the future, I believe I will try to modify this policy further or eliminate the bulk of it. It may be more practical to make a note in the syllabus that I expect students to arrive on time and stay through class. However, if a situation arises I expect them to let me know and to be non-disruptive as they enter the class (i.e. have book and notebooks out and ready to go prior to entering). If tardies become an issue, it will be addressed.
Overall, I am satisfied with the way these two semesters took shape in Introduction to Communication. Yes, there are some changes that would need to be made, but there will always be a need for modification as I develop as a teacher and as I approach new teaching environments.