By Mary Mino
ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English, and Communication
The basic course
in communication skills is an integral part of the college and university
curriculum--instruction in speaking and listening competencies is
one of the essential features of a minimum required curriculum for
a coherent undergraduate education (Ford
and Wolvin, 1993).
This Digest will
consider how to more effectively integrate basic public speaking concepts
into students' personal and professional lives.
the basic public speaking course, instructors most often focus their
efforts on presenting the theory and describing the mechanics involved
in the public speaking process (Gibson
et al., 1985; Johnson
and Szczupakiewicz, 1987). Rarely do instructors effectively clarify
the rationale for how basic public speaking course content is useful
in "real life" contexts (Mino, 1988). Consequently, students often
question the relevance of enrolling in a public speaking course because
they fail to see the connection between learning public speaking skills
and applying these skills in real life situations. In fact, Ford and Wolvin
(1993) contend that very few students see any connection between
learning public speaking skills and applying them beyond the classroom.
They recommend that instructors should try to determine how to better
deliver public speaking training so that it impacts on students' personal,
academic, and professional lives.
and Shulman (1995) are among the researchers who have studied
the concept of "relevance," which they have defined as "student perception
of whether the course instruction/content satisfies personal needs,
personal goals, and/or career goals."
speech is one instruction activity that helps students discover the
relevance of the basic public speaking course. Specifically, the speech
illustrates how the oral communication concepts presented in the basic
course are inherent in all communication situations.
describes and assigns this ungraded activity prior to students' final
graded speeches. Because students need to practice communicating with
an audience and are often anxious about public speaking, this activity
allows them to practice using their public speaking skills without
the pressure of "a grade." The instructor should provide for each
student a written or oral critique that focuses on basic communication
skills such as audience analysis, organization, evidence, and delivery.
These critiques not only acquaint students with the instructor's critiquing
style but also share with students their performance strengths and
weaknesses. Understanding their strengths and weaknesses as public
speakers gives students an advantage when preparing graded assignments.
allow students time to prepare for this speech. The assignment is
described during one class session early in the semester and scheduled
for one to two classes (depending on student enrollment) later on.
Students are asked to:
(1) Review basic
public speaking concepts such as listening, audience analysis, organization,
evidence, and delivery.
(2) Select a
concept or concepts. Think about when, where, how, and how often you
use the concept or concepts in your personal or professional life.
(3) Prepare an
organized two-to-three minute speech that clearly illustrates how
a concept or concepts apply to you in personal and/or professional
(4) There is
no need to conduct formal research for this assignment. Develop your
speech using real or hypothetical examples based on your own personal
experiences or perceptions.
appears to have a positive impact on students during all stages of
for their application speeches, students often comment about personal
or professional contexts where public speaking concepts apply and
how they did not realize the relevance of learning these concepts
before preparing for this assignment.
the speeches, students share cogent examples that describe for their
classmates the utility or value of a variety of basic public speaking
course concepts in numerous personal and professional contexts.
after the speeches are presented. One striking example involves a
student who apologized to his audience for his comment he had made
about the course. He said, "I told you how worthless it was to take
a public speaking course on the first day of class. After all, we
talk all the time and we aren't going to be professional public speakers.
Why learn about it? But all through this assignment I thought about
how public speaking involves learning to speak--in public--with all
listeners. It makes an impression on my family, my friends, my boss,
my classmates, and my professors. Why not take it and take time to
learn, as our professor puts it, 'to orally communicate effectively
in all situations.'"
Donald E. Novak
would be in agreement with this student's "feedback." Going beyond
the basic course and working with upper level undergraduates, Novak
(1992) has developed a speech communication course which involves
student collaboration with community entities, a course about which
he says: "The challenge of this course is to enable students to
understand the real-world workings of applied communication and
how they can use what they have learned in the undergraduate program
to bring about change in their and others' communication choices...it
educates students for life while helping them to see the practical
application of what they have learned."
favor group exercises and collaboration to enhance relevance--they
feel that group activities (especially experiential learning exercises)
which actually produce something closely emulate an actual job,
but in a low risk setting (Mandeville,
1994). The exercise developed by Mandeville involves the manufacture
of a simple product using paper as the base material with the employment
of basic office tools, but the focus is really the discovery of
how to improve group communication skills.
laser (1995) elaborated a final examination for a basic public
speaking course for honors students which featured group discussion
and which also focuses on practical applications. The students had
to agree on a topic which they would be happy to discuss over a
2-hour period, and individual preparation for the group discussion
had to be rigorous and structured so that the discussion could be
free flowing and allow for a valid assessment. For a modification,
Glaser is considering assigning positions to the class to ensure
a variety of perspectives and a more interesting discussion. The
cooperative aspect of the class and the final exam mirror the cooperation
needed in real world situations, especially in an increasingly multicultural
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Bainbridge, and Gary M. Shulman (1995).
"'What' in It for Me?': Increasing Content Relevance to Enhance
Students' Motivation." Communication Education, 44(1), 40-
50. [EJ 497 372]
W., et al. (1985). "
The Basic Speech Course at U.S. Colleges and Universities: IV." Communication Education, 34(4), 281-91. [EJ 326 419]
A Multi-Cultural Final Examination for the Public Speaking Course." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Speech Communication
Association (San Antonio). [CS 509 164]
R., and Nancy Szczupakiewicz (1987).
"The Public Speaking Course: Is It Preparing Students with Work
Related Public Speaking Skills?" Communication Education, 36(2),
131-37. [EJ 352 123]
Mary Y. (1994). "Us
ing Experiential Learning to Teach Group Communication Interaction." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Speech Communication
Association (New Orleans). [ED 376 541]
Mino, Mary (1988).
"Making the Basic Public Speaking Course 'Relevant': Is It Preparing
Students with Work-Related Public Speaking Skills?" The Speech Communication
Teacher, 3(1), 14.
E. (1992). "
Communication Training for the Real World: Linking Community Needs
to the Undergraduate Course." Paper presented at the Annual
Meeting of the Speech Communication Association (Chicago). [ED 354
is an Assistant Professor of Speech Communication at the Pennsylvania
State University, DuBois Campus.
publication was prepared (Digest #110, EDO-CS-96-3, June 1996) with
funding from the U.S. Department of Education under contract number
RR93002011, and published by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading,
English and Communication.
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