Monday April 16, 2018

Writing the Book on Communication

The University of Dayton Department of Communication received national attention in January in The Chronicle of Higher Education for its success in creating an introductory oral communication course based on a department-authored textbook and extensive student feedback.

“We don't know of any course in the country like it,” said Joe Valenzano, associate professor and communication department chair. “When we were developing the course, we knew what we wanted to do and we knew there was no textbook out there that did it.”

In 2013, the University’s Principles of Oral Communication course was honored by the National Communication Association for the custom textbook, Principles of Oral Communication University of Dayton. In 2014, the course won a national award as a program of excellence from the National Communication Association.

“Those achievements alone are real recognition of the work that we’ve done,” Valenzano said. “In my career it was probably one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve ever been able to participate in.”

When designing the course, Valenzano said four skills were crucial: explaining ideas to nonexperts, advocating for a position or persuasion, engaging in dialogue over controversial issues and analyzing the messages others create.

“I found the course was helpful for interviews and for giving presentations,” said Stephen Antonini, a first-year student from Sylvania, Ohio.

Faculty strive to make the class a place where students can explore key issues with people who have different viewpoints.

“People come into this course thinking it’s just a speech course, and they even ask, ‘How many speeches do we have to give?’ That’s really not what this course is,” said Jason Combs, Department of Communication lecturer, the course director. “Part of what you will do in your professional life is give some presentations but beyond that there are so many other communications skills that are essential to being successful as an individual as well as the success of our society.”

The Chronicle article focused on the course's early development and how student feedback played a critical role in the evolution of the course.

“But when the communication department was developing the course it incorporated student feedback, which increased the level of buy-in from both sides of the lectern. That was just one benefit of including students in course design, professors at Dayton and other colleges have discovered. The practice can also help students reflect on their learning and provide professors with fresh ideas for exploring a topic they may have been teaching for years," the article stated.

When the course was first introduced, the department had difficulty finding an appropriate textbook. It received 11 proposals from publishers and tested them in three sections of the class. The department decided it needed its own textbook, but no one in the department had time to write it.

According to Valenzano, the department received permission to use an existing textbook as a foundation, editing that book to the communication department's preferences. They now update it yearly and can adapt the theme of course each semester to keep it uniquely relevant to the University of Dayton and align material with current events or issues.

“In one chapter in the textbook, Christmas on Campus is used as an example. It’s something that’s very relatable to our students,” Combs said.

- Clare Gallagher ‘18

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