Listening to Student Voices: A Case Study on the Basic Communication Course

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Cohen, Steven D
Wolvin, Andrew D
This exploratory case study examines undergraduate student perceptions of the basic communication course. Given that past studies of U.S. basic communication courses rely largely on data from faculty members and administrators, we know relatively little about how students perceive their course-related experiences. The present study helps address this gap in the literature by exploring what students perceive to be the strengths of the course, the shortcomings of the course, and the changes that ought to be made to the course. Through an analysis of student perspectives, this study adds a critical "voice" to the conversation about the state of the basic communication course. This study focuses on the summer 2012 sections of "Oral Communication: Principles and Practices," the basic communication course at the University of Maryland. As part of the study, I conducted 21 semi-structured interviews with students in three different sections. I then used the constant comparison approach within grounded theory to analyze how students made meaning of their course-related experiences. The data analysis process led to the emergence of several important themes. The data revealed five key strengths of the course: small class size; guided practice opportunities; real-world applicability; opportunities for self-reflection; and a focus on the public speaking process. Additionally, the data revealed five key shortcomings of the course: unclear link among course components; lack of differentiated section offerings; insufficient focus on public speaking; unclear assignment expectations; and the design of the interview unit. Finally, the data revealed five key changes that ought to be made to the course: allocate class time to most important topics; offer additional speaking opportunities; integrate technology into course components; enhance opportunities for presentation feedback; and expand the focus on group dynamics. This study makes numerous scholarly and practical contributions. On a macro level, it suggests that interviewing may help administrators form a more complete understanding of students' course-related experiences. Moreover, the study discusses the potential of two alternate course formats: the blended approach and the modular approach. On a micro level, this study captures a variety of student perspectives on how best to handle specific elements of the course.