Audiences are egocentric, according to Stephen Lucas, author of The Art of Public Speaking used in the Comm 111 classes here at WSU. When people listen to speeches, they want to know what’s in it for them. Our students are our audiences, so it should be no surprise if they enroll in our courses asking themselves, “What’s in it for me?” I was thinking that very thing when I enrolled in the Quality Matters online workshops. While I learned valuable information, I was disappointed in part of the online experience.
Three things made the online experience worthwhile for me.
First, I liked the idea of stating explicitly what students should be able to accomplish for each assignment and making those assignments fit together to complete the course objectives. I used the idea of explicit objectives for the first project in the Comm 328 Small Group/Teamwork/Leadership class this semester. “Design a classroom poster for the Shocker Speakout,” “locate the names of area high school debate and forensics coaches,” “prepare a presentation to guest listeners,” and “analyze your group’s ability to complete this project.” Instead of hiding the objectives in a paragraph of text on an assignment sheet, I placed them in a separate objective area so they would be easily accessible with a quick glance.
Second, I learned to evaluate organization. By dissecting samples of online courses, I saw how students could easily navigate courses or how they would have problems accessing information. An online course requires careful planning and placement of information so students do not miss something important. That organization idea can transfer to classroom courses, too. Sometimes, one vital piece of information could be buried in the wrong place in a syllabus or could be missing from an assignment sheet. The lesson for me is to take time to double check everything is where it should be.
Finally, I was reminded to evaluate everyone’s work kindly. Instead of immediately telling a student everything wrong in his/her assignment, I need to remember a real person with feelings is reading my remarks. Too much criticism comes across too negatively, so I should always find something positive to say. An education article once suggested writing, “Your grade would have been even higher if you had included some information about ______,” rather than saying, “You had some good ideas, but here is what is wrong.”
What disappointed me in the online workshops was the lack of a sense of community I felt with the other participants. According to Webster, communicate means “to impart, participate.” Communication “is the process by which information is exchanged.” Community is “a unified body of individuals,” in other words “people with common interests” who have a sense of “joint ownership or participation.”
Each workshop only lasted two weeks, so I found it difficult to build a sense of community in that brief time. One workshop had a number of people from the same institution, so they had a connection before the course even started. However, most of us had no common field of interest or geographic location. Even though we communicated/participated through forums to introduce ourselves and to comment on each other’s comments, a time lag existed. Some people did not have questions answered in a timely fashion, and others were stressed about the incomplete answers they received to frantic questions. Four people didn’t finish the second course. I want to make sure my students do more than just participate and exchange information. I want them to feel as if they have a sense of community/ joint ownership so they have an answer to the question, “What’s in it for me?”