Oral Communication Skills Necessary for Successful Teaching: The Students' Perspective

Article excerpt

In a recent article in this journal Willmington (1992) contrasts the perceived importance of communication skills considered to be necessary for teachers in the opinion of school administrators. Few would argue with Willmington's claim that oral communication skills are necessary for effective teaching. However, Willmington's study may be asking the wrong population. Additional stakeholders include the community, organizations that are most likely to hire graduates, and the students themselves. As tuition rise, students have increased their demand for accountable faculty. Since students are the clients, their opinions are critical in the analysis of oral communications.

The literature on students' evaluations of teaching effectiveness consists of thousands of studies. In a summary of this research, March and Bailey (1993) conclude that student evaluations are reliable and stable. Evaluations are relatively unaffected by a variety of variables hypothesized as potential biases to the ratings. They argue that student evaluations are useful by faculty seeking input about their teaching, by students for use in course selection, and by administrators for use in personnel decisions.

This article's contribution lies in extending our knowledge of oral communication skills by asking undergraduate students to rank the oral communication skills identified by Willmington. This information was gathered in order to answer the following four research questions.

1. What specific oral communication skills do students consider the most necessary for success in college teaching? 2. Can these skills be placed into any specific category, such as emotional, listening, language, message, physical, style or vocal factors?

3. Do administrators and students have different opinions regarding the necessity of specific oral communication behaviors?

4. Do males and females have different opinions regarding the necessity of specific oral communication behaviors?

The last question responds to the continued interest in gender-related differences in the learning and performance. Goodwin and Stevens (1993) provide a listing of studies concerning university students' opinions about the components of good teaching, while Birenbaum and Kraemer (1993) provide a listing of studies investigating the importance of student perceptions on learning. Additions to this literature during 1993 include Toh's (1993) finding that female science students are better at performing tasks, while males are do a better job deciphering results and conveying them. Females experience greater anxiety and less selfmotivation in computer courses according to Okebuklola (1993). Birenbaum and Kraemer (1993) concluded that ethnic differences play a greater role than gender differences in the success of students in mathematics and language classes, but that the combined effect can influence the success of certain populations. Schroeder and Mynatt (1993) found that a majority of female graduate students with female major professors chose the professor because of the "supportiveness/nuturance" provided to them. Meanwhile, Goodwin and Stevens' (1993) report on faculty members' perceptions of "good" teaching concludes that females professors place greater value on enhancing students' self-esteem and encouraging student interaction and participation in the class.


For consistency, a questionnaire was designed that questioned the importance of the same 37 behaviors found in Willmington's prior study. These aspects of oral communication were originally chosen because they: "appeared to be desirable by virtue of the frequency with which they are treated in the literature and in basic oral communication courses." (Willmington, p.5) In order to discuss the results in more global terms, the thirty-seven behaviors were grouped into seven general categories of oral communication. The types of behavior and letter used to identify each one is given below:

Most of the behaviors could be categorized on the basis of Willmington's discussion. …