Developing a Competency-Based Fundamentals of Management Communication Course

By Murranka, Patricia A.; Lynch, David | Business Communication Quarterly, September 1999 | Go to article overview
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Developing a Competency-Based Fundamentals of Management Communication Course


Murranka, Patricia A., Lynch, David, Business Communication Quarterly


For a number of years, communication faculty taught successfully fundamentals of management communication, a required, undergraduate core course in the College of Business at Arizona State University. About six hundred students enrolled each semester and attended two large lectures and one small class each week, completed assigned readings, took three written exams, and presented two speaking assignments. Two tenured faculty planned the instruction and gave the lectures, and 12 teaching assistants provided instruction and feedback to students in small classes. The course structure was traditional in the sense that faculty taught it the way other courses in the College had been taught; that is, they required students to attend all lectures and small classes, complete assigned readings and exercises, and take tests. As it was managerial in approach, course content went beyond writing and speaking and included such topics as listening, conducting meetings, interviewing, and communicating in another culture.

Several events occurred, however, that encouraged the faculty who had been teaching the course to re-evaluate not only the topics taught but also the method of delivery. Feedback from both students and other faculty indicated some overlap in topics taught. For example, an instructor in another core course in the College was giving students instruction in interviewing, and the Communications Department in another college on campus offered an elective speech course with somewhat similar content to that in management communication.

Some College of Business faculty felt, too, that students needed more instruction in written communication, especially how to complete an executive summary. That idea suggested that maybe students needed in-depth instruction in fewer subjects. In addition, students were doing group projects in other classes and disliked doing another team assignment in management communication. Finally, students themselves had changed over the years. Some found it increasingly difficult to sit through many required large lectures and complete lengthy, assigned reading.

During the early part of Spring Semester 1997, the Dean of the College of Business suggested that we consider a competency-based approach for the management communication course. We then took on this task, learning from our department chair that Roy Romer, Governor of Colorado, and Mike Leavitt, Governor of Utah, provided the leadership to establish Western Governors University which consists of an innovative, virtual institution. The university is the result of a collaboration of governors in 13 Western States and selected business organizations; its mission is to provide distance education through the Internet to a wide array of students. Of importance for our program, a distinguishing characteristic of this school is that students' knowledge and skills are certified through competency-testing rather than credits earned (Trombley, 1998). This approach recognizes individual student differences by allowing some to complete courses quickly or others to "comp out" when they demonstrate that they already have the knowledge. Thus, a competency-based course allows students to spend their time studying those topics they most need to learn.

As a result of these events and information, we developed a new competency-based course by completing a series of steps. The purpose of this discussion, therefore, is to describe to a reader who is considering a similar approach the steps we went through to develop our course.

Review of Literature

Our first step was to review the literature to learn as much as possible about competency-based instruction and how it is used to teach upper-division, management communication. While we found no articles that explain how a competency-based course is used to teach management communication at the collegiate level, a number of writers do discuss this approach in relation to other, upper-division, collegiate-level courses.

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