Academic journal article College Student Journal

Examining a Transformative Approach to Communication Education: A Teacher-Research Study

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Examining a Transformative Approach to Communication Education: A Teacher-Research Study

Article excerpt

A critical task for communication educators is preparing students with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes for active and responsible participation within a rapidly changing global community. Given the complex nature of the challenges citizens will tackle in this century, there is a pressing need for educational approaches that will cultivate more dynamic and systemic understandings of cross-cultural messages, social experiences, and civic participation. This teacher-research study reports the findings of a semester-long project in which conflictual content and group dialogue were utilized to promote critical reflection and transformative learning among college students in a small group communication class. A qualitative methodology and interpretive framework were used to collect and analyze the data. The analysis of data indicated three general findings: an enhanced sense of ambiguity and complexity, instances of adult learning and transformative development and influences on the classroom environment. Educational possibilities for transformative learning experiences are examined, and implications are discussed for theory and practice in communication education.

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A critical task for educators is preparing students with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes for active and responsible participation within a rapidly changing, sociocultural milieu. In light of our growing global interdependence, citizens in the twenty-first century should be equipped to deal with a wide variety of personal, political, and multicultural commitments as well as understand the ways in which they are interconnected. Given the diverse nature of the challenges citizens will tackle in this century, there is a pressing need for educational approaches that will cultivate more complex and dynamic understandings of cross-cultural messages, social experiences and civic participation. From this perspective, the need for more creative and systemic communicative practices in contemporary society cannot be undervalued.

Communication educators have long been committed to preparing student-citizens for full and meaningful participation in democratic affairs (Dues & Brown, 2004; Ewbank & Auer, 1951; Morreale & Backlund, 2002; Morreale & Pearson, 2008; Sprague, 1990, 2002). In no subject area has this discourse been more thoroughly rooted than in the area of small group communication. Although profound philosophical differences exist over the implications of this discourse, there is common agreement among communication scholars that group discussion, shared decision-making, and collaborative learning are important features of democratic living (Barge, 2002; Bormann, 1975; Brookfield & Preskill, 2005; Ewbank & Auer, 1951; Gouran, 1999; McBurney & Hance, 1939). In addition to teaching the importance of problem-solving and collaborative behaviors, the literature also suggests that group experiences can foster substantive adult learning and transformative development when participants' assumptions, perspectives, and meaning structures are challenged through critical reflection and dialogical communication (Barge, 2002; Bohm, 1996; Freire, 1970; Gergen, 1999; Houser, 1995, 1996; Isaacs, 1999; Mezirow, 1991, 1994, 1997; Meyers, 2008).

In the same way that groups offer students relatively "natural" means of interacting with a wider cross-section of others, they are similarly conductive to supporting richer, more complicated contexts for critical self-reflection and transformative learning experiences. Toward this end, this paper reports the findings of a semester-long teacher research study in which conflictual content and group dialogue were utilized to foster more complex and transformative understandings of social issues and problems. (1) First, I discuss the theoretical rationale used to frame and guide the study. Second, I provide a brief description of the pedagogical approach utilized in my small group communication course. …

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