Academic journal article Business Communication Quarterly

Group Oral Presentations as Support for Writing in Large Classes. (Focus on Teaching)

Academic journal article Business Communication Quarterly

Group Oral Presentations as Support for Writing in Large Classes. (Focus on Teaching)

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTORY BUSINESS COMMUNICATION students might not have been exactly comfortable in the academic writing spaces they frequented, and at times inhabited, in their high school and first-year college writing courses. When invited to write in other than academic contexts, however, they seek shelter in the safety of academic writing and compose their communications for the stock audience, the teacher. Thus, one of the challenges of introductory and sophomore-level college business communication courses lies in coaxing students our of those comfortable academic spaces and showing them the need for differentiating one audience from another and viewing each writing context afresh. The business communication instructor acquires the responsibility of convincing them to see the relevance of re-imagining and re-examining each audience individually as they move from task to task.

The instructor's job becomes even more challenging if the class is large and students have no experience with a writing workshop environment. Most of the issues raised by Geske (1992) about teaching in large lecture classes--difficulty breaking into small discussion groups, an impersonal atmosphere toward classmates and the instructor, and a reluctance to speak up in front of a large group--can also apply to business communication classes with more than 25 to 30 students. On the other hand, in a study of one large and four small business communication classes, Lewis, Woodward, and Bell (1988) hypothesized that "students in a large class, where group-centered teaching techniques are used, will perform as well in writing business letters as students in small classes where 'traditional' (i.e., lecture, lecture-discussion) teaching techniques are used" (p. 66). Their results demonstrate that students in the large sample class achieve an equally satisfactory performance level in writing tasks as the students in sm aller classes.

This article presents findings from a writing-intensive, interdisciplinary course on "living in the environment" which I re-designed to include a writing component that is meaningful to the participating students and manageable for the instructor teaching a group of 75 students. I specifically chose a proposal as the assignment because the genre has a broad appeal beyond the business community, and most students can see the relevance of such a document in public life. Further, this genre offered possibilities for dramatizing main arguments of the document for classroom spectacle and granted numerous opportunities for peer feedback in a large class.

The course's foundation is in the basics of ecology: ecosystems, population, consumption of renewable and nonrenewable resources, and pollution. Its content includes areas as diverse as ecology, anthropology, media and culture, and international development. As part of the All University Curriculum (AUC), the course is taught by a team of three faculty members from various disciplines, and it can be taken by all non-science majors to fulfill the AUC science requirement.

I team-teach this course as a representative of the Rhetoric, Language, and Culture Department although my own teaching and research interests also range from business, technical, and environmental communication to third world development and postcolonial theory. While the course is taught by a team of three instructors and each instructor is officially responsible for only 25 students, under the current format, the instructor taking the turn is responsible for classroom lecture, quizzes, and writing assignments of all 75 students. Coming from a rhetoric department, I automatically received the responsibility for developing the writing component when I first started teaching this course two years ago. Until then, the course had been taught as a science course although some lab assignments were aimed at bringing science closer to students' lives through the testing of campus air, water, and soil. …

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