University professors across disciplines were reporting an increased gap in undergraduate students' performance when presenting and when engaging in public speaking. While the University already offers undergraduate courses in these areas, the need was significant enough that additional interventions, training, and courses were sought. The Division of Academic Enhancement is concerned with peer-tutoring, UNIV level courses, and financial and educational supports for a wide variety of students on campus. The division was looking to create a program that would help address this communication skills performance concern while also specifically targeting underserved populations on campus, namely first-generation and rural undergraduates. As a result, I was brought in to research, write, and deliver a curriculum to a cohort of students over an academic year to improve their public speaking and presentation skills.
I began the design process by researching for best practices regarding the teaching and development of communication skills in post-secondary students. I gathered some principles that would guide the design of the entire program. Firstly, these skills are developed longitudinally through regular and applied practice, rather than spontaneously improving through instructional interventions alone. Secondly, video recording and review by students is essential to teaching them the metacognitive skills to evaluate their own performance objectively rather than relying on memory and "in the moment" perceptions. Thirdly, students need to see modeling of public speakers from professionals and from their peers. Lastly, feedback given to students must be timely, regular throughout the longitude of the program, and in a consistent format every time it is received. After conducting preliminary research into best practices for this kind of teaching, I began developing the necessary materials to run the program while also developing the instructional interventions. Per the recommendation of the research, I worked with a SME to create a custom rubric to assess students throughout the program. I also created a program handbook that details policies and procedures regarding the learning outcomes, program schedule, workshops, individual consultations, attendance, student expectations, and the final capstone project. I designed and developed the instructional materials including workshop slide decks, student guides for each workshop, and practice assignments. The final capstone project was also designed at this time: a conference-style poster session where the students would present research, they have conducted to rotating groups of audience members.
I am proud that this program is still being offered to students today, even though I no longer work as the coordinator. As a part of my initial designs, I had the students complete assessments and evaluations to determine the efficacy of the initial interventions. I used those results to write program summaries at the end of the year for the division leadership to review as we sought continued funding for the program. The funding was received and students continue to benefit from the support of the fellowship program. If I had the opportunity to work with the program again, I would seek to include more active practice components into the monthly workshops that I ran for the students as the research continues to emphasize the importance of active involvement over long periods of time. While this wasn't the first time I had written and implemented a new curriculum or program for students, it was the first program I created and taught for a higher education audience. I learned just how important conducting initial research can be in guiding a program in successful directions. I wanted to take constructivist approach when designing this program because undergraduate students already spend plenty of time in lecture-based classrooms and a more "hands-on" approach would certainly be more engaging. Using existing literature to justify this design approach beyond mere intuition no doubt contributed to the success of the program and the strength of its reception by students and division leadership. The fact of the matter is that this was a pilot launch with limited funding. We wanted to secure funding for additional years but needed to demonstrate concrete improvements in our students and an evidence-based pedagogical approach. Using a well-designed evaluative instrument, paired with regular assessment of the program and surveys of the students, helped us make an even stronger case for the continued existence of the program.