Tuesday, August 5, 2008 - 4:20 PM

COS 38-9: Double duty courses: Using an ecology course to fulfill a general education requirement for oral communication

Jessica E. Rettig and Geoffrey R. Smith. Denison University

Colleges and universities routinely face the challenge of offering discipline specific coursework that also fulfills the institution’s general education program, as evidenced by trends to incorporate writing and math literacy across the curriculum. To meet this challenge we modified our course in Population and Community Ecology to fulfill our institution’s general education requirement for competency in oral communication. Our modified course emphasizes the oral communication skills and experiences most commonly practiced by ecologists and biologists, namely small group discussions and short podium presentations. To shift our course toward more intentional practice of oral communication, we included formalized explanations of our expectations and we worked with the students to develop evaluation rubrics that considered both content-based goals and communication-based goals. For discussions of primary literature the communication-based goals included using language to promote clarity and understanding, contributing to a positive discussion environment, and listening effectively to peers. During the course we provided multiple opportunities for group discussion of primary literature and we provided frequent written feedback. Podium presentations were modeled on the style found in professional meetings and students received written feedback on both content and communication ability.

We compared student reported comfort levels for small group discussion in the modified course using a pre-and post-course questionnaire and found a significant increase in student comfort with this method of oral communication. This improvement contrasts with the experiences of students in the original version of the course who reported no change in comfort level for small group discussion. In altering our course to fulfill the oral communication general education requirement we found that our ability to evaluate the students using rubrics improved with repetition. We also observed that the level and quality of participation by students in discussions of ecological literature improved as the course progressed through the semester, suggesting that the repetitive nature of the written feedback was beneficial.