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Experiential Learning in the School of Communication Studies

Posted Jan. 20, 2014

 

Students in Rozell Duncan's Organizational Communication Training and Development course.

The coursework and faculty in the School of Communication Studies at Kent State University provide opportunities for students to participate in in-class experiential or service-learning projects to apply the knowledge and skills learned in communication in a practical situation.

Erin Hollenbaugh's Advanced Interpersonal Communication, Kent State Stark

Erin Hollenbaugh's Advanced Interpersonal Communication class at the Stark Campus of Kent State University worked with SarahCare of Belden to partner with older adults and practice their intergenerational communication skills. The course, one of the first non-medically focused courses to work with SarahCare, is a senior level, writing-intensive course.

"Former students at Kent Stark have said that the courses they value the most are the ones where they get to practice the things they're learning in class," such as in experiential learning projects.

The semester-long Advanced Interpersonal Communication course was broken into two stages, which allowed student to both practice their interpersonal communication skills and find inspiration for advanced research. First, the students investigated intergenerational communication through lectures and coursework, and a meeting with Karla Hopkins, the activities coordinator at SarahCare, to better understand the participants and the best ways to communicate with them. The class of nine students then met with an assigned participant for four 30-minute sessions. The students gave a tribute piece to their participant at a reception held in October as a gesture of appreciation.

Then, the real research began. Students translated the conversations and lessons they gained from interacting with the participants at SarahCare into inspiration for continued research as part of a written paper. One student investigated relationship satisfaction with in-laws, while others researched work-life balance issues, communication in blended families and the technology use in romantic relationships in older adults.

Several of Hollenbaugh's students will submit their papers to the Annual Student Conference hosted by Kent State at Stark's Honors Program in April.

"It seems like the students are taking away a greater empathy for older adults. By learning about the stereotypes and their own anxiety about aging, the students gained insight in the value of a person and an individual, regardless of their age or physical abilities."

"This class made me realize that helping our community is a big accomplishment and other people need us to step out and help those in need," Michelle Miller, a student of Hollenbaugh's said.

As a by-product, students were able to build upon the foundational interpersonal communication skills learned in the Interpersonal Communication course, and ultimately increase their exposure to new interpersonal situations. For some, according to Hollenbaugh, the experience helped to reduce their anxiety about communicating with older adults. 

"Dr. Hollenbaugh's departure from traditional lecture by introducing a service learning project with SarahCare was a unique opportunity for our class to watch, not only our communication in action, but our communication growth," said Josi Heinz, a student in the course. "Our post project party with the SarahCare clients versus our initial meet and greet with them was a complete 180. Over the course of a few short weeks we were all different communicators and the energy was palpable."

"I've been really lucky to have the students that I have in the class," Hollenbaugh said. "I told them at the beginning of the semester my reputation and the reputation of Kent State is in your hands when you go out in the community. It couldn't have been nearly as successful if it wasn't for the students in the class. They worked harder than just for a grade."

Hollenbaugh's class was featured in The Suburbanite's story "Communication study connects generations" by Patricia Faulhaber.

 Students in Rozell Duncan's Organizational Communication Training and Development course.

Lisa Waite's Organizational Communication Training and Development

Lisa Waite's Organizational Communication, Training and Development class at Kent State at Stark worked with scitrain, ltd. of Canton, Ohio, a leadership assessment and business solution firm, to create a training module for their employees.

In each rendition of this senior level course Waite partners with a local organization, usually a nonprofit, with the goal of the students creating a communication training seminar that they author and facilitate for the partnering organization. This is the first time Waite has used a for profit company, led by CEO Chad Luxenburg, a graduate of Kent State Stark.

The practical applications of this course set it apart, Waite says. "What distinguishes the course is that it prepares students for careers as corporate trainers but has a focus on what we call the need-centered model of training."

Rather than learning a one-size-fits-all approach, students conduct a needs assessment to determine the strengths and limitations that exist within the organization, Waite says.

"With that focus they build a training model and session. In this capacity they get to apply these classroom skills in a real situation," Waite added.

Waite decided to take the course from a traditional lecture to a service-learning format to show students the reciprocal process of giving to their community.

"My hope is to inspire civil engagement and mutual influence. You don't just take from a community; you have to learn to give back," Waite said.

Waite said the young CEO of scitrain, who shared the idea of reducing 'brain drain' in their community, inspired her students. Brain drain is due to young, educated people leaving the area for better opportunities. In face-to-face visits to the company's offices in Belden Village, students were exposed to a contemporary work environment while they conducted qualitative and quantitative research to learn about the company's needs to guide their objectives and training materials.

Limiting the scope of their communication training was a challenge for the students, as was learning the difference between facilitating and teaching, Waite said. The students delivered their two-hour training session to the top leadership team at scitrain, which took overcoming some initial intimidation or anxiety and adjusting their communication to a professional audience.

"All of us at scitrain, ltd. enjoyed and appreciated very much the opportunity to work with Professor Waite and her talented students," said Kelli Baxter, vice president, client relations at scitrain. "Their professional, consultative approach from the beginning afforded them the opportunity to present a customized, specific-to-scitrain training program."

"They challenged us to think about our communications practices, providing real-time, appropriate suggestions," Baxter added. "The students also presented a sales training module, suggesting that every scitrainer is a salesperson. The students facilitated us through an excellent customer-service exercise and shared many helpful tips."

December 2013 graduate Courtney Kopache, served as the graphics director for the group in Waite's course. Kopache said she appreciated the opportunity to work with scitrain, noting that the people and atmosphere helped the group of students grow into better trainers and leaders and improve their communication and presentation skills.

"It was one of the more practical courses, meaning that I learned something hands-on that I will use in the future," she said.

Justin Speight, also a student in Waite's class, said the experience was "very rewarding due to the formal interaction that I received with scitrain employees. I felt as though the interaction within "Corporate America" was good for many of us students."

"Almost every organization has a training program. I envision myself being more influential in future training programs within the organization that I am currently serving," Speight added.

After the training session was completed, the students met with Waite to reflect, and acknowledge that because they had to work through the problem on their own and were not handed any solutions, they were more competent moving forward. 

"And that's service learning," Waite said.

"You don't go into teaching service learning because it's easy… but the rewards for the student and the community are so tremendous. This course excites me because it in particular allows you to see such concrete results. The takeaways are obvious and immediate. Being part of the process is very, very rewarding," Waite continued.

"I find my success in helping them find theirs."

Students in Rozell Duncan's Organizational Communication Training and Development course.








Rozell Duncan's Organizational Communication Training and Development Course

In Rozell Duncan's Communication, Training and Development course the students are split into five groups, to conduct five separate training programs for nonprofit entities or groups locally.

Barbara Spencer participated as both an undergraduate adult student taking the course taught by Duncan, as well as presenting to a group of student leaders within the Student Success Program Department, where she works.  Spencer, and her group mates, Alex Grimsley, Kellie Roach, Amy Paluf and Erica Torre, researched, created and presented a training session on diversity to a group of 12 EXCEL Living and Learning Community mentors and leaders.

The objective of the training presentation was to provide the EXCEL mentors with tools to facilitate a diverse environment. "At the end of the diversity training, trainees would be able to create, design and facilitate inclusive activities and environments within the EXCEL Living and Learning Community and also be able to list and identify different on-campus groups and resources that are available to the trainees at Kent State," Spencer said.

The group identified their training goals for diversity by conducting a needs assessment with the EXCEL mentors. They also consulted with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to understand and convey Kent State's Equity Inclusion Plan, Spencer added. 

Emily Carle, EXCEL Living and Learning Community Coordinator from the Office of Student Success Programs said she "really appreciated the group researching and presenting in a professional manner for [the EXCEL mentors], while also making it fun. Plus, the information and resources related directly to what is available at Kent State, so it was applicable and relevant for [the EXCEL mentors'] work. The session was interactive and informative and most importantly, it left my mentors with specific action steps toward creating an inclusive environment."

"It was a great experience for the EXCEL mentors to hear from their peers and to know that Kent State is committed to diversity and can be a resource for students and staff," Spencer added.

Deborah Ellwood was part of an additional group of five student trainers in the Communication, Training and Development course taught by Duncan. The group, calling themselves Crown Act Training, worked with a population of 40 nursing students at Kent State Tuscarawas to train them on how to use various aspects of Kent State's FlashLine system.

Crown Act Training conducted a needs analysis on the entire group and 20 joined the one-hour training session. The group found that even though the nursing students were not new students, they still did not know how to do basic tasks on FlashLine like navigating Financial Aid, adding or dropping courses, or properly using the Graduate Planning System (GPS).

Ellwood said that the group addressed the needs of the nursing students with a lecture and used hands-on methods of training. They supplied handouts and an in-person walk-through of steps to complete different tasks on FlashLine. 

"I think this experience and working on this project will impact my decision making process as I tackle new challenges," Ellwood said. "I learned that I can collaborate with a diverse group of people, market my skills and teach new skills to others."

"We were able to provide the students with skills that will enable them to graduate," Ellwood added. "The students left the training with a greater understanding of how to operate the FlashLine system and how to help themselves."

Pamela Echols-Kelley of University Facilities Management was a participant in a training conducted with a third group from Duncan's class. She said the student team was very knowledgeable and provided tools for a healthier work environment.

"I think [Kent State] should include more training like this from the students," Echols-Kelley said. "In the hustle and bustle of the everyday work you forget the things [the students focused on]. You start to forget some of the communications skills… the training wakes you up and reminds you that you're all trying to accomplish the same thing, and reminds you to be mindful and respectful of others."