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Building Communication Skills in a Modern, Connected World

Jen Garner and her classroom.
Jen Garner and her English class at HCC.

Preparing students for today’s workforce focuses on developing foundational skills such as speaking, writing, and interpersonal communication. With communications taking place across devices such as smart phones and tablets, college education must evolve so students will succeed in their careers.

Jen Garner, associate professor and co-chair of English, and Crystal Walker, communication instructor and co-coordinator of the communication studies department, share how their teaching has adapted to a modern, connected world.

Q: Shorter, more informal modes of communication, such as text messages, email, and video messaging are part of day-to-day communications. How do you teach students to use these modes in a way that is appropriate for the workforce?

GARNER: As an English teacher, my mind goes right to helping students with written communication. Students need to be thinking about how to communicate for different audiences and become skilled at it. While text speak is totally appropriate for texting, it shouldn’t be used in an email to a professor and certainly not in an academic paper. Thinking about audience and trying to put yourself in their shoes, learning their expectations, is the most important communication skill a person can have.

WALKER: I think it is important to see text messaging, email, and other forms of mediated communication as an extension to the already existing communication platforms. Personally, when I teach my students various communication skills, I focus on translating those skills to mediated formats because the workforce expects high-level communicators and that means being competent in the ability to adapt to the platform. So I am helping students learn how to adapt their message to email, text, face-to-face, and even video messaging.

Professor Crystal Walker's Interpersonal Communication class.

Professor Crystal Walker's Interpersonal Communication class.

Q: What about reading and research? How do you teach students to discern valid information from agenda-driven news?

WALKER: We teach students to use metrics to gauge the validity of the information that they utilize, such as purpose, the credibility of the platform, the rhetoric utilized in the message, and the ethical use of the information provided. One of the major activities I utilize is giving students real, factual information, and having them work in groups to create a new message using that factual information. This allows students to see how easy it is to skew information and what impact that has on the factual information. I teach them to question it all and to do their own diligence in discerning the truth, but also in how they contribute to the discourse.

GARNER: It is sometimes hard for the most skilled researcher to know the validity of information, and it takes a broad knowledge of the world, popular culture, and potential biases. Our students are just beginning to glean this knowledge so it is easy for them to be tricked sometimes. Building their critical thinking skills is something we work on every day by always asking hard questions of them and challenging them to ask hard questions about the texts they are reading.

Q: How do you make the conversations in the classroom relevant to students, and help them understand the value of what they are learning?

GARNER: Professors are having students debate, both in person and through their writing, topics that are in the news currently and things that affect our own community. We also try to get students working for real audiences whenever we can, such as creating presentations to be shared with the college community, writing letters to the editors, or creating pamphlets to be used by nonprofit organizations.

WALKER: What’s most innovative in the classroom is our ability to have real-time access to various communications transactions. Students can see in real time the impact of social media, the misuse of language, the ethics of communication being used by their peers, celebrities, brands, and politicians. These are the real conversation starters. We are able to have candid conversations, examine our own communication skills, and work on making changes.

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