All posts by Julia Goldstein

COM 1010 Web-enhanced Assignments Update

Debra, Carol, and I are in the process of developing our respective web-enhanced activities designed to target a (broad) challenge that we’re all facing in teaching COM 1010: how to guide students through thorough and effective processes of researching and developing appropriate organizing patterns for their speech assignments.  We all agreed that critical thinking skills were integral to meaningful engagement with these processes as well.

Here’s an update from each of us, describing where we are in the process of developing our activity:

From Carol:

This blog will focus on how to engage speech students in understanding and using presentation aids, one course goal for Communication Studies 1010, for undergraduate students at Baruch.

Many of our NYC students work full or part-time, and approach their studies from various multicultural and multiethnic world views. This means more than ever that higher ed must incorporate ways to enhance scholarship and build collegiality in and beyond the classroom.

Higher Education can accommodate those differing world views and new realities by utilizing the surge of new technologies to aid creative and engaged sharing of ideas and expanding the traditional f2f classroom to web based or hybrid.

Researching for support materials for speeches, in particular, selecting an aid that emphasizes an idea or point is a struggle for many students because it includes acquisition of and applying critical and ethical thinking skills and new ways to study.

I’ll provide a rational, describe some of the literature, types of aids and technology, necessary ethical and critical thinking skills; a web based activity that can migrate to hybridization; discuss considerations /implications/risks including issues for inexperienced students, and concerned teachers, and offer solutions in technology, checklists, and grading and scheduling; and summaries of links of helpful current news.


From Debra:

Like Zohra with the 3-D printer, I’ve absorbed a lot from recent exposure to Makey Makey technology ( and have been wanting to incorporate it into the COM 1010 classroom. This assignment is very much a work-in-progress right now and I have a number of questions scattered throughout.

For my assignment, students will utilize Makey Makey and VOCAT to develop and organize a process speech with the goal that audience members will be able to perform the process themselves. The assignment will focus specifically on organizing a message, outlining a speech, and supporting main points with visual aids.

Prior to the assignment: students do reading on “Speaking to Inform” and get an introduction to Makey Makey.

Workshop: Groups (of 2-4?) will devise a unique way to use Makey Makey to operate a program (game, sounds, keyboard, typing etc.) on a computer. They will be given flip cameras to document their process with video and pictures (can this happen?). I envision this as one class period, possibly two (at BLSCI or computer lab?).

Outside of class: The groups will post a video of their process to VOCAT and will annotate the video, using it to identify the main points and sub-points of the process that they would incorporate into a speech outline. From that video and its annotations, groups will create a preparation outline for their speech, attempting to describe the process in 3-4 main points, with appropriate sub-points and details supporting each main point. Groups will also be tasked to provide at least two pieces of visual support, such as clips from the video (questions: can this actually work? How difficult is the process of pulling out sections of the video? Could they use VOCAT to quickly find the places they want to play?), pictures of their experiments, screenshots, etc. for each main point in their speech. Groups will post their outlines (where? to class blog, on later version of VOCAT?) and get feedback from the instructor.

In-class: As a team, students will present a 3-4 minute speech with the goal of giving the audience the ability to perform their action with the Makey Makey by the end of the speech.

Groups will write a short reflection after their speech and post it to the blog/their VOCAT page.

I envision this as a warm-up to a longer, individual Informative Speech that would incorporate research. This assignment practices organizing information and finding support for main points in a contained way, so I’m interested in how it could prepare students for organizing information in a longer speech where they have to gather research.


From Julia:

The need:
In thinking about the research and organization components of COM 1010, I am particularly concerned these days with finding ways of reconciling COM 1010’s “contentless” nature with my conviction that it is impossible to develop meaningful oral communication skills without engaging in a meaningful thought process. In other words, you can’t speak well if you don’t have anything meaningful to say, and clear speech is integrally connected to clear thinking.

I’ve continued to struggle with the course’s informative speaking assignment. Whereas in the personal speech at the beginning of the semester, and the persuasive speech at the end, in which I find that students are motivated to thoroughly explore their topics, in preparing for the informative speech, I find that students frequently get stuck at a superficial level of developing knowledge and ideas. Partially this is because it’s hard to know what to say when the assignment isn’t about making an argument.

I want to develop an assignment that uses web-enhanced techniques to scaffold student processes of engaging with their informative speech topics, developing meaningful knowledge, and thinking critically about the optimal way to organize this content into an informative speech.

The context:
This activity will guide student preparations for drafting their informative speech outline. My informative speech assignment, a group speech, requires students to visit a museum exhibit of their choice and to combine the content of the exhibit with several additional sources to prepare an informative speech that teaches their audience about the content, themes, examples, etc. of the exhibit. While some groups are very successful, others choose simplistic exhibits and/or gather perfunctory information and fail to develop the level of knowledge (and interest) necessary for a successful informative presentation.

The activity:
Students within each group will use an online tool to visually represent the information they have gathered about their topic (from the exhibit and elsewhere), and to share and collectively develop understanding of the topic. They will use this web tool for posting images, sharing observations, asking questions, making connections, identifying themes, and ultimately exploring organizing patterns for turning their shared knowledge into an effective group presentation.

The tool:
My first thought was to use Instagram, but since I have never used Instagram myself, I’m not completely clear on how flexible it is and whether or not it can really do what I want it to do. If not, I’ll need to find an alternative. I started exploring Instagram last night, but it doesn’t seem all that intuitive. This is where I need help. What web tools would allow a group of three people to essentially create an online storyboard for posting images, making notes and comments associated with the images, as well as posting memos not directly connected to a particular image?

The logistics:
I still need to work out detailed requirements. I’d like to avoid micromanaging the assignment, but without guidelines, students won’t have a sense of how thorough I expect their work to be. I’m thinking of requiring something like this:

Each student is responsible for:
• Posting 5 images, with labels contextualizing the image and providing some explanation
• Posting at least three observations about images posted by other members
• Posting at least three questions (factual or more analytical) about images and content associated with them
• Responding to at least three questions or comments from other group members
• Identifying and posting two major themes of the exhibit, writing a few sentences explaining the theme
• Suggesting one possible organizing pattern for structuring the speech (in terms of what each body paragraph will be about, and the order)

Of course I need to fine-tune these directions, figure out a time frame, and decide whether or not this activity will take the place of a f2f class session. To be continued…


Over the next day, the three of us will be responding to each others’ projects and discussing the implications of each.  Tomorrow we will post more developed descriptions of the activities we are designing, accompanied by analyses of their implications for students and instructors.  We welcome your thoughts!




Public Speaking Class Online?

To many people I speak to, this sounds like an utter absurdity.  But the conversations we’ve been having this week have helped me think more broadly about the opportunities a hybrid course can offer.

The main opportunity that I see in teaching a hybrid version of COM 1010, Intro to Speech Communication, is that students could spend more course-related time out in the world, observing and taking part in public speaking situations outside of the classroom. I often feel that while the classroom is a safe space for getting comfortable with public speaking skills, the assignments we do in class always have an inherently contrived element. I don’t necessarily think this is bad, because I think school should be a place to develop skills and test out ideas in an environment that provides structure and safety. But we also want to maximize connections between theoretical concepts/guidelines and experiences in the messy world outside of the classroom. A hybrid COM 1010 course could involve students exploring “real life” public communication situations on their own, developing their thinking about these experiences in low-stakes writing assignments shared online, and gathering in class to digest these experiences and maximize class time for practicing the relevant skills.

Secondly, a hybrid COM 1010 course could free students from the necessity of watching all of their classmates’ presentations. In a class where twenty-four students each give three or four substantial speeches in a semester, a huge amount of time is spent watching presentations. While some of this is instructive (and you can learn a lot even from watching poor presentations), I’m interested in reducing the amount of required “audience” time.

I do see several potential risks associated with teaching COM 1010 as a hybrid course. Less class time means fewer opportunities for various kinds of face-to-face oral communication, including individual presentation, and dyadic, small group, and large group discussion. For a course specifically designed to improve students’ oral communication skills in front of audiences, limiting the amount of time available to practice this seems like exactly the wrong direction to pursue. Spoken conversation can be facilitated through various web media, but I don’t know a way to use web media to practice speaking to a large audience in a simultaneous, real-time way.

Lastly, public speaking class elicits a lot of anxiety in many students. I think that a hybrid course would risk limiting the capacity to develop feelings of comfort and authentic connection between students and teachers, and among students. The development of a community of comfort and trust in a COM 1010 class is critical to the success of many students.

Pushing Back to Push Forward: the Unlimited Shapes of Learning

I’m interested in the ways that both articles addressed trends of suspicion toward, or pushback against, use of web-based information technology in education. Jim Groom and Brian Lamb talk about this in a broader sense when they refer to “backlash against innovation.” This fear that technological innovation goes hand-in-hand with (or perhaps actually functions in the service of) of an overhaul of “school as we know it” resonates with me. I’ll admit that I have an old-fashioned affection for my idea of what school is “supposed to be” (my quotation marks), and this involves a great deal of rigorous, engaged, face-to-face group discussion. Thinking about backlash against new uses of technology in education as a form of backlash against innovation itself helps me see the ways in which I—along with many others, I suspect—normalize the kind of classroom that I grew up with as simply the way the classroom is, as synonymous with school itself, rather than as one of infinite possible models.


Randal Bass criticizes the way that integration of new technologies in business and education alike is so often packaged in rhetoric of technology “solutions.” This observation helps me understand why I sometimes feel a little reluctant to incorporate certain new technologies into my work. An orientation that frames new technologies as prepackaged solutions has a corporate and formulaic feel, and does not encourage flexible and creative thinking about how best to get students involved in learning. My father’s complaint about being required by the medical school where he teaches to use PowerPoint slides comes to mind, as do the frequent encouragements I hear, during Ed Tech conversations, to use a class blog. I’m not dissing the class blog (and I use them! I do!), but I think that more important than having the blog is asking questions about why and how you want to use the blog. I also think that we need to continue being innovative in non-technological aspects of teaching. What potentiality of people in a room together, of pen and paper, of reading, speaking, and listening, in any form, is yet to be harnessed?

Of course, new technological developments and their applications in education are only as good as what we choose to do with them and how strategic we are in discovering the particular potentialities of each technology in relation to our ideas about what meaningful learning consists of (and I found Bass to be particularly compelling in his arguments about the capability of internet technologies to facilitate distributive learning and to maximize relationships between students and material of study). Both articles urge us to resist paradigms and systems that limit our visions of what is desirable and possible, both in regards to the democratic capabilities of the internet, and the unlimited shapes that rich formal learning experiences can take.