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.