The College of Arts and Sciences has altered its curriculum for the 2014-2015 school year to make public speaking a required course.
P155: Public Oral Communication is a new course with a pilot class running this semester.
The three-credit-hour course consists of a lecture delivered once a week, which most students watch virtually, and themed discussion sections held twice a week. P155 will replace the current elective class, C121: Public Speaking.
John Lucaites, associate dean for arts and humanities and undergraduate education, said the course was created as a result of the state’s decision to make “speaking and listening” a primary competency students should establish as part of the Statewide General Education Transfer Library and Curriculum.
By state mandate, students who enter the COAS in fall 2013 and after must complete a public speaking class in order to graduate.
“All the students are going to benefit from being able to improve their oral communication skills,” P155 course director professor Robert Terrill of the Communication and Culture department said.
The class will be taught in an innovative format in which most students will listen to the lecture virtually on their own time, and then attend two 50-minute discussion sections tailored to specific subjects.
Currently, the sections carry themes like linguistics, philosophy, geography and folklore and ethnomusicology. AIs from those specific fields will teach the different sections, but students will also have the option to choose a section not tailored to a particular subject.
Cynthia Smith, course coordinator, said she feels the small sections create a supportive, fun atmosphere.
“I think it’s an incredibly helpful class to have early in your college career,” Smith said.
The pilot course has been running for the past year. In the fall semester it was still taught as C121, but this semester it is being taught as P155 with roughly 600 students, 560 of which watch the lecture virtually, Terrill said.
“That’s the great thing,” Terrill said. “I don’t really know what those public issues are, but presumably an AI in history or geography or linguistics would have a sense of what those issues would be that students would be able to give speeches on.”
The course uses a new technology called Eagle Eye, originally used by the college for press conferences.
“There are many advantages to this, not least that students can watch the lectures at their leisure and they will have the materials for the lecture with them at all times,” Lucaites said.
Terrill said Eagle Eye creates a better viewing experience for the vast majority of students who will be watching the lecture online. It is voice activated, zooming in on the speaker and widening its view when no one is speaking.
“The effect of watching it is very much as though there was a guy in a booth in the back with multiple cameras set up just choosing different camera angles, but it’s all run by machines,” Terrill said.
The lecture was originally taught just as described — with a cameraman streaming the video during Terrill’s lecture — but he found it wasn’t engaging students.
“It’s one thing to lecture to 200 people, but that doesn’t work out very well when it’s just one student alone in their dorm room watching the video,” Terrill said. “It’s not really the right kind of presentation.”
The switch to “Eagle Eye” has made the class better this semester, Terrill said, and he projects it will only improve next year.
“The class, the way it’s designed, does so much more for the student than a regular public speaking class the way it’s taught at other universities,” Terrill said.
P155 will be available for registration in March.
“The fact that this course specifically focuses on civic engagement sets it up explicitly into a rhetorical tradition of training students to become engaged democratic citizens,” Terrill said. “It extends back over 2000 years. The course really participates in an important tradition of civic education that I find very valuable.”
Follow reporter Kathrine Schulze on Twitter @KathrineSchulze.