The Center for Global Communication and the Communication Training Center will be tasked with creating a global communication culture with students and faculty.
The world has never been closer to the fingertips of those living and working in it. Almost instantaneously, people can access information from the far reaches of the globe or communicate face to face, thanks to tremendous advancements in technology.
However, being able to communicate on a global scale does not always equate with possessing the knowledge or skills for effective communication. Today, global communication is at the heart of solving contemporary, multifaceted issues such as cyber security, environmental degradation, gender equality, social conflicts and energy concerns that exist in communities around the world.
It is that realization for the need for enhanced global communication that is the driving force behind the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) implemented by Texas Tech University in 2015 as part of its Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) reaccreditation process. “Bear Our Banners Far and Wide: Communicating in a Global Society” will enhance communication skills and global awareness of Texas Tech undergraduate students with the aim of giving them an edge in the global workforce upon graduation.
“We have a comprehensive vision for investing in the improvement of communication on campus,” Vice Provost Genevieve Durham DeCesaro said. “We've been looking at improving and assessing communication and our students' learning in terms of communication in ways that place us at the forefront of other universities in the state. I think we are really investing in communication in some very unique ways.”
As part of the QEP's vision, Texas Tech has established two new training centers focused on communication that will not only help undergraduate students become better global communicators but will give faculty and graduate students the tools and skills necessary to develop better communicators.
The Center for Global Communication (CGC) will work closely with the Office of Planning and Assessment and experts on campus to develop and implement tools that will provide the best means to measure QEP student learning outcomes (SLOs). The Communication Training Center (CTC), meanwhile, will train faculty and graduate students in all disciplines with the tools and skills necessary to improve both oral and visual communication skills for engaging undergraduate students, the general public and even the media and civic groups.
“There was a sense from the various committees that assisted in the development of the QEP that students didn't really think of themselves as part of a global society,” said Gary Smith, QEP Topic Development Committee Chairman. “They identified with their hometown and didn't really think about being from Texas or being a Texan. We want them to feel like they are part of a global society, that interactions are important and what they do here in their field of study or profession can affect someone on the other side of the world, and vice versa.”
It wasn't just enough for Texas Tech to develop the Quality Enhancement Plan with a focus on communicating in a global society. The SACSCOC's on-site reaffirmation committee required Texas Tech to demonstrate students were learning and could apply what they learned, hence the SLOs.
Texas Tech created three SLOs with a viable plan to assess their achievement within the QEP:
- Students will demonstrate competent communication skills.
- Students will competently analyze their development of communication skills and global awareness.
- Students will articulate global awareness and openness to differences in culture and context among diverse human groups.
“The idea is we want to be encouraging our students to document their work here,” Durham DeCesaro said, “and not just in their academic major or co-curricular activities but to really, comprehensively, pay attention to what they are doing while a student at Texas Tech in all areas so by the time they leave they have a collection of information that can really provide a lot of insight into what their learning progress was over the four years they were here.”
That is where the Center for Global Communication (CGC) comes into play, acting as the overarching center directing the QEP's communication initiative. Led by Paul Paré, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, the CGC will implement programs to engage undergraduate students in the sensitivity of cultural issues in order to enable them to interact on a global level and give students the tools that are necessary to effectively communicate with others around the globe.
How, exactly, the CGC will measure student success in global communication related to their SLOs is still in the initial stages with several ideas being considered. Incoming freshmen and fall 2016 seniors will be tested to get a baseline understanding of their perception of their place in the world in terms of global communication. Then, students will be tested each year to measure their progress.
One possible idea Paré discussed in terms of developing interest in the CGC is to create a certification program for students to complete that would enhance their undergraduate degree and make them more attractive to potential employers.
Students would be able to choose certain courses to take, certain co-curricular activities or lectures they could attend that would be a part of earning this certificate. They would have the opportunity to communicate the results of these activities. After meeting a yet undetermined number of course requirements and co-curricular activities, they could earn this certificate and become known as Global Scholars.
“It will put students a cut above those at other schools, Paré said. “You have your degree and as a Texas Tech graduate you also have the distinction of having training in communication as you enter into your area of specialization. Millennial students identify with these types of badging programs.”
Training the instructors
In order for a student to communicate on a global scale, they have to learn how to do so, and that starts in the classroom. Every semester in every classroom on every college campus, there are at least a few students with glassy-eyed looks as an instructor or professor attempts to communicate the day's lecture.
In the majority of cases, the struggle to understand the material stems from its complexity. In other instances, however, that struggle comes from the instructor's lecturing style or, in some cases, their communication skills, which could always use an upgrade, especially as a new generation of students more attuned to new kinds of media and teaching styles emerges.
To that end, Texas Tech has created the Communication Training Center (CTC) housed in the College of Media & Communication. The aim of the CTC is to provide classroom instructors in all disciplines with the tools and skills necessary to improve both their oral and visual communication skills.
“The CTC is a space that encourages self-reflexivity where faculty members and graduate students who are teaching in the classroom will have the opportunity and encouragement to consider how their communication styles are best supporting their goals toward student learning success,” Durham DeCesaro said. “Much like the University Writing Center that targets undergraduate and graduate students, now we have this CTC that is a centrally located resource devoted to the improvement of communication skills on campus.”
The direction of the CTC has been put in the hands of Luke LeFebvre, an assistant professor of communication studies, who has extensive experience in communication and directing communication centers at the College of Southern Nevada as well as serving as a basic course director.
LeFebvre, who also has been extensively published on the subject in various communication journals, said being on the ground floor of such an ambitious project and the commitment from the college and the university drew him to the position.
“There are not many times where the department, the college and the institution are on this upward trajectory all together,” LeFebvre said. “That is something I wanted to be a part of.”
The CTC is open to faculty and graduate students in any college within the university, who will then impart their knowledge to not only students in the classroom but also the media, civic leaders, legislators and the public. These lessons will come not only through oral presentations but also using multimedia teaching presentation training.
One aspect of Texas Tech that excited LeFebvre is its recent designation as a Tier One research institution by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. But he said just attaining Tier One status is not enough; there have to be enhanced communication skills so everyone understands the message and lessons being imparted.
“It's about understanding the audience and how you can adapt your message to that audience so they understand the importance of our research and also comprehend what we are saying,” LeFebvre said.
College of Media & Communication Dean David D. Perlmutter said LeFebvre's experience and enthusiasm made him the right fit to direct this new initiative.
“The moment we met Luke we were impressed by his broad and deep knowledge of effective training and workshop best practices, his collaborative nature and his ‘can do' attitude,” Perlmutter said. “His vision for the center matched Texas Tech's aspirations in the Quality Enhancement Plan and beyond.”
As much as the CTC is geared toward helping faculty and staff enhance their communication skills both inside and outside the classroom, a primary focus of the center will be training the next generation of communication directors, who will then establish communication training centers at other universities across the nation.
“I think we can be a flagship for our nation in training the next generation of center directors to impact undergraduate student learning at and beyond Texas Tech University,” LeFebvre said.
Eye toward the future
While communication and the two centers are the focus of the QEP for the next four years, the hope is that this initiative is just the beginning of an on-campus cultural shift to create a focused attention to communication. Durham DeCesaro said the same thing happened in the past when the QEP was focused on ethics.
“My sense is that communication is always going to be an important part of what our employers and our graduate schools are looking for in graduate students,” Durham DeCesaro said. “So if we can really embrace the focus on improving our communication skills on our campus, we certainly can position ourselves very well to prepare our graduates for where they need to go.”
Smith and Paré said the target date to have the two centers up and running full speed will be spring 2017. At that point, Paré said, the first round of student assessments will be in place, as will the core courses and co-curricular activities for Global Scholar certification.
“We won't roll out the program until all the components have been put in place,” Paré said, especially since the Center for Global Communication and the Communication Training Center are such significant endeavors to advance the undergraduate experience for Texas Tech students.”