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Undergraduate Communication Outcomes Initiative

Overview of Components of Communication Intensive Courses

The University of Waterloo Strategic Plan notes that “Communication skills are important work-ready skills and will help our students be successful in their chosen fields.” The ability to speak and write clearly and effectively are specifically noted in the strategic plan as progress indicators for strong academic programming. In relation to ensuring attention to the Undergraduate Communication Outcomes in first year courses, Faculties will adopt a variety of approaches to ensuring that students have strong communication competencies. In this context, it is useful for those designing and delivering courses to be attentive to relevant research and best practices.

When designing communication-intensive courses, a few considerations will ideally be kept in mind:

  • Communication-intensive courses on the whole place writing and communication activities in the foreground of course tasks and assignments. At the same time, attention to disciplinary content can play a substantive role in the course.
  • It is perhaps most realistic and desirable to see disciplinary content and communication outcomes in these courses as overlapping and related, rather than discrete. Further, disciplinary content and communication tasks will exist on a continuum.
  • In designing and delivering courses that support communication outcomes, close attention to desired outcomes will in general lead to clarity regarding which components of communication specific courses might address. 
  • Writing-intensive courses generally focus on the creation, structure, and revision of writing, and are aimed at helping students to understand how to write for a variety of audiences, contexts, and situations.
  • Communication-intensive courses generally focus on the audience, purpose, and context of communication. Students in communication-intensive courses apply communication ideas in interpersonal, organizational, and public situations. These courses generally examine oral, written, visual, and/or technological forms of communication.

Central components of communication-intensive courses include the following:

  • Instructor and course design integrate communication throughout the course. In regard to writing, assignments address formal and informal writing capacities, conventions of academic forms of writing (particularly in lower division courses), and characteristics of advanced and professional forms of writing (upper division courses). In regard to spoken communication, students engage in structured and semi-structured communication interactions through assignments and in-class work. These interactions might include dyads, groups of three to four, and the entire class. Assignments will ideally expect students to reflect and improve on communication abilities in multiple settings.
  • Syllabus and instructor clearly describe communication assignments and goals. There is consistent, direct, and transparent attention to overall communication goals, and thorough and explicit description of each communication assignment, including objectives and criteria.
  • Courses ensure completion of iterative assignments with multiple opportunities for feedback. Students produce multiple drafts and various components of assignments; instructors offer feedback throughout the term. Ideally, the course includes instruction related to peer review and feedback.
  • Instructors and other individuals provide communication instruction in-class throughout the term. In regarding to writing-intensive courses, at least once per week, instructors present and encourage discussion about writing, including, for example, explanations of assignments; writing problems/challenges; description of strong content, style, or form; mini-“writing workshops” (how to complete an outline, do basic research, organize a report, etc.). In regard to communication-intensive courses, at least once per week, instructors present and encourage discussion about communication, including, for example, explanations of assignments; communication problems/challenges; and the significance of audience, context, and power in all communication interactions.
  • Communication competencies are substantive components of student assessment. A minimum of 50% of the course mark is based on communication assignments and exercises. Disciplinary content is framed by assignments that address concrete communication competencies as related to the course and discipline. Multiple forms of communication should figure strongly in course assessment. Students have opportunity to receive feedback on assignments before submission.
  • Communication intensive classes will ideally have a maximum of 25 students per instructor. Students will most significantly improve their writing and communication abilities in courses of 25 or fewer students, which allow for high levels of interaction and attention to each student’s particular strengths and challenges. Class sizes of 25 or fewer students provide the ideal environment for significant communication interactions during in-class time, as well as specific attention to the strengths and areas for improvement of individual students.
  • Probationary-term and tenured faculty members will ideally design and oversee communication-intensive courses; definite term and continuing term lecturers may also have substantive involvement in designing and overseeing communication-intensive courses.
  • Communication-intensive courses prepare students for speaking and writing in a global society. Faculty recognize the value of the linguistic and cultural diversity of their students and design learning objectives, course materials and assignments that both reflect and honour that diversity. Ideally, students are given opportunities to write for diverse audiences within and beyond the university.