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Oral Communication Assessment at UAS:
A Faculty Guide


Welcome to our new guide designed to assist faculty in assessing their students' speaking competencies. Although departments and some individual faculty may assess communication skill in different ways, the University of Alaska Southeast appears to agree that students learn to speak not only by taking the general education required course in human communication, but also by taking speaking- intensive courses in their disciplines. This belief is also based on the notion that speaking across the curriculum is driven by the assessment of learning outcomes.

Based upon research, there are a number of communication skills that students need to acquire in order to demonstrate competency at the bachelor's degree level and in order to obtain employment after graduation. The National Communication Association suggests that those skills include but not be limited to the following: interviewing (for purpose of collecting information, seeking employment, and/or the giving and receiving of performance appraisals), leading discussions, public speaking, training, mediating conflict, meeting new people, socializing, expressing different opinions, articulating new ideas, problem-solving in groups, and engaging in critical listening and empathetic listening.

In the past, UAS has assessed student competency in these areas by their successful completion (C or better) in one of four human communication GERs: COMM 111, 235, 237, or 241. Students are evaluated by a variety of methods: oral and written testing, oral performances, interviews, class discussions, small group work, public presentations, analytical writing, and peer evaluation. No additional oral communication courses are required of students at this time; however, criteria for identifying speaking- and writing-intensive courses have been approved by the Curriculum Committee and are available for faculty who are interested in designating their content courses as "S" (speaking-intensive) should they desire to do so.

As instructors and advisors, we have an important role to play in helping our students develop their oral communication skills. This guide will acquaint you with speaking assessment and speaking across the curriculum efforts at UAS. This information should be helpful as we prepare and deliver courses this year.

Coming Soon

  • The Humanities Department has designed a new Senior Capstone Course that includes opportunities for students to showcase their oral communications skills.
  • The Social Sciences Department now offers both junior- and senior-level portfolio classes that include requirements for demonstrating competency in oral communication.
  • A dean-appointed committee of faculty representing diverse disciplines has reached consensus on criteria for designating speaking- (and writing-) intensive courses. These guidelines have received approval from the Curriculum Committee, and faculty may apply now for the speaking-intensive (and/or writing) designation for those courses that meet the criteria.
  • The Communications faculty offers a regularly scheduled interdisciplinary ComBlock, combining and blending the English 111 and Human Communication 111 courses.
    • Students brainstorm/discuss ideas for a speaking assignment or present a thesis and outline before the first presentation.
    • Students are allowed to submit an ungraded draft of the outline, written speech, or paper that the speech is based upon, which receives extensive feedback from the instructor. Students may also receive feedback from Learning Center tutors or from peers.
    • Students present their work orally (in any number of forms), and that presentation then receives additional feedback from the instructor and peers.
    • Create a handout for each speaking assignment required in the course. The assignment sheet might include (1) due dates, (2) description of the assignment, (3) specific guidelines for how the presentation or communication activity should be organized and presented, (4) steps the student should follow in carrying out the assignment, (5) grading criteria, and/or (6) a list or resources available for completing the assignment. The longer or more sophisticated the assignment is, the more detailed and specific the assignment sheet should be. See sample in Appendix.
    • Require or recommend that students consult an appropriate handbook or other materials on the type of speaking/communication that is specific to both the assignment and the discipline. For example, one excellent reference is Jo Sprague and Douglas Stuart's, The Speaker' Handbook.
    • Provide students with an example of an excellent presentation or interview. Discuss with them what makes the presentation a good example of speaking in your discipline or successful in terms of fulfilling the assignment.
    • Provide students with an evaluation rubric that shows what criteria you will use when grading their speaking. See samples in the Appendices.
    • Students appreciate having feedback on their speaking strategies in advance of the formal presentation; therefore, consider commenting extensively on ungraded rough drafts of their speech outlines or on mock practice presentations and less on the final graded product.
    • Students learn most about their speaking strengths and weaknesses by viewing their own performances; therefore, consider videotaping their presentations and requiring them to evaluate them.
    • Provide students with the opportunity to comment on each other's speech outlines, as well as final presentations. On the day the draft is due, require students to bring a couple of extra copies of their speech or outline to exchange with fellow students. Provide them with guidelines for offering descriptive and constructive feedback that will help them focus their commentary on each other's work. On the day of the graded presentation, allow five to ten minutes per student presentation for peer comments.
    • When grading presentations, consider marking "Redo" (instead of a grade) for those that do not meet minimum expectations for the assignment. Then mandate that the student redo the presentation with the assistance of a Learning Center tutor who will videotape the presentation for submission to you for a final grade.
    • Define and explain the consequences of plagiarism in your syllabus.
    • Provide an example of a plagiarized statement from a presentation in class and explain how to correct it.
    • Require students to submit an ungraded outline of their presentation with an attached "works cited" page.
    • Provide students with an opportunity to practice a variety of ways of orally citing sources.
    • To identify courses that will fulfill speaking competencies in major or minor emphasis requirements.
    • To assess senior-level competency in communication.
    • To assist with advising.
    • To serve as a screening tool for admission into UAS graduate programs.
    • To demonstrate progress in speaking competencies that can be used for accreditation purposes.
    • To recognize and identify the speaking-intensive content that already exists in current courses.
    • Participation in a class discussion.
    • Participation in a small group discussion/exercise.
    • Participation in interpersonal conversation/exercise. After lecturing, the instructor asks students to discuss with a person seated next to them the key points presented.
    • Impromptu presentations in which students are given a few minutes to collect their thoughts and then answer the question or speak about the topic.
    • Membership/participation in a relevant out-of-class activity or event.
    • Participation in student-teacher conferences for performance appraisal purposes.
    • Providing constructive oral feedback to peers.
    • Role-playing, either individually or in groups, which allows students to explore different roles/perspectives/issues in the guise of a different persona.
    • Quiz show formats, which can be used to review course content.
    • Moderating case studies allowing students to discuss case studies read in preparation for class. A different student for each case prepares a list of questions that highlight the key and controversial points of the case and conducts the discussion.
    • A listening summary of the previous class lecture/activity at the beginning of class, which encourage students to take careful notes.
    • Preparing and delivering an extemporaneous, persuasive, informative, or special occasion speech (ideally 15- 20 minutes duration). Ideally, one of the presentations would be given to an audience of at least 12 persons.
    • Participation in an ongoing group project or team of at least three members. The project should cover a substantial portion of the semester and should be a coordinated effort by the group members, not simply individual projects put together.
    • Presentation of information gathered in a group project (ideally 8-12 minutes in duration).
    • Presentation at a community/academic event (conference, public hearing, etc.) relevant to the course.
    • Participation in a community-service activity that includes oral communication relevant to the course.
    • Taking part in interviews (job search, information-gathering, performance appraisal) and recording them on audio or videotape. Portions of the interviews can be used for papers or played as excerpts for in-class oral presentations.
    • Serving as an elected or appointed leadership of a group or team, over and beyond expected group membership participation.
    • Oral exams that make take a variety of forms. Students could be orally tested in your office or in the classroom similar to an impromptu. Instructor may ask follow-up questions or may involve other students in asking questions.
    • Videotaped presentation when class time does not allow for individual speeches.
    • Video-paper in lieu of a written paper. Students may submit to the instructor a videotaped oral presentation of their research, along with a bibliography of sources they consulted.
    • Convention panels for which a group of students is assigned (or selects) a broad topic relating to the course's content. Each student writes a paper focusing on a specific aspect of that topic and then orally summarize their research in class, as if at a professional convention.
    • Talk show, a variation on a group report, allowing a group of students to present their information as if their classmates were audience members at a talk show with one member of the group functioning as the moderator or questioner, and the other members playing the roles of topic experts. The moderator can involve the audience by encouraging them to ask questions of the panel of experts.
    • Team debate for which students are divided into two groups and asked to debate ethical, legal, or policy issues related to course content.
    • Group-assisted team-debate for which two groups research one side of a topic. Although only a few members of the group may actually debate, all members research the topic and prepare possible arguments. Following opening speeches, the debaters meet with their group to plan their next speeches/rebuttal.

Faculty Support
Assistant Professor Matthew Guschwan, Ph.D serves as the advisor for assessment of human communication.

Other faculty/adjunct available to assist with assessment of oral communication are Adjunct Instructor Beth Weigel, and Adjunct Instructor Jo Dahl.

Learning Center
The Learning Center, located in the Egan Library, provides assistance for those students needing help with the preparation and delivery of public presentations. At the Learning Center, students can expect to receive advice regarding researching, design and selection of appropriate rhetorical strategies, speech outlining, and practice of public speaking. All Learning Center services, instruction, and materials are provided free of cost. Please call 796-6421 for more information. Learning centers are also available on the Ketchikan Campus (907-228-4560) and the Sitka Campus (907-747-7717).

Media Center
The Media Center, located in the Egan Library, provides assistance for those students needing help with the preparation of audio and video aids to complement oral presentations.

Placement Testing and Advising
Currently, all students may enroll in COMM 111: Fundamentals of Oral Communication if they have passed Engl 110 with a "C" or better. To enroll in one of our 200-level speech communication general education courses, students must have passed English 111 with a "C" or better. If faculty are aware of a student who might possess severe communication apprehension (commonly known as "stage fright"), a placement/advising tool that can determine the extent and type of apprehension is available from Matt Guschwan. Such a student might benefit from taking the one-credit COMM 110: Basic Speaking course before enrolling in a required general education speech communication course.

Lower-division GER Course Description and Assessment Activities

COMM 110: Basic Speaking (1 credit)
Learners work individually with instructor and in small groups to determine the extent of their communication reticence, to learn anxiety-relieving techniques, and to design/implement behavior-change strategies to increase their comfort and skills in communicating with others. Recommended for those who demonstrate through placement exam score that they need to overcome speaking apprehension before moving on to the completion of their GER speech communication requirement. Course does not satisfy the GER communication requirement.

COMM 111: Fundamentals of Oral Communication (3 credits)
An introduction to the field of oral communication with an emphasis on examining interpersonal, small group and public communication processes. Students will have the opportunity to practice the skills of feedback, active listening, apprehension control, small group problem-solving, conflict management, and perception checking. In addition, outlining, audience analysis, and speech preparation and delivery will be practiced. Satisfies GER requirement. Prerequisite: Engl 110 or equivalent.

COMM 111/Engl 111: ComBlock (6 credits)
Offering an introduction to oral and written communication, the course focuses on skills for improving feedback, active listening, language usage, nonverbal behavior, audience analysis, and techniques for speech preparation, delivery, alleviation of speaking anxiety, essay organization and development, research, and analytical reading and writing. Satisfies GER requirement. Prerequisite: English 110 with a "C" or higher or appropriate placement.

COMM 235: Small Group Communication and Teamwork (3 credits)
Practical application of the theories of interaction, information sharing, decision-making and problem-solving processes to actual discussion and small group situations. Principles of conflict, leadership, group roles, self-evaluation, evidence and reasoning are explored through group observation, practice and analysis. Satisfies GER requirement. Prerequisite: Engl 111 or equivalent.

COMM 237: Interpersonal Communication (3 credits)
Understanding and building communication skills. Students use experiential and oral performance approaches to explore nonverbal and verbal channels, emotions, empathetic listening, perception, self-disclosure, and conflict in significant relationships. Satisfies GER requirement. Prerequisite: Engl 111 or equivalent.

COMM 241: Public Speaking (3 credits)
Preparation, delivery and analysis of speeches in various platform-speaking situations. Theories and practices of delivery, managing stage fright, organization, critical listening, audience analysis, and persuasion are explored. Satisfies GER requirement. Prerequisite: Engl 111 or equivalent.

Oral Communication GER Portfolio Assessment
Much like a writing portfolio, students in the above human communication GERs are asked to produce a writing/speaking class portfolio for a final course grade. These portfolios contain two components--oral and written.

The oral component may include five minutes of a video (1/2 inch) taped or written self reflection students' communication experiences in the course, what they have learned about their perceived strengths and weaknesses as a communicator, and an introduction to the two different oral presentations they included on their video (context, assignment, information about presentation) that the assessor(s) would need to know to understand/appreciate the following videotape; this should introduce the student portfolio, two different oral presentations from the semester (any class/event will do, any version, or any type--interview, speech, leading a small group), each at least five minutes in length totaling no more than 15 minutes.

The written component may include a final draft of the small group analysis/reflective paper, a final draft of at least one formal speech outline, and the student's introduction to portfolio and presentations, including a self-evaluation of strengths and weaknesses as an oral communicator, not to exceed 1-3 pages in length. A "Pass" portfolio is competent or better in overall quality. The portfolio demonstrates competence that is at least competent or better in overall quality. The reflective piece should introduce both the communicator (including his/her strengths and weaknesses and progress during the semester) and his/her videotaped demonstrations of oral competency to the jury.

The two separate demonstrations of oral competency should establish the learner's control of visual and vocal delivery, understanding of audience and occasion, management of communication apprehension, support of and claims/arguments made, variety of language use, clear development of main points, and a clear articulation of thesis, focus, or proposition.

The formal outline should demonstrate reasonable control over the essential elements of outlining, including thesis, focus, or proposition, full sentence main points, use of appropriate symbols, satisfactory support of claims, and inclusion of sources using correct MLA form.

The analysis of small group process may be demonstrated in a variety of written forms or may be discussed on the videotape. It should include more than a description of a group activity and analyze both how and why a group may or may not have communicated successfully.

With a "Pass" portfolio the learner has met both the Human Communication GER expectations and the prerequisite for numerous upper-division human communication courses have been met, and that the learner is ready for oral assignments in other content courses.

A "Conditional Pass" portfolio occurs when any of the above pieces are missing or poorly done and an outside evaluator perceives this to be problematic. A conditional pass may be reflected in the learner's class grade as determined by individual instructor; however, the learner will not be required to retake the class but may, nevertheless, receive this strong recommendation.

A "No Pass" portfolio is inadequate in overall quality. Portfolio evidence reveals serious problems in areas listed above, and/or outline, and/or analysis of small group process is missing or lacking in such areas as organization, development of subject matter and/or technical competence. The portfolio's weaknesses will be detailed by both the instructor and an outside evaluator. The learner will be asked to repeat the class or enroll in another human communication GER and will not receive a grade higher than C- in the course.

Policy on Waiving Oral Communication GER
For transferring purposes we accept any variation of COMM 111 (at UAF the course has been split into two acceptable options), 235, 237 or 241 from the University of Alaska as well as other colleges. We do not offer a challenge for credit for any of these courses. We do, however, offer a challenge exam to waive the required communication course. The process that has been used for the last twenty years is as follows.

Students interested in waiving the GER in speech communication will need to contact Matthew Guschwan, Ph.D with a portfolio demonstrating that he/she is ready to meet the challenge. This portfolio would include a detailed resume (demonstrating competency in communication in interpersonal, group and public contexts), a list of references who could be contacted to support the student's competency, and any other materials (videos, programs, newspaper clipping, etc. of performances/presentations) that demonstrate competency and readiness to take the challenge. After perusing this file a decision regarding the student's readiness for the challenge is made. The challenge is currently in the form of three essay questions requiring lengthy analytical responses (approximately 7-12 pages in length), which the candidate has up to a month to answer and submit, followed by an oral presentation to faculty and other audience members. If the student passes the challenge the GER is waived, but he/she does not receive credit. Students will have only one opportunity to challenge; should they fail they will be required to take one of the human communication GER options. Students forfeit the option altogether if they do not meet the time limitations set by the faculty member administering the challenge.

Assessment of Speaking Across the Curriculum

All baccalaureate students at UAS are required to take an oral communication general education course. COMM 111, 235, 237, or 241 are their options. Human Communication GERs are designed to ensure that students have mastered the fundamentals of interpersonal, small group, public communication, freshman-level academic writing, and critical thinking. Analytical and research writing are also required for the student's demonstration of speaking competency.

Assignment Design
When designing speaking assignments, it is best to reinforce what we know as the "speaking into writing/writing into speaking" process, one which is applicable to the development of both effective speaking and writing. This helps students create good quality oral presentations, reinforces their writing, and supports effective work habits. In the "speaking-writing" process, each presentation (whether it be formal or informal) requires minimally the following steps:

There are many ways to integrate speaking into classroom assignments. For example, some professors ask their students to conference with them individually, or collect information through carefully planned and executed interviews, or practice and videotape formal presentations prior to class or public presentation. See the section on "Types of Oral Communication Assignments" for more speaking options.

A good rule of thumb is that the longer, more sophisticated, and more significant in proportion to the student's final course grade an assignment is, the more intermediate steps we should require students to complete as they work towards their final presentation.

Communicating Expectations to Students
As a result of the UAS oral communication general education requirement, students learn general guidelines for good speaking, including how to create an effective thesis, organization, and presentation style. However, the Communications faculty cannot teach the conventions of effective and appropriate oral communication for all the disciplines. Rather, discipline faculty members are experts on the conventions and expectations for communication competency in their fields. There are many ways we can clearly communicate these conventions and expectations to our students:

Evaluation Strategies
Both oral and written feedback are important ways to communicate expectations to students. This does not mean that faculty need to rewrite or edit student speeches. What it means is that they provide commentary that will help students develop the kind of presentations (interviews, etc.) that are appropriate for their discipline. If students have problems with the "speaking-into-writing, writing-into-speaking" process, they can be directed to the Learning Center for assistance. Here are some other strategies for offering students feedback on their speaking:

Plagiarism is not tolerated at UAS and our policy is clearly stated in the catalog. For those students who are unfamiliar with or tend to disregard this policy, we offer instruction in the fundamentals of proper citation and use of sources in both the speech communication general education course and in the composition sequence. Nevertheless, these skills need to be reinforced across the curriculum. Here are some strategies for preventing plagiarism:

Opportunity for Designating Speaking-Intensive Courses
Speaking-intensive courses are based on the idea that oral communication is the business of the whole academic community and that students' communication skills will improve when they see speaking as an essential part of their academic curriculum. They will learn the value of oral communication by being taught to write and speak not only in GER communication courses, but also in courses across the disciplines. Faculty from across the disciplines may choose to identify speaking-intensive courses for any of the following purposes:

Faculty, representing diverse disciplines, have designed criteria for the identification of speaking intensive courses which have been approved by the Curriculum Committee. Discipline faculty may choose to apply for the speaking-designation (and/or writing-designation) for any of their discipline courses that meet the approved criteria. Faculty representatives to the Curriculum Committee and instructors of communication can assist discipline faculty in this application process.

BLA/Humanities Senior Capstone Course
The humanities capstone course is designed to help students synthesize their learning and skills acquired in their BLA program and prepare for postgraduate life. Opportunities to reflect on educational choices and their consequences, to articulate significant ideas and experiences, and to discern remaining gaps will be integrated into this seminar course. The use of a common course text and on-line and in-class discussions will facilitate this introspection. Additionally, students will prepare a portfolio showcasing their skills as graduating seniors. Students will discuss and offer peer feedback on their portfolios. They will also be expected to work together, lead discussions, read each other's writing, and engage others in constructing and sharing meaning about their unique college experiences. Finally, each year's capstone course will include discussion of conference readings relevant to the theme of the UAS Humanities Conference.  Students will also be expected to assist with the organization and to participate in the UAS Humanities Conference. Student work will be evaluated by their instructor(s) and a team of external reviewers. Prerequisite: senior standing in the BLA program with a major emphasis area in English, communications, or art. Graded Pass/No Pass. Instructor permission

Types of Oral Communication Assignments
Instructors across disciplines are using oral communication activities to facilitate active learning and promote speaking competency in their classes. The following are some of the formats used in their courses.

Informal (ungraded) speaking opportunities might include:

Formal (graded) speaking opportunities might include:


Upper Division Communication Courses ( see catalog)

Sample Assignment Sheet (18KB pdf)
Sample Outline (5KB pdf)

Sample Rubrics for Assessing an Interview

Information Gathering Interview Form (15KB pdf)
Evaluation Interview Form (12KB pdf)

Sample Rubrics for Assessing Small Group Process, Discussion, and Roles

Evaluation Group Process Form (16KB pdf)
Small Group Presentation Form (5KB pdf)
Post-Meeting Individual Assessment Form (9KB pdf)
Description of Post-Meeting Individual Assessment Form (26KB pdf)

Sample Rubric for Assessing a Public Presentation & Criteria for Assessment

Competent Speaker Assessment Form (18KB pdf)
Description of Eight Public Speaking Competencies (34KB pdf)
Controversial Speech Evaluation (12KB pdf)

UAS Guidelines for Designating Speaking/Writing Courses


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