Interpersonal Communication

The first, a class on interpersonal communication, is taught by Steve Gardner, an older professor who has taught at the university for 20 years. The first day of class, he verbally explained the rules for class conduct, which were also distributed in a printed handout—cell phones off, no texting, and, unless a student needs to use one for taking notes, laptops closed. Class starts on time and ends on time, and students should try not to leave early.

Ebony’s second class, an organizational communication course taught by Marissa Morgan, a younger professor in her 40s, has different rules. There aren’t any. This professor doesn’t care if the students use their laptops during class. Texting and talking are unrestrained. Professor Morgan announced on the first day that all students are responsible for their own learning in the class, and she trusts them to know how they learn best. When students walk in late or leave early, she always says hello or goodbye to them.

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Ebony likes her interpersonal communication class a lot. Professor Gardner’s manner has succeeded in getting the class of 75 students to engage with him and listen to one another. Personal disclosures by students and the professor alike are frequent, and there is often much humor and laughter. Even though it is a large class, most people know each other’s names, as does Professor Gardner. Many of the students do things with each other outside of class. In this course, students write a reflection paper every other week, and they have a midterm and final exams.

The atmosphere in the organizational communication class is strikingly different to Ebony. It is spontaneous and uncontrolled. Sometimes professor Morgan lectures, but most of the time she just comes to class and invites students to discuss whatever they want to talk about. Students do not know each other’s names and seldom connect with each other outside of class. Professor Morgan also assigns papers, but they are short, personal observation papers that aren’t given grades but are marked as turned in or not. Students’ final grades for the class are dependent on a presentation each student must give on an interpersonal communication topic of his or her choice.

Ebony thinks the two differing styles of the professors would make a great topic for her organizational communication class presentation. To get more information, she interviews both instructors to learn why their classroom management styles are so different.

Professor Gardner describes his teaching philosophy this way: “I want students to think that this class is unique and the subject is important and has value. I know all students by name, and I allow them to call me by my first name or my title. I really want them to be on board with the direction the train is going from the start. I try to build a community by getting the students to listen to one another. The fun and spirit of the class comes from the camaraderie they establish. In order to listen to one another, however, they have to be fully present. To be fully present, they have to be paying full attention. Texting and open laptops suggest to me that the students are disassociated and disconnected from the group. The attention is on self, rather than the community.”

Professor Morgan says her goal is to be sure to cover the required course content and still enjoy the teaching experience. “I give the students just enough freedom in class that they will either sink or swim. This freedom allows me to present my ideas, and then they are free to discuss them as they wish. I think today’s students are so multifaceted that they can find their own way to learn, even if it involves texting or using their laptops during class. Many times a student will bring up something valuable that he or she has found while surfing the internet during class that really adds to our discussions. As I see it, my role as a professor is to present the material to be learned, while the students are responsible for how much of it they can absorb.”

Ebony also interviewed two students, like herself, who are enrolled in both classes. Ian said he is very pleased with Professor Gardner’s class because he knows what is expected of him and what the norms for class behavior are, noting, “He’s the only prof at the U who knows my name.” Professor Gardner’s grading structure is similar to that of most other classes Ian has had, and he likes that there are several graded assignments that allow him to know how he is doing through the course of the semester. As for Professor Morgan’s class, he thinks it is “OK” but finds it distracting when people are texting in class. Ian is also stressed about his grade being dependent on one big assignment.

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