Questions and discussion about the most appropriate goals for and organization of educational experiences in communication drive the area of curriculum studies. Curriculum studies are projects that examine the content, structure, and organization of communication curricula. These projects have focused on each level of educational endeavor from the elementary school classroom to the graduate seminar at a research university. Perhaps because formal degree programs in communication are rare outside of US universities, most of the work reviewed in the area of curriculum studies has been done by US scholars focusing on US curriculum issues.
Work reviewed in the area of curriculum studies includes both conceptual essays and empirical explorations. Examinations of communication curricula have been targeted toward professional communication educators and administrators seeking to understand better ways to argue for and guide communication instruction. While a great deal has been studied and written about the nature of communication curricula, very little consensus exists (Morreale & Backlund 2002). Because the nature of communication phenomena is so complex and sometimes elusive, and because the discipline has evolved as an interdisciplinary amalgamation, widespread agreement as to the content and organization of communication curricula is difficult to find.
Elementary and Secondary Curricula
A large body of work has examined the goals, standards, and appropriate outcomes of an education in communication at the elementary, middle or junior high, and high school level. The goals for communication instruction from kindergarten to 12th grade setting (“K-12”) focus on the idea that communication skills are important elements of an elementary and secondary school experience. The goal of skill development can be seen in the amount of attention given to specific sets of skills in speaking, listening, and media participation. This focus on skills (as distinct from knowledge or disposition) was first initiated by the 1983 publication of A nation at risk: The imperative for educational reform (a report by the US Department of Education’s National Commission on Excellence in Education), and steered most recently by US President George H. W. Bush’s Goals 2000 (Morreale & Backlund 2002). Given this public and widely publicized mandate, it is unsurprising that much of the work in communication curriculum studies has focused on the development, organization, and adoption of standards and outcomes of communication instruction.
The National Communication Association (NCA, previously the Speech Communication Association) sponsored two conferences (widely known as the Memphis conference and the Flagstaff conference, respectively) and published a wide variety of documents in an effort to direct and guide the development of standards, competency statements, and assessment guidelines for instruction in communication in the K-12 setting. The outcome of these efforts is considerable. Two of the NCA-published documents are landmark resources for parents, teachers, and administrators, each representing considerable research by and dialogue among a number of communication scholars. At one point at least 60 communication scholars were involved in this endeavor. The first publication is a listing of 23 K-12 standards in four categories: fundamentals of effective communication, speaking, listening, and media literacy. The second publication serves as a companion tool and articulates grade-appropriate competency statements that are derived from the 23 standards.
In addition to content standards such as those composed by the NCA, efforts have been made to identify standards that describe the ways in which students will behave differently as a result of instruction. These performance standards, composed by a US agency known as the New Standards, are intended to be used in conjunction with content standards. To date, standards relevant to communication have been developed within the English language arts curriculum for grades 4, 8, and 10. Two areas of distinction are important to note. These performance standards identify expectations for specific develop-mental changes in communication skill proficiency. They also highlight opportunities for cross-disciplinary reinforcement of communication skill development (i.e., giving oral presentations on science projects).
Questions have also been raised about the degree to which national standards such as those written by NCA and New Standards are put to use in curriculum development in individual school districts and classrooms. Some evidence suggests that national standards influence curriculum development at an abstract level (e.g., in the titles of state curriculum documents) but that state standards are much more relevant to the more concrete dimensions of state standards, (e.g., in statements of outcome measures; Goulden 1998; Hall et al. 1999). All of the work that examines the relationships among state standards and practices and national level articulation of standards appears to reveal that when communication instruction is included in the K-12 setting it is done so within the English and language arts curriculum; it does not, in other words, have standing as a curriculum unto itself (Witkin et al. 1996).
A second, and much smaller, body of work has focused on the goals and benefits of elective courses in communication. Targeting largely the middle and high school levels, this body of work describes the ways in which experiences in debate, forensics, and journalism can enhance the educational experiences of students as well as prepare them in meaningful ways for civic engagement in college or careers.
Among the first claims that must be extended about studies of communication curricula is that there is consensus neither about a core communication curriculum nor the particular ways in which a communication curriculum might contribute to general education.
Up until the mid-1960s, examinations of communication curricula revealed a tendency toward helping to forge useful relationships between individuals (students) and society. During this time courses in public speaking, rhetoric, and argumentation and debate were guided by the goal of preparation for democratic participation. Beginning in the late 1970s a focus toward helping individuals (students) develop skills and capacities for working with each other began to evolve. These courses were guided by goals of helping to enhance relationships, families, and productivity in working environments.
Contemporary surveys of undergraduate communication curricula reveal some areas of relatively strong consensus. Repeatedly, four different courses are identified as either required for the major and/or necessary to fulfill general or liberal education requirements: communication theory, public speaking, interpersonal communication, and a survey or hybrid course (Smith & Turner 1993; King 1998; Morreale & Backlund 2002). For departments that include a degree in mass communication, courses in introduction to broadcasting, broadcast news, radio production, and public relations constitute the most frequently identified core or required courses. Other communication courses regularly included in the curriculum, but not with the consistency of the “top four,” include the following: rhetoric and public address, communication theory, organizational communication, persuasion, and small group communication.
At the end of a series of meetings (annually from 1985 to 1999) on the undergraduate communication curriculum, a group of scholars involved with the Hope College conference reached a consensus decision that the curriculum should be guided by competencies rather than specific courses. They identified eight different competencies, including: theoretical approaches, sensitivity to diverse others, presentation, media literacy, influence processes, systematic inquiry, ethics, and human relational interaction (Rosenthal 2002).
Curriculum studies have explored the contribution that communication makes to a liberal (or general) education. On the premise that communication is the basic building block of literacy and that an education in communication contributes to an understanding of the history and character of our culture, several essays have advanced arguments for the role of communication in liberal education. Communication is also included in the liberal education curriculum because the basic skills in communication are consistently identified as necessary building blocks for successful learning throughout undergraduate education (Allen 2002). As such, the NCA has identified specific competencies in speaking, delivery, interpersonal skills, and listening at both the basic and advanced levels as important elements of a liberal education (Morreale & Backlund 2002).
In addition to surveys and articulations of competencies, a number of essays have been published using a case study approach in order to provide detailed descriptions of curricular innovations as well as the benefits to learning that can be demonstrated. Examples of this type of contribution include the following: civic usability in Internet journalism classes, experiential education in communication, communication research in the undergraduate curriculum, organ donation awareness campaigns in the PR campaigns course, and cornerstone and capstone courses.
Instruction in communication also plays an important role in the educational mission of disciplines other than communication. Some of this contribution has been recognized in discussions of general or liberal education. However, increasingly special attention has been paid to the unique role that communication plays in learning and performing disciplinary subject matter, especially in the context of professional education (e.g., engineering, law, and education). This body of work, commonly referred to as communication across the curriculum, has been the focus of numerous curriculum studies. These studies have primarily investigated questions about different models for structuring communication skill development within other disciplinary curricula. Cronin & Glenn (1991) in an excellent review of this body of work provide descriptions of programs that depend on standalone communication courses, courses that include a communication module or special communication assignments within an existing disciplinary course, and programs that take advantage of a speech laboratory or consultation service in order to help students who are not communication majors develop targeted communication skills. A recent evolution of communication across the curriculum focuses attention on unique types and functions of communication practices within disciplines (Dannels 2001). Referred to as communication in the disciplines, this work argues in favor of embedding communication instruction deeply within the epistemological structures and performance expectations of individual disciplines.
Curriculum studies at the two-year college offer two important dimensions of distinction from the four-year institution. First, two-year colleges frequently have a mission to provide traditional job skills or vocational education. To recognize this responsibility, they frequently offer a greater number of courses geared toward specific vocational applications like business speaking or interpersonal communication for health-care providers than is commonly seen in four-year institutions. Second, two-year colleges have a mission to prepare students to transfer to four-year institutions. In response to this mission, many of the course offerings mirror those offered at four-year schools. Students who are following this educational path are likely to encounter courses in public speaking, introduction to interpersonal communication, and a hybrid course. Several essays by Wolvin and his colleagues (e.g., Wolvin & Wolvin 1999) describe the unique curriculum features of the two-year college.
Essays describing methods or approaches to teaching specific communication courses (like public relations, media ethics, and research methods) exist in abundance. A complete listing of these sources is beyond the scope of this article but interested readers might examine the following for such work: BEA syllabus project (Broadcast Education Association 2005), Teaching communication (Vangelisti et al. 1999), and the journals Communication Education and Journalism and Mass Communication Educator.
Studies of the graduate curriculum in communication have become more pronounced with the widespread attention given to graduate education in general (see Andersen 1997; Salmon 2006). Beginning in the early 1990s, concerns were raised about the potential “glut” of PhDs in a labor market not prepared to support an already unprecedented number. In response to these concerns presidents of both NCA and the association for education in journalism and mass communication (AEJMC) established task forces charged with examination of the graduate curriculum in communication. Like similar task forces established to study the undergraduate curriculum, this group of scholars published reports and held a summer conference on the topic of graduate education (see Applegate et al. 1997 for a summary). Curriculum studies of graduate education have tended to hover around issues of theory vs application, culminating pedagogical projects, and preparation for the faculty role.
Reports from both task forces have issued recommendations that doctoral education focus on a structured curriculum that assures development rather than use of theory. These reports cite the increasing need for a complex and theoretically sophisticated understanding of how communication technologies and practices are influencing global economics, politics, and sociologies.
Work on theory development is supplemented with increased attention on an alternative view of the MA degree. With increased need for and opportunities to attain professional applied advanced degrees, there has been effort on the part of many communication scholars to develop applied graduate degrees in communication. Such applied degrees, it is argued, should be offered as alternatives to the traditional theory driven path to graduate education. To date, several such programs have been developed and are offered (Powers & Love 1999). Discussions of appropriate culminating pedagogical projects are a natural extension of this discussion. Programs offering applied MA degrees in communication also report a flexible range of culminating projects from theses, to exams, to applied projects. Debate about the proliferation of PhD degrees led to concern about the extent to which graduate students were well prepared for the full range of duties expected of a faculty member at a variety of types of institutions. These concerns led to suggestions that PhD programs ought to include teaching methods courses and teaching supervision more systematically in their curricula (Nyquist & Wulff 1992). Salmon (2006) suggested that graduate students need to be as well prepared for teaching in online and virtual environments as they are for more traditional classroom settings.
As early as 1954, essays exploring international perspectives on communication curricula appeared in a variety of journals. These essays explored the various ways in which communication topics were integrated into primarily European educational settings. The focus of attention was on performance skills, like voice and diction, and the most common curricular “home” for communication instruction was in theatre departments. Recently, increased attention has been devoted to the study of international issues related to communication education. The BEA syllabus project, for example, provided an analysis of international media studies courses, and an entire issue of Journalism and Mass Communication Educator, Winter 2005, explored communication education from a variety of international perspectives, including an internship program in Ghana and multicultural journalism education in the Netherlands.
- Allen, T. H. (2002). Charting a communication pathway: Using assessment to guide curriculum development in a re-vitalized general education plan. Communication Education, 51, 26 – 39.
- Andersen, J. F. (1997). Graduate education trends: Implications for the communication discipline. Communication Education, 46, 121–127.
- Applegate, J. L., Darling, A. L., Sprague, J., Nyquist, J., & Andersen, J. F. (1997). An agenda for graduate education in communication: A report from the SCA 1996 summer conference. Communication Education, 46, 115 –120.
- Broadcast Education Association (2005). BEA syllabus project. At www.beaweb.org/syllabi.html, accessed August 28, 2007.
- Cronin, M. W., & Glenn, P. (1991). Oral communication across the curriculum in higher education: The state of the art. Communication Education, 40, 356 –367.
- Dannels, D. P. (2001). Time to speak up: A theoretical framework of situated pedagogy and practice for communication across the curriculum. Communication Education, 50, 144 –158.
- Goulden, N. R. (1998). The roles of national and state standards in implementing speaking, listening, and media literacy. Communication Education, 47, 194 –208.
- Hall, B. I., Morreale, S. P., & Gaudino, J. L. (1999). A survey of the status of oral communication in the K-12 public education system. Communication Education, 48, 139 –148.
- King, C. P. (1998). A national survey of core course requirements, department names, and undergraduate program titles in communication. Journal of the Association for Communication Administration, 3, 154 –162.
- Morreale, S. P., & Backlund, P. M. (2002). Communication curricula: History, recommendations, resources. Communication Education, 51, 2 –18.
- Nyquist, J. D., & Wulff, D. H. (1992). Preparing teaching assistants for instructional roles: Supervising TAs in communication. Annandale, VA: Speech Communication Association.
- Powers, W. G., & Love, D. E. (1999). Traditional and applied graduate education: Special challenges. Journal of the Association for Communication Administration, 2, 104 –109.
- Rosenthal, A. (2002). Report on the Hope College conference on designing the undergraduate curriculum in communication. Communication Education, 51, 9 –25.
- Salmon, C. T. (2006). The changing landscape of doctoral education in journalism and mass communication. Journalism and Mass Communication Educator, 61, 351–354.
- Smith, J. H., & Turner, P. H. (1993). A survey of communication department curriculum in fouryear colleges and universities. Journal of the Association for Communication Administration, 1, 34 – 49.
- Vangelisti, A. L., Daly, J. A., & Friedrich, G. W. (eds.) (1999). Teaching communication: Theory, research, and methods. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
- Wardrope, W. J. (1999). A curricular profile of US communication departments. Communication Education, 48(3), 256 –258.
- Williamson, L. K., & Iorio, S. H. (1996). Communication curriculum reform, liberal arts components, and administrative organization. Journal of the Association for Communication Administration, 3, 175 –186.
- Witkin, B. R., Lovern, M. L., & Lundsteen, S. W. (1996). Oral communication in the English language arts curriculum: A national perspective. Communication Education, 15, 40 –58.
- Wolvin, D. R., & Wolvin, A. D. (1999). Communication in the two-year college. In A. L. Vangelisti, J. A. Daly, & G. W. Friedrich (eds.), Teaching communication: Theory, research, and methods. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 471– 480.
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