Integrating Communication Currents into the Classroom

Written by Jennifer Waldeck

Communication Currents can play an important role in educating students. The site offers easily understood summaries of research and can serve as a starting point for important discussions about the importance of Communication scholarship to organizational, social, and cultural life. Additionally, using Communication Currents summaries along with their corresponding full-length articles can enhance student understanding of methodological and data analysis issues.

Just as others have difficulty defining communication, many students also have difficulty defining their Communication degree. They are challenged when it comes to articulating the unique skills and problem-solving abilities that training in Communication affords them. Some—particularly lower division students—struggle to understand (let alone use) the research published in our journals, which is written for a methodologically sophisticated audience. In my observation, students are initially attracted to our major because of its relevance and application to their everyday lives; but as they work through their research methods and theory curricula, they sometimes lose sight of the practical utility of the discipline.

Use of Communication Currents in Communication education can help instructors enhance student motivation and improve students' ability to understand and approach compelling real-world problems. When we consistently illustrate the practical implications of our scholarship in classroom discussions, we build students' confidence in their degree's vast potential. Communication Currents can be used in any Communication course, regardless of topic or student level. The benefits include:

  • Helping students easily consume research;
  • Drawing attention to the application of empirical findings in responding to everyday problems and opportunities;
  • Heightening student understanding of the breadth and depth of our discipline;
  • Increasing student insight into the intersection of current societal and cultural issues and state-of-the-art Communication research ; and
  • Enhancing student understanding about the ways in which communication impacts our world

What are some specific ways that Communication Currents can be integrated into a curriculum?

  1. The Interpersonal Communication course is an easy place to begin to orient students to the applied nature of Communication research because they tend to relate well to the content of that course. Address the question: “What can our field teach people about communicating interpersonally today?” by assigning a chapter from the primary textbook (perhaps one that focuses on relationship maintenance) and Ballard-Reisch and Weigel's (2009) essay entitled “Ten Communication Strategies to Keep Marriages Strong” (and perhaps the original research article if appropriate). Focus class discussion on the primary findings of the study and their implications for various types of relationships.
  2. In a research methods course, use a Communication Currents translation along with the original study to help students interpret the methods employed. Ask students to form small groups and, with your guidance, identify the objectives, methods, procedures, findings, and implications of the study.
  3. Assign a Communication Currents essay and companion publication and tell small groups of students that they are assuming the role of communication consultants charged with helping others understand and apply findings from the research article. Ask groups to brief the class using language appropriate for the public or a specific consulting client.
  4. Use a Communication Currents article as a starting point for teaching the process of building theory, stating propositions and hypotheses, and designing procedures for testing theory. After students are familiar with the Communication Currents concept, ask them to select an article from a newspaper, magazine, or website which brings to light a communication problem. Instruct students to be prepared to discuss their problem, their proposed theoretical rationale for studying the problem, and how they might design a study to investigate the problem. Ask them to focus on the applications of their theory and subsequent study using Communication Currents essays as a guide.
  5. As a major assignment, ask student groups to select a research article and prepare a presentation and written summary of how that article might be translated for consumption by a non-academic audience. Students use the essays appearing in Communication Currents and the corresponding original published studies as samples. Presentations and written essays are designed to demonstrate the relevance of the chosen studies and highlight their impact on real people in the real world. Encourage students to conduct a brief interview with the study's author. Interviews may focus on where the idea for the research came from, the theory-building process, and why the author selected the method he or she did. Finally, students elicit the scholar's perceptions of the practical implications for his or her work.

My experience integrating Communication Currents into my courses has been quite positive. Many students report that they finally understand the purpose of research. Their responses to course activities, discussion questions, and readings are enthusiastic, unique, and innovative. Importantly, I believe that students leave courses that have a Communication Currents component with an enhanced understanding of their academic degree and its centrality to society.