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SA senators partner on legislation to create oral communications courses

By Anita Alem     11/18/14 4:15pm

Student Association senators have teamed up to spearhead an initiative on creating disciplinary oral communications courses for undergraduates. Martel College sophomore Neethi Nayak and McMurtry College sophomore Madhuri Venkateswar co-authored the legislation, which passed at the SA Senate meeting on Nov. 5.

“In today’s world, it’s becoming increasingly important to have the communication skills in addition to the technical skills,” Venkateswar said. “You cannot get past a certain point if you cannot communicate orally and through writing. I saw that through my experience and I thought that it was extremely important that Rice students have that knowledge because it puts them above other students from other institutions.”

According to Nayak and Venkateswar, peer institutions like Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University offer resources to undergraduates including mandatory annual communications courses. Venkateswar said Rice is behind, but currently on the right trajectory.

“There are classes that really emphasize [public speaking], like [BIOE] 252 with problem-based learning, but that was one semester — it wasn’t a consistent way for students to grow,” Venkateswar said. “Especially with oral communication, you need consistent feedback in order to fix the things that you were doing wrong.”

Venkateswar said the team collaborated with Tracy Volz, director of the Program for Writing and Communication, to identify areas in which oral communications classes are necessary. The legislation proposes an introduction to communications course as well as departmental architecture, medical, technical and legal courses.

Nayak said the high number of students enrolling in BUSI 296: Business Communications is evidence of the need for more specific communications courses. Venkateswar said the high demand for enrollment in HUMA 201: Public Speaking, also indicates interest.

“The university has a deficiency in these areas and some courses, like BUSI 296, are oversubscribed when they shouldn’t be,” Venkateswar said. “People are taking that class to gain some oral communication skills but might be better suited in a more nuanced communications class.”

Nayak said her own experience in courses involving communication led her to believe Rice had the need for more emphasis on oral communication.

“Several of my classes require presenting information to an audience that may not have experience with a particular topic that you’re discussing,” Nayak said. “You have to be able to communicate things that may seem very technical to an audience that doesn’t know what you’re necessarily talking about.”

The legislation also recommends greater emphasis on oral communication within FWIS courses. According to Nayak and Venkateswar, FWIS courses currently require only one oral presentation and do not guarantee consistent feedback with skills.

During the presentation of the legislation at the SA Senate meeting, some raised concerns about the necessity of communications courses when they may be repeated in graduate school.

“The response to that is that I’m an engineer, I’m not planning to go to law school, but I still want to learn how to deal with argumentative communication or with confrontational communication,” Venkateswar said. “Legal communication doesn’t have to be just if you’re going to law school. These skills are applicable across the board.”

Venkateswar said the communications courses are not necessarily specific to individual majors.

“I can be a pre-med and still want to learn technical communication,” Venkateswar said. “You can take what you want to take depending on what your professional/personal  sinterests are, but you may not be [learning more about] that in the future.

According to Nayak, the timeline for the availability of these courses for undergraduates is in the hands of the Committee for Undergraduate Curriculum and the Faculty Senate.

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