The famous series, which is now longer operating, This I Believe, provides a terrific first major exercise in an online Oral Communication class, or in fact any kind of course (online or f2f) in which communication skills is a learning outcome. Students draft, revise, and edit a short essay using the models provided on the NPR website. It’s an exercise that allows for group and individual developmental feedback and is a perfect vehicle for post-assignment feedback, self-assessment and reflection. As a communication exercise, students have the opportunity to practice exclusive meta-thinking about the rhetorical canon of delivery and how their voice comes across to a real audience of listeners. It’s also a good first exercise to allow for them to practice delivery without the all-too-real jitters of an in-person speech before a live audience (or facing a camera in an online class).
Additionally, this exercise teaches them how to use Audacity and to do preliminary editing on an audio track. Students select a picture to accompany their speech/essay and have the option of adding a musical track to their final version. Editing is all-important so that the speech/essay fits the time restrictions of the assignment as well. Because the essay is mounted on the professor’s class website, students must make decisions about whether to allow their names to accompany the essay, and they learn from the professor about embedding attribution for photos and about permission forms to make their essays public. Once the essays are ready, they have an example of their abilities as storytellers on the web, easily referenced on resumes and letters via a hyperlink.
One of the best features of this assignment is how it gets students ready for the rest of the course in a perhaps unexpected medium in a speech class—digital recording and editing—with a clear focus on delivery and the voice, something that often gets short shrift in all writing and communication classes (with the exception of the arts, especially music and theater). Writing teachers can talk incessantly about proper voice, but this assignment really solidifies how words shape the reading, how they create voicing.
The focus on a variety of literacy skills in a multimodal assignment (written, spoken, aural, pictorial, and even the visual of the editing line which reproduces the audio in an editable format), addresses the need, as laid out in the scholarship, for assignments to use more than just alphabetic textual approach in assignments. No matter how students learn best, the assignment allows flexibility for students to “get” the assignment in a way suited to them. The students can read the assignments, listen or read the model texts, watch the instructional video recorded of the class, or can rely on audio or alphabetic texts primarily to do the assignments. Because Audacity can be downloaded as an app on mobile devices, the assignment could be completed or forwarded on any electronic portable device to which the student might own or have access.
The assignment validates (important according to Woodley, et. al.) student values and worth by allowing them to write and speak about something close to them. The class’s response to the essay equally shows them that the values are shared, and in fact, these values begin to shape the culture and values of the whole class. Beginning with an assignment grounded in ethics and values, changes the class throughout the semester.
While students can ask for help with recording and editing from the college’s digital learning unit, becoming proficient enough for this assignment is very easy and doesn’t take much time. Students report that more time was invested in rerecording so that their reading was smooth and conveyed the tone they wished. Technology mastery shouldn’t be the goal of the assignment. This assignment provides a discreet assignment that allows for practice and focus on the literacy learning goals of importance. The tone of the assignment sheets and instruction is invitational and encouraging with plenty of helps and support as suggested by Warnock and Gasiewski. Luckily, NPR includes teachers’ materials which are helpful as well.
One of the key features that makes this assignment work well in an online environment is that it allows students to post their reflections on the project either as part of the website posting of the essay or as an assignment posted to a discussion board in the LMS. Students are required to view someone else’s essay and post a response to it (again, on the website or LMS as teacher deems best). Then in subsequent synchronous meetings of the class, we listen to each essay, let the student share a brief summary of the reflection, and then the student assigned responds orally, too. This forms a great basis for further class comments which can be posted in the discussion area of the LMS. This is worth every bit of synchronous time given to it. If teachers are running asynchronous classes, the value of the posting of responses is also valuable.