Departmental Periodic Program Review AY 2020-21

Executive Summary

This section should be written last and will be no more than one-two pages in length. It should be an accurate summary (including briefly: program strengths, weaknesses and opportunities; curriculum improvements/opportunities and assessment of student learning information). These executive summaries are used in the Operation Plan, therefore, they should be a comprehensive program overview.

  • What are the assessment results, descriptively? How have these results supported continuous improvement in student learning?
  • Illustrate how the strengths of the program have had an impact on students’ personal, academic, and professional development?
  • Provide a brief statement on potential needs or resources, and impact on the effectiveness (and potentially, the innovation) of the program? How will these help meet the program’s goals?
  • What improvements have been made since the last PPR?
  • How is the program’s strategy/approach inclusive and equity-oriented?

This is the first self-study the department has completed since splitting from the Journalism and Broadcasting department in 2018. Therefore, it has been valuable in enabling the department to identify its key strengths and opportunities, as well as weaknesses and threats. This summary will outline some of the key findings, as well as address the above questions.

Program Improvements Since the Last PPR

The main improvement is that the program has split from the Journalism and Broadcasting department. This departmental split took place for a variety of reasons. First, the different ways faculty in each department approached scholarship led to a considerable amount of conflict. For example, members of the current Communication department typically publish written work in books and journals, while most members of the JRB department conduct scholarship that involves video and or journalistic work. It was difficult to reconcile divergent views on these issues. Second, it was difficult for both programs to have their own singular identity when paired together. Third, when housed together, resources were more scarce. For example, though both programs might need additional full-time faculty, it can be more difficult for a single large department to get multiple new faculty searches in a given year than for two separate and still robust departments to each get a single search in a particular year.

Once freed from the conflicts and other struggles that came from being paired with that department, the new standalone Communication department flourished in a number of ways. It instantly became more distinctive and began to develop its own identity and culture. In a very short period, faculty embraced and nurtured a collegial culture, revised the department’s APT document and constitution, completed a major curriculum revision, and began developing a Public Speaking Lab that will serve the entire campus. These all are significant accomplishments. The changed culture enables the department to embrace feedback and examine problematic issues without the additional stress of conflict. It also enables faculty to move quickly together to address new challenges. The revised APT document improved the department in a number of ways:

  1. it reduced pressure on junior faculty to complete a number of leadership activities prior to applying for tenure;
  2. it enabled the department to clarify its teaching values;
  3. it provided a more holistic focus on evaluating teaching (as opposed to over-relying on IAS teacher evaluation scores;
  4. the creation of a Teacher Evaluation Committee enabled to department to prioritize excellent teaching and to better evaluate and mentor the teaching of new faculty members.

The curriculum revision helped counter “silos” within the curriculum by recognizing common interests and themes between different areas of the curriculum. In further recognition of common student interests, the department also developed a dual-major program with Recreation and Leisure. The department believes these changes will help students become more well-rounded. And more practically, it should provide a smooth pathway to enable students to graduate on time. The department also weathered the departure of two full-time faculty and hired three full-time faculty. It also proactively suspended its graduate program so it could focus resources more on the undergraduate program.

Given that the department only has seven full-time faculty, these are ambitious accomplishments, especially when considering that the department has maintained its quality teaching, advisement, and scholarship. These major changes all took place fairly recently, so it is difficult to provide concrete documentation on their impact. The department now is poised to build on all of this progress by further enhancing the program in ways that are detailed throughout the self-study.

Strengths & Opportunities

Faculty are the main strength of the department. First, based on anecdotal evidence and alumni survey data (provided later in the report) they are strong and engaging teachers who care a great deal about students’ welfare. As a result, classes feature relevant and challenging material, and students have access to quality advisement and mentoring. Second, faculty are highly productive scholars, and their output compares very favorably with departments of similar size whose primary focus is teaching. Third, faculty are collegial and work very well together.

Another strength is the way diversity and inclusion are woven into many communication courses. Rather than covering these issues as a standalone unit, several instructors embed them into the fabric of a course by considering these issues when teaching each unit, focusing on texts/perspectives/theories/etc. that come from underrepresented individuals, raising challenging discussion topics, and creating classroom environments in which a variety of opinions are welcome.

A third strength is the relevance of the department. Some courses teach very practical skills that employers value or that will benefit students in the future (public speaking, debate, listening, interviewing, networking, conflict management, training) while other courses cover humanistic topics that are at the core of engaged citizenship (argument, deliberation, critical thinking and evaluation of messages, social issues and movements, relationships, environmental communication, freedom of expression). Therefore, the department is well-suited to adapt to changing trends by focusing on qualities that will continue to be valued in students’ personal and professional lives.

As a result of the above strengths, the department has an abundance of opportunities it might pursue. In the near term, this includes a Public Speaking center, to be referred to as the Speech Lab, which will serve the campus, an internship program, and curriculum revisions that would enable the department to better capitalize on the strengths of current faculty.

Weaknesses & Threats

The department could improve by further articulating its identity and then making that identity more visible across campus. The development of the Speech Lab will help, as will further developing the department’s website and Facebook page. But in general, the department will need a continued focus on this issue.

The department’s facilities are currently a challenge. This includes classrooms (lack of AC, sometimes a lack of seats, insufficient technology), offices, and also involves a general lack of space to meet with students (such as lounges), labs for research, or a common kitchen area. There are plans to renovate Holmes Hall (where the department is housed), and the department is looking forward to seeing the proposed changes come to fruition.

The department, college, and profession, in general face the threat of declining enrollments. Indeed, the national decline in Humanities-related majors is a persistent issue. Still, while the department is doing a number of things to minimize these losses (see the strengths section above), this appears likely to be a challenge for years to come.

Conclusion

As the following self-study illustrates, the department has a number of successes to be proud of, as well as a number of challenges to weather. In the coming years, the department will pursue a number of initiatives. It will open the Speech Lab to campus within the next 1-2 years. This will give current students experience in mentoring students from across campus in public speaking and other communication skills. It also will further develop extracurricular learning activities, such as its clubs (via recruitment in classes) and internships. A faculty member recently was appointed to coordinate internships and work with Career Services and employers to identify opportunities for Communication majors. The department also will continue to pursue opportunities related to diversity and inclusion. This includes adding a Student Learning Outcome related to diversity and inclusion, holding faculty meetings that completely center around diversity and inclusion, and trying to diversify faculty in the department. The department also looks to create or change some courses within the curriculum to provide more of a special topic focus, so that some courses can better fit the expertise of faculty and quickly adapt to focus on relevant social issues. Fortunately, the department is comprised of dedicated and capable faculty who work very well together, and therefore the department is poised to build on the strong foundation it has established.