Teaching Public Speaking Online: A Few Insights from #ECA15

How does teaching public speaking online affect an instructor’s ability to provide students with support and feedback?

In “Public Speaking Can Be Taught Online With A Little Help From Your Friends,” a workshop session on Thursday, April 21 at the Eastern Communication Association Conference, several online instructors from Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) in Blue Bell, PA discussed their experiences building an online course in public speaking.

The panel participants included Meredith Frank, Ralph Gigliotti, Christine Piatkowski, and Eva Blackwell. Their presentations addressed common student expectations and concerns, and also provided suggestions for maximizing the potential of the online classroom.

Online courses in public speaking are actually harder.

Eva Blackwell pointed out that students often believe online courses in public speaking will be easier, and that they can hide from their professors and classmates. The reality of the matter is that online courses are actually harder. Students have to be much more organized about scheduling time for coursework. They’ll have many more practical concerns than in a face-to-face course, such as enlisting other students, family, or friends to attend their speeches, and finding a convenient time and place to convene with them. They’ll also have to be comfortable using a camera, and to have an awareness of how to upload their presentations to the course management system.

Instructors need to be more mindful of their communication strategies, and of relating to students. Ralph Gigliotti suggested creating a welcome video for students, wherein the instructor can introduce him/herself, and show a friendly side. Christine Piatkowsky mentioned that all online instructors should first have to take an online course before teaching one, so that they can understand what it is like to learn online, and what frustrations students might experience.

Students who can’t meet on campus can practice their speeches with each other in Google hangouts, or on Skype.

It’s also important that online instructors are present and responsive, give regular student feedback (not just on formal assignments), and help to create a supportive community. Eva Blackwell explained that she gives students her telephone number, and allows students to message her on Skype throughout the day. She also plays more of an active role in online discussion boards, motivating students to engage not only by setting the topics, but also by responding to their posts.

Several instructors noted that sometimes, especially in programs that attract local students, it is possible that students will interact with each other more than they would in a traditional classroom. Instructors can encourage students to get together on campus to discuss assignments. Students who can’t meet on campus can practice their speeches with each other in Google hangouts, or on Skype.

Perhaps the greatest concern of the presenters was how to properly train online-teaching novices. In MCCC online courses, experienced instructors co-teach along with a first-time online instructor. The more experienced instructor acts as a mentor, and coaches the first-time instructor through any potential challenges he or she may encounter. While the teaching and administrative responsibilities are split 50-50, the idea is that the first-time instructor has a chance to learn from their mentor’s example, and over the course of the semester takes more responsibility.

Public speaking has shifted from the conference room presentation to teleconference discussions and online webinars.

While older generations of teachers may question if public speaking can effectively be taught online,more and more instructors are questioning the value of the traditional speech. In ECA’s Basic Course Conference, the keynote speaker, Joseph Valenzano of the University of Dayton, emphasized that in the corporate workplace, the model of public speaking is shifting from the conference room presentation to teleconference discussions and online webinars. Indeed, when faculty are actively dedicated to leveraging the unique potential of the online course, students have the opportunity to develop not only improved presentation skills, but also a sense of initiative, independence, and self-motivation that they might not experience in a face-to-face classroom.

For more on the backlash against traditional public speaking courses, see “Public Speaking as an Online Class” by Barry Dahl.

For student opinions on the benefits of taking public speaking online, see “Online Communication Classes – What You Need to Know” from Rochester Community and Technical College.


Alisa Gross
Content and Social Media Specialist at Connect For Education
Alisa Gross is the editor and webmaster of the College Teaching and Learning Blog. She holds advanced degrees in the History of Art from the Courtauld Institute, London, and Johns Hopkins University. Alisa has also worked as a math and writing instructor and tutor to high school students in New York, London, and Philadelphia over the course of eleven years.

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