Where has digital communication not affected our lives? New business and career opportunities have opened up in companies in all industries to hire staff for communication and other jobs that were unimaginable.
Illinois State University professor Cheri Simonds has played an instrumental role in improving basic communication education for the past 21 years in schools around the country.
“I’m committed to improving the communication discipline one basic course at a time,” said Simonds. Her mission has taken on added importance because communication is an integral part of our personal, professional, and social lives. Because effective communication is required in every field, high-quality communication programs are more significant than ever before.
In fact, the communication field’s value is truly on the rise for the long term, thanks in large part to the increasing integration of digital media with other, traditional media. To meet this demand, communication degrees experienced a 44 percent increase from 1987 to 2015, according to the National Communication Association’s report Communication Is Only Humanities Discipline to Experience Bachelor’s Degree Completion Growth. It is also the only discipline to experience an increase during that time. The same increase can be found in Inside Higher Ed’s report Humanities Majors Drop.
However, despite the documented growth, the importance of communication studies in public policy is often overlooked. For example, Illinois legislators fail to differentiate between communication and English studies.
“Communication and composition are both integral to a foundational educational experience,” said Simonds, “but they must be treated uniquely because they are different even though they do intersect at times.”
The importance of proper communication education begins in students’ developmental years. Common Core standards require that students develop speaking and listening skills throughout their early education. This is to lay a foundational understanding to prepare students for college and their future careers.
Measuring students’ improvement over time is the most efficient way to evaluate the effectiveness of a communication course. Improvements are measured through a digital media platform that tracks students’ improvements overtime.
“We created a systematic speech evaluation training program so that we made sure instructors in the program evaluated student work fairly and consistently every time, instructors could communicate assignment expectations to students well, and that students would understand what they needed to do to earn a certain grade on the presentation,” said Simonds. Eventually, the platform will be made available to other programs within Illinois State as well as other educational institutions.
It is important to re-emphasize that English and communication are not one in the same. Preparing students to succeed in communication and composition vastly differs from English studies. “Many general education programs identify both written and oral communication as essential learning outcomes. Because general education is designed to provide broad exposure to multiples disciplines and serve as a foundation for important intellectual skills, it is important that students receive this instruction across disciplines. This begins with their composition and communication instruction,” said Simonds.
Extensive research gives Simonds the evidence she needs to advocate for the importance of communication studies.
Simonds applies her teaching experiences for developing research. “I have the best job of all, because I research what I do every day. My research is on teaching and my teaching informed by my research,” said Simonds.
Through research, Simonds tailors her training program to fit the evolving needs of national communication programs. The research ensures the effectiveness of the communication education program via assessment efforts. Additionally, Simonds looks for effective tools to enhance the teacher training program. As such, she studies the best methods for teaching communication as well as the best ways to use communication to teach.
Simonds traveled to four regional areas for basic course director training in her last sabbatical in fall 2014. Illinois State University was the first to implement basic course director training. The desired outcome was to eliminate the “revolving door,” meaning those who lack the competence and desire to effectively carry out their role. “I want my legacy to be that I nurtured a pipeline of future basic course directors that are confident, competent and passionate about their role,” said Simonds.
The next project that Simonds is undertaking is through the National Communication Association. She and many other communication professionals are part of a nationwide funded social science research council to create common competencies for oral communication.
The council will create assessment instruments and apply an evaluation assessment within the school to publish nationally. Any school from across the nation can use their assessment to advocate that their course is relevant in general education. The goal is to not compete against other schools, but rather, to support one another in growing the communication education field.
Reshaping institutions’ approaches to basic communication and communication education have produced remarkable results for Simonds. It is through these efforts that Simonds is able to assist other institutions in saving their communication programs by proving their value.