Teaching Speech Online: It Can Be Done

William Wade, Jason Donner
Innovation Showcase

West Kentucky Community and Technical College (WKCTC) in Paducah, Kentucky, began and maintained an online speech class over a two year period beginning in the spring term of 2001. Constance Frank, the speech teacher at the college in those years, had some good experiences and some bad ones when we first tried to offer the techniques and processes of Basic Speech online. The technology was new and consistency was not the rule. VHS tapes, micro and mini cassettes were available, and every video maker had a different player and a different tape format. According to Professor Frank, "Students had to mail videotapes by snail mail to me. This was cumbersome and lacked the immediacy I believe public speaking students need regarding feedback to speech delivery." Postal mail was not the most efficient means of transporting the speech between teacher and student and, for the sake of economy, the tapes had to be returned to the student, adding to delay and confusion. Another problem was the variety of the equipment itself. "Students were responsible for providing their own equipment for recording their speeches. Such cameras were more expensive at that time and came in many sizes and shapes."

In 2001-2002, Professor Franks required online students "to contract each speech with a real audience. For example, deliver a speech to a church group, school, business work group, etc. Many times students did not arrange appropriate contracts or would change what they were doing... One time, I had a student actually deliver a speech to no one in particular in a bar!" Failure to deliver a speech to an appropriate group would negatively influence  students' grades, but as Franks explained, "By the time I received the tape, too much time may have passed to be able to make up a speech done incorrectly." Because of the restrictive nature of the equipment, transportation of material, time delays, and confusion, we discontinued the offering of online speech after the end of the spring term 2002.

Eleven years have made a significant difference in what we offer online and how we offer it. Jason Donner, a full-time faculty member at WKCTC, is currently teaching an online speech course. In the fall of 2012, he began his third semester of teaching this online class, having developed the course content and honed the processes over the previous four semesters. Although teaching speech online may have some inherent challenges, it can also have some advantages over a face-to-face speech class. If a student is indeed learning how to make a speech, the format of an online class lends itself to helping the student learn procedures and see strengths and weaknesses.

Donner began course development by creating a hybrid, or blended, course, which he taught for several years before bringing it to full online stature. In the period of experimentation and research, and with the technology blended with his physical class, Donner was able to observe what did and did not work. He determined where the students benefitted from the use of technology and where technology got in the way more than it helped. An excellent example of online advantage came in the form of video-recorded speeches. The software Donner uses is a product of Cengage Publishing, Speech Studio 2.0. In this software, the instructor can work from an established rubric or modify that rubric to meet individual needs, provide feedback for individual speeches, and create assessments that record into a grade book. The course can be managed within Speech Studio, and assessments can be forwarded into course or lesson management systems. The instructor can also allow students to evaluate each other's speeches.

Donner grants students access to the class several days in advance of the start date to allow them to see course content, study processes, try out software, and gather needed materials. Since the class is online, each student must own or have ready access to a computer, and must have a video recording device such as a video camera or a webcam. Each student must gather an audience for his or her speech. A minimum audience for a graded speech is eight viewers, and other parameters for audiences are defined at the beginning of the course. Exceptions can be made upon request, as when a student requested that some of his viewers attend his speech virtually via Skype.

The speech is given in a controlled environment, saved to a computer hard drive, and submitted to Speech Studio. Once delivered, the instructor can log in and view the speech. Comments, reactions, and suggestions are made beside the speech and are time stamped so the student can jump to the comment. If a student is seen by the instructor to lose the attention of the audience, the instructor can stamp the moment to help the student see where and how it happened. This technique would be difficult to replicate for a live, unrecorded classroom speech. Other obvious advantages include going over weak areas several times, getting input from other students, and seeing strengths in a given point in the speech process.

In his fall 2011 online speech class, Donner required several campus visits to answer questions and strengthen all aspects of the class. That class had 20 students. In the 2012 spring term, he taught his first fully online class and required no campus visits. During the summer 2012, he taught his second fully online class, which had thirty students. Two sections of the online course in fall 2012 had thirty students each. Donner has reviewed the statistics for the fall 2011 class and spring 2012 class, and finds the success rates to be approximately 87% for both, only slightly lower than the 92% success rate for his campus-based speech classes. A student is considered successful if he or she earns a C or higher.

Materials for the class are reasonably priced. A required Cengage text, costing $20, is used to gain insight into the speech-giving process. The Speech Studio 2.0 software is $33.00. At less than $60, the total cost for the book and software is a bargain when compared to the costs of other classes.

For further information about WKCTC's online speech courses and Cengage Speech Studio, contact Jason Donner at West Kentucky Community and Technical College.

William Wade is the retired Dean of Online Learning at West Kentucky Community and Technical College.

Jason Donner has taught speech at West Kentucky Community and Technical College since 2000, and has been full time since 2010.

Opinions expressed in Innovation Showcase are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.