University of Wisconsin–Madison

Communication-B Assessment Study Executive Summary

Denise H. Solomon (Chair of the Verbal Assessment Committee and Associate Professor of Communication Arts) & Leanne K. Knobloch (Verbal Assessment Project Assistant and Doctoral Candidate in Communication Arts)

The Communication-B requirement is designed to cultivate student literacy in writing, speaking, and library use. In collaboration with the members of the Verbal Assessment Committee, we conducted a study to address research questions concerning (a) the achievement of Comm-B objectives in terms of students’ writing performance, beliefs and self-perceptions of ability, and satisfaction with the course, and (b) the degree to which those outcomes correspond with characteristics of students, courses, instructors, and enrollment patterns.

The Comm-B study was designed to assess outcomes of the requirement, while being sensitive to the diversity of classes that are designated as Comm-B. We randomly sampled 70 sections of Comm-B classes offered during the spring of 1999, surveyed both students (n = 369) and instructors (n = 58) involved in the classes, assembled information from campus databases, and collected final papers that students submitted as part of the workload in the class (n = 384). A team of trained raters evaluated those papers with respect to 15 writing performance criteria.

Examined as a set, the results of this study suggest that the Comm-B course is generally effective with respect to writing performance, self-perceptions of ability, and student satisfaction. Notably, though, students are comparably less satisfied with the oral communication component of the course than the writing and information literacy components of the course. In addition, results identified seven factors that coincided with beneficial Comm-B outcomes: (a) completion of a Comm-A course, (b) more student effort, (c) use of a variety of instructional methods, (d) greater instructor expertise, (e) smaller class size, (f) more hours spent in low-enrollment sections, and (g) more course credit. Our suggestions link the results of this study to program level changes, as well as to revisions to the writing, speaking, and information literacy components of the course.


Findings and Recommendations: Course in General

  • Better writing performance and more positive self-perceptions of ability coincided with faculty-taught Comm-B sections. Thus, we recommend exploring incentive systems for encouraging more faculty to teach Comm-B classes.
  • Better writing performance and more positive self-perceptions of ability corresponded with instructors who have taught the course for multiple semesters. Thus, we recommend investigating ways to encourage and capitalize on instructor experience.
  • Smaller class sizes coincided with better writing performance, increased confidence in academic skills, and greater course satisfaction. Thus, we recommend evaluating strategies to facilitate smaller class sizes.
  • Teacher-student conferences corresponded with beneficial outcomes. Thus, we recommend evaluating strategies that would allow traditional instruction to be supplemented by increased one-on-one contact either in or outside of class.
  • The use of a variety of instructional strategies (e.g., peer review, teacher-student conferences, feedback on completed papers, feedback on drafts later revised, etc.) was beneficial. Thus, we recommend disseminating information on a diversity of methods for teaching the course.


Findings and Recommendations: Writing

  • Students who completed Comm-A tended to write more effectively than students who were exempted via English Placement Test scores (controlling for individual differences in academic ability). Thus, we recommend requiring all students to complete the Comm-A requirement.
  • More course credit corresponded with better writing performance. Thus, we recommend examining the feasibility of increasing the credit load associated with the course.


Finding and Recommendations: Speaking

  • Students were relatively unsatisfied with the speaking component of the Comm-B course. Thus, we recommend exploring the following strategies to provide more support for the oral communication requirement: (a) create an oral communication laboratory on campus to assist instructors in the teaching of speaking skills; (b) provide workshops to instructors on the teaching of oral communication; (c) develop a two-course sequence to fulfill Comm-A such that one course focuses on speaking and the other focuses on writing; (d) increase contact hours of the course; and (e) examine the feasibility of increasing the credit load associated with the course.


Findings and Recommendations: Information Literacy

  • Older students and those students who have completed more semesters at the University were more confident in their library research skills. Thus, we recommend cultivating the development of this confidence earlier in students’ academic careers by developing a program in “Information Literacy Across the Curriculum.” The mission of this program would be to encourage and facilitate library instruction in classes beyond the general education communication requirements.
  • Students who were exempted from Comm-A via English Placement test scores, and consequently missed the course’s formal instruction in information literacy, found that component of the Comm-B course to be particularly valuable. Thus, we recommend targeting formal information literacy instruction in classes that enroll a high proportion of students exempted from Comm-A.