[We’re pleased to welcome authors Dale Cyphert, Corrine Holke-Farnam, Elena N. Dodge, W. Eric Lee, Sarah Rosol of the University of Northern Iowa. They recently published an article in the Business and Professional Communication Quarterly entitled “Communication Activities in the 21st Century Business Environment,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they briefly describe the motivations and innovations of this research.
What motivated you to pursue this research?
Most faculty view assessment as a chore to be accomplished with the least amount of effort or involvement. The business faculty at the University of Northern Iowa approach things a little differently, so when I say this research was motivated by the assessment process, I mean that in all the right ways. The authors were selected for the team because our courses included writing or communication instruction, so right off the bat we were interested in doing research that would enhance our own classroom experience. Besides that, conducting research that has an impact in the classroom is valuable in the College’s AACSB accreditation process, so we knew that our work would be recognized and rewarded. Finally, with our integrated assessment and curriculum process, we knew that our results couldn’t just be tossed aside. Our shared governance model ensures that when faculty discover a need for curriculum change, instructional resources, or professional development, administration will address the challenges constructively. With good processes in place, we were motivated to conduct rigorous, cutting edge research on our communication learning goals.
In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?
Our innovation was avoiding the traditional, academic mindset and embracing the employer’s perspective with a customer-oriented methodology for evaluating quality in service industries. We’ve used the model several times, but this was the first time with communication skills. So, our first step was to review the previous research on business students’ communication skills. The glaring issue was the on-going nature of employer complaints about lack of student preparation, which struck us as precisely the sort of problem that service companies face when they lack a good understanding of customers’ expectations. So, our real contribution was that we took the crucial step of finding out what communication behaviors our graduates are really expected to perform. We didn’t just define the perfect communication education from our academic mindset—which is rather like a professional chef defining the perfect dining experience based on his or her own whims and preferences. Some elite chefs can afford to run tiny exclusive restaurants, but as a public university, we can’t afford to provide education that serves only employers who just happen to need the skill set that we envision as perfect preparation. Instead, we asked a range of business employers what educational service they actually expect us to provide. The menu turned out to be quite different from what we’d been serving!
What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?
This is no different from any other field of study: be sure you find out what’s already been done and build on that! Business professionals regularly call for educators to do a “better” job of educating students in communication, but this doesn’t mean that educators haven’t been working on the problem! In fact, the first attempts to design a professionally relevant curriculum date back to the 1840’s. It’s a complex problem with a long history of research. There’s no sense in repeating work that’s already been done, and plenty of important research questions that still need to be answered.
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