Arizona Board of Regents: Learner-Centered Education Course Redesign Initiative

Arizona State University

Course Title: Public Speaking
Redesign Coordinator: Meg McConnaughy

Project Abstract
Final Report (as of 6/1/09)

Project Abstract

The West campus of Arizona State University (ASU-West) plans to redesign its Public Speaking course. This course meets a university-wide literacy requirement for students, is a core requirement for the communications studies major, and is an out-of-program requirement for pre-law, education, business, life sciences, and organizational studies. Thus, the course has a consistent, high-demand enrollment. It currently enrolls 200 students annually in eight sections of 25 students each. Section size has been limited to 25 students per section to ensure sufficient time for students to give speeches in class in front of and along with their peers. This requires adding sections to accommodate increased enrollment.

In the face of increasing demand, the course presents several challenges its current format. As the West campus continues to grow (slated to double in size over the next decade), the challenge is to meet increasing enrollment demand while maintaining the speaking component of the course. A second concern is that individual instructors develop their own syllabi, determine course content and select their own textbooks, which introduces course drift and inconsistencies across sections. Additionally, the course attracts students of varying proficiencies and maturity levels. Public speaking anxiety is common in the course and can manifest in unusual ways. Anecdotal evidence indicates that students drop the course when they do not receive appropriate assistance in dealing with their public speaking anxiety.

ASU-West plans to use the Supplemental Model in the redesigned course, increasing enrollment without creating additional resource demands on the department or diminishing the quality of instruction. The redesign will enroll 600 students annually in six large lecture sections of 100 students each. Student speeches and audience feedback will take place in 24 lab sections of 25 students each. There will be a common syllabus as well as a set of common learning objectives and a textbook for the lecture sections. A single faculty member devoted to teaching the course will also oversee undergraduate learning assistants who will staff the smaller lab sections. Testing in the course will be reconfigured from two large exams and a final to a series of shorter quizzes administered with greater frequency. By testing students throughout the term, students will be asked to more regularly and consistently engage with the material. Different student learning styles and motivation can be addressed, and students will receive increased feedback after speeches and individualized assistance as appropriate.

The course redesign will use three pre- and post-assessment tools to compare student apprehension and communication with others in the traditional and redesigned formats. The first assessment is the Personal Report of Communication Apprehension which assesses several types of communication apprehension: groups, meetings, interpersonal or public speaking. The second assessment is the Personal Report of Public Speaking Anxiety which identifies how the student responds to public speaking. The third assessment will be developed as a common rubric to evaluate each student's first speech and to compare it to the student's final speech for the semester. This rubric will be based on the model developed by the National Communication Association.

The redesigned course will reduce the cost of offering Public Speaking from $342 to $142 per student, an estimated 58% cost reduction, while increasing the capacity of the course enrollment threefold. Additional benefits derived from the redesign will include: (a) reducing a bottleneck in the curriculum; (b) providing a select group of upper division students with the opportunity for developing their instructional, professional and mentoring abilities, and (c) improving educational quality and consistency in the course. The savings will be deployed by the department to increase the offerings elsewhere in the curriculum.

Final Report (as of 6/1/09)

Impact on Students

Improved Learning

Evaluation of final speeches compared student performance in the traditional and redesigned courses. The team found that performance levels on the final speech differed no more than 2.10 percent in the redesigned course when compared to the traditional course.

Two other assessments, the PRPSA and the PRCA-24, were used to evaluate changes in speech anxiety levels throughout the semester. The data showed that in both the traditional and redesigned courses, students improved anxiety levels by an average of 10-12%. There was no significant difference between the traditional and the redesigned course in anxiety levels or its improvement.

Improved Retention

The course completion rate (C or better) went from 92% to 89%, and there was a small increase in withdrawals from the course.

Other Impacts on Students

The largest impact that the team saw on students was an increase in comfort when speaking in a public setting. Using trained undergraduate students was an important benefit of the redesign course. While overall speech anxiety levels and their progress through the semester were very similar between the traditional and redesign courses, students enrolled in the redesign course were much more likely to voluntarily engage in public speaking at an earlier point during the semester. Students were quick to engage in class discussions and more excitement was shown from students about to perform their speech assignments than in the traditional course.

Impact on Cost Savings

The original cost savings plan was to reduce the cost-per-student by $200 by tripling enrollment capacity. Because of university restrictions, enrollment in the course has only doubled. The redesigned course clearly has the ability to triple capacity. One faculty member teaches all of the public speaking sections with the help of trained undergraduate teaching assistants. The team anticipates implementing the full plan in the future.

Lessons Learned

Pedagogical Improvement Techniques

  • Using a single professor. With only one professor teaching the course, all students were held to the same expectations. A common syllabus outlining similar procedures and expectations was implemented every semester. A common teaching style emphasized similar course logistics, procedures and grading techniques.
  • Using a single textbook. It was mandatory for every student to acquire a copy of the textbook, which was published in a special edition specifically for ASU students. Using a single textbook allowed the students to focus on the course material that was practiced and tested in the classroom. Also, the professor added supplemental material to the textbook so that the students could grasp the instructor’s expectations.

Cost Savings Techniques

  • Increased enrollment capacity. In previous semesters, the public speaking course enrolled 200 students per year and was traditionally taught in eight sections, capped at 25 students each, in small classrooms. In contrast, the redesigned course provided six mass lectures that were capped at 100 students. This provided an opportunity for 600 students to complete the public speaking course annually.
  • No additional resources required. Despite the increased enrollment in the redesigned course, the number of faculty members did not change. When student enrollment was capped at 200 students, one professor could teach the class. After, the course was redesigned to enroll three times as many students, one professor was still capable of teaching the course.

Implementation Issues

  • Undergraduate teaching assistants. Some of the faculty and students were concerned about undergraduates assisting in the laboratory sections of the redesigned course. However, many students gained comfort in the sections that utilized undergraduate teaching assistants. The public speaking course has been known for beginning public speakers’ high levels of anxiety. By the end of the course, the students were more engaged in public speaking activities.
  • Giving weekly assessments. Giving weekly assessments on the course material was initially a concern for the professor when the course was redesigned. However, with the use of Turning Point, the administration of student assessments was much more organized. Turning Point aided in simplifying grading and prevented students from violating academic integrity rules.
  • Scheduling. Some students faced a minor obstacle in scheduling their lecture and laboratory sections. For example, some students scheduled their lab section before their lecture and had concerns about not having all the required course material to complete an upcoming assignment.


The course redesign has proven to be sustainable. The team can maintain a consistent curriculum and deliver course content effectively to the students while producing cost savings. Because the university is making a large variety of changes to its academic programs, however, ASU does not plan to keep the redesign in place. If the overall university situation becomes more stable, the redesign will likely be sustained over the long-term.



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