Category Archives: 2. Featured Articles

Start the Semester Strong

None of us entered our field because we wanted to alienate students. Yet unwittingly, much of our traditional first-day agendas do just that. Reading the syllabus as a contractual obligation, warning about late work and poor attendance, and being the “sage on the stage” can create the opposite of an atmosphere that will excite students about our courses.

So just what will engage our students from the get-go? At Spartanburg Community College, new faculty watch a video called Voices of Our Students that was created by a student intern, reports Dr. Tena Long Golding. The video contains students’ perspectives about their college teachers and reveals that students describing a “great professor” use words such as honest, relatable, engaging, concerned, invested, and enthusiastic.

Students in the video also describe what makes for a “favorite professor.” They list the following desirable traits:

  • are consistent and predictable
  • believe in students’ ability to succeed
  • entertain when lecturing
  • help students having trouble by being available and offering feedback
  • make connections between course content and the “real world”
  • motivate students using a variety of methods
  • open discussions after lectures
  • share personal anecdotes
  • view students as individuals

As we start our new academic year, perhaps we can use these student impressions to help us create more meaningful courses—and maybe even become those “favorite professors.” Below are some ways to start the new semester off on the right foot.

Offer a meaningful promise about what students will learn. Tell students what they will take away from your course. A statement such as “Everything you read and write about in this course will be relevant to your futures as business professionals” will likely grab their attention.

Engage the class with multimedia. Our millennial students are used to being dazzled by images on their screens. Can you create or show a short video? Play a podcast? Project photographs? You’ll wake up even the most uninterested students if you appeal to their need to view learning at least in some part as entertaining.

Demonstrate consequences of poor classroom behavior. Perhaps you can make your own cellphone go off or respond to a text message while you are speaking. While going over the syllabus, you might tell a “sad story about Missing Student” who skipped so many classes and got so hopelessly behind that she [fill in the blank.] Present your pet peeves to students in a creative way.

With a little effort and a few tweaks to the standard way of starting a new course, this may be your best year of teaching yet!

Do you have any first-day activities or strategies to engage your students? St

Making the Last Day of Class Count

By the end of the academic year, both students and instructors are ready to call it quits. Students are bleary-eyed from finishing assignments and studying for finals. Instructors are gearing up for marathon grading sessions. It’s no wonder that in the hustle of the last few days of class instructors may forget to tie things up gracefully.

Below are some ways business communication instructors can take advantage of the last day of class and help students remember what they have accomplished.

Return to the beginning

Remind students of the course’s objectives and how the tasks they completed linked to those objectives. By reviewing the major concepts the course has addressed, students will come away with a sense of accomplishment.

Ask students to think about their new knowledge

Either in groups or individually, ask students to consider the new skills they have acquired compared to what they knew before the course. Doing so highlights what students have accomplished in a few months that will stay with them as they enter the workforce.

Have students reflect about their performance

To help students take responsibility for their own learning, ask them how their approach to the class helped or hindered their performance. Students can identify their successes as well as what they might have done differently. Ask students to send themselves a letter with these conclusions before the next term—a “note- to-self” reminder of lessons learned.

Invite current students to write to future students

By advising future students about how to get the most out of the course, current students think about their own learning experience. The suggestions to the next class can forewarn new students about potential challenges. Some instructors even take these suggestions and post them on the course website.

Create an end-of-class ritual

Mark the importance of ending the course as a community. Instructors can recognize students by handing out awards for excellence, most improved, and most engaged students. Some instructors ask students to organize a pot-luck for part of the last day as a way to celebrate everyone’s efforts.

Make their exit personal

As students leave the classroom, instructors may wish to shake hands or offer words of encouragement to each individual. This creates an upbeat feeling as students step into their futures.

Do you employ any end-of-semester rituals? Tell us what you do and start a conversation!




A Shot in the Arm: Using the Mylan Scandal to Bring Ethics into the Business Communication Classroom

Lapses of ethics and subsequent scandals in the business world are all-too-easy to find—Wells Fargo employees opening sham accounts with tacit nods of approval from management, Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes stepping down after female employees claim he sexually harassed them, Drug giant Mylan price gouging the life-saving EpiPen, automaker Volkswagen using software to deceive authorities about diesel emissions—the list goes on.

Although these misdeeds are disturbing, they do give business communication instructors a way to enliven their courses with real-life cases from today’s headlines and provide them with fodder with which they can teach their students about ethical behavior.

Simply put, ethics are a set of principles that define right from wrong. In the business world, ethical standards hold professionals to a higher standard than the law, because while an action may be legal, it may not be the right thing to do. Acting ethically requires choosing the right course of action given a specific set of circumstances. Doing so is never easy, but identifying the primary issues surrounding the decision will make the task less difficult.

Teaching ethics in the context of the business communication classroom can be challenging. However, thoughtful analysis of unethical business decisions can prepare students to act ethically themselves. They will also see how unethical behaviors not only affect a business’s bottom line, but how those actions harm innocent people just like them.

Ethical Case Study: The EpiPen Scandal

[Instructors: The below exercise summarizes the EpiPen Scandal. It is followed by five questions that, when answered, help illuminate the process of critical thinking required to make ethical decisions. You may download the exercise and its suggested solution here.]

The EpiPen is a life-saving syringe containing epinephrine, a medicine that treats severe allergic reactions to a substance such as peanuts or the venom from a bee sting. People with these types of allergies can die within minutes of being exposed to the allergens, so having the syringe is a necessity. The condition is not rare—doctors wrote 3.6 million prescriptions for the pens in 2015.

The drug is a big money maker for manufacturer Mylan. Although the medicine itself is inexpensive, the delivery system hikes up the price of the pens. Still, in 2009, a two-pack of the pens cost $100; in 2016, the same medicine cost $618, a 400 percent increase. Because consumers had no alternative to EpiPens, they had to pay the inflated price or do without the life-saving medicine. Public outrage over the price jump resulted in Mylan CEO Heather Bresch (who earned $19 million in 2015) testifying to Congress to explain what consumers considered price gouging.

In response to the well-publicized scandal, Mylan produced a generic version of the EpiPen and marketed it for $300. The episode has brought drug price gouging to the forefront of public discussions surround healthcare costs.

Applying Critical Thinking to the Ethics of the EpiPen Scandal

Imagine you lead Mylan’s marketing department and realize that because millions of people require your product, you have a built-in market with no competitors. You do the math and realize how much money your firm would make by raising the product’s price. Should you recommend a series of price hikes to pad your organization’s bottom line?

When analyzing whether an action is ethical, it’s useful to think through the situation by answering these five questions.

  1. Is the action legal? If the answer is no, the action is not ethically sound and should be dropped.
  2. Would you do it if you were on the opposite side? Ethical decisions consider how an action will affect others.
  3. Can you find a better alternative? Situations rarely have just one resolution.
  4. Would a trusted advisor agree? The input of a respected mentor can clarify matters.
  5. Would family, friends, employer, or coworkers approve? If those you care about and work with would disapprove, the action is likely better left undone.

Analyzing the Ethics of the EpiPen Scandal—Suggested Solution

  1. Is the action legal? The decision to raise the price was legal.
  2. Would you do it if you were on the opposite side? If you had an allergy that could kill you, you would likely would want to carry the pen and would object to the price increases.
  3. Can you find a better alternative? Sell the pens in bulk to sell more but at a lower price, provide a generic version, or seek price hikes from other Mylan drugs.
  4. Would a trusted advisor agree? While we live in a free market economy, few people would agree that forcing consumers who have no alternative to your product—and who need that product to save them from a life-threatening condition—was ethical.
  5. Would family, friends, employer, or coworkers approve? To jack up the price is exploitive.