Category Archives: 2. Featured Articles

Remote Teaching Tips: Improving Breakout Groups

In large lecture halls or intimate classrooms, college instructors have traditionally broken students into small groups to collaborate. But in the move to remote learning, using this time-tested practice has hit some bumps along the road. Use the following tips to improve breakout groups when you teach online.

  1. Assign students to learning groups of four to five at the beginning of the semester. Allow students to determine how they will reach one another to work together. Alternatively, specify which app you would prefer they use. Have students work in these groups for the entire term, so that anytime groupwork is assigned, they already have a communication channel in place.
  2. Prepare students for group work sessions. Make sure you have laid the groundwork to complete the assigned group work. For example, if the groups are analyzing a poorly written document, they must first understand the characteristics of a well-written document.
  3. Help avoid student confusion by clarifying the purpose of the group session. Remote learning requires more focus than face-to-face, so provide students with clear written and oral instructions. One of the ways to make sure students understand what they are supposed to do during a breakout session is to first explain the outcome of the task to the entire class and then pose the question,Can you each write down the purpose of this task?
  4. Prepare clear instructions for the group work task. Provide students with a written explanation on the course website or in Google Docs that includes an introduction or background (similar to what has been discussed in class synchronously) and specific tasks or discussion questions the group must complete.
  5. Inform students about grading. Tell the class whether the teamwork will be graded individually, as a group, or as homework, while also informing them of when (or whether) it is due at a later date.
  6. Give groups the right amount of time to complete the discussion or task. This is no mean feat. Groups work at different paces, but the death knell to online teamwork is for students to either scurry to finish because not enough time is allotted, or because they have finished and are twiddling their thumbs until the class comes together again.
  7. Monitor groups’ progress. Check in with the groups as you would if you were in a classroom. Many course management systems have this function built in, or, you may prefer using Slack of MS Teams. Similarly, if you assign students to work collaboratively on a document you’ve created in Google Docs, you can look at what the students have written by opening the shared document.
  8. Prepare yourself for the technological side of remote group work. Be sure you understand how to use Zoom’s screen sharing, group messaging, and whiteboard functions. Importantly, learn how to secure your Zoom session from Zoom-bombing. Set a new password for each meeting and use the waiting room feature.

Perhaps the best benefit of remote groupwork is that students have time to talk to one another while learning. Such moments can build bonds and connections that enhance their education during these difficult times.



Using BusCom Course Content to Engage Students

Students often complain that some of their college courses are either too arcane or theoretical to be relevant or useful. However, we business communication instructors face no such negativity and with a few strategic moves can engage students by emphasizing the enduring usefulness of the skills our discipline teaches.

As the new semester nears, the points below will show your students that Business Communication just may be the most important class they take during college.

Stress the breadth of business communication’s reach. Whatever a student’s major, that field will demand competent written and oral communication. Engineers must explain their ideas to non-engineers; economists need to write coherent reports; biologists and other science-related fields routinely apply for grants and communicate with colleagues. Every graduate entering the workforce must possess strong written and oral communication skills. Enter buscom!

Explain the variety of genres taught in the business communication class. Job application letters, résumés, short and long reports, routine communication via text, e-mail, or IM—business communication encompasses many genres that students need to master, making them valuable hires to for-profit organizations or NGOs.

Discuss daily business-related news to show the pervasiveness of the field. The news is full of stories about business—most media have a specific business section. By showing students that business is an integral part of the world, you can further emphasize the importance of buscom class course material.

Relate course assignments to actual on-the-job activities. As you go through the syllabus, show students that course assignments are based on real-world scenarios. Up-to-date textbooks that are well-researched and authoritative (e.g., Guffey/Loewy-authored texts) can help instructors pave the way to using actual business scenarios that further cement the relevance of business communication.

Inform students about celebrity CEOs known for their communication style. Everyone loves a star, and business has its fair share of well-known communicators. Steve Jobs may have driven his staff to their limits, but he had no peer as a communicator of his vision for Apple. Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, is known for his written messages to his staff, even penning his own quarterly shareholder reports. These business stars can inspire students.

Distribute testimonials from former students. Testimonials from former students help current students understand what their peers took away from their business communication course.

Share personal experience in the “real world.” Nothing hits home with students like real-life experience. If you have worked or currently work outside of academia, your experiences of using writing skills will capture students’ interest and demonstrate that you speak from experience rather than theory.

One final tip for starting off your course right: Once students have seen the importance of their new course, have them write what they currently know about business communication and what they hope to learn. Ask students to write goals for the semester, and have them return to these goals periodically to remind them why they are studying effective business communication.







Make the Last Day of Class a Great One

[Instructors: This post was written before COVID-19 closed our campuses. Still, many of the activities listed below are still applicable.]

In the busy weeks at the end of a semester, it’s easy to overlook creating meaningful activities for the final day of class. However, the last meeting can provide an excellent teaching opportunity that also reinforces pedagogical objectives. Below are ideas for activities on the last day of a term.

Connect coursework to future careers. This activity is tailor-made to the business communication classroom. Discuss why effective writing and oral communication can help advance careers. Cite from surveys and studies that talk about employers’ most wanted qualities in new-hires—excellent communication skills always top the lists. Then have students work together to discuss how they foresee using what they have learned when they enter the workplace.

Review course objectives. Provide an overview of the course’s goals, touching on how the assignments and tests helped to teach and reinforce those goals. Then allow students to work in small groups to create informal presentations of their favorite assignment.

Ask the class to address future students. Having current class members write letters to future students forces critical thinking and reflection. Request that current students include what new students can expect to learn and to give advice for success (e.g. do the readings, go to office hours, and the like.) Note: Be sure to obtain permission from current students to distribute the letters in the future.)

Assign an in-class reflection about individual experiences. Give students a prompt to guide them through a written reflection about what they learned about course content.

Share projects. If students have worked on a major project, have them share their work. Allow students to move around the room to see what their classmates have achieved.

Have a potluck. Students love free food, and a celebratory potluck in the classroom (or outside on a nice day) is a fun way to end the semester. Provide a sign-up sheet so all students commit to bring something.  [COVID-19 take on this activity: Ask students to bring a favorite treat to the last session. Allow each student to explain the choice.]

Give a mini-quiz. Have students write three of the most important takeaways from the class. Give them 10 minutes to write, after which you can ask a few students to volunteer to read their responses and explain their reasoning. These “quizzes” can be added to the final grade or not.

Whatever you choose to do on your last day, The Guffey Team wishes you a wonderful summer! See you in the fall!