Although the tendency is always for the Communication lecturers to blame other colleagues and students, they have also contributed in devaluing the course. University courses should be designed to influence students’ worldviews and the teaching strategies should be a life changing experience to students. Traditionally, lecturers have always been role models in our societies and despite the endless challenges always plaguing the scholarship of teaching, they “remain the primary method of instruction in higher education” (Schwebel & Schwebel 2002: 88). This implies that their teaching approaches can shift students’ perceptions about a course. However, the following empirical evidence paints a blurred portrait of Communication lecturers:
One of the reasons why students and lecturers at CPUT seem not to understand the role of communication is sometimes because of the topics covered in the subject and the teaching strategies. The course guides seem to focus too much on mechanical or discipline-specific issues. These guides seem to provide limited space for boarder cognitive skills and often do not expose students to the challenges of learning in a university. (Lecturer’s response)
Most of the topics and discussions are on topics students covered at high school, so students are often bored by the lecture and they tend to lose interests in the subject (student response)
Students attend lectures because of the contribution that a course can offer to their learning experience and also because of the lecturer. But the excerpt above suggests that Communication courses have failed “to enhance the learning process beyond mere rote learning” (Schwebel & Schwebel 2002: 88). The focus on “mechanical or discipline specific issues” means that Communication courses are not challenging and therefore do not stimulate high thinking processes (Kreber, 2003; Pineteh, 2010). Yet student performance in Communication courses at CPUT is very disturbing and perhaps one way to improve pass rates is for lecturers to “make teaching [and learning experience] count” through meaningful collaborative and social constructivist learning (Kreber 2003: 94).
Similar sentiments are echoed in the following quotes from my discussion with a Communication lecturer and from a student’s reflection on the course.
“The way the course is designed in this university can also be blamed for the perceptions that I just mentioned. Universities are influenced by the demands of the industry. Often the support subjects like Communication tend to pay minimal interest in critical thinking and analytical skills especially at undergraduate level. Also, the lecturers do not have the right qualification to teach Communication, so they focus on topics that are easy (lecturer response)”
“The course can help us a lot but the way it is taught also poses a problem with learning. For example, most the topics that we cover are not very challenging and cannot really help us to perform well here. Many of the topics are important for the workplace but they are things that we can handle on our own-like CV, writing business letter and/or letters of application (Student response)”
The conception that Communication courses are relatively easy is untenable because at CPUT these courses produce some of the worst results. This indicates that students lack critical soft skills that can minimise their risk of failure at a university and it reaffirms their value in a university like CPUT(Thomas & De Villier, nd; Pineteh, 2010). But the mediocre student performance can also emanate from the dispassion nurtured by the way these courses are packaged and facilitated. One the one hand, teaching strategies should be student-centred and should speak to the diversity of students that we have at CPUT. On the other hand the course contents should introduce students to concepts that can imbue them with “higher-order cognitive skills” (Li, Long & Simpson 1999: 44).