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The Public Speaking Help Course: Communications Studies explores a way to help ailing students

May 01, 2010 by Luke Mueller

When a student becomes sick with the H1N1 virus, they are faced with a dilemma. Do they persevere and go to class with their illness and risk spreading it to other students? Or, do they stay at home, skip class and miss out on the lecture, the notes and possibly an assignment or quiz? For students enrolled in Public Speaking 1 and Public Speaking 1A at Kansas State University, it is no longer an issue.

Sarah Ragusa, a graduate student in the communication studies department at Kansas State University, has helped create an Axio course for students suffering from H1N1 and other illnesses that will keep the student from class for an extended period of time. Ragusa and her colleagues have two separate teams administering the contingency course. One team focuses on the teaching tasks, such as uploading video lectures, lecture notes, and study guides. The other team concentrates on evaluations, like quizzes.

The public speaking courses are taught by graduate teaching assistants (GTAs). The fall semester had 19 GTAs teaching more than 1,200 public speaking students. The course material and content is the same for each student, with slight variations in teaching methods. This consistency is helpful when Ragusa and her team add lectures and quizzes to the help course.

Ragusa said the video lectures are a great chance for GTAs to see how seasoned public speaking instructors present their material. The course is a great way for instructors to access other course materials for their own use. All public speaking GTAs and instructors have access to the help course as “instructors only”, so they cannot make changes or upload content without authorization. Students who meet the qualifications are then given access by their primary instructor.

Students are removed when they return to good health. This prevents students from accessing the site for lectures and information in lieu of attending class.

Ragusa thinks that this idea will expand and could be of use to other departments as well. Help courses can give instructors in other departments a way to offer students and GTAs added help. It could also serve as more than just a tool to help students who are ill. If a student has to be absent for an extended period of time, they could use a contingency course to stay on top of their studies.

“I believe our Axio help course will certainly be beneficial in the future, not only to students suffering from absences, but also to future GTAs,” Ragusa said.

Student enrollment in the course is low, because the the H1N1 virus did not affect the K-State community as much as predicted. However, the help course is a safety valve to ensure students who miss an extended period of time have a way to absorb all of the class material.

“I still feel that the help course is important for us to have. Our department regularly enrolls 800 to 1,000 students in public speaking classes a semester. The contingency course has been helpful to provide lectures, support materials and quizzes to students who might otherwise fall behind in the course,” Ragusa said.

The concept, which is still very new, has currently been implemented in two courses. Ragusa hopes that with success it will spread across campus, as it is a winning situation for all parties. The GTAs get experience teaching online, the students get caught up on work and the department provides a terrific service.

For more information about the Communications Studies Department visit