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Helping Students Realize That Ideas Can Survive Outside Of The Classroom

Jaime P. Meyer

NDSTA Journal,
Volume 15, 2002.


Students seem to believe that course content lives only as long as the course does. Finding an outlet for student work can make the difference. The NDSTA Convention’s Student Paper Panel provides such an opportunity.

Author's Note:
The course assignments noted in this paper were greatly influenced by two previous instructors of the course: Dr. Tim Sellnow, North Dakota State University, and Associate Professor Donna Stack, University of Mary.

The choices made for the college classroom reflect many areas related to curricular decisions. Some such decisions might be level appropriateness (sophomore, senior, etc.), demands of the discipline under study, goals and objectives for the course, curricular emphasis of the school and/or department, and the basic to advanced nature of the course (Is it in a series of courses or is it a stand alone course?). Communication courses, specifically organizational communication in this situation, are no different. As students begin a course, it often seems that the above concerns do not particularly matter. Students’ sole interest of passing the course, and receiving a good grade, can reduce an instructor’s best choices for a course into a game of intellectual hide and seek - instructors seek to spark students’ intellectual depth and curiosity, but students might easily side-step their best efforts. So what is one possible solution? What might be attempted to stimulate a more developed response to a course?

One answer to the above questions is to seek an outlet for students’ best work, a way to demonstrate to the student that ideas have a life, purpose, and greater audience beyond the classroom. The NDSTA provides its college faculty membership that very outlet through its annual student papers panel at the state convention. The college/university representative to the NDSTA Executive Board posts a call for student papers (both undergraduate and graduate) for the panel, collects them for review and selection by a third party who also serves as the panel respondent at the convention, and helps notify the author of the papers chosen (usually about four to five papers). The papers undergo the traditional blind review and are courted through college faculty. Submissions can come from any communication related paper written by students.

Taking up this option has proven to be effective in the 400 level organizational communication course offered at the University of Mary. An opportunity to survive a competitive selection process in order to share the course’s capstone experience (a research paper) has enticed students of the course to submit papers to the NDSTA panel, proving to them that classroom ideas have value to a greater audience. Papers from the course have been submitted and accepted for presentation over the last several years.

The process begins the first day of class when the course syllabus is shared with the students. The concluding comment regarding the culminating paper, beyond it being the greatest impact on a student’s grade, is that the best papers in the course (determined by the instructor) will be chosen for submission to the NDSTA student paper panel. Students, of course, are not required to submit their papers even if it is chosen for submission. However, only one student has declined the opportunity over the years. The positive response rate is also another indicator that the classroom practice interests students.

The research paper for the organizational communication course centers on a question posed by the student about any aspect of organizational communication. It forces students to more than review material in a “tell about” style paper. The research is directed at introducing students to a scholarly approach to research: finding an answer, justifying that answer, assessing the effective use of the results. The course is the lone organizational communication course in the undergraduate curriculum and, therefore, is general in nature. The research paper allows students to develop some expertise in an area of interest in the discipline.

Annotated bibliographies are required for the course in order to explore ideas not covered in class or to explore ideas sparked in class. Either way, the research can easily play into helping the student complete the research paper. Also, students are required to submit a prospectus for the research paper. The prospectus helps students realize the full potential of their research, and it allows for feedback from the instructor as more of a collaborator. The research paper is then recognized as more the result of a developmental process than as an end of the course requirement. Some students who have gone on to graduate school have remarked that this process helped then be better prepared for the research demands of their graduate studies.

Below are a portion of the course’s assignment descriptions.


5 at 8 points each (3 pts. – Summary, 3 pts. – Evaluation, 2 pts. – Composition)

If something is annotated, it is further explained through noting key ideas. Here, an annotated bibliography means that a bibliographic entry is made (at the top of the page) and is followed by a 1-2 page summary of its contents. Also, a paragraph at the end of the annotated bibliography should be developed in order to assess the article (address positive and negative aspects of the ideas presented). Items used to create annotated bibliographies are usually articles from journals and magazines or chapters from books (but not our text, please).

These annotated bibliographies will allow specific areas/ideas of organizational communication to be more fully explored. These annotated bibliographies will also help in gathering information for the research paper.

All annotated bibliographies should be typed, double-spaced, with 1-1&1/2inch margins, and written with solid composition skills in mind. The annotated bibliographies are due as noted in the course calendar.

Bibliographic entries at the top of each annotated bibliography should follow the APA style. If a bibliographic citation is a concern, for example a unique source is found, consult me, please.


This paper is worth 25 points.

A prospectus is simply an outline of the prospects for your research paper. It is a preliminary assessment(yes, ideas can change) of how the research will proceed. The prospectus should include:

1. a clear statement of the research question - 2 pts.
2. an explanation as to why the question was posed (why did you ask it? what do you want to know?) - 3 pts.
3. the steps which will be covered in the paper to address the question (define the problem, define terms, pose sub-questions, etc.) as areas 1 through 3 of the paper's evaluation are satisfied (see p. 6) - 10 pts.
4. a preliminary list of sources (shoot for as many as possible) - 5 pts. (APA style)
5. the prospectus should be 2-3 pages long, well written, typed, double-spaced, with 1 – 1&1/2inch margins, and turned in as noted on the course calendar - 5 pts. (APA Style)

Also, the prospectus should be turned in again with the research paper. This will allow me to better understand the process resulting in the final product. The prospectus is designed to help you focus on the task and develop a "game plan" if not already done. This short paper will also allow me to provide feedback on the research paper before it is due. More details will be given in class as needed.


This paper is worth 100 points. Alone or with a partner.

The idea behind the research paper is to pose a question about an aspect of organizational communication that interests you. A question might be posed which seeks further exploration of a concept: What is organizational climate? What are the limits of organizational culture? A question might be posed which seeks to relate concepts: Which is more significant - climate or culture? How do verbals and nonverbals function as a unified force in organizations? A question might be posed which seeks to examine an organization you are a part of (service learning): What are the strengths and weaknesses of the communication here? How does communication function in this organization? Original/primary research (surveys, etc.) is possible. You may develop your own option, creativity is a plus, when cleared with the instructor (so it stays within the parameters of the assignment).

The research will then:
1. Answer the question.
2. Justify that answer. When writing, think of your audience as middle-managers in search of the same answer you are. So, be sure the answer to the question is fully defended/justified.
3. Assess how the organizational communication concept(s) under study can be used effectively or more effectively (whether in general terms, as under the first two types of questions above, or more specifically, as with the third question option). This part of the paper forces us to deal with change.
4. A minimum of 10 sources, of which one can be the text, must be cited in the paper in order to answer the question, justify the answer, comment on effectiveness, and generally document ideas. APA style will be used.
5. The paper should be 7-10 pages in length, typed, double-spaced, with 1-1&1/2 inch margins. Solid composition skills should be kept in mind. A complete reference list of sources should be included at the end of the paper. APA style will be used.
Research papers are due as noted in the course calendar. More details will be covered in class as needed. Exploring ideas can be unique and challenging. Don't worry if the answer to your question turns out to be very different than what you expected!