Oral still a requirement, but is it intensive?
By Reba Lean and Tom Hewitt
Sun Star Reporters
First-year students at UAF may enter their college careers fresh-faced and optimistic about their major, but sooner or later they realize a basic truth: it’s all about the ‘O.’
Among the university’s core components for a bachelor’s degree is the Oral-Intensive Communication requirement, known informally as the “O” requirement, or simply the “O.” Established in 1993, the requirement states that a student must take at least one upper-division course marked as oral intensive in order to graduate. But what makes a class oral intensive? Sometimes it’s hard to tell.
Tim Edsell is a fifth-year journalism major. While his concentration is in photography, he found himself taking a television news class this semester – something he hasn’t had much experience with. Taking the class was his choice, but only to satisfy the oral intensive requirement. He said he’s still unsure what “oral intensive” means. To him, “it just meant that it was going to be a lot of speaking in front of people,” said Edsell.
In his television news class, though, the speaking-in-front-of-people portion has not yet materialized. Lately the students have been recording voice tracks and matching them with footage. “Other than the voice over video part of the assignments, there is very little ‘vocal’ requirements,” he said. Edsell said he’d expected a great deal more emphasis on public speaking.
Though Edsell’s class might not be a good example, the university does have specific requirements a course must fulfill to be considered oral intensive. The “O” guidelines stipulate that, among other things, at least 15 percent of a student’s grade in the course must be based on the effectiveness of his or her oral communication. Additionally, classes must require oral presentations of up to 20 minutes each.
Cross-listed under journalism and theater is a course called ‘Lighting Design.’ The class has both online and traditional versions and both qualify as oral intensive. At first glance, one might wonder how an online class could possibly fulfill the oral requirement.
Kade Mendelowitz, UAF theater professor, teaches both courses and has strict requirements for each. “I believe many of the students who take my course mostly to meet their oral intensive requirement are surprised by how much work there is to do in the class which, unfortunately, contributes to a low success rate for the course,” said Mendelowitz.
In both classes, he requires students to design lighting arrangements for plays and write concept papers about them. Those papers are presented orally, and if online, it will require extra work. Mendelowitz offers a short tutorial on the sound program “Audacity,” which his online students must use to record their presentations and submit electronically.
Mendelowitz has taught the online course for three years now, and he said that it has a low passing rate. But he believes that, as an upper-division course, the workload is justified. He said it is a small price to pay for students who want to graduate on time.
The oral requirement came up for debate when Chancellor Brian Rogers’ Core Revitalization and Assessment Group presented their recommendations for revisions to the undergraduate core in May of 2009. In its report to the faculty senate, the group wrote, “Comments received on the [feedback] survey and in public forums… indicated concern about the quality of learning outcomes in lower division written and oral communication requirements and how those courses are implemented.”
While they argued in favor of revising the lower-level standards, the group favored the status quo with regard to the upper-division requirement. So – at least for now – the “O” remains alive and well at UAF.