Melanie Morgan and Jennifer Hall frequently offer a simple instruction to those teaching courses in speech and communication.
“Don’t tell them, show them.”
In “Presentations That Matter” – co-written with Lindsey Anderson, who in 2014 completed a doctorate in organizational communication at Purdue – the Purdue faculty members applied that mantra in textbook form.
Rather than simply describe public speaking concepts to students in COM 114 (Fundamentals of Speech Communication) and COM 217 (Science Writing and Presentation), the authors inserted multimedia content directly onto the textbook page.
Spread throughout each chapter are QR codes linking to video examples of the concepts the text describes. By simply scanning the code with their smartphone camera, a student can begin watching the selected video within seconds.
“Many times, what we would do in a book like this is just describe, ‘Oh, well so-and-so was at an event and here’s what happened.’ Just telling them about it,” said Morgan, a professor in the Brian Lamb School of Communication and associate dean in Purdue’s Graduate School. “This is a way for us to show them.”
Many students had never utilized QR codes as an educational tool before purchasing the textbook when it debuted in fall 2019. For students in the COM 114 class directed by Hall, the book was an immediate hit for students.
“Public speaking and presenting is pretty open-ended, so you can read about it all you want, but you really have to see it to understand it,” said Agustina Fainguersch, a sophomore in nutrition and dietetics on the pre-med track. “And the book was written in a way that was very easy to comprehend and read, so overall it just made for a much better experience.”
Another aspect of the book that helped it resonate with students was the material’s diversity.
Most of the linked videos in the text come from the C-SPAN video library, so of course there are clips featuring notable politicians like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump. However, the authors made a point not to overwhelm readers with videos of representatives giving speeches from the floor of Congress.
They introduced a chapter on presenting with confidence using a clip of comedian Seth Rogen’s congressional testimony about his mother-in-law’s diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s disease at age 55. They opened the chapter on narratives and storytelling with a clip of actor and former pro football player Terry Crews’ testimony as a sexual assault victim. And they provided an example of presentation preparation with Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s opening statement before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in 2018.
The authors plan to frequently change the clips used to keep the material fresh.
“There are so many videos and real-life examples of each topic, which is great. But I also loved the fact that it’s so up-to-date,” said Hall’s student Neel Narayanan, a junior in supply chain management. “This is a new generation. There are a lot more different things going on. This is something we can really relate to, and I felt like it touches the student better.”
In an effort to engage with the many STEM students taking COM 114 and 217, the authors also made sure to include presentations by speakers like former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Tom Frieden, former Mozilla COO Denelle Dixon, and astronaut Ed Lu.
“Especially because we were planning to use it with COM 217 and we have such a strong STEM culture here, we tried to find examples of STEM-related topics,” Hall said. “We were really trying to find a broad range of topics. The idea is that students who are in different majors will say, ‘OK, this is where I see this happening.’”
C-SPAN video did not make its way into the textbook with simple permission from the public affairs network founded by Purdue alumnus Brian Lamb. It got there through direct involvement from Connie Doebele and her team at Purdue’s Center for C-SPAN Scholarship & Engagement (CCSE), along with enthusiastic support from Lamb himself.
Not only did Lamb make a surprise appearance at a national communication conference in Baltimore to help the authors promote the book, he jokingly admitted having stolen their concept. When the paperback version of his book, “The Presidents,” debuted in April, it included a page with QR codes linking to video material.
“It’s as clever as it can be,” Lamb said. “I didn’t even know you could do this. I’m old and not a QR code-reader type, but I was just blown away by what they did because I think it’s about the best thing I’ve ever seen as a way to engage the video with the print in the classroom.”
Doebele was equally impressed by the possibilities when Morgan and Hall first approached her about creating a textbook that utilized QR codes linking to C-SPAN material. She quickly embraced the marriage that could exist between the printed text and the network’s expansive video library.
“The melding of the two is one of the things the center is trying to do, which is move some of this video into the classroom in the best way that we know how,” said Doebele, the CCSE’s managing director. “I think Melanie and Jen did a great job here of making the clips tell their point in a way that’s very difficult to do without showing students the example.”
Doebele also hoped that partnering on the textbook would increase awareness among COM 114’s many undergraduate students that the C-SPAN library is a free resource available to support their academic work. “Presentations That Matter” seems to have fulfilled that purpose, as well.
“Honestly, what it did more for me than just scanning and seeing the videos that were mentioned is I started exploring C-SPAN and all of the sites that it sent us to. One or two of them went to YouTube, and most of them went to C-SPAN,” said second-year engineering student Jessica Goldberg. “They would show other videos that you may find interesting, and so I just went on kind of a spiral and was able to see all these events that happened.”
The next steps for the textbook are largely up to the authors.
It went digital this fall, with the C-SPAN clips embedded directly onto the e-book’s pages. With so many students attending class and studying remotely this fall during the COVID-19 pandemic, the e-book format helps them easily access the video content.
Anderson and speech students at the University of Maryland began using it in classes this fall, while Morgan also hopes the book can become the basis for an instructional resource available to speech teachers across the country, featuring multiple clips that reinforce each important public speaking concept.
Their main concern, however, is that the book serves as a valuable tool for Purdue students who will recall its lessons long after they complete the speech course.
“We really want students to think about the material way past this class, like, ‘OK, something [in a video example] didn’t look so good. I don’t want to look like that when I go out in public, so maybe I should take these skills seriously so that I’m better prepared,’” Morgan said.