Behrend students adapt to Zoom-based speech class

A person holds a tablet computer as it displays faces of Zoom-style meeting participants

Large businesses are likely to continue using video conferencing systems long after the COVID-19 pandemic ends, said Rod Troester, associate professor of speech communication at Penn State Behrend.

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The Penn State Behrend students enrolled in the spring semester of CAS100, Effective Communication, likely did not expect to be giving their public speaking presentations from their own homes, via Zoom video conferencing. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot of things, however, and Rod Troester, associate professor of speech communication, points out that some of those changes may be permanent.

“This is a taste of things to come,” Troester said. “I think this pandemic is going to change many things about the way we do business in the future. It may be that companies no longer want to fly people in from around the world to gather in a conference room when you can just as effectively communicate online with video software.”

So, on a recent Wednesday, five students in Troester’s 2:30 p.m. class were doing symposium presentations about energy from home while classmates watched from their own homes.

A symposium is a group speaking project in which each member presents a portion of the project topic. The five students presenting had to get together remotely in a Zoom “breakout room” to meet and plan their project in advance. It’s a remarkably different experience from meeting around a table in the library, or in Bruno’s Café, but it was no less effective in accomplishing the task.

The students took turns speaking and sharing their computer screens, showing spreadsheets and other supporting materials they had created.

It’s easy to envision the same thing happening in a global company, with staff members collaborating and reporting from various locations around the world.

It will be second nature to these students, who are digital natives well-versed in communicating their ideas and working together while miles apart.

“For me, this has been an entirely new experience,” Troester said. “I would never have thought that I would be evaluating public speaking presentations from my dining room, but I can see the promise of video conferencing now.”

Troester says he has had to adapt some of his lessons and grading criteria to fit the new format. It has been an interesting learning experience for him, as well as for the students.

“Everyone is experimenting right now,” he said. “We’re all trying to figure things out. The students have been pretty understanding and helpful, too, offering suggestions and feedback as we work out how to teach and learn in a remote environment.”