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Center for Teaching and Learning

Focused Inquiry Groups - Title III

Assessing Speaking Across the College

Area of Inquiry

Communication is one of our College-Wide Learning Goals (CWLG), and Speaking is one of the stated components of this CWLG. While Communication Studies (CS) courses explicitly teach public speaking, many courses in other disciplines require students to give some sort of verbal presentation. However, instructors in the non-CS disciplines are not teaching speaking skills, and may not know how to assess them.

The purpose of this FIG was to find a systematic way to assess student presentations at Chabot in disciplines other than Communication Studies, so that this college-wide learning goal could be assessed across the campus and so that faculty who require presentations in their classes would have a useful rubric with which to assess them. This FIG was a pilot project that developed and tested the use of several common rubrics to see how they worked for disciplines other than Communication Studies.

Discoveries to Date

This FIG consisted of four Communication Studies (CS) instructors and four instructors in the disciplines of ESL and Chemistry. The CS instructors were all teaching the students speaking skills, and were interested in whether they could use a common rubric. The ESL instructor was teaching the ESL Listening and Speaking course, and had several planned presentations during the semester. She was interested in a rubric that she could use for those presentations that reflected what she was teaching.

The Chemistry instructors had included one presentation in their college-level Chemistry 12A course in order to meet their own Course Learning Outcome (CLO) that students are able to explain basic chemical compounds to each other. They were looking for guidance about criteria on how to assess the presentations apart from the students' understanding of the subject. The FIG leader was the Coordinator of Institutional Research, who had led earlier pilots in assessing the college-wide learning goals of critical thinking and global and cultural involvement. She was interested in developing and testing a rubric that could be used by instructors across campus to assess this college-wide learning goal.

The group met three times — once to introduce the project, once to present the rubrics and practice using them to assess a presentation, and once to share and discuss their assessment results. After the initial meeting in August, one of the Communication Studies (CS) instructors reviewed the various rubrics used by CS instructors to assess speeches, and integrated them into two rubrics that could be used by faculty in other disciplines. These rubrics consisted of one detailed rubric with four components—(1) PREPARATION and CREDIBILITY as a SPEAKER, (2) NONVERBAL DELIVERY, (3) VERBAL COMMUNICATION, and (4) LOGIC and ORGANIZATION)—each with a five-point scale, and one holistic rubric combining these components into one five-point scale.

The second meeting in September consisted of a discussion and training about how to use the rubrics. Then, between September and December, both the CS and non-CS instructors tested these new, common rubrics on one or more presentations in their classes. The use of these rubrics thus ranged in courses from Communication Studies, where speaking was the major subject of the course, to ESL, where speaking was one part of the course, to Chemistry, where speaking was not being taught at all.

Using an assignment as late in the semester as possible, the faculty all recorded their assessment scores from the rubrics and entered their data in eLumen. Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs) based on the rubrics had been added to their courses in eLumen so that they were using common CLOs and their assessments could be aggregated.

FIG members met at the end of the semester to discuss their assessment results and report and discuss how the rubrics had worked for them, in both Communication Studies and other disciplines. The results of those discussions are below. In addition, a presentation to the campus about the findings is planned for a flex day in Spring or Fall 2011, to share how other Chabot instructors in non-CS disciplines can assess speaking in their courses.


The ESL instructor liked the detailed rubric, although she moved pronunciation in “verbal communication” to “nonverbal communication” because it made more sense to her and to her students. She found that since she was teaching speaking, the detailed rubric was useful to pinpoint where the students needed help. The Chemistry instructors met together and collapsed the four-component detailed rubric into only two components – the content (what), and the clarity (how). This is all they needed to adequately assess the speeches. Although they learned from the common CS rubric, much of the language in the rubrics was not meaningful to them, so they developed the two-component rubric with just a few words that meant something to them. The holistic rubric was not valuable to either of these disciplines.

The Communication Studies instructors found that the common rubrics were not useful to them, in part because they were used to much finer grain assessments than 4-5 points and in part because these common rubrics did not reflect the unique professional lenses and training that they each brought to their classes. Thus, the common rubrics had dulled the edges of their various tools for teaching and assessing speaking. They decided that they wanted to use their own rubrics, but that it had been useful to them to see how non-CS instructors interpreted them. If they used a common rubric, they were more comfortable using the detailed four-component rubric. The holistic rubric was not useful to them, because it collapsed too many important aspects into one scale.

This discussion yielded a useful continuum for when a detailed rubric would be used and when a simple one might be better (see Table 1 below). The continuum ranged from the detailed four-component rubric, to be used by instructors who are teaching about speaking, and would want to have students develop skills in PREPARATION, NONVERBAL DELIVERY, VERBAL COMMUNICATION, and ORGANIZATION. The other end of the continuum would be the two component rubric (WHAT and HOW), to be used by instructors who are not teaching speaking at all, but want to assess their student presentations on content (what) and delivery (how). The holistic rubric was seen as possible to use only by well-trained Communication Studies instructors, as they contained too much information to assess at once for most instructors.

Table 1.  Continuum of Speaking Rubrics
When teaching speaking

< - - - - - - - - - ->

when using it (at college level)
4-Component Rubric
with details
Who can hold it?
Only CS instructors!
2-Component Rubric
Collapsed and simple!

Due to this feedback from the non-CS faculty, the CS instructor revised the rubrics one more time, by simplifying the four-component detailed rubric (same four components), and by creating a very simple two-component rubric (What did the speaker say? How did they say it?), based on what the chemistry instructors had done.

The non-CS instructors appreciated these revisions, and felt that these rubrics were easier to use for non-CS faculty. These instructors plan to discuss the value of the 2-component rubrics at the next flex day. They also decided that another goal of this FIG would be to increase the number of instructors teaching and assessing speaking (as well as a global and cultural involvement), and that they would seek out opportunities to present these rubrics and their experience to show other faculty how easy and satisfying it was to do.



Spring 2011 Flex Day Presentation

Condensed Rubric for the Assessment of Speaking Across the Curriculum Fall 2010

Chemistry 12B rubric Spring 2011 (Harjot Sawhney)

Chemistry 12A rubric Fall 2010 (Harjot Sawhney)


Learning Engagement Survey Fall 2010

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