At some point during their education, every BYU Marriott undergrad takes the M COM 320 class, an advanced writing course required for graduation.
And every semester, as adjunct professor Lisa Thomas prepared to teach her sections of the class, she ended up using the assigned textbook less and less and providing alternative resources to her students more and more.
“Business communication has changed dramatically in the last decade,” notes Thomas. “We needed our students to have the most updated information and materials available.”
Thomas approached Kurt Sandholtz, professor in the BYU Marriott Department of Management. Her timing was perfect. Sandholtz routinely gave his students surveys, and one of the questions was always, “What percent of your homework feels like busywork?”
The percentage had been steadily increasing over the past few semesters, and the number had topped 50 percent on his most recent surveys.
“I followed up with the students, asking them specifically what felt like busywork,” Sandholtz explains. “They mentioned the textbook. We taught in class to be concise and visual, and we needed a textbook that reflected that and could be easily updated.”
Because the textbook is online, links can be added and content can be updated and edited anytime.
Thomas showed Sandholtz a draft of a chapter that she had been working on. The content was succinct; the voice was perfect. Thomas approached the administration, which provided invaluable support and funding, and the project began.
The pair was already familiar with the open educational resources (OER) movement—a progressive effort to provide students with free, accessible, and openly licensed text, media, and other digital assets. As they considered the dynamic environment of business communication, the project morphed from writing a print textbook to creating something entirely new in the OER format.
They began by identifying which key principles needed to be included and then brainstormed additional content, such as experiential-learning activities and online resources. “We roped in key adjunct professors, all of whom are good writers and thinkers, to help us create and review the content,” Thomas says. “Then we made assignments.”
By spring 2017, the “living” textbook was ready. Sandholtz volunteered to be the guinea pig professor. He taught four sections of M COM 320 that semester, using the old textbook in two classes and the new one in the other two. “We saw side by side how it worked,” he notes. “Across the board, results were stronger with the new online textbook.”
Students have been freed from the traditional memorization format, says Thomas: “Because the book is created in PowerPoint, they can see for themselves how they can display data with color, illustrate points without bullets, and communicate visually and concisely.”
And the book just gets better every semester. Thanks to the OER format, content can be updated, edits can be made, and current links can be included anytime. “It will always reflect current business communication practices and resources,” says Thomas. “Our students will have access to the best. I believe that M COM 320 is the secret sauce of BYU Marriott. Our students are smart, and when we teach them how to write, design, and present their thoughts in a way that blows people away, they will rise fast and go far in their organizations.”
Article written by Kellene Ricks Adams
Check out the Management Communication online resources at mcom320.net.