What are the Principles of Communication Across the Curriculum?

The philosophy of Writing Across the Curriculum is well-established. Key concepts include writing to learn, scaffolding assignments, low stakes v. high stakes writing, and addressing high-level issues before low-level issues. I think that the principles of Communication Across the Curriculum are not as clearly laid out–perhaps because communication encompasses written, oral, and electronic forms, and is thus harder to essentialize into pedagogical concepts. CAC is the child of WAC, but at the same time CAC incorporates WAC.

I don’t think that WAC principles can be translated into CAC principles, though there is a great overlap. However, it is an interesting idea to consider what “low stakes speaking” or “speaking to learn” might mean.

I wonder whether the practical guidelines for speaking and electronic communication simply take precedence over the notion of a teaching philosophy for CAC. There are so many guides out there on public speaking, many of which offer excellent pointers for students. Actually, one of my favorite pieces on public speaking is Michael Ellsberg’s dissection of what makes Bill Clinton so much more charismatic than Bush in this debate:

I also like Tim Ferriss’ no-nonsense discussion of how to prepare for public speaking (the short answer is it takes a lot of work to do it right).

But aside from classic tips on public speaking, what are the pedagogical principles of CAC? What kind of guidelines should teachers go by? When I was teaching, I often assigned presentations, but I generally didn’t give my students the time or space in class to practice.

I’d like to challenge anyone reading this to respond with a suggested principle or two for CAC. These should be pedagogical concepts, as opposed to mere “tips” on speaking, writing, or electronic communication. Here are my ideas:

1. Students should be asked to speak in a variety of modes–giving prepared answers to discussion questions, creatively responding to an immediate question, or giving a formal presentation.

2. Preparation should be emphasized as a part of oral presentations, and if possible should be incorporated into the grade. For example, time might be given in class for students to practice presenting in small groups, grading one another based on a set rubric.

3. Students should be given assignments that ask them to address a variety of audiences from a variety of mediums.

4. Models of effective communication should be given to students and discussed in class. Strategies for addressing common problems, such as anxiety surrounding speaking or writing, should also be presented and discussed.

5. Electronic tools should be utilized in the service of best communication practices. For example, blogs can be used for low or medium-stakes writing, and software such as GoogleDocs and wikis can be used to improve collaborative efforts.

Coming up with CAC-specific principles makes me realize that in many classrooms there are a number of  different and perhaps contradictory elements in play. WAC believes in “writing to learn,” but then, Writing in the Disciplines teaches that students must “learn to write” in the form and language of their disciplines. Similarly, students need to be able to discern the difference between CAC and CID…communicating across the disciplines and communicating in the disciplines. This makes me think that number 6 on my list should be “Specify the communicative norms of each discipline.”



  1. Hillary says:

    Great post– the Clinton/Bush clip is a winner of an example.

    You’ve already covered quite a bit here…I would add a principle that speaks to an idea mentioned on one of the links provided; students should gain experience in both speaking to educate and speaking to persuade. I like Tim Ferriss’ idea of, “I won’t focus on being a public speaker, I’ll focus on teaching from the stage.” A lot of students are gripped by the anxiety that flows from the mantra they keep repeating: “I hate public speaking.” Separating the umbrella term “public speaking” from the more precise acts of communicating material through informative or persuasive speech should be another element of your list of CAC principles.

  2. James Drogan says:

    CAC might usefully be extended to CAAC — Communications Across All Channels.

    I’m privileged every term to address our incoming graduate students on the subject of ethics and culture. This term, the instructor of the course asked that I discuss communications as it relates to these two items.

    When the time came to segue to communications I asked the students how I was communicating. The answers came back much as I expected. I was clear, knowledgeable, enthusiastic, etc. Nothing, however, about the nonverbal communication that was going on; my appearance, eye contact, overall demeanor, gestures, and the like.

    CAC and CAAC throw open many channels of communication, some of which we tend, I think, to treat a bit more lightly than we should. Run the Ellsberg video with the sound off. What impressions emerge?

    I see many students turning up for capstone presentation dressed to the nines. I suspect they really don’t know why they should do this and I am pretty certain that we provide them no guidance on this matter.

    Perhaps Weissman is the CAAC center.


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