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University of Dayton communication professor writing textbook guided by student voices

By Allison Brace '22

University of Dayton professor Jon Hess is writing an interpersonal communication textbook with a twist. Hess and colleague, Elizabeth Baiocchi-Wagner, a former University of Portland adjunct professor of communication who now works in industry, are testing the textbook with their students during the 2021 spring semester, prior to the book’s publication.

They created the textbook based on questions from students at nine U.S. universities related to their own interpersonal relationships. The authors collected more than 1,200 questions for the textbook, tentatively titled Because You Asked: Questions Shaping Interpersonal Communication.

Hess, professor of communication and College of Arts and Sciences associate dean, is teaching an interpersonal communication course this semester with the goal of promoting engagement and participation among students, and strengthening the quality of the textbook. His students have the opportunity to pose questions about the text, give feedback and share their ideas about the book.

“We are still using the same research on communication theory, but rather than setting the book up as a report on research and theory, we’re addressing what students are interested in learning about and using the research and theory to help answer that,” Hess said.

Hess, who doesn’t typically teach because of his administrative duties in the College, used several chapters in a 2020 spring semester interpersonal communication course while the book was still being written. Now Hess is teaching another section of the interpersonal communication course and is using the majority of the text in PDF form with his class.

In addition, Michelle Kleine, one of Hess’ doctoral advisees from the University of Missouri, is also using the textbook with her class at Truman State University during the 2021 spring semester and sharing feedback from her students with Hess.

Hess capped his class at 15 students to allow them to be more deeply engaged with the project.

“With only 15 students, they have the chance to share input and engage in discussion more than in a larger class,” he said.

Hess has built a mutually beneficial relationship within his classroom where students are able to learn beyond the traditional coursework and develop a deeper understanding for how a textbook is written. In return, he is able to get feedback on the questions college students have in the 21st century.

“Talking with students has allowed me to distinguish the important difference between digital natives and digital immigrants,” Hess said. “College students today are using their phones in ways that help maintain relationships that are much different than they were during my time in college, which is why having a dialogue with current college students has been very beneficial.”

Students are expected to read a chapter of the textbook in preparation for an in-class quiz. Once they take each quiz at the start of class, Hess goes over it and answers anything that was unclear to the students.

“One of the really cool things about him writing the textbook is that he will rewrite anything that we are confused about because he wants to make it clear for student interpretation,” said Kate Doyle, a communication major from Chicago. “It feels like we are really making an impact by giving Dr. Hess a different perspective on things.”

This approach allows the textbook development process to be fluid and change dynamically to best answer the questions of current students.

Hess’ students had the opportunity to come up with an idea for sidebar stories through an essay assignment. Based on the ideas and theories examined in each essay, Hess will be able to decide if he would like to incorporate them into the book. For example, one idea was to talk about the challenges of dating during a pandemic.

“Completing and going over the quizzes takes up a good chunk of class time and gives us time to answer questions and discuss,” Doyle said. “Dr. Hess does not create PowerPoints for class, but rather we have an open discussion.”

Keeping the idea of a low-cost option for students in mind, the textbook will be published by FountainHead Press, which has been used for other communication textbooks at the University. While publication dates are fluid, the publication team would like to see the book in press by this November.

“It is so much more fun to be having a dialogue with students than just doing research and reporting back the findings,” Hess said. “We have really been able to change this from what feels like a book report to a dialogue.”

For more information, visit the Department of Communication website.

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