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The Massive Classroom

University of Washington senior lecturer Matt McGarrity is teaching an online course on public speaking to tens of thousands of people around the world this summer. How’s he doing?

July 10, 2013 at 11:08 AM

The global reach of a public speaking course at the UW

A screen shot from Matt McGarrity's online course.

A screen shot from Matt McGarrity’s online course.

This summer, students from around the world are learning public speaking the way it’s taught at the University of Washington. For Seattle Times readers taking “Introduction to Public Speaking,” global participation is yet another unique aspect to taking a class online.

About three-quarters of the students who signed up for the course live outside the U.S.

Is learning hampered when all the speech-making has to be done in English – a second language for many participants?

Perhaps. Although colleges are always looking for ways to expose students to other cultures, James Ehrmann isn’t sure that can be replicated in a digital environment.

“The traditional challenges these interactions present (language barriers, different social/behaviors norms) are exacerbated in an online environment,” wrote Ehrmann, a higher education professional from Bellevue. “In an online environment, the type of class may matter more (indeed, language barriers make a speech class more difficult than a calculus class where the primary medium is numbers, not words); however, communication will always be important regardless of the subject.

“I would not go so far as to suggest that the large number of non-US residents in this class detracts from my experience, but I will say that it is likely to prevent me from being as active of a participant in discussion forums,” he wrote.

But perhaps the global nature of the class is an advantage. Sandy Malone thought it was “helpful and realistic.”

“Life has a global reach so hearing others from around the world and providing feedback is helpful for both the listener and the speaker,” said Malone, of Mukilteo, a district governor for Toastmasters International.

Some technical difficulties are holding a few students back – they’re having trouble posting their recorded speeches to YouTube, the platform we’re using to upload and review each other’s speeches. But most of our reader-participants still went through the exercise of producing an introductory speech.

“I’ve written speeches before and read them out loud, but I got more out of recording my speech and then watching/listening,” wrote John Enger, who’s also a Toastmasters governor and lives in West Seattle.

Ken Dammand, a political activist from Tulalip, also had trouble with uploading to YouTube, but he did record a speech, and he found that “an informative experience in and of itself,” he wrote. “Most of us are our own harshest critics but the lectures draw one’s attention to particular aspects of the presentation that might otherwise not have been seen.”

Said Ehrmann: “I do think the repetition and reward of going through a process from an initial idea to a six-minute speech was ultimately helpful in retaining information.”

Comments | Topics: public speaking, UW


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