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Pedagogy at a Crossroads

A Student Perspective of the NCA Convention

Written by Peter Sands

Having attended the National Communication Association’s annual convention for my first year as a student, I was intrigued by the variety of topics covered in different calls. Being that I had primarily signed up for areas specific to what instructors at Augsburg were involved in, I spent the majority of my time sitting in for synchronous/asynchronous Zoom sessions focused on teaching.

Now, from the perspective of a student, you might not think that listening to a bunch of academics discussing their differences in pedagogical approaches to teaching during a pandemic would be all that interesting, but I was enamored with the amount of thought that goes into crafting our learning experience here at Augsburg and in other universities across the country. 

The theory that is poured into behavioral reinforcement of our learning practices as students is astonishing. From listening to Professor Groven distinguish our departments Senior Keystone course(s) from the likes of other institutions, to hearing Professor McNallie discuss different concerns/approaches of teaching public speaking courses online; there is definitely a divide amongst teachers as to what the most effective tactics are when mediating online learning in the midst of a pandemic and beyond. 

When making further distinctions concerning adaptations to online pedagogy, it was riveting to hear Professor Hanson discuss the idea of how these mediums, “perpetuate inequitable learning experiences,” especially amongst more privileged demographics. That is to say that many teachers might have to consider a students technological access and literacy when assessing their educational needs.

Seeing as how I have been adapting to remote learning practice since the beginning of the pandemic last March, I too was intrigued by the leadership and innovation necessary to persevere in the midst of these unforeseen circumstances. Moreover, as a student participating in these events, I thought about the importance of providing effective feedback when asked to review a course or teaching practices. We share just as much of a responsibility in shaping pedagogy as students, especially in the face of extreme technological change. So, be sure to fill out your Student Evaluations during the end of the semester!

I would highly recommend this event to future students as we continue to navigate an ever changing academic landscape. Having adapted to such immense change over the past year really gave meaning to the convention’s title, Communication at the Crossroads.

During one of the sessions, Professor Pat J. Gehrke of the University of South Carolina described the need to place more emphasis on teaching to these technological mediums as they continue to evolve. With no clear end in sight, these digital mediums will become an integral part of how many of us continue to communicate within our professional spheres. 



Groven Says, First Presidential Debate Was No Debate At All

Written by Peter Sands

“That was a hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck,” said CNN’s Jake Tapper when describing the first presidential debate. And Tapper’s description was tame compared to some other online reactions! So, we decided to catch up with our own Professor Robert Groven to better understand how this political spectacle challenged an important part of the democratic process.

Professor Groven has been involved in debate, argumentation and political communication for years as a director/coach and is highly regarded within the community. His dedication to the social practice of debate showcases what some might consider to be an increasingly important function of public argumentation. For more information on his work, check out the Minnesota Urban Debate League Website.

Professor Groven wasted no time when asked for his reaction to the first presidential debate: “That was not a debate. There was a lot of social conflict, but almost no actual argument that took place.”

He went on to voice concerns about the impact of this kind of public spectacle masking itself as true argument. He fears that when people encounter this sort of performance, they often turn away from debate—often in “well intentioned” ways, as the professor puts it—to minimize conflict. His fear is that disdain for debate and public argument “emboldens people to speak only from within their bubbles,” as Groven describes it. A one-sided mentality can encourage extremism and a lack of empathy for others.

Professor Groven says challenging ideas through the process of argumentation is “crucial to testing these ideas within a democracy.”

“If we don’t test ideas, what we tend to get is more and more hyper-polarization, and eventually dangerous authoritarian rhetoric,” he added; something he believes will threaten democracy and free expression. More political displays like the first presidential debate will only cause people to become further, “disillusioned with public argument.” His fear is that if the public views debates as part of the problem instead of the solution to polarization, it will tear at the fabric of our democratic process.

As for the separate Town Hall Meetings that took place after the first debate, Groven was disenchanted that some people found these events to be a satisfactory replacement for a debate. “The town halls were only another platform for one-sided political stumping,” he commented. “They do not allow voters to compare the candidate’s ideas to each other, or to the facts.”

As we race to towards one of the more important elections in modern history, it is increasingly important for us all to watch and participate in these events using a more critical lens.