School of Communication Studies Embraces Experiential Learning as Part of Curriculum

(Part 1 of 3)
The coursework and faculty in the School of Communication Studies at Kent State University provide opportunities for students to participate in in-class experiential or service-learning projects to apply the knowledge and skills learned in communication in a practical situation.

Erin Hollenbaugh’s Advanced Interpersonal Communication, Kent State Stark

Photo: (by Mike Rich) Kent State University Stark student Amanda Brown (left) laughs with her friend Ann while visiting the Jackson Township SarahCare recently
Photo: (by Mike Rich) Kent State University Stark student Amanda Brown (left) laughs with her friend Ann while visiting the Jackson Township SarahCare recently

The Advanced Interpersonal Communication class taught by Erin Hollenbaugh, Ph.D., associate professor in the School of Communication Studies at Kent State Stark, worked with SarahCare of Belden to partner with the elderly and practice their intergenerational communication skills. The course, one of the first non-medically focused courses to work with SarahCare, is a senior level, writing-intensive course.

“Former students at Kent Stark have said that the courses they value the most are the ones where they get to practice the things they’re learning in class,” Hollenbaugh said.

The semester-long Advanced Interpersonal Communication course was broken into two stages, which allowed students to both practice their interpersonal communication skills and find inspiration for advanced research. First, the students investigated intergenerational communication through lectures and coursework. The students also met with Karl Hopkins, the activities coordinator at SarahCare, to better understand the participants and determine the best ways to communicate with them. The class of nine students then met with an assigned participant for four 30-minute sessions. At a reception in October, students gave personalized tributes, unique to their relationship with their partner, as a gesture of appreciation. For example, some created scrapbooks; two students made blankets; one put together a gift basket with flowers; another created a painting and wrote a creative short autobiography.

Then, the real research began. Students translated the conversations and lessons they gained from interacting with the participants at SarahCare into inspiration for continued research as part of a written paper. One student investigated relationship satisfaction with in-laws, while others researched work-life balance issues, communication in blended families and the technology use in romantic relationships in the elderly.

Several of Hollenbaugh’s students will submit their papers to the Annual Student Conference hosted by Kent State at Stark’s Honors Program in April.

“It seems like the students are taking away a greater empathy for older adults,” Hollenbaugh said. “By learning about the stereotypes and their own anxiety about aging, the students gained insight in the value of a person and an individual, regardless of their age or physical abilities.”

“This class made me realize that helping our community is a big accomplishment and other people need us to step out and help those in need,” Michelle Miller, a student of Hollenbaugh’s said.

As a by-product, students were able to build upon the foundational interpersonal communication skills learned in the Interpersonal Communication course, and ultimately increase their exposure to new interpersonal situations. For some, according to Hollenbaugh, the experience helped to reduce their anxiety about communicating with the elderly.

“Dr. Hollenbaugh’s departure from traditional lecture by introducing a service learning project with SarahCare was a unique opportunity for our class to watch not only our communication in action, but our communication growth,” said Josi Heinz, a student in the course. “Our post-project party with the SarahCare clients versus our initial meet and greet with them was a complete 180. Over the course of a few short weeks we were all different communicators and the energy was palpable.”

“I’ve been really lucky to have the students that I have in the class,” Hollenbaugh said. “I told them at the beginning of the semester my reputation and the reputation of Kent State is in your hands when you go out in the community. It couldn’t have been nearly as successful if it wasn’t for the students in the class. They worked harder than just for a grade.”

Hollenbaugh’s class was featured in The Suburbanite’s story “Communication study connects generations” by Patricia Faulhaber.


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