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Section Name

Instruction in the Introductory Communication Course

Abstract

No educator is surprised to hear that college enrollment for members of racial and ethnic groups is continuing to rise (The Chronicle of Higher Education, 1990). However, this increase was particularly striking for us after we began teaching in the southwestern United States. We had moved from Minnesota, where the proportion of college students who are minority-group members is only 4%, to New Mexico where the proportion of college students who are minority-group members is 35%, the highest for any state in the continental United States (The Chronicle of Higher Education, 1990). We now look out into multicultural classrooms that will increase in cultural diversity year after year. As a result of this increase in cultural diversity, one question facing those responsible for teaching communication courses is: What changes, if any, are needed in the instructional strategies for teaching in a multicultural introductory communication course? Many of us often forget that our teaching is also grounded in a theoretical perspective. Exploring and making our theoretical perspective explicit functions to help us deal with problems and changes occurring in the classrooms and allows us to respond to changes in a systematic manner. For us, the best way to answer the question about how to adapt to multicultural classrooms is to take a theoretical perspective that is grounded in the ethnographic literature. An ethnographic approach to communication education focuses on the use of situationally grounded studies and the comparative analysis of cultures.

The concepts, methods, and resources that take an ethnographic perspective on communication will prove fruitful for improving our courses and help us deal with the multicultural classrooms we now face or will face in the near future. To begin to answer the question about teaching in the multicultural introductory communication course, we examined current literature, analyzed situations occurring in our own classrooms, and surveyed students about their perceptions of the courses in which they were enrolled.

Based on our investigations, we will describe several instructional communication strategies we argue may be used to adapt communication courses to an increasingly diverse student population. We will present strategies in four general areas of teaching in the introductory communication course: a) Expanding the parameters of culture, b) Language, c) Assignments, and d) Resources. Finally, we will discuss issues of evaluation of teaching effectiveness in the multicultural classroom.