Southeast Adds New Twist to ‘Diversity in Communication’ Course

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Michael Simmons and Dr. Tamara Buck bring varying perspectives to “Diversity in Communication” being taught in a new format this fall.

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Oct. 8, 2015 – Students enrolled in MC304 “Diversity in Communication” at Southeast Missouri State University are enjoying an innovative approach to learning this fall that combines both classroom and online learning along with instruction from two professors.

The new style of delivery offers a new twist on a Department of Mass Media core course offered since 2007.

The class this fall includes face-to-face portions taught by Dr. Tamara Buck, associate professor of mass media, and online components taught by Michael Simmons, instructor of mass media. Each week their students participate in a forum discussion and quiz online, and eight times during the semester the class meets face to face.

“We have content online for them every week working through the test material,” Simmons said. “So what we are doing online is really getting them prepared for the in class time. There is so much that goes on online during that discussion phase where students bring in their perspective and what they have seen. So far we have seen great success. We will see how the semester goes.”

Buck added, “The beauty of this is that we can both apply our strengths and we can both take on the load. This is our class, and I trust Professor Simmons with the textbook reinforcement online, and it’s my job to really bring it home in the classroom. This is a true collaboration, and I love it. We are some of the biggest cheerleaders for each other, and I think the students benefit from it.”

Students have been very receptive to the innovative format adopted this fall.

Olivia Snare of Brentwood, Missouri, a senior mass communications major at Southeast, says, “I think a class on diversity is essential for communication students, and I can’t imagine a better combination for teaching it than Mr. Simmons and Dr. Buck. Both of them are so passionate and enthusiastic when they teach and that makes class more fun and thought-provoking for students.”

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Dr. Tamara Buck teaches the face-to-face portions of MC304.

This class has been a great success thus far, according to Dr. Karie Hollerbach, chair of the Department of Mass Media.

“Offering our Diversity in Communication course in a team-taught, blended format that utilizes multiple forms of diversity in terms of the instructors’ gender, ethnicities, educational backgrounds and professional backgrounds, in addition to the diversity of the course’s delivery platforms, has been one of my strongest accomplishments as a chairperson,” Hollerbach said. “I am very proud of Dr. Buck and Professor Simmons for taking on this teaching assignment and bringing it to life for Southeast students.”

Buck says the course offers content integral to all media consumers.

“Diversity in general, we in society perpetuate a bunch of stereotypes without even knowing it. I don’t think we recognize how the media is culpable in that. When people go to watch movies, when they watch television, read a newspaper, watch an advertisement or interact with an advertisement and see images that fit what their expectation is, then that settles something in their mind and it becomes the norm,” Buck said. “Until we can figure out that things that don’t fit the norm are not bad or threats, then this class is always going to be needed. It’s not just needed for people that are just going to be media professionals, it is needed for all people because they are media consumers and they need to recognize what they are seeing so that they can advocate for change.

“It’s a great class that we created and set up in a way where anyone can take it,” she added. “We recognize there is a problem, and we want our students to be change agents.”

The blended team-taught delivery of the course was the brainchild of Hollerbach who took a close look at both the core and option classes required of mass media students when she became department chair in January 2014.

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Instructor of Mass Media Michael Simmons teaches the online component of this blended course.

“Upon reviewing our curriculum, I realized that we were teaching a course on diversity without using a diverse way to teach it,” she said.  “From a course platform perspective, it had always been offered as a face-to-face course.  From an instructor perspective, it had always been taught by a female professor.  It was time to leverage technology and instructor scheduling to address both of these issues.”

Hollerbach first asked Simmons to develop an online version of the diversity course which he readily agreed to do.  It was the first online course in the department to pass internal Quality Matters review, the process that all online courses at Southeast are currently undergoing to assess effective online course design.

Hollerbach then shared her idea with Buck and Simmons about bringing together the best of both worlds with regard to the diversity course:  a team-teaching assignment where Simmons would direct the online segment and Buck would direct the face-to-face segment with interaction between both of them online and in the classroom.

“I wanted to utilize two instructors, from totally different media professional backgrounds, that were as diverse as the class is meant to be,” she said.

Buck and Simmons were both enthusiastic about the idea and wanted to take on the assignment.  Hollerbach presented the idea to Dr. Frank Barrios, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, and Dr. Bill Edelman, former Provost, and both were very supportive of the concept and approved the new delivery format for the Fall 2015 schedule.

Buck, a female, holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism, a Master of Public Administration and a juris doctorate with a professional background in journalism. Simmons, a male, holds a Bachelor of Science in marketing, a Master of Public Administration and a Master of Business Administration with a professional background in advertising.

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Dr. Tamara Buck says all media consumers would benefit from the content of MC304.

Buck has previously taught the course as a face-to-face class.

“I approached Professor Simmons first and asked him if he would be interested in developing the online part of this course,” Hollerbach said. “Since Dr. Buck was already teaching it face to face … I asked them both if they would be interested in team teaching it. They were both thrilled to take part!”

Simmons said, “The opportunity to work that closely with a colleague in that class and the fact that there was already a really strong base for an online class in place, made this an easy decision. As you know, instructors operate in a bit of a solitary environment. When it’s our classroom, our course, we teach it our way. To be able to teach with someone else so that I could watch her lecture has already really helped me in my face to face teaching.”

Buck agreed, saying, “I have taught Diversity and Communication about five times previous, so I had latched onto the need for this class. The opportunity to team teach was interesting to me because I had never taught with Professor Simmons before, and I had heard wonderful things about him. It was also an opportunity because we come from very different perspectives. Besides the racial and gender differences, he’s an advertising guy who comes from persuasive communication, and I come from a journalist background, so I come from editorial. We had a different viewpoint on everything, so I saw those as strengths.”

With changes to its delivery this fall, the course has again evolved but at its core remains an examination of the roles, impact, portrayal, perceptions, contributions and challenges of minorities in mass media content and media professions.