Jason Mehta

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ARTICULATING AMERICA’S FUTURE THROUGH SPEECH EDUCATION

My final project for this class has been the design and creation of a website (http://www.speech-education.com) geared towards integrating rhetorical skill development in classrooms across the country. Throughout the past semester, I have incrementally morphed and transformed my project, in hopes of fully harnessing the skills and techniques we have discussed in class. I believe that the final result is an interactive, educational, and empathetic project that convincingly demonstrates why schools and teachers should integrate rhetorical skill development in the pre-existing classroom curriculum.


• GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF THE PROJECT:

The general purpose of my project was to suggest to teachers, policy-makers, students, and parents why we ought to promote communication skills in our nation’s classrooms. The project did not suggest that we overhaul our existing educational curriculum. Rather, the project advanced a more fundamental goal: finding creative ways to integrate rhetorical practice into pre-existing educational curriculums. For example, rather than suggest that we replace foreign languages with a communications class, I intended to suggest that high school math, science, and foreign language teachers (among others) promote speech skills by asking students to engage in interactive projects and give oral presentations.

As part of this project, I registered a domain name that I felt would be accessible and appropriate: speech-education.com. Using that domain, I created a website with an introductory video about why speech skills are of importance. In the video, I asked several people to describe their greatest fear and I concluded with the statement that, annually, the majority of Americans report that their greatest fear is the fear of public speaking. My hope was that the video would generate interest in curbing this great fear and attract people to Speech-Education.com.

Once individuals visit the website, they will find six areas of content that might be of interest. The first content area is a general “Why Does All of this Matter?” section. This section was designed to introduce the importance of this topic to visitors. As well, this section considered the three most common arguments against teaching speech skills in the classroom (Schools Ought to "Teach for the Test"; Speech Skills Can Be Acquired Outside of the Classroom; Speech Instruction Classes Only Teach Style and Not Substance). In addition to this section, the website has a link for podcasts where users can download one of five podcasts on this topic. These podcasts range from “A Personal Tale: Why We Care So Much About Speech Education” (a story about how I got interested in this topic) to “Integrating Speech Education into the Classroom: Some Quick Tips” (ways for teachers to make a difference).

In addition to the podcasts, users can also interact with the site through a Speech Wikipedia, a content area that I generated with help from users from a high school speech and debate website that I run (forensicsonline.net). The website also contains tips on how people can help promote speech skills, as well as links to other speech and debate resources. Lastly, the website contains an “About Us” section where visitors can learn about this process and find out how to contact me.

The project gained some “buzz” and publicity by routine placements of ads on my own high school speech and debate website (visited by 10,000+ users a month) and by a targeted-email campaign where I notified users that this website has been created. Since this email and website publicity campaign, the website has received over 600 hits, users have updated the wikipedia area, and I have received positive feedback from many high school teachers who have visited the website.


• THE EVOLUTION OF THE PROJECT:

The final product is, in many regards, a significant departure and evolution from my initial attempts to generate an empathetic cyber-medium argument. Initially, I had planned to create a blog and post relevant news stories about speech-related education. However, I opted against the blog format after I saw the impact that interactive media, such as digital videos and podcasts, can have on an audience. I also wanted a way to have users contribute directly to the site, through interactive projects like a wikipedia.

The interactive media that I produced also underwent a transformative process throughout the semester. My first video project was a very modest effort of merely filming myself talking about the importance of speech communications. I subsequently opted for a more suspenseful – and, I think, more forceful – series of interviews asking participants about their greatest fears. Similarly, my initial podcasts were rather basic versions of me talking into a microphone. I improved these recordings by mixing in sound and cleaning up the resulting audio.

Perhaps the most significant evolution of my project, though, was a better appreciation of my audience and my potential adversaries. Initially, I merely spoke about my argument in abstract terms and tried to convince potential visitors about the value of speech communications. However, as I pursued the project further, I learned to identify my audience and segment the audience into groups (teachers, policy-makers, parents, and students). I recognized that my audience likely has different interests, concerns, and aspirations. As such, I have tried to tailor portions of the website to these individuals. Additionally, in the spirit of the empathetic argument techniques we learned in the class, I tried to empathize with each audience segment and convince them – individually – why rhetorical skill development would be useful to them (i.e., telling teachers that delegating presentations to students via the form of oral presentations would actually reduce the amount of time teachers have to prepare for class; telling policy-makers that giving speeches in schools would both inspire students and would also bolster the policy-makers’ own political prowess and reputation).


• LESSONS LEARNED FROM THIS SEMESTER:

While this cyber argument was initially done to educate others about the value of rhetorical skill development, the creation of this project actually was extremely educational for myself and I feel that I have been empowered by the lessons that I have learned this semester. Specifically, I learned to harness the power of the internet in ways that I had never tried before, such as through interactive media like podcasts and video production. I began to realize that my arguments – both in the cyber-world and the “real” world – have more power and force if I convince my adversaries why my proposals will actually benefit my adversaries. Lastly, I recognized that a cyber-argument requires not just an idea, but also a vehicle to generate attention, buzz, and audience participation.

Towards these ends, I plan to continue to work on this project and generate more of a buzz surrounding this project. Specifically, I hope to build off a piece of legislation that I was able to pass in my home state of Arkansas and try to parlay that legislation into a national “Communications Awareness Day” where teachers, business leaders, and community officials highlight the importance of speech skills and communication techniques. In this process, I hope to convince policy-makers about why national legislation would be helpful to all parties, and I hope to record some of my pursuits along the way. Through these efforts, and using the lessons learned in this class, I hope to help articulate America’s future.