Communication Studies – Innovation Grant

CST 105 Peer Guides

Faculty Lead: Jessica McCall

In the Fall of 2022, Communication Studies faculty identified unusually high DFW rates in their introductory CST 105 courses. Prior data for these courses showed that the content itself was strong, and previous students had succeeded in the courses, but incoming students were not performing as expected. The common issue seemed to be that students were not participating in class or completing assignments as necessary to pass the course. In response, Communications Studies faculty collaborated with UNCG Speaking Center leaders and developed a plan in hopes of decreasing these DFW rates and finding ways to directly tackle areas in which students were struggling. CST 105 courses were assigned Speaking Center Consultants to act as embedded Peer Guides. This built off existing UNCG peer coaching models with a specific emphasis on communication and classroom engagement.

Of the thirty-five sections of CST 105 being offered in the Spring of 2023, twenty-one were assigned a peer mentor. Fourteen of these were traditional in-person classes and seven were online or hybrid courses. Peer Guides were encouraged to find ways to build easy lines of communication that allowed students to receive reminders and to reach out for help. To facilitate this goal, Peer Guides created group text messages for their courses. This was an ideal way to communicate with the group because it was informal and often more immediately visible to students than messages sent to their email addresses.

One major issue that was identified in CST 105 courses is an increasing difficulty with and resistance to completing projects as a group. Informal survey results and discussions with students about group work showed that the majority of students do not trust their peers to complete their work appropriately, and many have had negative experiences with group assignments in the past. Students fear that group members will not be accountable or behave appropriately and that this will impact their own grades. This issue is, at its core, about communication difficulties. CST 105, as introductory communications course which features a substantial group project, is an ideal place to address this challenge. Peer Guides took on a facilitating role in group work to ensure that their groups were working effectively as a team. They frequently worked with project groups inside and outside of the classroom to discuss progress and ensure things were going smoothly. When problems did arise, the Peer Guides were able to act as mediators.

While student fears about group work are understandable given the potential impact on their grades and widespread negative experiences, learning to utilize communication skills to overcome this issue will be essentially to students in future courses and in their careers. Engaging with this challenge early and teaching group work skills will allow students both to plan and discuss more effectively with peers who may not be as reliable, and for students who in the past have struggle to contribute to group work to value the opinions of the teammates and take on these group projects with greater accountability in the future. Additionally, building these communication skills is essential to being a part of the academic community at UNCG and in their courses, and will encourage students to build relationships and engage in dialogue with their peers.

As a whole, the Peer Guides and their students have reported a very positive experience. Students felt more comfortable reaching out for help to a peer through informal means of communication. Peer Guides enjoyed taking on leadership roles and felt that they were able to build connections with students. The Communication Studies faculty would like to continue this Peer Guide program to the fullest extent that funding allows and will be continuing to partner with the Speaking Center to support student success in their courses.

Want to Learn More?
Visit the Communications Studies website or contact Jessica McCall (