Survey of Communication Study/Preface

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This project began many years ago as an attempt to find the perfect textbook for Humboldt State University's Department of Communication COMM 105-Introduction to Human Communication course. When looking for an appropriate textbook for this course, it became evident that much of the discipline of Communication uses the term “Intro Course” to mean some version of Public Speaking. Further, it became clear that a great deal of Communication departments across the country do not have an introductory course that function as a “survey” course. This is particularly unusual in light of the fact that most other disciplines have these types of courses (e.g. Introduction to Sociology, Introduction to Anthropology, etc.). These circumstances provided a quandary regarding locating a good survey textbook that introduces our students to the discipline in ways that go beyond the scope of public speaking textbooks.

We decided to deal with this particular problem by producing a textbook that introduces students to the study of Communication. We firmly believe that it is important for our students to be able to answer the question, “What is Communication Study?” in a way that captures the field of Communication appropriately, as well as an important discipline across colleges and universities. We found it difficult to point our colleagues and students to texts or classes that demonstrate what the field of Communication Study is about. Hence, we wrote the original version of the textbook for our own Introduction to Human Communication course.

Upon completion of the first draft of the textbook, we decided to publish the work in an open-source format for a couple of reasons. First, given the high cost of textbooks, we wanted students who use this book to have it for free, a move that works to help students with the skyrocketing cost of education. Second, it was, and is, our belief that academics should be able to control what they write, and that we should not have to rely on the three to five year cycle publishers use for updating course textbooks. Instead, open source materials allow for immediate currency in the materials we provide our students because they are open for all to edit.

The first edition of this text was published on wikibooks in 2009. We joked that we were “five years ahead” of it being common practice that colleges and universities would embrace using open-source, free materials in classes. We wondered if those involved in the field of Communication would actually edit the text frequently, or if it would function more statically like traditional print textbooks. What we discovered was that many of our colleagues were using the book across the country, but there were almost no edits to the text. It was being treated more like a print version, with an apparent need for a “second edition.” Instead of a continuously updated textbook over the last five years, in 2014 we still had essentially the same version as we published in 2009.

This brings us to the current edition.

Current Edition[edit]

We have increasingly moved our pedagogy in our courses to move beyond what we call “the audience of one.” Traditional classroom models are set up in such a way that professors give students assignments, students complete the assignments, the professors grade them, then give them back to the students. The only audience that encounters the students’ work are their professors -- an audience of one. We have found that when we create assignments that are written for the public, the motivation and work of our students rises dramatically.

Given the move to go beyond the audience of one for our students, it occurred to us that our open source textbook would be a perfect fit as a class project for our students. Thus, we developed our senior Communication Capstone course in such a way that our senior Communication students would be the editors of the “second edition” of Survey of Communication Study. We were fortunate to have access to a classroom that was divided into five tables. At each of these tables were two large computer monitors that students could connect their portable computing devices. Each class was spent engaging in groups, or as an entire class, in work on the textbook. The result of this combined work is the current version of the textbook. It was completed through the ingenuity and thoughtfulness of these students.


Scott T. Paynton (Ph.D. Southern Illinois University at Carbondale) is Associate Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and a Professor of Communication at Humboldt State University. His research and teaching specialties include Organizational Communication, Interpersonal Communication, Health Communication, and Leadership Studies.

Laura K. Hahn (Ph.D. The Ohio State University) is a Professor of Communication at Humboldt State University. Her research and teaching specialties include the Rhetoric of Food, Gender and Communication, Intercultural Communication, and Rhetorical Criticism.


Special thanks to Lance Lippert (Ph.D. Southern Illinois University at Carbondale) for his contributions to the first edition of the textbook.

The second edition of this textbook was a collaborative project between the authors, Dr. Scott T. Paynton and Dr. Laura K. Hahn, and the Spring 2014 Communication Capstone Class at Humboldt State University. The following students generously shared their creativity, hard work, knowledge and positive energy.

Erin Anderson Alex Araiza Dominic Calderon
Monica Carranza Ana Chavez Kellsie Domnitz
Parker Gibson Yanni Gonzalez Salina Hernandez
Brooke Howell Katie Lowe Sarah McElroy
Teresa Passen Douglas Rischbieter Emalyn Searles
Shravasti Singh Jason Stibi Ha Tran
Jordan Vanbuskirk

CC BY 2.0 Photo by Kellie Brown

Bringing Together Open Educational Resources (OER), Affordable Learning Solutions (ALS), and Undergraduate Research (UGR)[edit]

This project extends beyond the scope of the actual product of this textbook and the work of our students in our Capstone course. It actually merges four developing areas in academe and Communication when it comes to how we teach our courses and the materials we use to teach them. It can serve as a model for moving beyond traditional lecture-style courses and moving our students toward a more collaborative “real-world” learning environment while on our campuses. It also serves to help our own research and scholarship agendas while at the same time allowing students to begin their own. Of course, a major benefit of these types of work are the free materials available to our students as they pursue their collegiate goals.

If you are not familiar with the term, Open Educational Resources (OER) are sources produced with the intention of making them open to the public for use, distribution, and revision. They are most often open licensed and free to those who use them. Of course, beyond the fact that they are free, OERs are particularly valuable because of the ability to edit them on a continuous basis using a broad range of contributors. Most people might associate Wikipedia as an example of open source materials. However, many across academe are beginning to move increasingly toward these materials as a means to publishing educational resources and adopting them for our courses. Our intention for this text is for it to be open for use as instructors see fit for their courses. Of course, we would love for the text to be kept current on a daily basis as more and more people participate in these types of resources.

Our campus, Humboldt State University, belongs to the 23 campus system of the California State University (CSU). The CSU has launched an initiative called Affordable Learning Solutions (ALS) that seeks to “work toward helping campuses provide more affordable, quality educational content.” The principles behind this movement include: Choice, Affordability, and Accessibility by students and faculty alike. Of course, it’s not hard to see that OER and ALS overlap at many levels given that the primary goal for both of these initiatives is free or cheap access to educational materials. More information for ALS can be found at:

Another movement at campuses across the nation is the move toward Undergraduate Research in the curriculum. Faculty often pick their “top” undergraduate students, or graduate students, to work on “real world” research projects. But, is there a way to help all of our students experience what it’s like to do this type of work as part of the curriculum in their undergraduate classes? Essentially, can we move beyond “the audience of one” model and create learning environments in which our students produce work for public consumption as their assignments? We believe we can as is evidenced by the second edition of this text that was largely produced by students.

Finally, the National Communication Association has the NCA-Wikipedia Initiative (NCAWI). On its website, it states: “NCA is calling on its members to support the association’s effort to deploy the power of Wikipedia to represent the communication discipline as fully and as accurately as possible and thereby encourage excellence in communication teaching and learning. The broad goals of the NCA Wikipedia Initiative (NCAWI) are to:

  • Ensure that articles about communication research and theory are accurate, up-to-date, complete and written in a style appropriate for the general public;
  • Ensure that articles are based on independent reliable secondary sources;
  • Represent communication scholar controversies and consensus fairly, writing articles in a neutral style;
  • Improve and review articles to Good Article and Featured Article quality; and
  • Assess communication-related articles and tag them appropriately when there are problems.”

This project merges the above four areas into a classroom environment in which our students engage in Undergraduate Research by editing an Open Educational Resource that will serve as an Affordable Learning Solution for faculty and staff across the country. The outcome of this class is a second edition of an introductory Communication survey textbook that will be used by students across the country. The other outcome of this class is the living proof, through the work of 19 undergraduate Communication students, that our students have valuable contributions to offer the world if we can find avenues for them to do so.