Assessment Brief #96 - Oral and Written Communication in the Farmer School of Business

Assessment Logo: assessment-revision-outcomes

October 2017

In 2013 the Farmer School of Business (FSB), in collaboration with the Howe Writing Initiative (HWI), launched a multi-year assessment of students' written and oral communication, with the goal of using findings to revise the business communication requirements in the FSB core curriculum. Prior to this assessment, the FSB core curriculum required all students to enroll in BUS 102: Writing for Business Decision-Making (1 credit) and COM 135: Public Speaking (3 credits).

Assessment Methods

Student Survey

In spring 2013, the FSB sent a survey (consisting of closed- and open-ended questions) to all international students (sent to 543 students; n = 60) and to a representative sampling of domestic students (sent to 850 students; n = 83) to gather student perceptions of their learning needs related to business writing and speaking. A key finding was that students—domestic and international—felt they needed more instruction in research writing, team writing, and team presenting as well as greater support for intercultural communication. 

Faculty Focus Discussions

In spring 2013, the HWI director held informal focus group discussions at faculty meetings in all FSB departments to hear faculty perceptions about students' writing and speaking abilities. Faculty reported that students generally need more support in writing for business, working with specific business genres, writing as a team, and copyediting.

Direct Assessment of First-Year Business Writing

In spring 2013 and spring 2015, all major BUS 102 assignments were collected from 10% of students across all sections and scored by two separate readers who were not the instructor. Findings showed disparate curricula among instructors and students' struggling with the use of appropriate rhetorical strategies for business and with team-writing. The curriculum was standardized and revised to emphasize those areas, and in spring 2015, all major assignments from 20% of the students were scored but with a modified rubric addressing rhetoric more directly. Results showed that students improved in use of rhetorical strategies and somewhat on partner writing, but because of the 1-credit nature of the course, there was a lot of instruction they were not receiving. 

Direct Assessment of Capstone Writing

In fall 2014, written artifacts of "major writing assignments" were collected from 22 sections of all FSB capstones. A 14-member team of "faculty assessment fellows" from all FSB departments scored the artifacts, most of which were business research reports. Scores averaged "weak" in all areas, particularly in the integration and use of sources and coherence in team writing. 

Direct Assessment of Capstone Speaking

In fall 2014, 149 individual capstone presentations were observed and scored by the members of the FSB assessment committee and the HWI director. Results showed that students particularly struggled with addressing a business audience, presenting in a professional manner, and engaging the audience in rhetorically effective ways. 

Indirect Assessment of Capstone Teamwork

Capstone instructors were asked to rate their students, and capstone students were asked to rate themselves and their teammates on a number of criteria, including the ability to listen effectively, give and receive feedback, and negotiate conflict as a teammate. Students scored themselves and their peers higher than instructors did, but all rated the ability to negotiate conflict the lowest. 

Conclusion: Curriculum Revision Resulting From Assessment

Using the assessment data, the FSB curriculum committee made the following revisions:

  • BUS 102, now called Foundations of Business Communication, was expanded to 2 credits with greater writing and speaking instruction and research and team-based communications. The course also became part of the new 8-credit First-Year Integrated Core.
  • COM 135 was dropped from the curriculum, and a new 3-credit course, BUS/ENG/STC 284: Professional Communication for Business, was added. Taught by faculty in the College of Arts and Science and the FSB, the course focuses on intercultural, digital, and team communications and emphasizes further development of research-based communications and more diverse business genres. 

The division is engaging in ongoing assessment for continuous improvement. Please contact Janice Kinghorn ( and Heidi McKee ( for copies of assessment materials, including rubrics and reports.