What I Learned from Teaching Strategic Communications Students


Debra Davenport, Faculty

I believe the best teachers are also those who are the most teachable. Though I serve in the role of course facilitator, I have learned that the classroom is much more productive when it is fostered as a collaborative environment of professional colleagues. I have found that this perceptual shift from “professor-pupil” to “colleague” has made a positive impact in my classes. I think, too, that graduate learners, many of whom already have very successful careers and long lists of achievements, appreciate being recognized for their experience and expertise.

I have learned so much from the Strategic Communication Masters students here at Purdue; they have enriched my life on many levels. Some key lessons they have taught me:

1. Questions are a critical element of a successful online communication class.

Purdue scholars are highly inquisitive, analytical, and motivated. They ask excellent and insightful questions that often keep me on my toes. Questions let me know that students are engaged, interested, and discerning. Likewise, when students have questions about assignments and expectations, this lets me know that I need to communicate in a clearer and more precise manner. My students provide me with opportunities to continually hone my own skills as a professional communicator.

2. Commitment is a powerful attribute.

Many students work two (or more) jobs, serve our country in the military, travel for work on a regular basis, raise children, volunteer, and care for elderly parents. Despite their many responsibilities outside of the classroom, Purdue learners have demonstrated an impressive dedication to their studies and to their professors. This overarching commitment to excellence stimulates a strong desire to give students my absolute best.

3. Learning is not solely a student objective.

Although I have taught several Strategic Communications graduate courses, each class presents numerous opportunities for me to learn from course participants, many of whom have interesting and diverse backgrounds in specialized fields. The comments, questions, resources, and experiences these learners contribute stimulate critical thinking, offer innovative viewpoints, and add to the overall course content. 

4. It’s okay to be myself.

Perhaps the most powerful and life-changing lesson my students have afforded me is that they appreciate authenticity. The more I share of myself – my humor, opinions, perspectives, experiences, and feelings – the more my students give back in terms of rich relationships, trust, and camaraderie. I don’t know of many professions that provide this kind of engagement and fulfillment and, for these things, I am truly grateful.

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Debra Davenport Ph.D. is a member of the online faculty of Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.

*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.