Why Units, rather than Chapters?

Some of my students struggle to understand why I make them think about multiple chapters at a time, rather than just covering materials in the course solely the way the book presents them. There is a relatively simple explanation for that: communication, like most of life, has a lot of overlap.

For that reason, I structure our course where we will place focus on a single chapter within a particular class period; however, my mentality is that there is a lot of interplay of concepts and ideas. For example, when we talk about perception, we also need to consider listening skills. After all, perception is about taking in information, and listening is one way we do that.

Similarly, we talk about both nonverbal and verbal communication in the same unit. We can talk about verbal messages for weeks on end, and can do the same with nonverbal messages. Indeed, many universities and colleges have entire courses devoted to just nonverbal communication. But the two work together to create meaning. How we say something (including the tone, pitch, volume, and speed–what we collectively call paralanguage) is as important as the words we use. Some researchers have even found evidence that our use of paralanguage and nonverbal movements can be MORE important than the words we say.

Here’s a simple exercise: try to think of the variety of ways someone can say the following sentence.

You failed the test.

Consider, as part of that, how it would sound coming from your best friend, your parents, your instructor, your siblings, your advisor, or other people. Each of the words can have more emphasis. The speed, the tone, the emphasis, etc., all drastically alter the meaning of these otherwise very simple 4 words. As we discussed with unit 1, our relatively simple message can be complicated through our efforts both to encode (present or offer information) and decode (interpret and understand information).

For more information on paralanguage, check out chapter 5 of your textbook!


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