Revista núm. 24 - Julio/Diciembre 2018
Basic communication skills development from university student’s self-perception
El desarrollo de las habilidades comunicativas básicas desde la autopercepción de los estudiantes universitarios
Genoveva Reyna Marín*
The university student’s perception about their basic communication skills is approached from a psychosocial perspective revealing school culture factors that favor or inhibit their development linked to their training as pedagogues.
Keywords: communication skills, higher education, pedagogue’s training.
An approach to the students' perception about their communication skills
Basic communication skills, such as reading and writing, have become an object of study heavily researched in the last decade. They emerge as a constant problem in formal education programs and are a frequent basic education level problem. Educational research reveals the importance they are acquiring, we can observe the diversity of methodological proposals for their study and the different alternatives for a solution.
A survey, whose questionnaire was administered to a stratified sample of Pedagogy undergraduates at the National Pedagogical University-Ajusco Unit, in Mexico City, as well as the analysis of their answers from a theoretical perspective, such as social psychology, allowed us to identify the factors that from the scholastic culture favor the perception of the university students on the development of their basic communicative abilities. We identify the importance of their encounters with reading and writing and the meaning they acquire in their professional training.
The development of communication skills, a learning object and object of investigation
Language knowledge is incorporated to the curricular contents, it’s evaluated periodically inside the classroom, and it’s promoted through national and international programs; however, it has become a fundamental and unresolved problem at a basic education level, which turns out to be more complex when at higher education levels emerges as a personal situation, in addition, unsolvable by educational institutions.
Basic communication skills such as speaking, writing, listening and reading, have been established in the field of education in order to apply didactic proposals, design educational models and new policies whose main trend is the evaluation of learning on the tongue.
In the field of educational research, student’s communication skills in higher education are included in the study of basic skills: communicative and logical-mathematical. The first one is separated into writing, reading comprehension, reflection, critical reading, the generation of thought, deliberation or second language acquisition. Communication is analyzed from different approaches and disciplines and in specific sociocultural and political contexts.
In the Latin American region, studies focus on writing and reading comprehension. Digital skills (Moreira, 2010) are installed as new requirements for employment, for life and for training in higher education, this includes the use of new technologies and computer programs (Grubb, 2010).
The link between basic communication skills and educational levels refer to the graduation profile and very precise social demands. In secondary education and upper secondary education, the focus is on skills development for work and life (Magner, Soulé and Wesolowski, 2011), (Threeton and Pellock, 2010), articulated with those required for good school performance.
In higher education communication skills are achieved by: reading comprehension, writing and academic texts production. Along with them professional skills development.
Academic writing is analyzed linked to the need of knowing and promoting the implicit cognitive processes (Acosta and Roméu, 2012), (Aguilera and Boatto, 2013), (Natalie, 2013); descriptive and transcription levels that show the absence of reading analytical processes are recognized (Escorcia, 2010).
The problem becomes more complex when it is approached jointly with reading comprehension (Álvarez, 2012), (Carlino, 2003), (Forget and Bottoms, 2000). Despite educational reforms and curricular changes, university student’s literacy skills do not improve (Ávila, González and Peñaloza, 2013), and become an increasing factor for educational lag (González, Hernández and Márquez, 2011).
Other investigations question the communication skills development place in the curriculum, because it’s regarded as a cross-disciplinary learning that, when not explicitly included in the curricula, no one is responsible for encouraging (Mokhtar, Rahman, Husain and Mokhtar SI, 2012), which leads to the need of proposing alternatives linked to a curricular design in university education (Rada, 2009), (Romanik and Rembowski, 2012).
Evaluating students' writing skills guides the teaching practice analysis and leads to didactic proposals that favor writing development in students (Córdova, 2010), (Navarro, 2013). It also makes possible to predict the level of academic achievement in higher education admission processes (Burton, Welsh, Kostin and VanEssen, 2009). Hence, at this level it becomes a matter of a private nature that the student will have resolve individually.
Basic communication skills, in the case of the National Pedagogical University, cease to be a learning object, even though they are one of the generic competences recognized at the international level, since they are directly linked to disciplinary discourse acquisition and use.
From where and how to approach the study of communication skills development?
Studying basic communication skills in the educational field implied recognizing them in specific communicative situations located in a specific context: the school. Therefore, school culture became a point of reference on educational events, institutional dynamics and educational practices.
The psychosocial perspective articulated to communication pragmatics was a theoretical reference to unveil university student’s perception about their basic communication skills and identify the factors that derive from school culture in favor of their development or inhibition.
This methodological approach recovers the theoretical perspective consistent with the method and instrument design, to materialize a quantitative study on the object. A survey was designed, and a questionnaire was applied to students of BA in Pedagogy at the National Pedagogical University-Ajusco Unit of Mexico City. The sample consisted of students of the two shifts: morning and afternoon and the four school semesters that were active at the time: 2nd, 4th, 6th and 8th. School groups were identified by course, so that the three phases of professional training and the two shifts were covered. 70% of the curricular lines and fields of the curriculum were considered at the time of selecting the subjects and, consequently, the school groups to which the questionnaire would be applied.
The sample population was constituted by 284 students, which complies with the characteristics of this type of sampling where the researcher determines not only the stratum, but the criteria to include and the sample as a whole (Quispe, 2013). We also consider the representativeness of the sample for each stratum. To do this, we looked at the proportion of enrollment per semester and the questionnaires applied in each one. Attached to Tecla’s statements (2001), for this study, the minimum percentage for each stratum was 13%, the maximum was 36%. The instrument’s application was carried out in complete school groups and then the questionnaires were selected to build the representative sample that amounts to 17% of the universe population constituted by 1644 students.
Each question and school situation responded to three different dimensions: socio-historical, institutional, and cultural. The survey allowed an understanding of the opinion, beliefs, perception, behaviors, facts assessment and verification articulated with the degrees of difficulty, satisfaction, relevance and opinion about school practices and products generated in the school context and dependent for their communication skills development.
A possible theoretical explanation
In the school context, we want to find a thinking being in students, because we are summoning reason on a daily basis, but we are also facing students who feel and are linked not only with others, but with what they learn. Personal history is placed in that context linked to the school’s history (Perres, 1999); (Postic, 2000), a condition that is regularly forgotten or rejected when teachers pretend to be congruent with a pedagogical paradigm based on objectivity because subjectivity hinders the teaching-learning process.
Teacher and student are in a network of relationships that put into play their education or academic and school performance, and, with it, what they know and what they ignore; they are in a set of institutional paradoxes that guide and recurrently question their daily activities (Fernández, 1998, 103). The institutional culture strengthens these paradoxes, deprives the subject of his will and weakens the possibility to question and install new school and socialization practices.
The school culture is constituted and strengthened by the production of meanings that gives sense to educational work, school practices, learning and professional training. Thus, what is done and said acquires a meaning that regulates relationships between subjects, allowing their evaluation. School culture refers to content, sense and meaning acquired by school practices and products, as well as discourses and processes that converge with institutional expectations, resulting in a link structure between subjects and institutions. It may be said that this is the deepest level of daily life in schools.
The links and meanings that the subject establishes with the institutional may inhibit their communicative skills, inhibition understood as the arrest of a movement, function, or act; act in the sense that it evokes in the subject a specific and particular meaning, in which he himself is expressed (Cordié, 1998). A single act is the basis of all human interaction, it is already communication, as Watzlawick (1991) points out, the significance it has for the subject can generate distress, linked to inhibition (Roudinesco, 1998, 530). It is in the human relationships context where communication skills inhibition is potentially encountered. Hence, we consider that their verbal and non-verbal expression qualities are sustained by life experiences, in the sense that for the subject they have the elements that constitute the institutions that have formed him.
Reflections derived from the results
The students surveyed participated in standardized tests when they studied in the sixth year of primary school and the third year of high school, the results indicated that the performance in reading was not favorable because two out of ten sixth grade students did not reach Basic competence levels in reading comprehension and language thinking. The use of language by students is predominantly functional, it operates in daily interaction context, revealing the difficulties to install academic and disciplinary language acquisition on these bases.
The cross-sectional analysis of the data indicates that those who claim to have obtained a very good performance in learning Spanish at the basic education levels do not consider it, at least reading, as one of their most developed skills.
The students' evaluations reveal a fragmented perception, derived from fragmentary training processes. Communication skills are disarticulated, reading is not linked to writing or oral expression. The ability to listen is not associated with the ability to express oneself orally. In this sense, the development of one skill is not linked to the strengthening of another, for them, it’s not necessary to carry out an in-depth reading to participate properly in class; neither do they consider it necessary to know how to write in order to express themselves orally.
Evaluation and grades assignment occupy a preferential place in professional training, but neither case promotes improvement in learning nor basic communication skills development. Students appreciation shows us that getting good grades is not associated with the development of their abilities. Contrary to this, hierarchical relations between students and teachers are strengthened, and interaction is centered in the exercise of power regulated by evaluation and grades assignment.
The perception that it’s easy to do a particular homework is derived from the absence of the teacher’s detailed review, particularly if the teacher's appreciation is overestimated by the students.
Students value teachers’ suggestions and comments, they indicate that this has helped them to improve, fundamentally, their ability to write which has repercussions in school tasks and in the products that reflect their learning level.
The scene, as well as the scenario where the communicative situation and the educational act take place, are meaning repositories built by affective bonds that the subject has established with the environment, a new production of meanings and links favors communication skills development or strengthening. This indicates that skills development is not favored by an act repetition and the subsequent corrections, but by an environment modification and a new production of meanings.
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