Defining the Basic Course

According to the NCA Basic Course Division, the Basic Course focuses on teaching fundamental communication skills and theory to undergraduate students. On many campuses, this course meets a General Education requirement and is taught to non-major and major students. For many students, this course is their first exposure to the discipline and is typically either a Public Speaking class or a Foundations of Oral Communication class, which can include interpersonal, small group, and public speaking units. Other courses might include Interpersonal Communication, Small Group Communication, Business and Professional Communication, or Intercultural Communication, to name a few.

Most faculty gain their first teaching experience in the Basic Course while they are in graduate school. This course promotes opportunities for faculty and graduate students to teach, research, and assess communication. The Basic Course also provides an opportunity for faculty to gain administrative and leadership experience.

The links below provide an overview of the role of the Basic Course in the Communication discipline, the role of the Basic Course in General Education, and the historical significance of the Basic Course.

What is the role of the Basic Course in the Discipline? 

Since the birth of the Communication discipline in 1914, the Basic Course has served as the foundation upon which the field has developed. For many undergraduate students, the Basic Course acts as their first exposure to the study of communication. For many faculty and administrators, the Basic Course offers opportunities for employment and professional development.  

What is the role of the Basic Course in General Education? 

According to Joseph M. Valenzano III of the University of Dayton, the Basic Course plays a significant role in undergraduate student academic success, professional development, and personal growth. At most, but not all, schools the basic Communication course is a central component of the General Education program. With that placement come three roles the course can and should play. First, the course often provides the only training students receive in oral communication, a skill identified by employers as one of the most important they seek when making hiring decisions. Second, the course offers an opportunity for students to see how their education in other departments and majors can manifest through their use of communication skills, thus making the Basic Course one of the few General Education courses that connects material from their entire education. Third, the course is both a recruiting ground for potential new majors by exposing them to the interesting and vast nature of our field, as well as the financial backbone of many departments.

What is the historical significance of the Basic Course? 

The content taught in the Basic Course is rooted in the rhetorical traditions dating back to Plato, Aristotle, Isocrates, and Quintilian, among others. In 1956, Donald Hargis conducted the first study on the state of the Basic Course; this evolved into a series of studies conducted every five years since 1970 on the trends, issues, and challenges associated with teaching the course.

  • Weaver (1976)/ Directing the Basic Communication Course
    This article discusses the role that the Basic Course Director plays in the administration
    of the Basic Course. Weaver offers practical tips and suggestions for how the Basic Course should be organized and administered, and provides several recommendations for developing the criteria to be used when hiring a Basic Course Director.
  • Valenzano, Wallace, & Morreale (2014)/Consistency and change: The (r)evolution of the Basic Communication Course
    This article explores the evolution of the Basic Course, beginning with the early traditions and trends in oral communication instruction in ancient Rome and Greece and ending with the curricular issues encountered by the Basic Course during the 20th century. Valenzano et al. focus extensively on the relationship that began in the 1960s between General Education and the Basic Course that still is in existence today. As the Basic Course moves into the 21st century, they encourage researchers and practitioners to continue examining the role that the Basic Course plays in General Education requirements in higher education.