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At the core of all careers: communication

Oregon State’s Colin Hesse weighs in on the universal value of interpersonal communication skills

Speech communication professor Colin Hesse speaks with a student sitting across from him at a table in the College of Liberal Arts building.

By Julie Cooper
Dec. 21, 2018

Distance students taking their baccalaureate core courses during the summer are likely to encounter associate professor Colin Hesse, who teaches the introductory interpersonal communication course online. In 2018, Ecampus awarded Colin the Best Course Innovation Award for improving the path to degree completion for Oregon State’s online undergraduate students by bringing the introductory communication courses, COMM 111 and COMM 218, online for the first time.

Colin’s expertise in interpersonal communication enriches his highly interactive and personalized online classrooms. Hear directly from Colin about his research on interpersonal communication in episode 85 of the Ecampus Research Unit’s podcast “Research in Action.” Colin holds a Ph.D. in communication from Arizona State University and a bachelor’s in communication from Whitworth College.


Briefly describe your role in the College of Liberal Arts‘ speech communication program.

“I am an associate professor of speech communication. I conduct research and teach classes in the intersection of health and interpersonal communication. I am also in charge of the introductory class in interpersonal communication, which has about 20 sections every term taught either online or offline.”

What inspired your career path?

“I have always loved writing and found myself drawn to the questions of understanding why and how relationships work. Those were my favorite classes as an undergraduate, and I have loved further exploring those topics in my professional career.”

“The type of communication skills that we discuss in our classes are those that truly fall into almost any career path.”

How did you become interested in your topics of specialization – communication of affection, alexithymia and family communication?

“I find that the topics of affection and alexithymia (a psychological trait where an individual is less able to understand and communicate their emotions) are intertwined. Both deal with the idea that communicating emotion is important to the human experience. Affection in particular is incredibly important in this day and age. Multiple scholars would say that our society is working through a loneliness epidemic; that we are feeling more and more alone even with the capacity to communicate growing exponentially with online resources. In all this, we still need people to communicate with us these messages of closeness, love and intimacy.”

What do you like most about instructing speech communication online?

“The best part of my week as an online instructor is reading discussion posts. I never get that type of detailed feedback and insight when I teach the course offline. I am continually blown away by the way that my online students grapple with the topics, bringing in outside sources and personal experiences to develop a more complete picture of the topic at hand.”

“I am continually blown away by the way that my online students grapple with the topics, bringing in outside sources and personal experiences to develop a more complete picture of the topic at hand.”

How have you evolved as an educator since you began teaching classes online with Ecampus?

“My main goal in the past year has been to become more present as an online instructor. I want these students to view me in a similar way as my offline students. While so much of the online experience takes place in the preparation process for the instructor – building the course shell, recording lectures, etc. – I’ve grown to appreciate the uniqueness of each group of students who pass through that course shell.”

How do you connect with and personalize the learning experience for online students who you may never meet in person?

“A couple of my main strategies in the past year have been to ensure weekly contact with all students by sending a weekly email update and posting a weekly announcement video update to the course page. In the weekly video, I mention several specific students by name in terms of the work that I saw from them and the ideas and arguments that they presented. I want them to know that I am reading their work and truly entering into a discussion with them about their ideas.”

How can studying speech communication help students in their futures? And what types of jobs can these skills set them up for?

“Sometimes people think that interpersonal communication is a soft skill, meaning that it is something that people just automatically know how to do. Research, however, would completely disagree with that question. We are not nearly as good as we think we are in competently communicating with the world around us, whether at work, in a different cultural setting, or even with our own family and friends. Thus, the type of communication skills that we discuss in our classes (whether about conflict, relational maintenance, cultural competence or self-disclosure) are those that truly fall into almost any career path.” 

What is one surprising thing about you that not many people know?

“I am an identical twin, so if my students see me walking around campus, there is a small chance that they are not actually seeing me, but my brother.”

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