Professional Communications Course Overview: Professional Communications involves a set of skills and a process by which you can apply those skills. In the first half of this course (Fall 2015), we will explore a Communications Framework that can be used in both academic and professional settings. We will also develop and practice our skills in oral, visual, and written communications with the goal of developing clear, concise, and compelling communications. This course will use the Team-Based Learning (TBL) format, which requires students to meet in teams throughout the course to apply their knowledge through a series of in-class activities. Students are expected to come to class prepared, having thoughtfully reviewed the course materials and completed pre-class assignments.

In the second half of this course (Spring 2016), we will explore the construction of a written Master’s Project (MP). Through three two-hour workshops with the NSOE Communications Studio, you will learn the genre expectations of a written MP, including organization and elements of style. You will also explore reference-management software and how to develop a professional website to present your MP to non-academics and prospective employers. Students are expected to come to class prepared, and with material to work with during the workshops (e.g., outlines, text, examples).

Course Philosophy: Students come to the Nicholas School with a wide range of training and skills in professional communications. Some have had extensive experience working as communication professionals, some are attending an English-speaking institution for the first time, some are comfortable speaking and writing, others find it challenging. Our goal is for each students to experience a range of communication strategies throughout the 2 year program, both in classes and during the MP process, so that every graduate feels confident in his/her abilities to communicate environmental information in clear, concise, and compelling ways.

ENV 800, Professional Communications, serves as a common gateway to introduce students to the resources at the NSOE, Duke, and the wider community that offer information and training in communications. The course also offers an opportunity to practice some communication skills that will be important in your coursework, perhaps even during your first semester. With the launch of the new NSOE Communications Studio, this course also allows us to share the resources of the Studio in the service of another class assignment. Professors Vidra and Cagle have collaborated with faculty across concentrations to offer an efficient and, hopefully, engaging course that will help you identify the skills necessary for you to become a confident communicator.

Learning Objectives

At the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Access the materials and expertise provided by the NSOE Communications Studio to support professional development in oral, writing, and graphic communications.
  • Target environmental communications for different audiences.
  • Deliver a message concisely, compellingly, and persuasively in the form of an elevator speech and short ppt presentation.
  • See how the workshop and revision process assists in the development of clear, concise, and compelling writing in a wide context of writing assignments.
  • Practice the conventions of scientific and social science in written Master’s Projects

Course Structure: Fall semester

Each week, students will review the course materials from our WordPress site. These materials may include videos prepared by me or other instructors. A reading guide will be provided for each week so that students have some guidance on reviewing these materials. This guide will also support the in-class activities for the week. We will meet 4 times on Friday mornings and you should come to class on-time, prepared, and ready to engage with your peers.

You are also required to visit the NSOE Communications Studio once during the Fall semester to workshop a writing assignment for any class you are taking this semester. If you do not have any writing assignments, please see Rebecca Vidra. Guidelines for this visit and for submitting a short reflection for full course credit can be found on our WordPress site and on Sakai under “Assignments”.

Course Requirements

In order to receive a “pass” for this 1 credit course, in Fall 2015 students will:

  • Attend each class session prepared to engage with team members thoughtfully and respectfully.
  • Prepare and present a 1 minute elevator speech on their qualifications and interests.
  • Prepare and present a 4 slide ppt show with team members
  • Provide feedback to team members regarding preparation and participation throughout the course.
  • Visit the NSOE Writing Studio to workshop a writing assignment for another class; submit a reflection paper (2 page maximum) on how the workshop informed your revision.

In Spring 2016 students will:

  • Attend each of three Master’s Project (MP) Writing Workshops
  • Come prepared with materials for the workshops as requested
  • Visit the NSOE Writing Studio to workshop a writing assignment from another class or to workshop part of your MP or MP proposal; submit a reflection paper (2 page maximum) on how the workshop informed your revision.


Assignments will be graded on a pass/fail basis. This should remove any anxiety related to grades but encourage motivation to get the most of this class. If you have resources to suggest, please let Rebecca, Nicki or the TAs know and we will gladly review them to be added to our WordPress site.

Course Schedule: Fall semester

August 28 – Meet in Love Auditorium

Tour of course material and WordPress site

Overview of TBL process and expectations

Introduction to the NSOE Communications Studio and discussion of academic vs professional communications

September 4 – Meet in Love, then in Breakout Rooms

Focus: Communications Process and Audience Research (LO #2)

Activity: Messaging/Audience Exercise

September 11 – Meet in Love, then in Breakout Rooms

Focus: Public Speaking (LO #3)

Activity: Elevator Speech

September 18– Meet in Love, then in Breakout Rooms

Focus: Visual Presentation (LO #3)

Activity: Powerpoint Demos

Visits to the NSOE Communications Studio will be scheduled on an individual basis and should be complete by December 4, 2015.

Course Schedule: Spring semester

A series of 3 workshops will be scheduled throughout the semester. Students will also visit the NSOE Communications Studio during the semester.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *