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Communication: Graduate Programs


The Communication graduate program is grounded in theory and research concerning human communication, and provides preparation for further graduate study and careers in academia and research. Graduate students participate in collaborative research teams with a guiding faculty member, enabling hands-on research experience, sometimes on grant-funded projects, frequently resulting in publications in flagship communication journals. Graduate students also gain practical teaching experience by developing and teaching undergraduate communication courses as teaching assistants and teaching associates. Our graduate program emphasizes the study of interpersonal, mass (including new media), health, political, and group communication, with a particular emphasis on empirical social scientific research methods. The graduate program in communication offers low student-to-faculty ratio, small and interactive classes, a collaborative and collegial atmosphere, progressive teaching opportunities for fall, spring, and summer sessions, and opportunities for departmental funding beyond our teaching assistantships and associateships. We consistently rank in the top 10 graduate communication programs nationally.


The department offers M.A. and Ph.D. programs. In the MA program, flexibility allows students to tailor programs to meet specific career objectives. The thesis option serves as a foundation for students planning to pursue a Ph.D. Those preparing to work in business, media, government, or teach at a community college may select a non-thesis option. The PhD program offers in-depth study and research training for scholars seeking careers in academia or research/writing-intensive private/public sector work. Programs of study combine major and minor coursework to fit individual intellectual needs and areas of research specialization.

Expected Learning Outcomes: 

At the MA and PhD level (with obviously higher expectations at the PhD level), students will be able to:

  1. identify a socially significant communication issue, evaluate issue-relevant literature, and develop a theoretically-grounded hypothesis or research question about the issue.
  2. apply empirical research methods in communication to specific scientific questions (with advanced methods at the PhD level)
  3. effectively present the results of communication research orally through conference presentations, colloquia, and teaching (and oral examinations at the PhD level)
  4. produce clear and concise written empirical research, be capable of submitting work for peer review and negotiating all stages of the publication process (e.g., responding to reviewers and editors).
  5. demonstrate deep understanding of the major communication theories and their associated empirical literatures in at least two areas of the discipline (e.g., interpersonal, mass, social influence, health, etc.).
  6. teach college-level communication classes in an expert and fully professional manner.
Assessment Activities: 


Six sources of assessment information are used to assess the outcomes. 

  1. A self-report tool collecting data from all graduate students on an annual basis. This survey gathers quantitative self-reports of productivity (e.g., presentations, publications). Based on these data, all students are scored by the graduate committee as performing excellently, adequately, or inadequately on their research activity. The tool used to collect these data is the Grad Student Survey, linked below.
  2. The same self-report tool collects data from all graduate students on their subjective sense of learning in our program, and their TCE scores for the previous year (again, see Grad Student Survey).
  3. A rubric completed by all faculty at all thesis and dissertation defenses in the department (rubric is at the end of this document). Data from this rubric are only reported in aggregate for years where the number of theses/dissertations exceeds a minimum of three (to protect anonymity). The tool used to collect these data is the Thesis Dissertation Rubric, linked below.
  4. A comprehensive evaluation of student performance by the graduate committee (done each May/June), with input from all faculty. This includes assessment of teaching performance through the year. The Director of Graduate Studies collaborates with each student’s faculty advisor to write the student a letter summarizing the feedback from the graduate committee and other faculty members, noting both areas of achievement and areas for improvement. As a result of this comprehensive evaluation, students are scored as either making satisfactory progress or not making satisfactory progress. The tool used to collect these data was an hour and a half long faculty meeting involving all faculty who discussed all students in our graduate program; it’s not clear how we provide evidence of that tool.  
  5. Individual teaching observations and monitoring of all graduate teaching assistants performed by individually assigned faculty. This is performed using a standard form on which students are scored as superior, satisfactory, or unsatisfactory. The tool used to collect these data is the Teaching Evaluation Form, linked below.
  6. An end-of-year qualitative self-assessment completed by each graduate student. Students are instructed to construct a narrative description of their accomplishments and growth in the preceding academic year with respect to research, teaching, and service, as well as areas for growth.



These tools correspond to the six learning outcomes (described earlier) in the following manner:


Assessment Tools

  1. Develop hypotheses
  1. Research methods
  1. Effective presentation
  1. Writing research
  1. Comm theory
  1. Discuss professionally
  1. Teach proficiently

Numbers of conference presentations and publications (per student)








Students’ responses to objective and subjective end of year measures








Faculty rating of thesis / dissertation quality (see rubric)








End of year comprehensive evaluation by Graduate Committee








Faculty evaluations of TAs








D = Direct assessment from field expert (research or teaching supervisor, graduate director, or graduate committee)

I = Indirect assessment from student self-report


Assessment Findings: 

PLEASE NOTE: Findings are arranged by assessment activities so as to avoid duplication. Specific statements of how the findings connect to learning outcomes are provided, and highlighted, after each section of the learning activities.


  1. Student Research Productivity


Numerical data for numbers of academic products by assessment year and by program  (All students)




Mean: 2013


Mean: 2014


Mean: 2015


Mean: 2016



Mean: MA


Mean: PhD

Refereed journal articles published in previous year








Refereed journal articles total








Chapters and non-refereed articles in previous year








Chapters and non-refereed articles total








Conference presentations in previous year








Conferences presentations total








Total research projects involved in during UofA career









The year-to-year comparison indicates several notable increases in the most recent year, most especially in refereed journal articles (the most important “currency” for our graduates in terms of demonstrating that they are learning to be professionals in our discipline) and other non-refereed publications.  An average student has been involved in nearly 4 research projects during their time at the UA. We regard active involvement in research activity as the place where learning the research process is most likely to occur, and hence are pleased with this number. The MA cohort in 2016 was comprised of 4 first-year students.  Therefore, the gap between MA and PhD outcomes for 2016 is as expected, with PhDs involved in substantially more ongoing and completed projects. Based on the individual level data (not provided here, obviously), all students were scored as performing at least adequately in terms of their research progress.


LEARNING OUTCOME COMMENT: These data indicate that we continue to provide reasonable support on learning outcomes 1, 2, 4, and 5 in terms of students’ research engagement and productivity. Put simply, students could not be achieving this level of research productivity and conference activity if they were not successfully learning the material in outcomes 1, 2, 4, and 5.








  1. Student Subjective Learning and Teaching Effectiveness


Globally, how much do you feel you have learned in your graduate program concerning

Mean (2015)



Developing theoretically grounded research questions



Applying empirical research to answer scientific questions



Oral presentation of research



Producing clear written empirical research



Understanding communication theory



Teaching communication to undergraduates



Note: Each item is scored 1-4, with 1 indicating “Very Little” and 4 indicating “A Huge Amount”



Mean score across first 3 questions  (2015)

Mean effectiveness score (2016)

TCE scores




We implemented these assessment items in 2015 and therefore only have one comparison year. The overall pattern is positive. Each item saw a modest increase between 2015 and 2016 with averages above 3 on five of the six items in 2016. The highest scores are in the area of theory and research which is consistent with our departmental goals. While there was a slight increase in “oral presentation of research” we will continue to offer students opportunities for mock presentations and provide feedback. The scores for “teaching communication” have improved likely in part due to our increased teaching-related brown bag offerings and recommendations and support for students to attend teaching workshops. Moreover, TCE data indicate that our graduate students are actually doing a creditable job in the eyes of their students. The TCE reporting system changed in between assessment years. For 2015 we were able to provide the average scores across the first three (key) TCE items for all our graduate TAs for the entire 2015 year (3.86 on the 1-5 scale). For 2016 we used the average “overall teaching effectiveness” score across all students for the year (3.98 on the 1-5 scale). These scores indicate acceptable teaching effectiveness and evidence that our students are learning to be effective teachers.

LEARNING OUTCOME COMMENT: These data indicate that we are providing good support on learning outcomes 1, 2, 4, and 5 in terms of supporting students’ perceptions of their research engagement and productivity. We are doing a little less well on learning outcomes 3 and 6, at least in terms of our graduate students’ subjective perceptions. TCE scores from undergraduates suggest that our graduate TAs are performing well in the classroom.



III. Faculty Evaluations of Thesis/Dissertations


In 2013, we began collecting data anonymously on student performance on their final thesis/dissertation report and oral examination. We have insufficient numbers to provide an annual comparison and still maintain the confidentiality of our students. We are a small program – having fewer than four theses or dissertations is not unusual. However, we have now collected a critical mass of faculty evaluations from the 2013-2016 academic years and present those aggregate data. Each item is on a 5-point scale with 5 indicating superior performance. See Thesis Dissertation Rubric at end of page.


Faculty Evaluation


Master’s Thesis

3.90 (11 students)

Doctoral Dissertation

4.05 (13 students)


LEARNING OUTCOME COMMENT: These data indicate acceptable outcomes for learning objectives 1-5.



IV.  End of Year Comprehensive Evaluation by Graduate Committee


All of our students are making satisfactory progress in the program with one exception due to a series of difficult life-events.  As is typical we have a couple of students who need to make adjustments in their individual plans to achieve the outcomes they desire—we made those recommendations specifically to those students. We continue to monitor progress actively, especially for students who appear to be taking longer than normal to complete a thesis or dissertation. Globally, the graduate committee is satisfied that the program is meeting its goals for the majority of students – year-on-year students are showing increased knowledge, increased research productivity (which indicates knowledge), and increased ability to function professionally in our discipline (as indicated by conference participation, and professional behavior within the department).


LEARNING OUTCOME COMMENT: These data indicate acceptable outcomes for learning objectives 2, 3, 4 and 6. The comprehensive evaluation isn’t fully able to address specific issues like the ability to develop hypotheses, but does a good job of addressing broad issues of students’ presentation/teaching skills, and research/writing development – faculty engage in active discussion of such issues during our meetings, noting where students need to improve conciseness of their writing, for instance.


V. Faculty Evaluations of TAs


Faculty teaching supervisors are assigned to observe and evaluate all graduate teaching assistants/associates who have not completed the PhD comprehensive exams (and any who did not previously receive a satisfactory teaching evaluation). All graduate student teachers, regardless of progress in program, receive written comments on their teaching performance by their faculty teaching supervisor. This evaluation includes feedback on broader presentation skills issues (e.g., PowerPoint design, oral engagement). In 2016, 100% were rated “satisfactory” or “superior.” Students in dedicated grading or administrative roles similarly were given an evaluation and provided feedback on, for instance, their ability to provide useful feedback to undergraduate students on their written work.

 LEARNING OUTCOME COMMENT: These data indicate that we are providing reasonable support on learning outcomes 3 and 6 in terms of supporting students’ teaching abilities, and enhancing their public presentation skills.

Change in Response to Findings: 

Our assessment is in its early stages and has been substantially revised each year to accommodate administrative feedback. We are now beginning to see consistent data as a result of our assessment and will soon be able to adequately compare data in order to make a more informed evaluation. At present, our data indicate that our program is adequately meeting the learning objectives for our graduate students. We do not have sufficient evidence to warrant substantial program changes. In the last year, we created additional opportunities for students to gain professional skills through brown bag meetings and workshops and created new opportunities for informal peer and faculty support. Our recent efforts to reinforce collaboration on research teams has resulted in improved outcomes in terms of overall total research projects, presentations, and publications. In sum, we continue to be pleased with the overall pattern of satisfied students who are progressing well towards degree completion and getting jobs at prestigious institutions.

Updated date: Thu, 07/13/2017 - 15:48