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The American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), with its new standards for business and accounting accreditation, indicates in its section on curriculum content and evaluation that communication skills are important characteristics of the business curriculum. While not indicating how students are to attain these skills, AACSB wants colleges of business to provide the necessary experiences so that students develop these skills (AACSB, 1993). Research that shows these skills are being improved adds to program accountability measures now required by accreditation agencies, including the AACSB. Findings that would illustrate student improvement in communication skills such as listening would portray a communication course that truly improves students. But should listening be taught in a business communication course? If so, can it be taught? If so, is the amount of class time required to teach it justified?
In response to its importance, the reply is generally well known. Few business communication instructors question the importance of listening. The general findings of research can be summarized by the following two studies:
1. DiSalvo, Downs, and Conrad (1976) indicate that listening is a critical skill for business people.
2. Becker and Ekdom (1980), in their survey of 282 members of the Academy of Certified Administrative Managers, found active listening was the most crucial skill managers need.
But can listening be taught? This question has also been answered. In What Research Says to the Teacher--Listening, Taylor (1968) states, "In every study reported in which listening instruction had been given, pronounced gains were made in listening and often in allied communication skills as well".
While the value of listening and its teachability is well documented, the real question for a business communication instructor is, "Do I have time to include it in the course?" It seems as if every time there is a new topic to be covered in the curricula of colleges of business (e.g., international business or ethics) someone suggests that it be covered in business communication. In fact, in the September 1993 edition of the Bulletin of the Association for Business Communication, a special section discusses whether to teach software in a business communication course (Johnson, Dukes, Dyrud, & Casady, 1993). Too often, when taught in a business communication course, such topics receive only token recognition because of the need to cover memo writing, letter writing, report writing--courses by themselves at some institutions--oral presentations, interviewing, resume writing, and other topics.
While listening is definitely a very important communication skill, could it be significantly improved by a unit that takes little classroom time? This is the question that this study attempts to answer.
The participants in this study were students who took the researchers' introductory business communication course in the last three years (N = 373). These students were primarily juniors and seniors at a southeastern university. The introductory business communication course is required for all graduates of this accredited college of business.
To help insure a sincere effort on the pretest, participants were told that if their pretest scores were 90 or higher they would receive an A for the listening part of the course--10% of their final grade--and would not have to complete the rest of the listening section of the course. During the three-year period of the study, only five students scored 90 or above on the listening pretest. These five students are not part of the sample.
The research design consists of a pretest/treatment/posttest design with four basic steps:
1. Give a listening pretest to measure students' initial listening abilities.