Using tech to connect

Thanks to the power of friendship, the strength of technology and the willingness to build international goodwill, instructors at Johnson County Community College judged a speech contest of university students 5,560 miles away.

Twelve students from Udmurt State University in Izhevsk, Russia, benefited from judicial experience at JCCC. The cross-cultural exchange was conceived by the students’ enterprising instructor, Olga Yakovleva.

Like most teachers, Yakovleva wanted a way to motivate her students to do their very best. She also sought an avenue to showcase her students’ talents to bring the interest of the university to the English-language program.

She asked Terri Easley, associate professor of speech at JCCC, to help her plan the contest and its logistics, since she knew Easley had experience in planning JCCC’s Speaking Showcase. That particular annual one-night event highlights the work of speech and debate students.

Easley sent Yakovleva examples from previous showcases, and between the two, they planned out a Russian version where both Udmurt State and JCCC professors would judge the speakers.

Building excitement

So it worked like this: Udmurt State University students gave speeches to resident professors and a special guest representing JCCC. Farrell Hoy Jenab, adjunct professor of English, was a visiting scholar at Udmurt State for 12 weeks, and the speech contest was scheduled near the end of her visit.

She was an honorary judge who watched the speeches as they happened.

Sign of Udmurt speech contest“The speeches were delivered very eloquently,” Jenab said. “Russians tend to hold themselves with a slightly different posture than Americans, and I saw that in their delivery.”

The speeches were also videotaped and posted to a private YouTube page so JCCC judges could view and score them. Judges included:

  • Lindsey Welsch, adjunct professor of speech
  • Justin Stanley, associate professor of speech, debate coach
  • Sheilah Philip, professor emeritus of theatre
  • James Leiker, professor of history
  • Dennis Arjo, professor and chair of philosophy and religion
  • Easley herself

Buzz-worthy praise

Since Izhevsk, Russia, is nine hours ahead of Overland Park, students had to wait with breathless anticipation for the judges to review their speeches. Once winners were decided, Easley sent the winners certificates that were presented to students in a special ceremony in Izhevsk.

The results proved secondary to the buzz such a transatlantic contest could create.

“The contest went great,” wrote Yakovleva in an email to Easley. “There were so many people in the audience; the room was overcrowded. All the contestants were very excited to deliver their speeches. It was a real celebration. We have never had such an event before.

“After the contest a lot of freshman and sophomore students came up to me said: ‘When are we going to have a public speaking course? When can we participate in the contest like that? A lot of students were very inspired.”

Easley and Yakovleva met when Easley traveled to Udmurt State University in 2012. They talked only for 30 minutes face-to-face, but the power of technology has helped them become friends. They email each other often, sharing curriculum and teaching tips.

They’ll be comparing the notes from both the Russian and the American judges to see if cultural differences account for different scoring. Those differences (and similarities) can then be studied in and applied to Intercultural Communication (SPD 180) and Public Speaking (SPD 121) to demonstrate cultural differences and expectations.