I have had the privilege of introducing Introduction to Public Speaking (COM 110) students to the Virtual Martin Luther King (vMLK) Project since Fall 2018. Whether it’s the in-person experience at North Carolina State University (NCSU) Libraries or the completely online experience, there are a few commonalities that cut across delivery methods.
- At NCSU, COM 110 sections engage with the vMLK Project after students have delivered their persuasive speech and as we are preparing for advocacy speeches. This is ideal timing because the students are thinking about and engaging with rhetorical theory, so they are better able to pick up on the complexity of Dr. King’s message, the rhetorical situation, and the material aspects of the speech (e.g., the significance of the location of the speech, how acoustics impact the speech). The timing also provides an opportunity for students to observe best practice–in delivery as well as in the construction of a powerful and ethical speech–as they prepare to advocate for their own causes.
- I dedicate a week to the vMLK experience. If it is a semester in which I teach 3 days a week, I will dedicate Monday to providing students with the socio-historical background of the speech and information on the project’s development. On Wednesday, students will briefly recap the historical experience, and then we have the shared experience of listening to the entire speech together. After the experience, we synchronously complete the reflection prompts (“An idea whose time has come…”, “A creative protest is…”, and “General reflections). On Friday, we do a more in-depth processing of the experience, discussing “what stuck” with them after they left and asking them to speculate how the experience could inform their own public speaking and own advocacy work.
If it’s a twice-weekly class, I will do the sociohistorial context and project background, shared listening experience, and reflections all on the same day (Tuesday) and a longer de-brief the next class period (Thursday).
For me, the indispensable assets for experiencing the project–regardless of method of delivery–are: the Royal Ice Cream Sit-in Documentary, the Story of the vMLK Project documentary, have the shared Listening Experience, and the reflection prompts.
- I sprinkle references to the vMLK Project throughout the semester. Because this is a different activity than many are used to, it can feel disconnected from the rest of the course if they are not aware of what the Project is and how it fits into the course and their learning objectives.
As a final note, students are sometimes hesitant with this project. Sometimes, students have told me they “dreaded” vMLK week–dreaded the in-person experience because it meant negotiating travel logistics during the busy school day or dreaded the online experience because it sounded strange that we would listen to a speech together on Zoom. After the experience, students regularly tell me vMLK week was their favorite week. They often tell me they feel “energized” and “empowered” or that the experience “gave them goosebumps.”
“Energized” and “empowered” are two of my favorite words to hear as an instructor. I could not ask for more from an educational experience.