Arts

U of O professor gives TEDx talk on building communication

 Photo by Mico Mazza

“When I first came to the U of O for my undergraduate, I had never heard of ‘communication’ as a field of study,” said professor Jenepher Lennox Terrion.

However, after switching into the program in her second year, she couldn’t get enough of it. She continued on to complete her master’s at the University of Buffalo and a PhD at Concordia University before returning to the University of Ottawa.

On Nov. 23, Dr. Lennox Terrion was one of eight speakers at the university’s TEDx event held in the Alumni Auditorium. TEDx conferences, a branch of the well-known TED Talks, are local and independently organized events that bring a diverse group of passionate guest speakers together to discuss a variety of topics.

In the past two years, Lennox Terrion has been the recipient of the university’s Award for Excellence in Education, the Faculty of Arts’ Distinguished Teaching Award, and a Capital Educators’ Award.

“I’m very interested in how people interact with each other, create understanding, and connect,” she said. “I can’t think of a better job for someone who wants to advance their study in communication than to work with students.”

Last year, Lennox Terrion was named the University of Ottawa Chair of University Teaching and received a three-year research grant to examine how teachers create immediacy in large classes. This current research initiative was the focus of her talk at TEDxUOttawa.

Lennox Terrion discussed re-visioning the large-sized class as a forum for interpersonal relationships through immediacy behaviours. She explained that professors can create verbal immediacy through humour, positive feedback, and inclusive pronouns, whereas nonverbal immediacy is created through what we traditionally think of as presentation skills.

Actions like eye contact, smiling, facing students, vocal variations, and welcoming gestures are ways to create a connection in a large class. She stressed that these nonverbal signals open the communication channel between professors and their students and convey a willingness to engage in building a relationship.

“Research shows that teacher immediacy has so many important impacts,” she said. “It increases student attention, creates student engagement, and students are more likely to attend class.”

She also remarked that immediacy plays in the favour of professors who tend to receive better student evaluations.

“If they are working hard to show that they care about the students, the students will invest more into fostering the relationship,” she said. “It’s reciprocal.”

After two decades of teaching and researching communication, it’s no surprise that Lennox Terrion strongly believes it’s the foundation of all relationships.

“The more we understand how important communication is, the better we can improve our connection with others.”