By Israa Eddeb & Sofia Syed, Akron-AAUP Interns and Julie Cajigas
Dr. Andrew Rancer’s key to teaching is getting his students excited. Rancer is a professor in the School of Communication at the University of Akron who teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses, and directs master’s students in their projects and theses. He also serves as the chair of the scholarship committee for the School of Communication, and has served in many roles over the years. Contemporary Communication Theory, the second edition of a text he co-authored with School of Communication Director Theodore A. Avtgis, Dominic A. Infante, and Erina L. MacGeorge has just been released. Even with his many involvements, and rigorous research and writing calendar, motivating his students to develop a passion for their coursework is his primary objective.
“I like when I see my students really get actively involved in the course work, get excited about it, want to answer questions, and want to go beyond the exams and papers,” he says. Rancer wants students learn something they can apply to their lives, as opposed to just learning for the sake of passing a class. “I also get a great deal of satisfaction of seeing my students learn these skills sets, and then graduate and apply them in a job or in a graduate school.”
Last year, Dr. Rancer celebrated 25 years of teaching at the University of Akron. He has had a number of students who have gone on to graduate programs, and has many former students who are now professors of communication around the country. One of Rancer’s former University of Akron students, James Durbin, taught undergraduate students in the School of Communication, and is currently teaching at Cleveland State University. “He was so good, I let him assist with one of my classes while he was still an undergrad,” says Rancer. Durbin also finishing up his PhD at Cleveland State. “The fact that he has taught for us here is very satisfying because I had the opportunity to see him mature from an undergraduate to becoming an instructor here in this school.”
Rancer, Durbin, and another School of Communication professor, Dr. Yang Lin, have published several studies together. One of the studies looks at ways to reduce math anxiety among communication students, so that they will feel more comfortable with statistics and with the required communication research course. “We are trying to find out what math anxiety does to communication students, in the communication classrooms,” says Rancer. “That’s one specific area of research that we have done aiming to try and help students.” The team continues to explore ways to assist students pursuing a communication education.
Dr. Rancer has an impressive academic research record of his own as well. “I study aggressive communication, both argumentativeness and verbal aggression, with the goal of trying to help people become more argumentative and less aggressive,” he says. He found that verbal aggression has been shown to influence physical aggression, and he is working on way to help people argue constructively and avoid using physical and verbal aggression.
In addition to his academic research, Dr. Andrew Rancer is a lead author on Contemporary Communication Theory, a textbook that is available to students around the country. The second edition of the text, which also credits co-authors Dominic A. Infante, Theodore A. Avtgis and Erina L. MacGeorge, adds chapters on intercultural, health and new media and computer-mediated communication. Over six years were spent by Rancer and is co-authors on creating one of the most contemporary volumes on communication theory available. Rancer sees his work on the text as a tribute to Dr. Dominic Infante, a well-known scholar and a co-author on the text before his passing. “The book is dedicated to Dom, and I think he would be extremely proud of the way the second edition has evolved. A lot of the material, although modified in many ways, still has his stamp on it. I think that he would also feel very proud of the way we edited the content,” says Rancer. Undoubtedly, students in Communication programs around the country will rely on this text to develop their understanding of the Communication field.
After his years of teaching are finished, Rancer plans to form a training company with some colleagues in Boston and here in Akron. “What I am hoping to do is to train individuals on how to argue constructively and reduce verbal aggression. That includes police departments, going into the prison system, and especially going into the elementary schools, teaching and training teachers how to prevent their students in engaging in verbal aggression, while concomitantly increasing their ability to generate arguments. Learning constructive argumentative communication is the key to success,” says Rancer. Overall, his Dr. Rancer sees his teaching and research as a way to help improve and educate the generations of people, in order to build a better future for our society.
Questions and Answers with Dr. Rancer
1. Why are you a member of the Akron-AAUP?
I joined the Akron-AAUP when it was conceived here several years ago, because the AAUP represent the faculty here, and the faculty represents the students. The AAUP protects our rights, fights for us when there are some injustices, a manifest by the administration, and the AAUP is a group of professionals who maintain academic integrity here at the University of Akron. In essence, they are fighting for faculty, but they are also fighting for the students as well. They want to maintain the integrity and the wonderful tradition and credibility of the University of Akron.
2. Your book has just been released, what can you tell us about it?
Our publisher Kendal Hunt released the first edition in 2010. We have spent the last six years working to create the most contemporary guide to communication theory available, which has meant adding chapters on growing theoretical areas like intercultural communication, health communication, and new media and computer-mediated communication. We’ve also significantly adjusted the structure of the text. We used to structure the material around laws, rules and systems, but we don’t refer to those paradigms in the new text. Instead, we decided that it wasn’t useful to pigeonhole theories into one of those three. We also joke that we put the text on a diet. While it’s definitely leaner and more efficient, the text is just as robust as it’s ever been in terms of covering the wide range of communication theories. The text is all-around more user friendly and student focused.
What’s really special about this text is that we were able to work on it with Dominic Infante, who was a mentor to me, and who is a very important communication scholar. Dominic passed away in 2014, and will be greatly missed. The book is dedicated to Dom, and I think he would be extremely proud of the way the second edition has evolved. A lot of the material, although modified in many ways, still has his stamp on it. I think that he would also feel very proud of the way we edited the content
3. What is one of your most memorable teaching experiences?
In 2011, the National Communication Association, on the recommendation of several of my graduate students from the University of Akron and Emerson College, recommended me for an Outstanding Teacher Award, and I won. The award was presented in front of my peers in the National Communication Association, and the students went up and shared very nice stories about me. That was very humbling and it made me feel wonderful.
4. What do you enjoy most about teaching?
What I really like about teaching is I like to get some excitement out of the students. I want the students to get excited about the material. I like when I see my communication students really get actively involved in the course work, get excited about it, want to answer questions, and want to do whatever goes beyond of taking the exams and writing of papers. So, motivating students is really something that drives me quite well. I also get a great deal of satisfaction of seeing my students learn the skill sets that I want them to learn and then graduate and use them in a job or in a graduate school. This is my 26th year here at the University of Akron. So, I have quite a number of students around the United States who are trainers or vice presidents of human resources now. I also have a lot of students who have gone on to their master’s and then their PhD, and are now professors of communication around the country.
5. What are you currently researching?
Dr. Yang Lin, myself, and Mr. James Durbin in the School of Communication are publishing our second study in a series of studies that examine ways to reduce math anxiety among communication students so that they will feel more comfortable with statistics and with the communication research course. Our article appeared online and was published this past March. We are trying to learn what math anxiety does to communication students, in the communication classroom. So, that’s one specific area of research where we are aiming at to try to help students. I also study aggressive communication, both argumentativeness and verbal aggression, with the goal of trying to help people become more argumentative and less aggressive. Verbal aggression has been shown to influence physical aggression, and verbal aggression is a catalyst to physical aggression, so we want to reduce both verbal and physical aggression.
6. What are your future goals in your teaching career, or in general?
Well this is my 38th year teaching in a university setting, so that’s a long time. I think I am going to hang up my clicker at the end of the next academic year. I am hoping to form a training company with some colleagues up in Boston and here in Akron. What I am hoping to do is to train individuals on how to argue constructively and reduce verbal aggression; that includes police departments, going into the prison system, and especially going into the elementary schools, teaching and training teachers how to prevent their students in engaging in verbal aggression, while concomitantly increasing their ability to generate arguments because argumentative communication is the key to success. We’ve seen the debates here this year with the politicians, and a lot of it has lapsed into what we call character attacks and competence attacks, ridicule, teasing, maledictions, and all of that. When really, voters want to know ‘What is your position on an issue?’ ‘How can you make the status quo better?’ Even politicians and presidential candidates are really misfiring by using verbal aggression, by attacking each other. They’re calling each other names. To address these issues, I am hoping to transition into a more of a training context in the future.