By Maria Haynie
Editors Note: This story was included in the latest edition of Affinity Magazine. Click here to check out the magazine in its entirety!
It only took one class for Dr. Lisa Ford-Brown to switch her undergraduate major from sculpting and ceramics to communication studies. When she took a general education course in the Oral Interpretation of Literature, she became “hooked” on communication.
“I went from molding clay to molding messages and human interaction,” Dr. Ford-Brown says. “How humans communicate is integral to every personal and professional activity we engage in. That is exciting and powerful.”
Now, she is a communication studies professor at Columbia College and an established author. Her books include three titles produced for the United Kingdom-based publisher Dorling Kindersley (DK): DK Speaker (2013), DK Communication (2016) and DK Guide to Public Speaking (DKPS). The third edition of DKPS came out in February. The book is divided into nine tabs for easy reference, with each tab covering a specific content area. In it, Dr. Ford-Brown provides an overview of public speaking; instructions on how to research, create and present to an audience; different kinds of occasions for speaking in public; different kinds of public speaking and more. She describes the process of working with a London-based layout designer and domestic publisher as “both an artistic and writing event.”
“This book is highly visual,” Dr. Ford-Brown says. “It’s set up with text, graphics and white space to look more like the internet and to improve readability. The gist of basic communication has been around since Aristotle and before, but what made this book take off is that we put this information in an interface that students can use today.”
The book is very striking with its glossy cover, smaller size and spiral binding. There are colored tabs and borders along the sides that make it easy to flip right to certain sections. Dr. Ford-Brown recalls students performing usability testing with early versions of the layout.
“The students would get the pages in a brown paper bag, basically, with no cover or title. Then they’d be given a task and Pearson (the publishing company) would see how they handled and used the pages,” Dr. Ford-Brown says.
Acknowledging that students love examples, she called on both her 25 years of teaching the Introduction to Public Speaking course and her Columbia College resources.
“I reached out to Evening Campus teachers and asked for examples of their ‘A’ speeches that students have written,” Dr. Ford-Brown says. “Student assistants also helped me put content together, and I consult with my students on things like communication through text messages, emojis or examples that apply to their lives.”
Dr. Ford-Brown also focused on integrating learning objectives into her book. With a background in assessment, she wanted to make sure students and teachers would be able to use assessment tools effectively. To do that, her team turned to the National Communication Association’s (NCA) latest communication learning outcomes.
“In this edition, I applied the entire book to the NCA learning objectives for students studying human communication,” Dr. Ford-Brown says. “That was tough to do, but we did it and I’m proud of that.”
Understanding that strong communication skills are always essential, no matter the industry or topic, Dr. Ford-Brown was involved in the expansion of the communication studies program at Columbia College. From 2003 to 2005, she chaired the Columbia College Humanities Department and served as a faculty representative for the Board of Trustees from 2008 to 2010. During that time, she assisted in the creation of the communication studies major and minor.
When not working on her books or serving on multiple campus, regional and national committees, she focuses on the favorite parts of her job: the students and the classroom. She teaches many courses at Columbia College’s Day Campus, such as Understanding Human Communication, Gender Communication and Organizational Communication.
“I try to be engaging and expect my students to discuss the material with me, especially the upper division classes,” Dr. Ford-Brown says. “Students don’t sit and absorb my lecture. They engage with my lectures.”
Outside of the classroom, Dr. Ford-Brown enjoys camping, fishing, traveling and gardening with her life partner, Bruce. Her small 20-acre farm is home to her cats, Sadie and Falstaff, and her golden retriever, Zelda.