Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Jane Jorgenson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Mariaelena Bartesaghi, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kenneth Cissna, Ph.D.

Committee Member

William Black, Ph.D.


Collaboration, Feedback, Improvisation, Peer Tutors, Public Speaking Pedagogy, Situated Learning


In response to increasing demand for public speaking instruction, more institutions are establishing campus speaking centers staffed by student tutors. Peer tutors provide clients with a range of supports in the speech-making process, including suggestions for speech content and organization and for improving delivery during simulated practice sessions. This study investigates patterns of peer interaction in one campus speaking center to understand the dynamics of peer support in a non-classroom setting and how they may create the conditions for student learning. This ethnographic study conceptualized speaking center activities and the practice of oral communication skills development through the lens of communities of practice (CoP) (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger 1998). The CoP perspective conceptualizes learning as something accomplished through participation in a real-world setting, and assumes that individuals learn through interacting with other people, using the setting and applications that would normally make use of the knowledge. Informed by the CoP model and communication perspectives on social support, this study identifies the communication processes that create and maintain the speaking center as a community of practice and the ways in which the participants’ formed their identities as “expert” tutors through their participation. The key findings in this study include: 1) The role of physical space in community dynamics. The unique location and layout played an important role in the social organization of this non-classroom setting, in particular being able to observe and consult with one another allowed for mutual engagement.2) Improvisation as a key resource. Dealing with the spatial constraints encouraged flexibility as a key element of this community. Given the ever-changing nature of the space and actors, adaptability and being able to improvise, were part of daily interactions. 3) Learning through participation: The “Teaching Curriculum” vs. “Learning Curriculum”. At the center, learning can be understood as occurring when a newcomer learns to participate and talk the talk of a tutor. At the same time that members are participating in the learning curriculum, they are making use of a teaching curriculum in the form of tools of the community. Still, other less curriculum-based learning occurs informally, backstage and in-between the formal tutoring context. 4) Developing a shared repertoire of communication resources. The speaking center tutors’ shared repertoire included framing, a process of recognizing and adapting to shifting definitions of the situation; the activity of giving feedback, which is a complex processes of giving advice and criticism while reassuring clients through face-saving strategies; prioritizing the amount and scope of feedback; and finding common ground by sharing personal experience as a way of building trust and as enhancing the learning climate. 5) Learning as collaborative. Tutors recognized that each of them had specialized knowledge. In tutoring consultations, they felt free to call on one another’s expertise and also to share their own. This willingness to share resources had practical value as a way of helping clients. These processes invoke issues of identity construction for participants. 6) The Relational Basis of Peer Tutoring. In this community, tutors established common ground with clients by disclosing their own struggles with public speaking. As status equals, tutors seemed to feel free to reveal their personal experiences as a way of showing their solidarity with clients and motivating them to persevere, and also to share strategies that had worked for them. The implications of these findings for practitioners interested in establishing campus speaking centers are also discussed.