About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Preparing to Teach in Crisis


In February 2020, I decided to restart my Blog. I outlined a series of topics (26 at that time) that I would write about, mostly having to do with the research I was doing on International Virtual Exchange.  A week later, our university called a special meeting to discuss the closing of our university due to a pandemic that they foresaw in the near future. It was not a question of if there would be a pandemic, but when.  At the same time, my son, who lived and studied in Northern Italy was talking about an unusual illness/flu going around Milan with a dry cough which was turning into pneumonia. It would turn out to be Covid-19.

By the beginning of March, our University announced that in person classes would be suspended after Spring Break and that students (except those with no other place to go) would be expected to stay home and finish the semester online. We were lucky that our Provost (which I discovered later) was a specialist in infectious diseases; many professors in our school of public health had joint appointments with the New York State Dept. of Health; and for many years my department had been involved in a research project on healthcare disparities in minority communities focusing on (among other things) improving communication between public health officials, healthcare providers, scientists, and the population in marginalized communities.

The Pivot

Needless to say, my idea to restart my Blog went by the wayside as we were forced to pivot to online learning.  The first case of Covid was identified in New York state on March 1, 2020.  We were luckier than most universities, because we had been given about a month to start preparing for alternative teaching methods, encouraged to start thinking about contingencies if the university had to close down. Many faculty didn’t take this opportunity either because they did not believe we would need to close down (we lived through SARS even though it raged through Toronto and Ontario, only a bit more than 200 miles away) or because they were not sure how to prepare for a long term shut down.

While the university had been trying to move more courses to an online format, most of the online courses were graduate level and only about 10% of the courses were offered online. This meant there were few teachers that were trained or experienced enough to create and teach an entire class online. The good news though was that many (but not all) faculty used technology to augment their teaching due to a push/program in the early 2000’s for all the schools to hire professors with a joint appointment in the then School of Information Studies and another field of study (e.g. Education, Communication, Government, Social Work, Criminal Justice). Those with joint appointments would be the resource on teaching and research technology. To support this group of special appointments, an educational technology group and a center for teaching and instruction was created, providing instructional support for faculty and teaching assistants interested in integrating technology into their classes.

I myself had received a Phd in Curriculum and Instruction, with a focus on educational technology. I had not only taught online (having received training within the SUNY system in 1999), but had taught classes in distance learning and other educational technology courses to teachers from Pre-school to all levels of K-12 (primary and secondary education) to university to professional education.

During class, as I was preparing my students for what would happen after Spring Break when we would move the class online, I projected my screen to the class to show them how to navigate the course I had quickly put together on the LMS. In order to get to the LMS, I needed to go to our university portal. Up popped an announcement across the screen to my class: “Effective immediately, classes are canceled for the rest of the week!” The first case of Covid had been diagnosed in the county from someone on our campus. After calming down my students, assuring them that we had everything under control, I quickly went through the course design. Some students were upset, but this seemed to calm them. Other students were convinced they’d be back on campus by the beginning of April.

While I and some other colleagues in my department who had been teaching online for a while were prepared, many others were not. Three of us stepped up to help prepare those that were not. They had 10 days to figure out what they would do for the rest of the semester.

Long-term vs Short-term Crisis Preparation

For many in the department, they were prepared for a short term crisis (illness, family emergency, snow days). They may even have taught a regular online course. However, few of us were prepared to design for online courses for a Long-term crisis. So what is the difference between long-term crisis preparation and short-term crisis preparation?

  1. Student trauma: Most "short-term" crises result in individualized trauma (family emergency, illness such as cancer or long-term chronic disease). The result is usually an individualized plan to address the student trauma or no direct student trauma if the crisis is only suffered by the teacher/instructor. However, long-term crises such as natural disasters, campus violence, or campus outbreaks of disease (e.g. mold infestation in the dorms, flu, meningitis, or other diseases that may result in the closing of campus) can result in a collective student trauma. This collective trauma may require instructors or instructional designers to address the results of this trauma on student learning (see Oleenu, Arnberger, Grant, Davis, Abramson, Asola, 2011).  To do this, however, they need to know what will work, how to manage classroom behaviors that are the result of trauma, and the "viral" effect of those that are associated with those that have affected trauma (have not suffered trauma first hand, but feel the affects from those around them dealing with trauma). 
  2.  Student centered instruction and teacher stress: In most short-term crisis it is either the faculty OR the student which means that faculty or students are more flexible. But in long-term crisis, both students and faculty may be suffering from the crisis. Instructors may want to give choice or support their students, but due to their own personal stress (family, health concerns, emotional load), the instructor may not have the capacity to do more than he/she/they may have already done (see Pressly, 2021 for factors contributing to burnout). As a result, student centered instruction may become more difficult, which then creates the cycle of stress.  
  3. Technology: In short term crisis, faculty often use the technology that students are already using and/or can be more flexible with assignments if students don't have access to technology. For example, students that are hospitalized can be given extensions, upload assignments via email if it is ready to go (rather than the LMS), or be given a new assignment when he/she/they are return to school.  Many faculty have "emergency assignments" already prepared in case of a short term emergency in which the instructor, students, or both can't be on campus for class. However, in a long term crisis, issues such as access to the internet, devices with sufficient power or storage, and appropriate technology for the learning design becomes more complex. For example, I taught a speech presentation class. When we had closure due to weather, I was able to upload an assignment in which my students could view videos and discuss them in the LMS discussion board. But in a long term closure such as we had due to Covid, my students needed to be able to give a presentation online. I needed to find tools within those offered by my university that would allow them to give these presentations weather they lived in a deadzone (urban or rural), only had a phone for communication technology, or had limited locations/bandwidth when and where they could use the technology. I needed to incorporate numerous technology options for my students which meant I needed to learn how to use new technologies (when in fact I had limited time to learn these). 
  4.  Administration requirements (teacher autonomy): As it appeared that the crisis would last longer than just one or two weeks, there were multiple accounts and calls for insurance that there would be no "loss of learning" when learning remotely. Short term remote learning often has mechanisms within the educational structure to make up for short term interruptions in the educational process (extending the school year, adding instructional days or taking away vacation days, delaying standardized tests). But the educational system, especially in the US, has not been set up for remote learning that may require the reset of curriculums and evaluation systems.  I have seen very little discussion in the press and trade journals about new skills that would need to be identified and assessed due to the change in educational delivery (e.g. digital communication skills, self-regulated learning, technology/digital literacy). In addition, at the beginning of the pandemic, there was a rash of law suits claiming that online learning was less effective than face-to-face. There has been much in the literature about face to face vs. online learning and the consensus is that there are different results depending on level, instructional design, and other factors such as technology, age, and student type. However, since many schools still have faculty with little experience in online learning, administrators moved to standardize instruction, resulting in less teacher autonomy. In addition, assessment of student learning became more standard. In order to make online learning easier for novice online teaching instructors and students, many schools went to a standard template in which the instructional design was already developed and the teachers used that as a jumping off point. As more faculty become more technologically and educational technology pedagogically saave, this might change. But during long term crisis, the standardization of instruction means faculty have less choice, on one hand, but, on the other hand, less preparation requirements as new technology, curriculum, and assessment tools are introduced.


No doubt over the next few years, there will be in-depth analyses on lessons learned from the pandemic (hopefully). However, these lessons can result in preparing our educational systems and teachers for educating in times of crisis (war, natural disasters, pandemics).   We need to look at ways that the educational system can pivot quickly when needed, especially in terms of reassessing curriculum and assessment; providing students, administrators, teachers, and communities with tools during a crisis; and to quickly prepare teachers, instructional designers, students, and parents in new ways of learning dependent on the situation.


Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Resilience and Inclusion

 I'm back after a few years from blogging. Hopefully I will be able to restart my blog to a weekly post. But this weekend, I had 2 events/pieces of art that made me think of the current discussion of institutional racism and exclusion within our society, institutions, and politics. 

My friend and research collaborator, Dr. Marilyn Easter, has written a novel (Resilience: Bravery in the face of Racism, Corruption, and Privilege in the Halls of Academia). This is a piece of fiction based on her own experience in becoming the only African American full professor in the school of business at her university. The day after I finished reading Marilyn's book, I saw the film In the Heights, based on the community that Lin Manual Maranda grew up in. Both works have shared themes of inclusion and resilience when the social systems are stacked against the main characters. But more importantly, both show the importance of family, community, and key mentors/allies in confronting the barriers built by those in power. Power vs. Power-Less (In the Heights).  

In Resilience, Emma, the main character decides as a child that she wants to be a teacher. While those in a position of power found excuses to prevent her from being a teacher, key people in her life, like her mother, her husband, her daughter, mentors and acquaintances encouraged her to find a way around those barriers. Sometimes they would counsel her to give up the fight so she could achieve a victory down the road. But she always persevered, eventually becoming the teacher she always wanted to be. 

In the Heights, Nina is a college student at Stanford, living away from her family in New York City and the community in which she grew up. While at school, she feels excluded. At a school function, a professor assumes she is part of the wait staff. Her father, without even a high school education, sells his business to send her to school. He wants her to have the opportunities he never had. So if she fails, she feels as if she lets down her community and family as well as herself. But her father and community have an idealized notion of college. They don't have to deal with a complex political and social system that is academia for first generation students. Without help, first generation students get lost in the labyrinth of college.

Like Nina's story in In the Heights, Emma is always made to feel an outsider in Academia. She too has a parent who never received her high school diploma so Emma is on her own for navigating her education.  Throughout her life, people step up to give her advice, but she soon learns that she can't always trust those people who are supposed to know what they are talking about. Those that she can trust, just don't know how the system works because they live outside the power structure. 

Emma and Nina both are straddling two worlds and at times they feel they don't belong anywhere. But then, family and friends step in to make them realize that their place in the world is just where they are, with people that love them and believe in them.

In both works, structural racism is the most difficult to fight. The unwritten rules are stacked against them but it also makes it difficult to prove that racism is at the root. Emma's mother and Nina's father believe that their daughters "can do anything they want to" with the help of education. Both women are hard working, successful students, kind and well-liked, but it seems as if the rules for success were written to exclude them from the place they deserve in society because of their accomplishments. 

However, Emma and Nina never appear to be hopeless victims of discrimination. Emma surrounds herself with allies and fights back legally, publicly, and politically, working at changing the system so that her students, young colleagues, and daughter will not have to suffer from the system of exclusion (based on race, sexual identity, gender, or disability) she had to fight in academia. At the end of the film, Nina decides to stay in college and work in advocacy to represent those in her community. My only criticism with In the Heights was that Nina goes back to Stanford. I would have liked for her to go to Columbia just up the street from Washington Heights. Unlike Nina, Emma always finds an alternative path, even when she feels like giving up. She won't give into to those that want to keep her down. But also recognizes that at times, she needs help in fighting the fight. 

At the end of both of these works, there is not a "happily ever after" as much as hope for the future. This hope is for the generation that comes after them. Both Emma and Nina are living fulfilling lives which will always be a struggle, but with a supportive life outside of their struggles. They surround themselves with optimistic, supportive people, but also give as much as they receive. They focus on how much they have accomplished, the people in their life that lift them, and a sense of contentment with the decisions they have made in their life.

I would highly recommend reading Resilience. I read it in 3 days, wanting to know what would happen next (although after 30 years in academia, I was afraid I would know). In the Heights also left me with a happy feeling, especially after the community musical scenes. Both left me with the sense that community, love, and music makes everything in the world better.

Note: I feel the Resilience should be a must read for all first gen students, any BIPOC considering or already in graduate school, and anyone interested in mentoring BIPOC students. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Some changes to the blog

I have decided to start blogging on a regular basis again.  Over the last few years, I have moved away from blogging to focus on my academic career.  However, I have decided to move back to focusing on my professional career, opening up my research for more public venues such as my blogs.  So here are some things you can expect in the next few months:

1) Posts on some of the software and technology I have been testing out and using.  Included in these posts will be how I am incorporating the technology into my teaching, research, and professional activities.

2) I am working on a few research and teaching projects which I will highlight on this blog.  Among these are integrating design thinking into my courses and looking at student knowledge networks (an extension of my dissertation) for student success inside and outside of the classroom.

3) I will be starting a new blog next month called University to the Workplace.  The audience for the new blog will be students entering the workforce, mentors and student services for those students, and human resources/recruiters who will be onboarding students straight from the university.  Among the topics I will be writing about are soft skills needed to be successful in the workplace, training needs and preferences for the transition from the university to the workplace, and the role of technology in the workplace.

I hope with a more regular posting (my plan is the first Friday of the month), you will check back on a regular basis.  Feel free to share my posts.

Friday, April 29, 2016

An instructional development framework for developing 21st Century skills in the University

My colleague, Diane Crosley, an instructor in Natural Sciences at Spring Arbor University, and I gave a presentation at the Lilly Conference on College and University Teaching and Learning in Traverse City, MI last October (2015) entitled, "Bridging the skills gap: Preparing Higher Education students for the 21st century workplace."

It has been a while since our presentation, and I am currently working on a follow up presentation for the International Lilly Conference in June (Helping student to create knowledge networks for current and future success).  My presentation in June is the outcome of discussions we had in our October session.  So I thought it might be the right time to share what some of the highlights/discussion questions were for our October presentation.

This presentation came out of the discussion Diane and I had about teaching, the needs of our students, and conversations we had with our colleagues on how to teach these skills.  We both come from different disciplines (she was a high school science teacher and currently teaches at the college level most natural sciences including biology, environmental science, geology, and botany; I did training in the workplace before teaching business, communication, global studies, foreign language, and education at the college level).  However, we discovered the same gap between high school students and employer expectations.  The planning framework came out of the universals we identified in giving students the skills expected from employers, students, policy makers, educators, and society in general.

The Presentation: 

Abstract:  Many experts the workplace have identified a lack of skills by new college graduates needed for the 21st century workplace.  These skills include self-regulated learning, communication, networking, critical thinking, analysis (data, numeric, and content) and problem solving.  This presentation will present a framework that can be used to create and analyze activities that will develop these soft skills.  The framework, based on a variety of learning theories and subjects (Social Sciences, Humanities, Business, and STEM), includes identifying student soft skills, identifying the instructor’s role (and changes needed by the instructor),  and situational learning strategies to meet the student/workplace gap.

Many experts in industry and the workplace have identified a lack of skills by new college graduates needed for the 21st century workplace.  These skills include written and oral communication (Bersin, Agarwal, Pelster, and Schwartz, 2015; Chronicle of Higher Education, 2015; Hart Research Associates, 2015; Weiner, 2014); lifelong learning skills (Bersin et al, Chronicle of Higher Education 2015); creating knowledge networks (Hart Research Associates; Weiner), problem solving and analytical skills (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2012; Hart Research Associations, Hilborn and Friedlander, 2013); Rhetorical reasoning and critical reading (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2015); applying theory to practice (Hart Research Associates; Hilborn and Friedlander;  Weiner); community building and engagement (Bersin et al.); and mathematical reasoning (Hilborn and Friedlander).
These skills can be further broken down into the following skill sets: self-regulated learning, communication, networking, critical thinking, analysis (data, numeric, and content) and problem solving.  While the common core curriculum was designed to address this gap between the academic and workplace skill development, the implementation of K-12 curriculum has focused on assessment and standardized teaching rather than development of the of workplace “soft-skills”. This presentation will present a framework that can be used to create and analyze activities that will develop these soft skills.  The framework, based on analysis of activities using a variety of learning theories and subjects (Social Sciences, Humanities, Business, and STEM), includes identifying student soft skills, identifying the instructor’s role (and changes needed by the instructor),  and situational learning strategies to meet the student/workplace gap.


Bersin, J., Agarwal, D., Pelster, B., Schwartz, J. (2015). Global Human Capital Trends 2015: Leading in the new world of work.  Deloitte University Press: DUPress.com
Chronicle of Higher Education (2015). Special Report: The Employment Mismatch.  Chronicle.com, May 22.
Chronicle of Higher Education (2012). The Role of Higher Education in Career Development: Employer Perceptions.  Retrieved May, 2015 from https://chronicle.com/items/biz/pdf/Employers%20Survey.pdf
Hart Research Associates (2015).  Optimistic About the Future, But How Well Prepared? College Students’ Views on College Learning and Career Success.  Prepared for the Association of American Colleges and Universities, April 29, 2015. Retrieved May 22, 2015 from http://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/LEAP/2015StudentSurveyReport.pdf 
Hilborn, R. & Friedlander, M.  (2013) Biology and Physics Competencies for Pre-Health and Other Life Sciences Students.  CBE Life Science Education, 12 (2), 170-174.
Weiner, J. (2014) The STEM paradoxes: Graduates’ lack of non-technical skills, and not enough women. Washington Post (online edition), September 26.

The presentation format was as followed: 

1)      Introduction to topic
2)      What is the perceived lack of necessary skills coming into college? Participants will Brainstorm by content areas (e.g. STEM, humanities, social sciences, business, professional)
3)      What does the research say is lacking with regards to skills coming into college?
·         Basic math usage issues,
·         communication issues,
·         group dynamic issues,
·         ability to problem solve in new situations (critical thinking)
·         adaptability and teachability

4)      What are the perceived deficits of college graduates entering the workforce from the perspective of business and industry?         
5)      A discussion of the disconnect between educational expectations (K-12 to college) and workplace skill set needs (college to the workplace expectations): the workplace/education skill gap (i.e. self-regulated learning, communication, networking, critical thinking, analysis, and problem solving.)
A.      How do we change our classrooms to help facilitate student learning? What is the role of the professor?  How does that role need to change? Research says that the role of the instructor needs to change to one of mentoring  student learning rather than presenting content to the student.  How many instructors feel uncomfortable with this idea of a changing role?  Why?
B.      Strategies instructors can use in their content area to help build these missing skills (a demonstration of two different activities used in two different contexts that build “soft skills”).  Both activities will model the need for students to be faced with real world open ended problem solving.  However, both activities will be grounded in two different educational theories (experiential learning and project based learning).
C.      Interdisciplinary group activity in which participants brainstorm existing teaching strategies and how to adapt them to maximize practice of the missing skill sets.
D.      Framework to create activities that will develop the skills university students need in the workplace.  The frame work consists of planning, execution, and feedback phases (Appendix A).

Summary: This presentation presented a framework that can be used to develop student skill sets, identify activities that will will develop those skill sets, and a record for instructors to document their teaching and its impact on student employability and community engagement.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Digital Writing: Do you have to have visuals?

In response to in Yin Wah Krehar's post on making digital writing accessible, I realized that this is how I tend to write.  Living in area with limited internet access for many years, I'm always aware of the features of my writing.

So I'm going to flip the challenge Yin Wah Krehar gave the #digiwrimo community and ask instead, when is it appropriate to use visuals?

4 Questions to ask yourself before using a visual

1. Why do I want to use the Visual? Many times it is simply something that will catch the eye of the reader.  Or perhaps you've been told that blog posts or digital writing SHOULD have visuals. Perhaps it is personal preference.  However, if you really don't have a good reason (it will help you get your message across, it will reinforce an emotion you want to evoke, it will help the reader understand), then why use it?

2. Is the Visual you have chosen really relevant to what you are writing? Now, I have to be honest, I love that picture of the jelly fish at the Monterrey Bay Aquarium.  I might even be able to justify it by saying it's like writing in that a writer has all these ideas floating around and writing is a way to put them altogether in a uniform product. But really, it doesn't really do anything for my post except to illustrate that the visual should be relevant.

3. Is the visual easy to understand? For one of my assignments, I made my students create a visual on pinterest. Can you figure out what they were supposed to create? To be honest, I knew it would be difficult for them to achieve the kind of visual we discussed in class using pinterest.  While pinterest includes visuals, it doesn't allow for the type of task I assigned them (which was part of goal).  I was very impressed with the graphic they ended up with. However, for anyone who did not know the task, it would be difficult to understand the graphic.

4. Is it engaging? 

Would you be engaged in watching this video? The fact is that my students weren't and I think you'll understand why as you watch it.  I made this video so my students who were having trouble finding electronic materials from our library would have a visual aid.  It was not really made for engagement purposes but rather as a reference.  However, I do think I could have made it a bit more engaging by considering who my audience was and what questions they may ask.

So before putting that visual into your blog post, facebook post, or attaching it to a tweet, ask yourself if it is really necessary.

Our Activity for #Digiwri

I teach computer mediated communication at the University of Albany.  I am always looking for activities that will connect my students to the real work so that 1) they can get feedback from someone other than just myself and their classmates, who they will end up getting to know very well in class, and 2) so they can see how what we learn in class can be used in the real world.

This is the reason I decided to use #digiwrimo to work on online writing.  Surprisingly, this is a topic rarely covered in CMC classes.  I will be focusing on audience, format, message, and medium.  We will begin with a twitterchat from 3:00-3:30 PM Eastern Standard Time.

Then we will discuss the different forms of digital writing I have examples of for this class. These examples include writing for academic audiences, writing instructions, writing for a professional audience, writing for mobile technology, writing for social media, and writing for video clips.  Part of the writing process will be getting feedback on their writing and measuring its impact.

Finally, students will be asked to choose 3 mediums and produce writing for each.  In preparing for their writing, they will need to include who the audience is, their message, special features/considerations for digital platform they've chosen, and how they will measure impact (this worksheet will be available on Googledocs).

They will then share their digital writing via twitter, linkedin, and facebook.

Cross cultural dialog: Teaching our next generation to engage with others different than them

In my last post I wrote about the course I taught last semester and some of the activities I was using. Today, on the eve of Independence Day, it is even more important that our society restart the intercultural dialogues that have stopped and started, molded our society, led to civil wars and protests, and ultimately created our current society.

Intercultural dialog and conversations

As I began my course in January, there were many discussions of race and religion on campus. I teach at a very diverse university that draws from urban, suburban, and rural communities; diverse cultures including international students from most continents, along with indigenous (Mohawk and Iroquois mostly) students; differing sexual orientations; a wide variety of religions; and diverse socio economic backgrounds. Most of my class had very different living and family situations: you name it, there was probably someone who fit that live style.

My first month of class I used to get to know my students, their values, cultures they associated themselves with, how they identified themselves socially, biases (prejudices), and communication style. I used a categorization exercise to assess their starting point in understanding both other cultures and cross-cultural communication skills. I also used three other projects to assess their intercultural communication skills as we progressed through the semester: Intercultural/Diversity Interview, assimilation project and log, and a group intercultural training project. (These projects are all described in the previous blog post).

The intercultural/diversity interview allowed me to assess the preconceptions my students had coming into an intercultural/cross cultural dialog. For the most part, my students went into these interviews with an open mind. Some did not and it showed in their analysis as they did not try to understand the answers the person they interviewed had given them. They assumed they already knew the answer and there was very little discussion after the initial questions. However, many of my students were surprised by the answers they received, especially if they were interviewing close friends. The majority began to see their own values and biases that they used to lead discussions. I noticed in-class discussions had much more interaction and asking for explanations rather than giving just their view point. There also was much more intellectual conflict, with a deeper level of listening as students not only listened to others, but tried to understand what they were saying. There was also more identification of potential biases, but still not a recognition of others values and understanding. It was during this time that I introduced socio-linguistics and conversation "enders."

Conversation enders are things people say which will make others in the dialog stop listening or trying to make themselves understood. I was shocked at some of the things my students said they had heard or been called which shut them down from further dialog (either wanting to understand the others viewpoints or wanting to connect with another group). Every student in the class was able to identify at least one thing that they felt would stop the conversation.

The next project I had my students work on was a group project in which students collected first and secondary research on intercultural communication within a certain context (e.g. education, politics, healthcare, environmental conservation, customer service, law enforcement) and to choose 3 cultures for the analysis. Group members needed to find information on how each of those cultures discussed and communicated within each of those contexts. For my students, this was very difficult because they had never had to look at content and data from multiple perspectives. They began to understand the more subtle assumptions they made based on their own experiences. Perhaps the hardest part of this exercise was to identify and define the cultures they would be using. The labels they would put on groups often was very wide and identified their own biases. In some cases, a more complex group was identified based on shared beliefs rather than physical characteristics (e.g. people who have been incarcerated, law enforcers, those who have not had any experience with law enforcement).

Finally, my students were asked to participate in 3 events of a club or group whose culture was different than their own. Initially this was difficult as students were wary of immersing themselves into another group's culture. However, with the help of their classmates, all of the students participated in this activity. They had to keep a journal of their expectations, observations about the group, and strategies they used both before and after the event. They then handed these logs in along with an analysis of intercultural communication. These logs gave me insight into how they actually grew and engaged (or were not able to) in intercultural dialog. Their analyses revealed the pre-existing biases that interfered with intercultural conversations, the fear of insulting those of other beliefs, and the fear of being judged based on others pre-existing biases. However, it was this assignment more than any of the others that got them interacting with other groups and truly engaging with others in a meaningful way.

I assessed their final level of intercultural communication skills by giving them the same categorization activity I had given them the first class. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, many students were used to diversity. Their ability to recognize that others had different ways of communicate and behave was very advanced. However, they learned to cross a communication barrier to interact and actually engage in dialog with those outside of their own groups. The majority of the groups had much more difficulty creating categories as they could see numerous levels of culture and communication. In the end, many based their categories based on communication preferences (non-verbal/verbal preferences; direct/group/circular reasoning; social, group, individual). Even then, they had much more conversation and discussion that resulted in questions that could not be answered with out having the individual to speak to.

Lessons learned

It has been a while since I have taught this class.  One area that I noticed a difference was in the basic awareness of differences.  One reason could be that my university is diverse in many ways with a growing international student population; many first generation university students (who are many times also children of immigrants); rural, suburban, small town, and urban populations; a wide range of ethnic groups (including native Americans); and diverse age, lifestyle, ableness, gender/gender identity, and religious backgrounds.  However, despite this diversity, there seemed to be little dialogue outside of their social groups.  As a result, there seemed to be preconceived understanding or those outside of their own social groups.

I used by understanding of social groups as a starting point for my students which allowed them to go beyond cultural stereotypes and begin to understand others from of a view of outsiders/insiders.  Using this as a starting point helped to create opportunities for dialogue.

Another barrier I found to starting intercultural dialogue was the previous learning students had had in K-12 in which they were taught to treat each person as the "same."  While I understand this approach (find what you have in common and use as a starting point), this was often used instead as a way to shut down identifying differences.  As a result, students were afraid to speak about the elephant in the room-differences.  They were never given the tools to create these dialogues to use as a way of understanding other perspectives, creating communicative connections, and developing a relationship with those outside of their own social groups.  This needs to be discussed at the beginning of the course and included in my learning objectives.

I was a bit wary at first in pushing students out of their comfort level to interact with those of other cultures.  I still struggle with the fear of adverse reactions should they feel attacked, judged, or disapproval from their own social group.  I feel by letting them choose the "culture" that they wanted to interact with, they could decide the comfort level.  By allowing them to journal about this experience and then use that as a basis for analysis, they were able to understand their own transformation, level of understanding, and boundaries if they decide to immerse themselves in another culture.   It is important to give students choice (with teacher approval) while at the same time push them out of their comfort zone.  Much of the feedback I received from their analysis was positive.

Finally, I feel it is important that we begin to create diversity/cross-/intercultural training programs that focus on dialogue.  Many of the diversity programs I have seen were heavy on content and processes and light on actually engaging in intercultural dialogues that addressed problems and worked on finding solutions.   Diversity training programs that focus on intercultural dialogue training with a focus on problem solving take more commitment (resources, training, preparation, and time) so are rarely implemented.  I feel more research needs to be done on this.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The need for intercultural dialogue: One approach to start the conversation

This semester I will finally get the opportunity to teach intercultural communication again. It has been many years and I feel it is long overdue. However, many things have changed over the last 20 years, one of which is how communication, dialog, and culture is taught in our schools. More than ever I see students come into my classroom with fossilized concepts, having been educated in a system in which knowledge is content and facts. As a result, I spend much of my classes trying to teach students how to think and communicate critically.

I foresee a course like critical communication creating very uncomfortable conversations. However, I want my students to engage in these conversations, yet at the same time feel safe to extend their knowledge boundaries. This is not always easy to achieve. So I decided to begin the class with an exercise that will hopefully allow them to access their emotions, perceptions, and beliefs in a safe space.


I will be using a card sorting activity adapted from a workshop given by Kimberly Tanner from SEPAL at San Francisco State University.

Step 1: Personal Reflection

First I will ask students to think about how they would react to the following people if they were working alone late at a convenience store in their neighborhood. Students will not be asked to share their answers (or write them down), rather they will be asked to react and note their reactions mentally. My goal here is to begin the dialog about stereotyping and profiling in a non-judgmental way. As humans, we tend to categorize people by attributes, language, "otherness", and "likeness". Often these categories are based on values, perceptions, experience, and beliefs developed through personal experiences, our families, and our communities. These then create the patterns of perception, attitudes, and beliefs that are the basis of culture.

  • A white professional middle aged woman with a dark complexioned young child
  • A group of teenage boys of mixed race dressed in sports uniforms
  • A group of black teenage girls dressed in hoodies
  • A white middle aged policeman
  • A dark complexioned man accompanied by a dark complexioned woman with a scarf
  • A homeless man in his 40's 
  • A homeless woman with an accent in her 70's
  • A man with dreadlocks (complexion non-descript) dressed in casual clothes
  • A group of East Asian men with no English dressed in business suits
  • Two latina women, in 20's and 40's. The younger speaks English, the elder does not.
  • An ungroomed older man (60's) in a wheelchair with a younger care giver bi-racial man with dreadlocks.
  • A group of teenage boys with tattoos and body piercings.
  • A bald white middle aged man dressed in camouflage with a Ron Paul button.
  • A middle aged woman wearing a sari with a cough.
  • A group of teenage boys with body piercings and British accents.

Step 2

Now I will break students up into groups. Some groups will be random, some will have commonalities (i.e. downstaters, foreign students, gender, major, language groups). I will then will give students cards with each of the groups listed above, one per card and ask them to sort the cards. The only directions will be there has to be at least 2 cards in each category and there has to be at least 2 categories. Students will be responsible for naming the categories into which they have sorted the cards. According to Dr. Tanner, categories tend to be superficial or based on simplistic visual cues for students that do not have a deep understanding of a topic. I expect that my students will sort according to physical attributes (age, race, fashion) or other easily recognizable attributes such as ability or accent. A more advanced student of intercultural communication might use other attributes (e.g. matriarchal, patriarchal, level of menace, distance from personal culture, approach in communication).


I was pleasantly surprised at the sophistication of categories my students created. One possibility could be the fact that my class is very diverse so when they were put randomly into groups (by counting off in class), there were different levels of expertise within the discussions. As a result, the discussion became more complex. Some of the categories included: in-group, outgroup, strangers (communication rings) and lifestyles (i.e. caregivers, no social ties, members of groups). The word "stereotypes" and "profiling" did come up in class and we agreed to put it aside to later class (I plan on using it in the socio-linguistics class planned in a couple of weeks as the term has become packed with social meaning due to its use in the media).

I look forward to some great discussions in my class although I am still a bit nervous about opening up what might be difficult conversations in the class. I will update this post with changes to the process based on the results from my class. I will also be replicating this activity the last class to see if student understanding changes over the course of the semester.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Improving online interaction

I was asked to give a presentation on improving interaction for online courses. This is a very complex question. The answer lies in research that has been done in online learning, social psychology, distance or online education, communication (including interpersonal, group, and CM communication), and even organizational development. This blog post will give a basic overview of the problems, barriers, factors, and concepts most researchers agree upon. Later next week, I will upload in-depth posts on choice of technology and its affect on interaction (including private, public, and personal interaction), instructional design to maximize online interaction, types of interaction and their purposes, and models of interaction for learning (including organizational learning).

In a previous paper, I identified 4 factors that affect online interaction: Technology, community, instructional constraints, and time.


Many times, instructors have limited choices of technology type. Because of privacy issues, many US universities and organizations require instructors to use learning management systems (LMS) that allow for privacy. However, these same technologies may limit interaction. For example, Blackboard discussion boards may be difficult for students to identify when a new thread has been started. This would result in discussion that favors one discussion over another because students (or even instructors) are unaware of new information. These more structured LMS tend to structure instruction as two way rather than multiple interaction. On the other hand, Adobe Connect, with audio presentation and chat functions that can be used simultaneously, allow for multiple conversations. However, for some students this can be chaotic.

LMS's also tend to promote "formal" interaction rather than informal. The devise that an individual accesses class interaction can also affect how "public", "personal", or "private" the interaction may be perceived. Even using the same software, an email may appear more private if received on a smartphone than when it is received on a public computer. This might change the way in which a person interacts, either becoming more formal (or informal), more open (or more private) depending on the technology used.

Finally, the level of support, comfort with technology, and reliable access can influence how successful students can interact with other students or their instructor. Students located internationally or in rural areas may not have access to high speed internet. There may also be compatibility problems that affect student participation.


Different programs create different types of learning communities and different communities of practice. The expectations of these communities, a student's ability to relate to the community or know of community norms, and the ability to participate within the discourse community all affect interaction. Students who lack confidence may tend to be "lurkers" who are afraid or, at least, reluctant to participate. They may feel that they will be rejected if they participate or they may not want to belong to community due the perception that they are have a different culture or style.

Instructors may need to develop (with the class) communication norms so that all students are working from the same set of rules. In addition, an instructor may need to help create a safe environment to work and learn through interaction at the individual, group, and class levels.


This is an aspect of interaction that is often overlooked. In face to face interaction, two people can interrupt, read visual cues, and straighten out misunderstandings within a short time span. Interaction online (even if it is through video) may take more time and may be more difficult to follow. On the other hand, there is more time for planned interaction and responses. Instructors can ask for a deeper level of reflection. Another barrier to online learning may be a difference in time zone. As a result, any interaction might take longer to develop. There is also a greater chance of losing motivation during the interaction.

Two ways in which instructors and instructional designers can help to overcome these barriers is to assign facilitators and due dates. It is important for all members of the class to remember the time differences and ensure that times are posted with time zones. Related to time zones are the outside pressures to an online student. There may be work, family, or other activity pressures that limit the time when students and instructors are available. Therefore, it becomes important that there are clear expectations for predictable times within which interaction will take place.

Instructional Constraints

I have taught in Language, Communication, Education, Research, Globalization, Marketing, and Business departments. Some are quantitative in content, some are skill based, some are qualitative, some have static content, some have content that is changing AS I was teaching. I have also taught short term intensive weekend courses, hybrid courses, online courses, workshops, full length year long courses, courses with standardized content, courses which are customized...really any type of configuration you can think of.

In each of these instances, there were some shared givens: well thought out goals and objectives, assessments that matched the course goals and objectives, a student, and a well thought out instructional design appropriate for the student and assessment/goals/objectives.

However, due to the variability of courses, there may need to be different types of interaction. The Community of Inquiry (developed by Garrison, Anderson, and Archer) is one model commonly used as a jumping off point. The model looks at the intersection of social presence, teacher presence, and cognitive presence. Factors such as student experience, previous knowledge, learning environment, external and internal resources, and even culture and language all can have an effect on course interaction.

Improving Interaction

Over the next few weeks, I will be writing some suggestions on how to deal with the factors I discussed here. I will look at research from various disciplines and give some concrete suggestions on how to improve the interaction in an online course at the individual, group, and course level.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Just in Time Teaching #adjunctchat September 9

We've all been there. Either the last minute call asking us to pick up a class (that perhaps we've never taught) or not having a class prepared because of a last minute emergency at home or our other job. How do we handle it?

First, the nature of adjunct/contingent work makes us more likely to get that last minute call when someone quits unexpectedly. On the one hand, many of us feel that this is a favor we can't turn down. If we do this favor, they may give us more/better classes or better times. This may even be a way to connect with the department for tenure track positions. On the other hand, this means we start classes behind. Being given a class last minute means you may not be able to choose the text or even change the syllabus. So the first question is:

1) When do you say yes to a last minute teaching request? What are the pros and cons of saying yes or no.

Once you have committed yourself to teaching the course, what are some ways to get prepared quickly? I use other syllabi. Most universities have syllabi on record from previous semesters. This is always good starting point. However, for me it is important that I make the syllabus my own. I usually will take the text if one has already been ordered because it is too difficult to stop the process. It is important not to teach from the textbook, though. I like to divide my courses into 4 or 5 modules throughout the semester (from my online teaching days). This allows me to group together concepts and readings so readings don't have to be taught sequentially. I also look for other universities' syllabi for teaching/assignment ideas. This has been very successful for my own teaching. Why reinvent the wheel when you have limited time?

So the second question for discussion is:

2) How do you get prepared quickly for a class you have just been given? What resources are available? What instructional design process do you use?

Of course, if you are given a teaching assignment last minute, you may find you are one chapter ahead of the students, especially when it comes to specialized vocabulary used in a text or creating assessments (quizzes, tests, assignments, projects). Many of us who are teaching a course we have been given a while ago may also come to class without knowing what they are going to do for that class. Life happens. Illness, family responsibilities (both younger and older members of the family), outside work, research, conferences, weather, etc...

Even worse for adjuncts are when you have something prepared but are not able to use it. How many of you have taken the wrong bag or forgotten your notes somewhere else? Many of my colleagues admit to having gone to the wrong school or gotten the time wrong (for the day they had to teach) when they work at multiple locations. They also had the wrong class prep at the wrong location. Then there are the times when technology fails, especially for those working early morning or late a night when there is no technical support. The third question for discussion is:

3) What has caused you to be ill-prepared in class? How did you manage it?

I have a few types of activities that I have prepared in case I'm not prepared for the class. These usually student generated (i.e. make up their own jeopardy questions which the rest of the class needs to answer or spending the class time working in teams creating a presentation on the topic). I also am a great believer in games and "playing". In my case, games and simulations work well in the fields of communication, management, education, ESL, and marketing (the fields I've taught in). However, I think it could work in other fields also. It is a great way to assess students and allow students to learn in more ambiguous environments.

4) What are some "go to" activities you use if you can't use the lesson you had prepared? What about activities in the case where you aren't prepared for a class?