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.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A new way of listening?

Michele Martin's post last week on 21st Century presentation literacies was timely as I prepare for my Speech Composition and Presentation class which begins next week. I have taught this course for the last past 4 years (during Fall semester). What I have had trouble with is teaching students how to listen, and to create speeches for today's audiences (who also tend to have trouble listening).

All week long I have tried to define how listening skills have changed and thus how presentation skills must change to address this. Below is a preliminary list of my thoughts:

Listening in Soundbites: Due to the media explosion and an explosion of sound stimuli (think ipods, cell phones, powerpoint sounds, video/DVD in the classroom at one time) it is hard to keep a listener's attention. Fighting for attention through this multiple stimuli, it is important to keep messages direct and short. I feel that journalism probably has some good ideas on how to capture the attention quickly and get an idea across in short 30-60 minute soundbites without loosing the complexity of an issue. No doubt, visuals and other sounds (music, mood sounds) aid in this (see below about Visuals).

Monitoring as Listening: When I was being trained as a foreign language teacher, my professors pointed out how native speakers are able to cut in and out of conversations (internally) and still be able to understand what others had said, filling in words that are logical for the context. (Non-native speakers don't have this ability until they are very proficient in the language as they are unable to fill in the language patterns). Some cultures (languages) that are polychronic expect listeners to monitor multiple conversations, cutting in and out of multiple conversations simultaneously. English has traditionally been monochronic, meaning that we expect listeners to listen and participate in one conversation at a time (although this is not true in some of the subcultures such as Latinos, Italian-Americans, and African Americans).

I have noticed in the last few years, however, that we are moving to a more polychronic culture, especially for the younger generation. If this happens within the next generation, our students will need to learn how to monitor other conversations effectively, listening to key words and paying attention to multiple inputs, sifting through them, and giving cues to those speaking. As a teacher in Costa Rica, I became very adept at doing this and still have this ability (which my students and children are always surprised at--yes, I did hear that!). However, it takes practice. I would like to learn more about how to develop these skills as, coming from a large family, I feel I had some of these skills before going to Costa Rica. Therefore, I learned them instinctively. Teaching will be more difficult.

Visual Reinforcement: The beginning of the summer I went to the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, IL. I found it interesting that a man who was known for his oration skills had a multi-media production to get across the impact of his words. I seriously doubt Lincoln had visuals when he debated Douglas. However, this points out how our culture has changed over the last 150 years. I have actually had different information on a visual than what I said in a sample speech to my students, and they retained the visual information over the oral information.

However, integrating visuals into an oral presentation is different than creating a visual. It requires creating a visual that will reinforce the message, but not
be the message. I look at the visual as containing the data, but the presentation explains what the data means.

Story-telling and Getting the Listener's Attention: A colleague of mine, who has received numerous "best professor" awards gave me the key to her success: good story telling skills. She explained that she begins each class with a story which gets her students' attention. I was thinking of how my mind often wanders during mass (hey, it's the only quiet time I have during the week these days), until our priest will say something that catches my attention. Usually, he tells some engrossing story, but the style always changes. I would like to find more information on what gets people's attention. I have to admit that this is an area in which I am weak. I can use my "mommy" voice when necessary, but that does not guarantee that their attention will be sustained.

It is obvious, just from these few observations, that there is a shift in how people listen and how presentation skills will need to accommodate these shifts. I am sure there are many other issues that I hope to investigate over the semester.


Anonymous said...

Interesting and stimulating ideas, never thought that listening could be something that changes. If English speakers are becoming polychronic, my Japanese students are in real trouble!

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Virginia!

I think you are on track. There has been something happening to the way young people 'take things in'. And it's not just confined to listening skills.

In one of my earlier posts on Strategies for Improving Literacy I mentioned the work of David Whitehead. He believes there is a decrease in use of visual ideas and images in student every day life, and that simply asking students to imagine (as a thinking/learning tool) may not be as successful as it was in the past. There is a growing need for the use of visual images as learning tools to stimulate student imagination.

If this is so, we may be barking up the wrong tree when using metaphors in instructional speech. Such metaphors that used to work will no longer, for the listener is not sufficiently developed in the necessary skills to understand, so they're bored and switch off.

Ka kite
from Middle-earth

V Yonkers said...

Alex, I wonder if the Japanese culture is also changing to become more polychronic (it is all a matter of degree). It would be interesting to know if there were differences in perceptions between the generations in terms of cell phone etiquette.

Ken,I have found my students lack imagination and the ability to visualize. I blame part of that on the push to "teach" at a younger and younger age. Children in the US are no longer given time to "play" which helps develop those skills.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Virginia!

"Students lack imagination". I put it down to the toys that are manufactured today and have been for the last 20 years or so. They leave almost nothing to the imagination.

Part of development as a child comes with the development of the imagination - that a chain of cotton reels strung together with twine could be a train of carriages or a snake, a caravan of covered wagons or a necklace.

Dolls are now manufactured, male and female, with explicit detail - everywhere, and that sip and wee and cry and speak. There are even those that reply to the spoken voice.

For students to 'visualise' they must first learn how. Spatial development takes shape in children at different ages but it can be accelerated with opportunity to practise. I don't think there is enough practise at the younger ages and this limits ability to visualise and understand concepts, whether they be material or imaginary.

Ka kite
from Middle-earth