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.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Unofficial first day of summer

Memorial Day in the US (the last Monday of May) is the unofficial start to summer. Most of the country will have already finished up school last week and will be finishing school this week. But New York state doesn't end until the end of June.

Growing up, this was always the toughest time of year as we were expected to keep focused on the end of the school year, tests, and finishing up the last bits that we did not yet cover. Most universities (like my own) are out of school and college students are looking for summer jobs. However, High School sports are just finishing up, and between studying for exams and finishing up the sports year, it is hard to find time to look for a summer job, especially when the unemployment rate for teens under 20 is at 40%.

For me, however, this is when I get all of my work (writing, research, next year's courses) done as the kids are still not home bugging me. So as we enter June, for those in the northern hemisphere, happy Summer (I know it doesn't officially start for three weeks) and for those in the southern hemisphere, hunker down for the coming winter ahead!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Switch in Comment policy

Lately, I've had a lot of spam on my comment function. So I have decided to moderate ALL comments in the future. This is as much for my readers as for my own blog.

I still invite anyone to post a comment. I may not get your comment posted immediately as I work on my dissertation. However, I will be able to show your comment and respond at the same time now as I don't think I'll be missing a comment that might have been posted but that I didn't see.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Design, Genres, and Culture in Writing

I'm currently trying to work out some ideas that have come out of my dissertation analysis. These are still just the seeds of ideas. However, I am hoping by writing this post that I will be able to flesh out some of these ideas.

Current Writing Theory: Genres

In the current theory put forth by Gee and his colleagues, the design of writing is based on a form called genre. These genres are acceptable formats created by a discourse community which help to represent the communication structure, values, and knowledge contained within a discourse community.

Gee advocates teaching the genres, especially to those that are outside of the mainstream discourse communities (cultural minorities, those in the lower classes, marginalized groups within a society). This allows those outside of the mainstream to access the skills they will need to communicate within the mainstream. Since the genres are tied to the culture of the mainstream, it is also necessary to teach the genres in the context of the cultural values and discourse rules for that culture. Once those outside of the culture, understand the culture and are part of the mainstream discourse community, they can begin to change and influence the culture to include more features of the minority community. However, without this knowledge of the mainstream genres, those excluded from the mainstream will remain outside of it.

At the base of this theory is the culture, which influences genres (a reflection of the discourse within the community) and design of writing.

Critical Pedagogy

Critical Pedagogy is similar in recognizing the power of writing and literacy to the access and change of power structures within cultures. However, there are some differences in approach.

Freire advocated the teaching of literacy as a way to access the power structures within a culture. According to Freire, literacy helped to open up the underpinnings of a culture and social system, thus empowering those who were oppressed to change the culture and society.

Like genre theory, critical pedagogy begins with the culture. Writing allows access to the culture and discourse communities, but then critical pedagogy advocates the negotiation of meaning. Writing is a tool for that negotiation and access to understanding. Accessible written formats are imposed by those in power to suppress those outside of the power structure. So to understand how the power structure works and change culture, it is important to learn to write and use this tool to make changes to the culture. Design of writing, again, will come out of the culture and discourse communities.

Process approach to writing

Flower and Hayes studies identified the importance of the process in writing. While the format might be established, it was important for children to learn what was behind the format. In other words, the design of writing was based on a process that inserts information into a standard form. The focus would not be on the finished product or even the form, but rather the process of creating the finished product. Design of the writing would be design of the process. The process would be culturally bound, with the negotiation of meaning as students go through the writing process.

Extending this into the work place, the process approach would focus on HOW collaborative writing would take place, rather than what the form will look like. However, it is assumed that the format will not be as important as the process of writing. In fact, by putting process before form, it is assumed that the format will be assumed and agreed upon in the beginning.

A new way of looking at writing

So, what would happen if design came first? One impact that technology has had on writing is that it does not necessarily have to conform to a strict standardized format. Also, there is much greater written dialogue between and within discourse communities. In the past, discourse communities would be more isolated, and as a result, their formats would have less outside influences. Mainstream discourse communities would be heavily influenced by schooling, organizational cultures, and/or mass media. However, today, electronic tools allow people to belong to multiple discourse communities and for each community to continually change at a much faster pace than they did previous.

If we look at design as placement of writing rather than categories of writing, then how would that impact collaborative workplace writing? Buchanan (1992) describes placement of design as:

“Placements have boundaries to shape and constrain meaning, but are not rigidly fixed and determinate. The boundary of a placement gives a context or orientation to thinking, but the application to a specific situation can generate a new perception of that situation and, hence, a new possibility to be tested. Therefore, placements are sources of new ideas and possibilities when applied to problems in concrete circumstances (p. 13).”

The implications of this is that there might be more flexibility in the design of writing which could lead to more creativity and knowledge creation in the workplace. However, it could also mean more impact on the organizational culture.

With the advent of new technology, and greater access to diverse discourse communities, starting with the "design" of writing could also be threatening to the organizational culture, group members, and workplace processes. I think of the current complaints, for example, from the media, "experts", and the general population about the "poor writing skills" of the current generation of university students. However, is it perhaps a difference in discourse? Values reflected in the forms and formats chosen to be used in a given context? Or a threat to the power structures by engaging in discourse communities outside of the status quo?

Although it is outside of the scope of my current dissertation, I think it is important to look at what the potential for new designs that technology has generated has impacted or will impact culture. One way to look at this is to look at how other writing technologies (i.e. printing press, typewriter, ball point pen, pencils) have changed the design (placement) of writing in the past and the impact this had on culture, formats/genres, and power structures/discourse communities.

More importantly, my current dissertation is leading me into a new way to envision collaborative writing from past writing research. If we begin with a design or placement of writing which creates formats based on knowledge placement, which can then be used to engage discourse among and between communities (within departments, professions, the organization, and/or stakeholders), will we be able to change cultures, have a better understanding of the culture and/or power structures, and better harness workers' creativity, critical thinking skills, and/or knowledge? It seems to me also that by beginning with design rather than format or culture, there is a more dynamic model of collaborative writing. Not only will the organization be able to react to new influences from a diverse workforce, but they will also be able to establish a shared vision through collaborative design of writing and formats within the workplace. Both the organization and individual and group forces within the organization will have an impact on the organizational culture through the process of co-creation (co-design) of document formats and final written products using those formats.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Those were the days? Engaging with social media

Andy Cloverdale had an interesting post that echoes my own thoughts on blogging these days. As I am in the middle of grading numerous papers (most of which are NOT the assignment I gave students) and writing my dissertation (on which I would LOVE to have comments since I feel so isolated as I write it up), I wonder about the interaction that blogging seems to have lost. So I thought it would be interesting to answer Andy's questions in my blog post.

Yet does the adoption of a learner-centric network logic require us to develop aggressive, neo-liberal marketing strategies with an emphasis on self-promotion and immediacy to get noticed?

This is the impression I have from my students. However, more importantly, I see the next generation of internet users developing these skills on their own. As a result, there is more social identity based on how many "friends" you have on facebook, risky behavior that will get immediate attention, and less ability to take part in long, well-thought out indepth discussion. Part of the trouble I see from my students is the inability to read longer articles and/or interpret complex instructions.

While working in a computer lab for one of my classes this semester, I found most students, rather than reading the information provided to them, preferred to ask me simplistic questions on how to get the answer for one piece of their project. They never connected the dots and had little attention for the long term project. Once a piece was found, they never went back to it or connected it to other pieces of the problem. I can't tell you how many times I said to them, "It's in the information on Blackboard. Read through it." At which point, many of them chose to ask a classmate instead.

Is this at the expense of the richer communication and identity formation associated with traditional modes of participation and interaction?

Yes, there is a certain shallowness to the current communication. However, I am finding a backlash to this expedient form of communication. One of my students gave a speech on how facebook and texting is making personal conversations less "personal." I was surprised to see how many people agreed with him and felt that while they did not like this less personal style, they felt trapped by the current tools available to them to communicate this way. I think we will find two camps that develop: those that are "telegraph" communicators and those that reject the current forms of communication and commercialization.

There remains a natural human inclination to want to engage in, and become identified as a member of, communities, but how can this be cultivated in a more network-based culture?

Good question. I think that new tools to help develop these communities will need to be developed. I think the audio/visual tools that allow for two way communication will need to be developed. Most of these tools currently only allow for one way communication. However, as the need for engagement (including certain privacy and easy editing tools within the equipment) increases, there might be better use of video for community building.

However, this cannot happen as long as large corporations increasing control over the internet. This is where mobile technology and new apps might be able to create more democratic access that allows for engagement and community building. Ultimately, however, there needs to be more "personal" indepth contact with others in order to create the community. There needs to be public spaces for meeting, and private spaces for engagement.

Does this equate to a trade-off, where we embrace the advantages of an expansive engagement with wider networks and multifarious communities, or do we restrict ourselves to fewer, or even singular, localised groups?

I do think part of this has to with age. Looking at educational development, teens and young adults tend to have more superficial relationships as they are still creating their identity. Regardless of what tools are available, or even what culture you are looking at, teens will belong to multiple communities. As we age, however, and our identity is established, either by profession, culture, religion, local community, or a larger global community, we tend to limit those organizations and communities we join or are actively engaged in. This happens with or without technology.

I feel the same will happen with the networked society. The difference will be that we may have longer term relationships as a result of the networked society. For example, I have found that I can reconnect with those I went to graduate school with. We created a friendship which will last whether we are constant contact or not. However, the fact that we can connect through the internet means we can still feel connected even when we aren't face to face.

In other words there will be true friends and communities we feel connected to whether we communicate often or not, and then there will be "network friends." I see this even with my children. Facebook's new privacy settings allows this differences in engagements, I have found.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Feedback on my preliminary findings

I presented my findings to the communication department's proseminar on research that faculty and graduate students participate in. Interestingly enough, the one idea that people seem to be latching on is the fact that the participants in my study created a secondary channel of communication when they were instructed by those in authority that discussion should be ended. I didn't see the importance of this until one of the professors that I was presenting my preliminary findings to asked the question,"Why did they continue? If the power structure and those in authority deemed the discussion irrelevant, why did they continue the conversation? If you can answer this question you will come away with a really important insight."

Thinking this through, and looking back at the data, the reason was that the group wanted to understand what their group members where doing because all the group members had a vested interest in the document they were writing. They all felt a sense of ownership of the document, but more so, that document would be the basis of their future work. Their work would reflect on them, in some cases within their department, in others, within the organization, and, still with others, in their profession. I think I need look further into the Social Identity theory and what the communication and learning implications are to groups continuing the dialog, even after they appear to be finished or they have been told to finish their discussion.

Another factor that came up was the implication of different understanding of design on organizational learning. I need to articulate better what the differences in "design" understanding is, how it affects communication and group learning, and perhaps even how different designs from different professions, departments, and organizations impact training, group documentation, and the creation of shared mental models. I have a feeling also that these differences in "design" are at the heart of the differences in "genres". "Design" can be defined as the way in which different people organize information and "knowledge", either through processes or product (genres). Therefore, can "design" be used for training?