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.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Free speech, free will, and will you say no?

Three issues have made national headlines in the US this month: the bullying problem that has resulted in adolescent suicides, the question of free speech currently being decided by the US Supreme Court, and, today, the case of the University of Notre Dame student videographer who was killed while taping the ND football team's practice in 60 mph (90kph)winds.

On the surface, it appears that these have nothing in common. However, looking deeper into it, they all have a common thread: civil discourse and communication.

In the case of bullying, the problem has become worse due to social media. Don't get me wrong, I am a strong advocate of social media. However, it also has the potential to create an environment in which bullying (either intentional or unintentional) occurs. There are two parts to bullying that many in the media fail to recognize: the bully and the person being bullied. In some cases, the person receiving a message may ignore the message; may feel hurt and confront the "bully"; may feel hurt and internalize the hurt, keeping it secret until they can't stand the pain and take their own life; or work in creating a social atmosphere in which perceived bullying is socially unacceptable. The other half is often over looked, however. It is assumed that the bully KNOWS that he or she is bullying. But sometimes it is just that the bully does not know how to engage in civil discourse. Name calling, teasing, put downs are all images they see on TV, in sports, and on the internet. Often, I will read something written to my kids on facebook and be outraged, my perception being that this is bullying. However, they do not perceive it in the same way. This divide between what is appropriate and what is not appropriate to say is magnified when someone misinterprets the intention of another person.

So does this mean that some people need to "toughen up" and that bullying is not taking place? No, it means that the way to overcome "bullying" is to create an environment in which there are clear communication standards and rules so there is not a divide between perception between people. And if there is a difference, there is a way to resolve the problem before it is unmanageable.

Another aspect of civil discourse has to do with taking responsibility for what you say. In the US, freedom of speech is a basic right. However, over the years, some citizens have wanted the right to speak without having to pay the price should what they say be hurtful, cause pain, cause damages to a person's reputation, job, or business, or be inaccurate, an outright lie, or a distortion of the truth. Just as someone has a right to free speech, the listener has the right to be upset, angry, or not agree with the speaker. Likewise, the listener then has the right to speak back.

There are those in our country who use the label "politically correct" as an insult, thus limiting the voice (and right of free speech) of the listener. A person who self proclaimed as being "not politically correct", is often saying, "I don't want to hear your anger because I have already told you I am not concerned with other opinions than my own." Related to this are those that must place blame or, in essence, say "whatever" or (the phrase I HATE, agree to disagree...in other words, I'm right and will not listen or try to understand your position). The current Supreme Court case is case in point. A group's protest outside of the funeral of a soldier killed in action (the protest was allowed as a right of free speech) resulted in psychological problems for the father. He sued group. This is not a question of free speech; the group was granted it. It is a question as to whether those that exercise free speech must be accountable. There are many more examples of this including the firing of Dr. Laura, a talk show host.

So what we need to do is go back to the notion that with freedoms, come responsibility for what you say. It is not enough to say, "I hear you. I take full responsibility." (Although this is a good first step). Rather, we need to teach children AND adults that what they say may have repercussions for which the speaker must take responsibility for. In other words, freedom of speech does not mean freedom of speaking before you think or considering the impact of your words on those that may hear or read them.

Finally, the death of the Notre Dame student yesterday is especially worrisome to me as I see my children develop into adults. In this current economy, many people feel powerless to say no to something that instinctively they feel they must. When a person in power asks them to do something, they feel that they do not have a voice to contradict someone that has power over their school, job, or even community. As a result, they may post their misgivings on facebook, or complain to coworkers/classmates about their environment, but they never tell the person in power that they have misgivings, and ultimately "no". This is a conversation I have had for a long time with my students. The fact is, our educational system rewards those that will do what they are asked. The best students, the best athletes, the best children are those that are "respectful" and those that "conform". For many, "respectful" is synonymous with agreeable.

But there is a difference. It is important that we teach our children to be civil, but to also disagree (respectfully) especially if their instincts are telling them what they are being asked to do is not right. Heaven knows, if the student had just listened to his instincts (his tweets indicated he was scared) he might be living today.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

American Politics: a study in frustration and poor communication

We have one more week until the general elections and I'm totally disgusted. So much so that for the first time in almost 30 years, I don't want to cast my ballot. Why? Because I don't see much difference between the extreme voices that I must vote for. If I could, I would attend the Rally to restore Sanity in Washington, DC this week.

I see this current situation as a breakdown in communication in the US society. One thing that Americans always prided themselves on was the right to debate and discuss various issues. However, the "you're either with us or against us" attitude of many politicians (on both side of the aisles) and the vilifying of anyone whose position might hurt those in power or the media (which is big business in the US) has made it possible for the discussion to be squelched in the US.

I had had great hopes at the beginning of the Obama administration. Here was an administration that was elected by communicating using new media. However, over the last two years more and more voices are being quieted as people become afraid to express their opinions.

The White House, who had online live conferences in which the average person was able to participate, changed its media strategy and these conferences are almost non-existent now. In fact, last year when the President came to our area, those on the "invitation" list were politicians and those who held local power, rather than the common man who supposedly would benefit from the programs the president was speaking about. On the White House website, there was a video that explained how the president's 10 letters from the public (which he reads daily) was chosen. The letters are filtered through his staff, who choose the letters "most representative" of the letters coming in. This filtering, however, ensures that the present will only see the views that the staff feel are relevant. Why do the staff have to filter the letters? Don't they report on the issues they read about in the letters? Think of the variety of issues (come of which may not be covered by organizations sending in mass mailings or covered in the press) if 10 letters were chosen randomly. The farmer in Kansas struggling to make it, would have the same possibility of being heard as the unemployed single mother being thrown out of her house in Florida, or the prosperous rancher in Montana, or the factory worker in Michigan.

Most importantly, however, is that the issues would not be predetermined. Those issues that many of my friends and I feel are important are not being discussed. No one talks about the widening gap in income in the US between the very rich and the middle class. No one speaks about the tripling of prices of pharmaceuticals in the last 10 years, or the monopoly that 6 oil producers have in the US which allows for the price of oil to increase even though the supply in the US is the highest it's been for a number of years. No one speaks of the two United States: one in which a person's housing, education, health care, access to services, child care, and retirement are guaranteed and the other where any of these basic rights can be taken away at any moment.

So my hope for the US is to create an environment where civil dialog was acceptable, neighbors could live next door to each other even though they had differing views on how society should function, and a person was not afraid to express their ideas on various topics. Finally, communication is two way. This means there needs to be an honest dialog between those speaking and those listening. Listening does not mean agreeing with the speaker and speaking does not mean making your ideas known without determining if your message was received the way you wanted it to. Then I would feel as if my vote was one of many in a civil democracy.

Update: Of course, today there was a live online conference and there are more planned for the next week. Let's hope they continue to do so AFTER the elections.

Friday, October 15, 2010

How mobile technology and facebook is changing how we communicate

I have noticed lately that the emails I get from my students are shorter and much more direct. I have also noticed that some of the comments on my kids' facebook seem almost cruel in their brevity, communicating something that can be misunderstood. After doing some quick analysis, I realized that those messages that stood out as being "different" were sent from mobile technology. After a little more investigation, I realized that the way in which facebook is being used is changing as more and more people have mobile devises that interact with the internet.

My nephew just got a droid. He is a teacher in his late 20's, not a teen. However, if I want to get a hold of him quickly, I have found facebook as the most effective tool. Facebook is becoming the format of choice for informal communication. As a result, companies using facebook who are formal or spamming (I'm sure it's called something else, I'm just not up to date with the jargon) may turn off potential customers (just as people don't answer the telephone at dinner time any more due to telemarketers).

As younger people get used to being informal on facebook delivered via mobile technology and as they develop their own protocols in communicating via mobile texting, they may not make the register change when sending a message via the internet (which will show up as an email)by mobile phone. This might be why recent emails I'm receiving from my students are very direct and to the point. Sometimes, it almost resembles an order; other times they provide me with very little information (including their name!).

The biggest concern is that this style of writing can be brutal (for lack of a better word), lacking in any empathy. Received by the wrong person, these messages can cause hard feelings. Surprisingly, my own children seem to be immune to this (they don't seem to be as insulted as I am about things written about them on facebook). When I pointed out to them that they would probably be upset if someone said that to them face-to-face, they did not see the similarities in the intention. However, as I remind them on a regular basis, not all people are immune to the change in language, register, and communication mode, so they are often having to modify what they would write. My son got a kick out of the Saturday Night Live skit last week on the facebook filter ap "Damn, my mom's on facebook."

Friday, October 8, 2010

Standard vs. flexible: reconceptualizing the efficiency of "standardization of tools"

Yesterday I spent 2 hours in total frustration dealing with the administration of my daughter's education. Her schooling has been outstanding the last year and a half, but the administration of that schooling is complex to say the least. Her school district sends her to a regional high school that is funded by 31 different school districts. The high school is really just an alternative education program. They provide the instruction, technology, and building, but her school district provides the transportation, administration of the degree, and interface with the state (i.e. regents exams, graduation requirements, granting of the degree, health records). This is unusual for the district, our state, and the educational system in the US. So needless to say, many in the school district are not informed of my daughter's status. The result is that she was told she would need to buy a ticket to the school district's semi-formal high school dance as a guest since "she isn't a student there." This is the second year we have gone through this.

So yesterday, I decided that I would speak face to face to the administration at the high school to ensure that we were all on the same page. After, I spoke with the guidance counselor at the high school program where the actual instruction takes place. Between the two conversations, some of the problems and the sources of the problems began to finally come clear.

Standardizing processes and tools for efficiency

In the case of the school district, there is a standard system within the school district. All processes are set up to capture standard statistics required by New York state. The problem? When a situation or problem occurs that does not fit the "standard", the system is difficult to adjust. Thus, my daughter's friend was assigned to two different homerooms (the first classroom where each student goes in the morning to ensure school attendence). Last year my daughter was assigned to a home room, even though she did not go into the high school building. For 4 weeks her name was called while they looked for the errant student. For two weeks, her friend's mother was notified that her daughter was not in school.

While the administration was told repeatedly that my daughter did not attend classes in the main building and that her friend WAS in all of her other classes, they could not tell the computer. Eventually the computer program was modified. However, the school processes were tied to the computer program and standards, so until it was changed there was, in fact, administrative inefficiencies.

My daughter's program guidance counselor related how difficult it was to work with 31 different reporting systems so that all of the administrative requirements for the students in the program would be accurate when they went to graduate later this year. Having 31 different systems would have been too difficult for the program to handle. And yet, the 31 systems needed to be able to conform to the programs reporting and administrative needs.

The effect of distributed knowledge on administrative systems

The old school of management based on the assembly line had specialists so that a product (or service) could be standardized, thus creating a uniform product and quality. For this to work, however, the production line needed to be linear and sequential. Much of our educational system still focuses on this linear, sequential format for instruction. Much of our management systems also look at the linear logic in production, distribution, and monitoring of products and services.

But this model does not work any more with distributed knowledge. Karyn Romeis has a good example of how this DOES NOT work in a recent blog post. What we used to have in terms of planning, now will need to be changed to something that allows more flexibility. This also requires upper management to have faith in their workers, put resources into training, and allow users to adjust computer programs and applications to meet individual needs.

Rather than the standardized industrial model that focuses on setting and measuring standards, we need to start integrating multiple approaches to problems and development of ways to measure needs, abilities, and performance that is not quantifiable. We also need to teach students how to go outside of their own abilities where knowledge might be contained by external groups. And our tools (which the next generation has already figured out) needs to be adaptable, but within a general framework which gives us boundaries within which to work and communicate.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Distributed knowledge in the workplace

I'm still working on this idea, but both Michael Hanley and Karyn Romeis have blogged about knowledge recently so I decided to post what I currently am grappling with. There are still a lot of questions to answer.

Three types of knowledge

In analyzing the data, knowledge could be placed into three categories: tangible representation of knowledge which could be found in policies, forms, formats, curriculum, degrees or credentials, records, and other artifacts at the individual, group, departmental, organizational, and/or professional level; procedural and tacit knowledge, which would include an understanding of work processes and the knowledge created as a result of those processes; and spatial knowledge, which was created through the linking of ideas, social relationships, cognitive interaction, and/or cultural interaction. Each type of knowledge was manifested, accessed, created, and valued differently at the individual, group, and organizational level.

Spatial knowledge is the most valuable for knowledge based organizations. Knowledge can be part of the network internal to the group, external to the group, within the profession, internal to the organization and external to the organization.

However, spatial knowledge is difficult to quantify, control, and capture. Spatial knowledge is created through creative practices (writing, design, problem solving) rather than through the imposition of formats or processes. The imposition of formats helps to create organizational boundaries and impose organizational expectations that may lead to a change culture. But there will be no cultural change if the individuals do not perceive ownership to a document, work artifact or product, or process. In other words, they will confom to the imposed format, process, and/or culture, but they will not claim ownership to it.

This creates a tension between values imposed through authority and personal values. As the AIM model theorizes (Skitka, L., 2003), a group member has three choices: 1) live with the imposed values while maintaining personal values, try to change imposed values, or leave the environment (in the case of this study, quit) in order to maintain individual or group values. In this study, a fourth option developed, create a parallel structure so both individual/group values are maintained, while fulfilling the requirements of the imposed culture.


1) If there is a difference in epistemology which leads to a breakdown in the group knowledge creation process, it might help to use a strategy in which acceptable content rather than knowledge is defined and negotiated at the individual, group, and organizational level. (What are the other components of “knowledge” which might need to be negotiated initially or will affect the collaborative writing process? Start the collaborative writing process with a common “content”.)

2)This brings up questions as to the role of “know-how” in the group collaborative process. If it is considered an individual attribute, can a group have “know-how”? Is there such a thing as collective “know-how”? Would it be developed or used in the same way as individual know how? Is this why knowledge management is unable to capture group implicit knowledge? Is the continuation of the communication a way to develop collective know-how which is important to the group and not to the power structure? Because it is more difficult to measure, is it possible that collective know-how is in fact knowledge that is not important to those in power or within a group, but is important to the individual?

3) Who owns the knowledge? This is especially important in a distributed group in which knowledge is culled from multiple sources (profession, personal experience, the group, the department, the organization, and other stackholders). What if no one takes ownership? What happens to the work process, the end product, group dynamics, organizational culture? This can be seen in corporations where everyone, yet no one owns the knowledge.

Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked problems in design thinking. Design Issues, 8(2), 5-21.

Skitka, L. (2003). Of different minds: An accessible identity model of justice reasoning. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 7(4), 286-297.