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, January 28, 2011

What happens when no one recognizes your genius?

Okay, so I'm not claiming to be a genius. Let's start there. However, two things happened yesterday to trigger this post.

First, I met with my dissertation adviser. He is very good in terms of focusing my work. However, I'm always so depressed after speaking with him as I feel I will never complete this process. I had sent him drafts of chapters (one of which I found out later was the wrong file...not the 71 page completed draft but rather a 3 page draft).

What is difficult is that I have a lot of ideas running around in my head which are very difficult to articulate. I don't write in the traditional way (linear), and as I told my adviser, many times I just want to get the thought down on paper. I had sent to him a work in progress, the findings chapter (many pieces of which I have posted on this blog over the past few months). They were bits and pieces just so he could get a feeling of what I was working on. But it is hard to link all of these ideas together.

This type of knowledge is something I'm still trying to label for my dissertation. However, I'm leading towards the term of Partaged Knowledge. This is the ability to link together ideas and understanding both internally and externally to an individual. I derived the term from the French word of "partager" which means both to share and to divide. Partaged knowledge is knowledge that one would need to be able to access and link to other knowledge (i.e. linking ideas, putting into context). This might be internal like when I am writing. Many of my ideas are separate initially, seemingly without any correlation (divided). However, through the writing process, I must link together those ideas into one cohesive whole (thus the sharing or putting together through interaction of ideas).

The same can happen with group processes in which group members come into the group (especially a distributed group) with different expertise, access to resources, cultural influences, and experience/mental models of the work (divided resources and expertise). Through their work processes, their knowledge is partaged (yes, there is an English work which means share) throughout the group and beyond through knowledge networks.

Where do the ideas go?

While I might have good ideas, or even brilliant, my meeting with my adviser made me realize that it means nothing if you can't communicate those ideas in such a way that others will understand them. As my adviser apologized for what he thought was the harshness of his written comments (i.e. I'm totally confused as to what you are trying to say here), I could only appreciate his comments...The fact was, I was confused and I had written it!

For the most part, I have a thick skin about my writing. I look at the process as a means of negotiating meaning. This means I never look at a paper or something I have written as a final product in a process. Rather part of the process of understanding. But I do get frustrated as the length of time that it takes to complete a major project such as an article or a thesis/dissertation. Likewise, my family does not understand this process and why it is taking so long. I walked out with a hole in my stomach as the amount of work that I still need to do began to weigh me down.

Leonardo diVinci's lost genius

Last night, I watched a program (on PBS) about Leonardo DiVinci's Dream Machines (produced by Channel 4 in Britain). What struck me was the ending in which they spoke about the large number of notebooks DiVinci left behind, hoping his assistant would disseminate the knowledge once DiVinci died. Instead, DiVinci's notebooks were divided up, some being destroyed, some kept by a Cardinal who presumably withheld the notebooks because they were deemed dangerous (as many new ideas are), others passed on to individuals. While DiVinci's art was made public, his scientific and non-art observations and analyses were kept private as the world he lived in was not ready for his ideas.

These ideas have now been revisited and align with what we know today. What would be considered fantasy and impossible to believe back in diVinci's day, now are considered genius.

So what is the difference? Well, for one thing, we now have ideas that can be linked to diVinci's. In other words, partaged knowledge can be distributed across time as well as space and people. However, more than anything, diVinci was unable to communicate his ideas to his contemporaries (for many reasons). Now, others are taking his notes and "making sense" of them in new contexts. Had diVinci been a better communicator for his time, perhaps he would have had many of his ideas implemented. My guess was that he was hoping this was something his assistant would do. But perhaps his assistant did not have the ability to understand the copious notes his "master" had made.

So like the dissertation process, it is just as important for those with multiple ideas to be able to link those ideas together and communicate them outside of one's own head. Otherwise, it is a very frustrating process.

Social networking: the hope of someone finding your genius

Blogging, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter are all ways that people are trying to communicate their ideas and "genius." I watch as my children and their friends use social networks to broadcast their ideas and work. They are hoping that someone will recognize their genius which may not be recognized in a more provincial community. Ideas that are out of the box may find acceptance outside of the hegemony of a person's own culture. Likewise, other people's ideas will push the boundaries of cultures.

So perhaps social networking could be considered the ultimate tool in critical pedagogy. Perhaps that is why so many people are scared by its use, especially in primary and secondary education.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Disconnect with the "little people"

Yet again the President was in our neck of the woods. And yet again, as I watched the live feed, one would think that this area is composed of just white, middle aged, male politicians. What about the number of working women? What about the rather large Asian population that works at the GE plant in Schenectady? What about the rather large Guyanese population that moved into vacant building a decade ago in Schenectady? But most importantly, what about the youth who are our future for tomorrow (and elected the Democrats and Obama in 2008)? Is there any doubt why all these groups feel disenfranchised?

It seems to me, in teaching communication, that those images that surround the President help to communicate who his target market is. Perhaps it is easier to get a security clearance for Politicians than the general population. However, there were other groups that were at the speech (they were interviewed AFTER his live speech). It was just they were not surrounding the President.

I hope that should he ever visit this area again that he is surrounded by a younger generation. I would love to see school children and high school students get the opportunity to attend these events. It would definitely get them involved in the political system.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Intuitive hunches in doing primary research

There was a new study that came out in the Journal of Psychology supporting that there might be something to ESP (Extra Sensory Perception). They found that some people have predictive powers that may be more than just pattern recognition which then helps to make a "best choice." They also found that people that have this ability also tend to be risk takers. It could be that they are risk takers because they trust their instincts (although the commentator suggested that those with a risk taking personality are more apt to have the "gift"...i.e. ESP goes hand in hand with risk taking personalities).

At any rate, as I am working on writing up my findings for my dissertation today, I keep coming up against a road block. While I can write on my blog those patterns I see without having to support them with others ideas, and scads of documentation, I do need to do so with my dissertation. As a result, I often find myself with writer's block. My family often complains that my explanations are convoluted and long winded, and I blame my academic training for this. Rather than going with intuition and a hunch, I have to be careful that I can support every sentence of every paragraph of every section that I write. As a result, there are many ideas that I can't include in the dissertation. This makes the process even longer as I try to skillfully craft rhetoric which will support my findings, and present it in such a way that ANYONE can understand it.

Now you know why I have had a headache on and off for the past 2 years!

Monday, January 10, 2011

More on discourse communities: community "vision"

After my last post, I read an article by Charles Goodwin on professional vision. Goodwin looked at professionalism through an anthropological lens, but it fits well with the idea of discourse community (which is a term used more in language learning and communication).

Goodwin looked at how professionalism is both created, developed, and maintained through coding, highlighting, and "producing and articulating material representations. (p. 606)." All of this combined creates what Goodwin calls a "professional vision" within which members of the profession are able to work and converse.

Expanding on his idea, I would say that these three factors (coding, highlighting, and producing and articulating material representations) are aspects of a discourse community. Goodwin's coding is the use of language, jargon, and articulation of shared understanding that is the foundation of the profession.

Highlighting is a more complex concept. As Goodwin describes it, within a community of practice certain ideas, information, and expertise is highlighted between members. This creates a shared vision as to what knowledge is important and the boundaries that help form professional values.

Goodwin's framework, knowledge, and discourse communities

Like a profession, discourse communities create their own codes (including jargon, rules of discourse, syntax, and symbols), highlights, and material representations. This helps to create the vision (often not articulated) of the discourse community. This is often articulated through formats, processes, and interaction about practices.

Formats and other tangible artifacts (material representations), help to record, categorize, and structure knowledge both within and outside of the discourse community.

Processes and skills are used to filter and highlight knowledge and structure interaction in order to develop and maintain the parameters of the community. It is also a way to identify membership and to negotiate situated knowledge within a dynamic environment. Because community knowledge is situated, the processes and skills creates a framework within which cognition can be developed by the discourse community. When the skills or processes no longer meet the needs of the community, the community may:

1) disband and members move into a new discourse community;
2) change its skills and processes (retool); or
3) try to eliminate the situational factors that are creating the pressure to change (i.e. limit membership, try to stop outside influences, codify all aspects of discourse through rules, etc...)

Note: see the comment by Luisa Migual on Andy Coverdale's blog. It is an example of how a discourse community meets the needs (or doesn't) of its members.

Spatial knowledge in a discourse community includes the understanding of the networks within the community, the shared agreement of what (implicit) knowledge is important, and knowing who has what abilities within the community and how to access the discourse community resources and expertise. The discourse community vision is based on spatial knowledge of the discourse analysis. In turn, the discourse community vision is the basis for culture, articulating values, interaction, and shared cognition.

Goodwin, C. (1994) Professional Vision. American Anthropologist, New Series, 96 (3), 606-633.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Differing discourse communities: a major source of tension in distributed teams

I have been away from my work on my dissertation for the last month in order to prepare for next semester. However, at 3:00AM this morning, an insight into the current analysis I am doing for three of the themes I've identified (1. expertise is defined by the profession, 2. expertise is defined by the department, and 3. Expertise is defined within the organizational power structure) came to mind. So I got up and began to write.

This is still in the development stage, and I need to pull specific examples out (which I have, but the most relevant need to be chosen still) to support my analysis. However, each of these themes can be explained by discourse communities and how these communities affect communication within distributed groups.

Defining discourse communities

Discourse communities are similar to communities of practice in that who belongs to the community, how the community functions and its rules and values, is all dependent on the perspective of the individual members. Like community of practice, there are rarely explicit rules for membership and membership behavior. Some individuals, in fact, may believe they are a member of a certain discourse community while others might not perceive that person is an actual member.

For example, Eminem's use of language puts him in the urban African-American culture. However, many urban African Americans do not accept him as a legitimate member. Other white Americans perceive him as a "want-to-be" who mimics urban African American discourse. Having grown up within an urban community surrounded by the urban African American discourse community, he probably is part of that discourse community, especially around friends and others he has grown up with. However, there are no clear cut rules or membership requirements for a discourse community.

A discourse community has to do with the way in which those within the community communicate. Most recent research on discourse communities have come out of the research from those advocating a genre approach to teaching writing (i.e. Gee, Swalyes). Discourse includes shared values in communication, shared formats and rules of communication, shared lexicography (not just terms but a shared understanding of how those terms and combination of terms are interpreted and used), grammar and language structure use, and even ways to identify who is "part" of the community and who is not.

Discourse communities in distributed teams in the workplace

In my study, I identified four distinctive discourse communities: the profession(s) to which the study participants belonged; the department(s) to which the study participants belonged; the organization and the power structure within which the group operated; and the group itself.

Not surprisingly, the most successful participants within the group were those that could move easily between and work within multiple discourse communities. Group members such as Paul, Sam, Helen, and Ronda, who were identified as being the ones that could contribute the most to the group and project were those that had an ability to learn and move within new discourse communities. Olivia and Robert, along with supporting personnel external to the project were identified by numerous study participants as appearing to be unable to participate in the discourse community outside of their own profession or department.

This supports those researchers in the "Genre School" in learning how to dissect the "genre" in order to be successful in society. However, these findings would also suggest that it is not enough to know and understand the mainstream genre. It is also important to be able to learn and work within multiple genres, especially when working with distributed teams as the new knowledge economy requires.

Much of the tension on the project, in fact, appeared to be caused by the clashing of 2 or more discourse communities. When this happened, the study participants either

1. retreated to work only with those within their discourse community,

2. tried to create new meaning and/or understanding that would bridge the two discourse communities; or

3. create different communication channels to maintain the conversation in both discourse communities (parallel discussions).

In the first case, participants with power within the organization or group would be able to contribute to the project, as their discourse community could be made the standard for discussions. Those outside of the power structure, however, became disenfranchised, frustrated, and felt that their voice was not heard (when in fact their voice was not being interpreted correctly).

In the second case, a new working discourse community was developed within the group for group processes and products. In order for this to work, however, it would take some time to create the new heuristics for the created discourse community. This process was both useful, but also time consuming.

In the third case, it those that could move between the two communities became invaluable to the project. Because of their ability to interpret messages from one community to the other, work could be completed simultaneously in each community. However, when those that were acting as interpreters either left the project (Ronda) or pulled back into one or the other community (Paul and Sam), the success of the group working within both communities was a burden on those that could move between both groups. This may have been why Helen complained that she felt she was carrying the burden of the project.


This has a number of communication, training, and management implications. First, training should recognize the role of discourse communities in any new intervention. They should be prepared for miscommunication between discourse communities, parallel discussions, and the burden on change coming on those who do not necessarily have the expertise, but rather can move between discourse communities.

Second, there needs to be different channels of communication available for different discourse communities. These should not be exclusive of one discourse community or another, rather they should be available to open up dialogue BETWEEN discourse communities. Formal channels might need to be set up that encourage and allow interaction between the different discourse analysis.

Finally, there needs to be a way to ensure that group members are all adept at moving between the discourse communities so that the burden of work does not fall to one or a small group of people. This also ensures that when one person leaves the group, the group will not be paralyzed due to lack of interpretation between discourse communities.