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The new black

Back in December while attending the 2004 ASCILITE (The Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education) conference in Perth I went to a presentation by James Farmer on his paper Communication dynamics: Discussion boards, weblogs and the development of communities of inquiry in online learning environment. I was particularly drawn to this presentation because of its focus on communication. I hold a strong belief that communication is at the heart of our effectiveness as contact and distance teachers and learners, although I do agree with James that it is not the only contributor:

The social, economic and cultural context, expectations and attitudes of teachers and learners to the process play enormous roles in defining the success or otherwise of any learning experience whether it is online or face to face. Nevertheless, while a learning experience may succeed in spite of the challenges presented by one of these factors, it is almost inconceivable that it would do so without successful ommunication.

Being a skilled communicator is very underrated and undervalued. As teachers move into an online environment very few are encouraged to explore this new communication medium to find out what changes they will need to make to get their messages across clearly. We no longer have the traditional body language cues, we can’t easily “read” the people we are working with, we need to be careful as to how we compose our messages so that they are not misunderstood and most of all we have the challenge of engaging our learners without any kind of physical presence. We need to be aware how to do things differently so that our communication is effective. Just think about it – we are still working with the same kind of people but now we have some added challenges in creating our learning environment and a meaningful connection with our learners – those of distance and technology.

Two things spring to mind from all this. One is that it is really important that we, as teachers, experience being online learners ourselves. The second is that the primary focus of professional development should not be on how to use the technology (this is the easy part) as much as showing us the possibilities of what the technology is capable of doing so we can make it work for us and our learners. I think that the limiting factor here is still that the technology is not sophisticated enough to provide communication as effective as a face to face encounter. This is changing all the time and we will eventually get there. At present our ability to communicate is being challenged. We need to work out solutions that incorporate technology so that we can have quality human interactions which ultimately lead to wonderful learning experiences.

As a part of this presentation James elicited information from those present by asking us to participate in a quick survey. He provided us with some blank paper and posed a number of questions on his first few PowerPoint slides which he asked us to respond to. We were given the choice as to whether or not we wanted to participate and he also said if we wanted to receive further information about his findings we were to provide our email addresses to him. True to his word I received an email the other day telling me he had posted the results of this survey on his blog. Since then he has also published some possible conclusions and has opened these up to further discussion. What do you think?

Finally – I read the Pew/Internet report today on The State of Blogging :

By the end of 2004 blogs had established themselves as a key part of online culture… 8 million American adults say they have created blogs; blog readership jumped 58% in 2004 and now stands at 27% of internet users; 5% of internet users say they use RSS aggregators or XML readers to get the news and other information delivered from blogs and content-rich Web sites as it is posted online; and 12% of internet users have posted comments or other material on blogs. Still, 62% of internet users do not know what a blog is.

Blogs are certainly fast becoming a major communication tool. It is interesting that these surveys show that people who know about blogs and who create them are well educated (they have college or graduate degrees). I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that this form of communication relies heavily on the effective use of written language? It sometimes seems ironic to me just how text laden the internet is yet it is always promoted as an environment rich in interactivity. However, this still means people need to be able to read and write to a reasonable level.

Changes are occurring in the way we use our language. An article worth reading on this topic is The Impact of Electronic Communication on Writing. Abdullah points out that our writing is being reshaped as a result of new writing contexts brought about by word processing and e-publishing. Electronic text is malleable and as a result people are more prepared to commit their thoughts in writing because it is easy to make changes. I also found it interesting reading about how we still effectively communicate electronically with our readers in the absence of normal visual cues using techniques such as text-based emoticons, punctuation and other politeness markers. In my experience these can be a blessing and a curse and I am not sure if they do necessarily improve the communication.

Another thought before I finish … just as we have been hearing for a while now that grey is the new black, or lemon is the new orange, is a blog the new discussion forum in online communication? Is this just a fad or will it be sustainable? I must admit I still prefer going to a book getting out my pencils, paint and pens and committing my ideas and thoughts down on paper. The benefit I get from this age old process is far greater than starting up my laptop and viewing something on a screen. I can’t use all my senses and therefore I am not satisfied.

One of my handmade journals

For your information, the word blog was listed as Merriam-Webster’s number one Word of the Year for 2004!

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One Response to “The new black”

  1. on 10 Jan 2005 at 12:08 pm Anonymous

    Hi Marica,

    Thanks for the mention and thoughts, much appreciated :o) Great to see another ed tech blogger in the region… along thoise lines you might be interested in Blogtalk Downunder: http://incsub.org/blogtalk/

    Cheers, James

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