Metawriting posts from the new blog location

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Social Capital as Core Competency

I came to my interest in organizational communication by studying the idea of community as a teacher and writing groups as both a writer and teacher of writers. I have always believed very strongly in using writing groups to support the growth and development of writers and my work with the National Writing Project has only intensified that belief. However, my NWP work has also taught me the importance of community to the growth and development of all learners. And since I also believe that all successful organizations are learning organizations it seemed a natural progression to look at how organizations function as a community and learn.

An aspect of organizational communication that particularly fascinates me is the idea of social capital. Social capital is essentially the investment of your time, energy, and knowledge in a specific community and the benefits you derive from that investment. The organization’s purpose binds the community and focuses its energy, but it is social capital that fuels it. Social capital provides advantages to the individuals who possess it, but it also provides advantages to the organizations comprised of members with social capital.

I see social capital as a multiplier. If an organization is a sum of its component parts – or members – then an organization including members possessing social capital is so much more. Social capital gives leverage to do more than a single person could do alone. It is efficiently harnessing the power (time, energy, knowledge, skills) of others for a common purpose. People are willing to give of themselves, to either pay it forward or pay it back, because they can trust they will receive just as they give.

The human capital of an organization is the knowledge and skills that individual members possess, but it is the social capital that connects the human capital and amplifies it. In our information society it no longer holds true that knowledge is power as everyone has access to knowledge – in fact so much access and so much knowledge it is overwhelming, paralyzing. The organization with the most power knows how to manage the constant flow of information and leverage it to the organization’s best advantage. That leverage takes human capital and social capital. And that is why I believe social capital is a core competency for today’s professional in any field.

Monday, July 16, 2012

What Is Organizational Communication Anyway?

I’ve spent a lot of time this summer reading about organizational communication research, theory, and trends in preparation for beginning work on my study of the National Writing Project and the Morehead Writing Project in particular. I am interested in the ways that the Morehead Writing Project reinvented its organization and transformed from an organization in crisis to a successful enterprise. However, the recent changes in national education funding have also forced the National Writing Project to reinvent itself and reorganize. I believe this is an area of research that could be very interesting to pursue.

As I lay the groundwork for this study and plan my future projects, I do want to carefully think about a number of key terms and one of those is organizational communication. What exactly is organizational communication and why do I want to study it?

Organizational communication focuses on the role of communication in organizational life. Communication is essential to all organizations whatever their purpose, size, or goals. Social constructionists believe that communication creates the form and shape of an organization. Certainly communication serves to maintain and sustain relationships within and with the organization and its members and constituencies, but it is complex and in order for organizations and members to survive and succeed it is important to understand the communication process of the organization and that is where organizational communication enters.

Communication helps organize people to effectively live and/or work together. Organizational communication can identify and remove barriers to communication through formal exchange of information as well as more informal interactions. According to Jones, organizations, or groups of individuals working together in a coordinated way in pursuit of specific goals, require communication to plan, communicate, and pursue these goals. Jones argues that organizations do not exist without communication. Te’eni describes organizations as entities engaged in social and economic exchange and agrees that communication is the foundation for organizational action. Te’eni relies on Habermas for the purposes of that communication: reaching understanding, coordinating action, building relationships, and Influencing others. Deetz maintains that communication practices can be used to help coordinate and control the activities of organizational members and relations with external constituencies. Richmond et al describe organizational communication as a dynamic process by which individuals generate, cultivate and/or shape the minds of others in a formal organization. They argue that there are six functions of organizational communication: to inform, regulate, integrate, manage, persuade, and socialize.

Traditionally, organizational communication focused more on business and ways to improve production, but in more recent decades the focus has shifted to study aspects of organizational life that can improve the lives of organizational members as well as the organization. In addition, the types of organizations under study are much more varied. Organizational communication can include the study of how individuals use communication to work out the tension between working within the constraints of pre-existing organizational structures and promoting change within that organization. This is exactly the place where my research interests lie and I can’t wait to embark on my journey of discovery.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Teaching with Google Docs: The Good, Bad, and Ugly

I have never been a fan of Blackboard for teaching online. I find it clunky and cumbersome. Worse, it seems to control the flow of the course in ways that directly interfere with what I want to do (such as build community). Specifically, there are two class activities that I have never been wild about running in Blackboard – discussion and writing workshop. I have experimented with using wikis, Edmodo, and blogs -- both stand-alone and with Blackboard -- but none of these options have come as close to satisfying my needs as Google Docs.

Google Docs, if you do not know, is a free suite of tools (word processing, spreadsheet, presentation) combined with a data storage system. Users can create, upload, and store files as well as share and collaborate with others in real-time or asynchronously. Learn more by watching “Google Docs in Plain English.”

This summer I experimented with using Google Docs instead of Blackboard for a small online grad class. While it was not perfect, we (my students and I) all agreed that Google Docs was an improvement over Blackboard – and especially for discussion and writing workshop. Here are some things I learned from that experiment/experience:

The Good

One aspect that I didn’t think about early on was how easy it was to share everything for the class with my students by creating a folder for the class and then sharing it. No need to share new documents as I created them – simply upload or move into the already shared folder. Very handy!

Students also commented after the class that they could easily copy the folder (or a specific folder, such as a collection of course readings) to preserve for their own records. This is of greater value for graduate and upper level undergraduate classes than say freshmen comp but certainly handy.

For the type of collaborative class that I wanted to run I loved how easily I could give my students the ability to create, change, and generally collaborate not just on the documents but the organization of the course itself. I believe this sense of ownership contributed greatly to the overall satisfaction with the class.

Students commented that they liked how everything was in one place – as opposed to Blackboard. I admit I did as well. It was really easy to switch back-and-forth between assignments, discussion, and course documents.

Students also liked the ability to discuss in one document – rather than a discussion board thread – and to create thate discussion collaboratively. When we were done with each discussion we had a document that could easily be saved and read again in the future.

In addition, students liked being able to comment right on the work of their peers – in a comment thread that was very conversation-like. They noted that this seemed to remove barriers between writers and made writing workshop much more effective. Creating a sense of class community is important to me and students agreed that the Google Docs helped foster this through the easy-to-use collaboration and comment tools.

I must admit that I really like being able to talk with a student right on a document in real-time. This feature was a prime draw from the start to Google Docs and I was not disappointed. It also helped create some of those lovely side conversations that you get in a traditional class and can so easily miss in an online class.

The Bad

Of course that level of collaboration also created problems. Sometimes documents and whole folders got moved by accident and caused panic in the ranks until we figured out what happened and learned how to correct such mistakes. Next time I will try to prevent this problem by limiting the sharing (you can have editors, viewers, commenters).

Obviously not every document or folder needs to be highly collaborative so I will need to sort that out in the future. I admit that while it caused problems to give everyone the highest level of control (lost folders etc.), it was also really nice to share that responsibility. Often times the problems were solved while I was away from my computer.

The Ugly

Unlike most other course management systems, Google Docs does not come with a built-in structure. I worked around that by creating a Course Overview page with links to important documents (such as the Powerpoint assignment sheets) as well as descriptions of the activities and deadlines for each week. Even so, some students had some difficulty getting started and understanding how Google Docs works and even where to find it. For some students navigation was a constant problem.

And of course, you can’t really grade in Google Docs because it is an unsecure environment, but I actually like being able to clearly separate the workshop from the grading so this was not an issue for me – maybe even a benefit.

Some tips:

·         My first mistake was not to simply start with everyone creating a Gmail account. Sharing with other accounts was possible but it caused problems and cut down on communication possibilities. My advice, which I will follow next time, is to just start out with everyone creating a Gmail account if they do not already have one. This could be a drawback for some students.

·         Use folders to help you organize and practice careful naming protocols for your files as well as enforce those for your students. We quickly saw that inattention to either can cause problems and that was with just nine people – I shudder to think about a class of 20+.

·         Finally, carefully think through the levels of sharing – what roles do you want your students to have for specific documents and folders? When should your students be editors, viewers, or commenters?

My students (all teachers) talked about how we could use Google Docs in larger classes as well as younger students and most were eager to try it out (in middle and high school as well as college). We think for both discussion and writing workshop that it would be a good idea to use groups and other protocols and tools to organize larger classes. We were OK with an instructor and eight students interacting all the time in everything but the consensus was that going much above 10 would make this unwieldy – especially for discussion.

Look for future posts offering more details about my experience with class discussion and writing workshop in Google Docs.

You can read more about teaching with Google Docs with “Revisiting Google Docs for Classroom Use” and “Google for Educators.” 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Flipping the Switch: Moving from thinking about community to organizational communication

The month of June was all about communities for me: Writing communities, learning communities, how we create them, and why. That’s because as a National Writing Project Site Director I was working with our Summer Institutes (professional learning communities for teachers which include writing communities) as well as summer writing camps for kids – which are essentially writing communities. Ever since joining my first writing group back in 1994, I have believed in the power of a writing community to transform a writer. That is why when I became involved in the National Writing Project it was not a stretch for me to believe in the power of a learning community to change education. And so, it is not surprising that I frequently blog about community and, to be honest, I still have a few more blog posts I want to write about my experiences with writing communities and learning communities during June – including our work with Pat Schneider’s book “Writing Alone and With Others.” Furthermore, I need to start thinking (which will mean writing) about the writing studio program we will pilot this fall (Morehead Writing Project Studio – harnessing the power of English Education students to create writing groups for developmental writing students).

Now I both need and want to set aside my teacher hat for a time and place my research hat firmly in place. I want to think about communities as a rhetorician and technical communicator – this means thinking about organizational communication. It seems that the professional world doesn’t want to refer to groups or collectives as communities but would prefer organizations. You say potato… I am interested in learning more about the ways and means that organizations communicate and how those ways and means impact the formation of an organization and/or induction of new members as well as its operations and effectiveness. I am especially interested in the way organizational communication helps and hinders the activities of the organization. I am fascinated by the way language is used to create different kinds of social structures, such as relationships, teams, and networks as well as the creative potential of communication to construct new possibilities for organizing.

But now I need to spend some thinking and theorizing my next project – and maybe some time reading too.

Monday, July 2, 2012

What To Do…What To Do

I’m in a bit of a quandary. For the first time in possibly forever I have time.

  • Time to think
  • Time to write
  • Time to research
  • Time to plan
  • Time to find myself

And like a kid in a candy store with just one quarter to spend (hey, I grew up in an era of 5-and-10 stores) I find myself running from one shiny display to the next and unable to choose.

Part of my problem is that I know that while I have time NOW it is not an unlimited resource. I have already spent half of my summer break working in my capacity as Morehead Writing Project Site Director and I know by the middle of August my full-time instructor job will be back in full swing. But still, I have six glorious weeks (including two weeks with my child away at camp). How should I spend it?

I have three categories of possibilities: things I have to do, things I should do, and things I want to do.

Much of the things I have to do are tied up with my job as Morehead Writing Project site director. I need to wrap up all the June programs (Summer Institutes and Academies plus camps). I’d love to get that done this week so it is off my plate. But I also need to plan for some fall projects – especially starting up our new writing studio program. I’m still struggling to find university funding for the students who will work on this project with me so that has to stay near the top of the list. And of course, at some point I need to plan and prepare for my fall classes.

There are also things I should do. I should blog. I should finish up the article I started this spring. I should write that book review I promised. I should revise and polish job search materials. I should search out conferences to attend and pitch a presentation. I should network. I should plan out what I am going to do with all the research and data I have assembled in recent years. I should plan future research projects. I should decide what I want to be and where I want to work. I am not in a permanent position and I want/deserve more so I must position myself to act when great opportunities present themselves. But I must also think about who I want to be and what I want to do so I can choose wisely.

Of course, I would rather sleep late, read for entertainment, watch movies, and play silly games on my Kindle. I have spent some time doing that over the past few days. I think it is always good to recharge your batteries (physically and intellectually) and I also know that I can only do so much of that before I want to get back to work, but that leads me back to the place where I started. What should I do now? Which hat should I put on? Should I be a teacher, a researcher, a writer, or an administrator?