Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A response to: A Few Concerns about the Rush to Flip

I just finished reading an article on the website Faculty Focus. For those who are not familiar, Faculty Focus is a wonderful resource for educators, especially those in higher ed. Dr. Maryellen Weimer wrote abouther concerns regarding flipped courses. I will summarize her major arguments and then address a few of her concerns.

First, “I worry that our affection for the idea of flipping, now supported by a range of wonderful technology options, is causing us to overlook the careful design work involved in guiding those independent learning experiences.”

Second, “Who should be taking flipped courses?

Third, “Does the content of some courses flip more successfully than content in other courses?”

Let me be clear, I am a major proponent of flipped lesson plans, hybrid and blended learning, and effective/pedagogically sound (key) online and distance education. The rush to flip courses is real and prevalent as administrators and department heads seek to obtain relevance and a stake in the online learning landscape.

With that being said I want to reiterate that I am against poor pedagogy in any context, blended, flipped, face-to-face, fully online, etc. Dr. Weimer is correct, courses that are rushed and poorly planned and executed are a disgrace to the academy. Independent learning experiences, student-centered, learning style driven instruction is crucial, however we would be remiss to assume that an independent experience can only be achieved inside the traditional classroom. Independent experiential learning is a necessity in any instructional context. Pedagogy, sound thoughtful pedagogy, is not limited by spatial or technological constraints.

The second concern is also valid, who should take flipped courses…I don’t know (obviously I have assumptions) but if we refuse to allow freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors to take a flipped course are we then limiting the independent nature of instruction? Should we not be able to trust that academic advisers and students can collaborate in such a way that flipped or traditional courses become an option based on the individual student? Limiting who can or should take flipped classes may limit the individual experience of every unique learner. Some freshmen may not be prepared to take a flipped course—however, some seniors may struggle as well. The question may be less about format and more about overall college readiness.

The third concern above is valid but again I believe that if we are approaching a flipped course in the same pedagogical manner as the traditional classroom then we (as instructors) should be able to identify content that may or may not be successful in an online or flipped context. A great question but a question that can be answered with thoughtful instructional design.

More articles like A Few Concerns about the Rush to Flip need to come to the surface as we continue to discuss effective 21st century education for the 21st century learner. May we all, with open minds, discuss and assess the inevitable changes in modern higher education.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The “Role” of the Instructional Designer

I have read several articles recently where Instructional Designers struggle to articulate a definition of their role. First and foremost the role of an ID will depend on the job description but typically Instructional Designers, creative/Renaissance “doers”, will go beyond the parameters of a job description. I love the graphic below, created by Arizona State University. Instructional Designers can serve as communicators, explorers, thinkers, project managers, etc. etc. I would only add one additional descriptor, Entrepreneur. I believe Instructional Designers must be entrepreneurial thinkers always looking one step ahead, constantly being industrious, creative, big picture but detail-oriented innovators. IDs must be proactive but also live in the moment. It is a tough task but a fun and interesting career choice for those wired to use multiple skills and character traits. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Communication Studies Majors on the Rise?!?! Of course!

The Huffington Post (Jason Schmitt) recently published an article on the growth of Communication Studies Majors in undergraduate institutions. Two excerpts of that article that stood out to me:

As an academic discipline, Communication Studies is posting strong growth in relation to undergraduate majors, undergraduate degrees awarded, student popularity, and number of institutions offering the degree according to a newly released American Academy of Arts & Sciences Humanities Indicator assessment.”

“In many ways Communication Studies is the right offering at the right time. The discipline is extremely well positioned as the digital economy, social networking and the move toward media creation rises to prominence. Concepts that may have been more abstract for students fifteen years ago such as relationship networks, group communication, and media theory are becoming vitally relevant knowledge that a wide ranging student body want to obtain.”

It would be low-hanging fruit to say that the discipline of communication is at a crucial point in potential development although…it is. We live in a rapidly advancing relationship-based society. Twitter, Facebook (Bookface for those “The Office” lovers), Google +, etc. etc. etc. etc. have been integral in the development of a true social network. It would make sense that Communication (the ultimate ‘relationship-major’) degrees would increase in popularity. We should also note that there is an increasingly relevant digital-media infrastructure present in corporations across the world. The storm is perfectly suited for communication majors who specialize in, among other sub-disciplines: Interpersonal, Organizational, Health, Instructional, Mass Media, areas of focus. In any advising meeting I have ever had with a student, even if they do not want to major in Communication, I encourage them to at least review the Communication minor as a potential fit for a secondary area of focus. Communication skills, the epitome of broad strokes qualifications, are consistently included in job descriptions and desired employee characteristics. Communication Majors have a place in a globalized 21st century workforce. The Communication discipline should continue to refine expectations, enhance an applied scholarly agenda, and “sell” a Communication degree as an integral and necessary fabric of an organizational structure.

One final statement from the Huff Post:

“It is clear that Communication Studies has more students and fewer faculty positions than many of its humanities peers, many of whom are experiencing significant decline. As universities and colleges retool to best meet the future and create the most informed and relevant future citizens, it seems that Communication Studies is destined to be high on the evolving educational roster.”

I agree…

Friday, October 24, 2014

Too Talented?! Preemptive Organizational Lessons from the 2014-2015 Kentucky Wildcats Men’s Basketball Team

Press Release April 25, 2014- Once assumed to be 2014 lottery picks the Harrison Twins are returning to the University of Kentucky for their sophomore seasons…

Thus began the barrage of questions about John Calipari’s 2014-2015 squad. Presumed NBA first round selections, and All-Americans Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, and Alex Polythress had all announced their 14-15 return while James Young and Julius Randle, two fixtures of the class of 13-14, decided to go pro. Expectations arose: “[this team] the 2014-2015 edition will have depth at just about every position, experience and balance (Goodman, April 26, 2014).” Goodman said that Calipari’s greatest challenge, as he balances an incoming #2 recruiting class and nine total McDonald’s All-Americans (by the way, the current Los Angeles Lakers roster boasts four), will be managing minutes, roles and ego.

Despite Big Blue Nation clamoring for a ninth national title the issues surrounding the 2014-2015 Wildcats are prevalent and real. However, despite the challenges, should a coach (or CEO) ever fear too much talent? No, absolutely not. The most successful organizations search for and develop talented individuals (see Google, Amazon, Apple). The question of too many gifted and effective individuals should never enter the mind of a leader. Organizational fit is absolutely a matter of importance. One should hire workers that can get behind the organization, will sacrifice for the good of the company and can adjust their personality and style to build up the corporation. All of these traits are crucial but employers should also look for talent and encourage leaders to mold talented individuals into a productive unit.  

The issue is not too much talent; the challenge is managing talent and morphing talented employees into an effective and efficient organizational force. Individuals are typically driven by what is good for “them” but a transformational leader will cast vision and encourages buy-in while developing the roadmap to accomplish what is good for all. The sports world will be watching John Calipari, can he manage minutes, roles, and ego? The corporate world should take note as well. Hire talented people and put in place transformational leaders who can cast a vision and manage implementation.

Alan Murray, author of The Wall Street Journal Guide to Management, believed that the magic of managing talented people centered on making sure the best members of the organization are committed to the goals of the organization and that the best people recognize that these goals are worth achieving. Talent can be refined, structured, encouraged. Harvard Business Review, in 2007, published a series of articles addressing hot topic of talent management but we still struggle with some of the same issues in 2014. Yes, managing average and mediocre employees can be easier, and less-threatening, but successful organizations and successful executives must not be afraid to harness and hire talent. Here are three practical tips to managing an army of talent: 

1) Cast a clear and unifying vision and encourage buy-in by articulating why the mission is important. The leader-follower (manager-employee) relationship will only work if the manager proves that the organization’s vision is worthy of executing. If talented individuals do not grasp the relevance of the moment they will not fight for results, nor will they fight for you. Buy-in, however, is not easy. Reinforce your ideas and manage on an interpersonal level. 

2) Define roles and expectations. Talented people typically appreciate the freedom to innovate. Define parameters but encourage creativity.

3) Hire talent but recognize that talent can be developed. Transformational leaders, if willing to put in the time and effort to cultivate the abilities of talented employees, can make a dramatic difference in organizations by mentoring those who have “rough” gifting.

John Calipari must manage the minutes, roles, and egos of his nine McDonald’s All-Americans. Incoming freshman, high and prep school all-stars must catch the vision of sacrifice, and upper classmen, armed with a fresh visit to the national championship game, must not get bored with recent success. Despite potential critics clamoring that Calipari has too much talent (a potentially ridiculous proposition) it is assumed that managers and executives would rather have too much talent than too little. Do not allow the potential difficulties of managing the responsibilities, roles and egos of talented individuals lead to safe hires. Oh, to be John Calipari and have too many talented individuals!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Graduate Student "Failure"

A recent meeting with a faculty member on my dissertation committee included this phrase, “My CV is slim…and I’ve failed a lot.” I walked away from this conversation encouraged, which speaks to the character of this particular professor, but more so I realized that failure in graduate school is not an option, it is an imperative. I am a surviving PhD student. Unlike several of my peers I am married, with a child on the way. My life does not revolve around the academia (but some days it feels like it does) and despite many successes in graduate school I have achieved inordinate failures and to that I say, thank goodness. Among my failures: multiple initiatives including several community outreach seminars and workshops and an abnormally long “in progress” section in my vita. However, accompanying each failure is a long list of lessons learned:

1) Failing Initiatives - Graduate school is a wonderful time to engage in extracurricular activities. My life primarily revolves around research and teaching but, thankfully, I have had faculty members reach out and ask me to be part of committees and initiatives suited to my area of expertise, specifically instructional communication. As an instructional communication scholar I study communication in education and as such I actively participate in research related to communication instruction, consultation, and training. Solely focusing on research and teaching would have meant that I missed out on watching faculty members and administrators much wiser and more experienced, handle backlash, red-tape, budget concerns, and failed outreach. As such, I am more suited to eventually enter a position as an administrator. As graduate students we are encouraged to stay true to the two pillars, research and teaching, and we should but we must also engage in outreach to our university and the surrounding community. When we step beyond the academia we will fail, repeatedly, but we must still engage. If you participate in initiatives, outside grant opportunities, seminars and workshops creatively include those activities on your CV.

2) Failing Progress – As of one week ago my Scholarly Productivity section of my CV was borderline nonexistent. My committee member suggested an “In Progress” section, as she recognized that I was involved in multiple research projects, conference submissions, grants and manuscripts that were dangling over the cliff of completion. To a certain extent the time frame for most of these projects is known (i.e. conference submissions) but others are more open-ended. Including a section in my vita that highlights active research including IRB submissions, data collection, manuscript revision, etc. helps future employers know that I am active in my discipline. When the In Progress topic was broached I was initially shocked. My response, “I can do that?!” I have a feeling that I am not alone. If you are involved in multiple projects dangling between initiation and completion begin an In Progress section. This will also help you identify current projects and potentially craft an order of importance “To-Do” List. I assumed that projects in progress meant failure until completion. This is unfounded and dangerous. Graduate students can show their involvement in ways beyond completed research projects. Journal rejections, conference presentation refusals, and additional scholarly missteps have reminded me that failure comes with the territory. Press on, make changes made by reviewers, and resubmit. 

I wrote this in April 2014 and found it to be an applicable reminder as a PhD student on the active job market.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Reduce Email-Increase Effectiveness

Harvard Business Review author Andrew O’Connell recently published an article regarding email habits of top executives. This is a fascinating read. We assume email equates to greater efficiency and effectiveness….new research has shown this is not the case. The interactive function in the article will illustrate the beauty of fewer email messages. O’Connell’s article brings email research to the forefront of communication discussions. We cannot assume that quantity equals quality nor can we assume that the channel that seems most “efficient” is the most effective. Email has a place and a purpose in a corporate environment, but tread wisely my friends.

Teaching Philosophy Pillars

My teaching philosophy is constantly changing. My pillars remain the same but each generation of students presents new and exciting challenges. On this, the first morning of yet another semester, I find it appropriate to post my Teaching Philosophy in full. 

“When the learner is ready, the teacher will appear.”  I share this Chinese proverb on the first day of every class because it is imperative that my students understand that I am there as a guide on their educational journey but ultimately they must make connections to the material.  If students are not prepared or ready to learn new skills and have knowledge imparted to them, then I cannot be as effective in the classroom.  With that being said, the burden is on the student and the teacher as both parties seek academic growth.  I believe that teaching is a continual learning process and that good teaching requires more than knowledge of a topic area, it also requires an understanding of instructional processes and methods and a constant refining of skills (Vangelisti, Daly, & Friedrich, 1999).  My teaching philosophy is similar to my statement of core values. In all teaching endeavors I strive for excellence, I seek to be an advocate, I long to inspire, and I creatively innovate.

Excellence: Professors, and higher education professionals, must uphold a certain level of excellence.  In research, and in the classroom, I strive to be excellent.  I prepare thoroughly and seek to model dutiful preparation to my students.  In crafting a lesson plan I want to leave no stone unturned.  As students see my preparation I hope that they, in turn, will come to class prepared:  Assignments turned in on time, reading accomplished, ready for discussion.  I hold my students to high standards but they are standards that I also uphold.  I firmly believe that instructors in the academy cannot hold students to standards that the institution does not maintain. 

Advocacy: Many students seek someone, anyone, to believe in them and their abilities.  Some have been consistently praised while others have been gradually marginalized and I want to be an advocate for all students.  My goal is to teach, to lead, and to inspire.  I want them to work hard and succeed.  I try to be “for” my students and when necessary be their voice if they cannot speak for themselves while creating a sense of mutual respect in the classroom.  Students understand that ultimately I am the authority figure and their professor but mutual respect penetrates my interaction with students.  I strive to advocate for those who have tried their best and who have been excellent in their dealings in the classroom.

Inspiration: Advocating for students, and striving for excellence, should lead one to a charismatic presence in the classroom.  I purposefully make the topics I teach relevant to everyday life.  I create assignments that lend themselves to practical and applied communication techniques.  If students are not inspired to learn and if they do not see the subject matter as relevant they will not appreciate or understand the material.  I view inspiration as an opportunity to let students know that what they are doing in the classroom can also be used as a means to impact their world.  I want my students to be leaders not observers and I want them to be challenged to stand for their convictions.

Innovation: As I seek to inspire students I also recognize that they must be engaged.  If they are not motivated to preform, motivated to achieve their goals, then their goals will disappear.  Through creative innovation, and effective/efficient classroom assignments and discussion, I attempt to bring their talents respectively in view of the world at large.  Every student is different and every student responds to different methods of teaching. I try to structure my lectures, assignments, activities, and discussions in such a way that all learning styles are approached creatively and that students are engaged in active experimentation of the material (Kolb, 1984).  Teachers have a habit of teaching as they were taught and I strive to rise above classical classroom lecture standards through an effective use of technology and innovative activities.

It is true that when the “learner is ready, the teacher will appear,” but it is also true that a teacher can be an educational catalyst along a student’s journey of knowledge and self-discovery.  To be the best teacher I can be I seek to always remember what it was like to be a student.  I try to create a classroom environment that employs excellence, advocacy, inspiration, and innovation so my students can lead and communicate in the 21st century.

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc.

 Vangelisti, A. L., Daly, J. A., & Friedrich, G. W. (Eds.). (1999). Teaching communication: Theory, research, and methods.New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Writing with "Purpose"

Dr. Deanna Sellnow (Director Division of Instructional Communication, University of Kentucky) and I recently facilitated a two day business writing fundamentals workshop for a Lexington area law firm.

Day 1: Established a foundation for writing and focused on the communication process, discussed the rhetorical situation, and dabbled in mechanics.

Day 2: Our material shifted to more applicable/personal instruction for this specific firm as we discussed “Communication Goals”: Building Relationships, Information Sharing, and Persuasion.

I am amazed at how many people (myself included) believe they are “effective”/”good”/”adequate” writers yet struggle with basic fundamentals. We believe that a written message must be flowery and verbose and end up sacrificing clear communication and shared understanding. In our sessions we belabored the 5 C’s of Effective Business WritingClear, Concise, Courteous, Complete, and Correct. At its core effective writing equates to message crafting. We follow certain rules (grammar, punctuation, sentence structure) but ultimately these rules help us achieve greater success.

Do you have what it takes?

Everyone wants to be a consultant. I study communication because I want to solve communication-related problems. Often I am concerned with the status of research that is not applied. Practical application of evidence-based research should be a natural inclination, not a rarity. With that being said, for those interested in becoming a “consultant”, I found these job descriptors helpful:

Communication Consultants
- Diagnose Problems
- Recommend Solutions
- Facilitate Interventions
- Evaluate Outcomes

Business and Professional Communication in the Digital Age
(Waldeck, Kearney, Plax, 2013)

These consulting standards present a wonderful opportunity for all of us to engage in communication consulting on a regular basis. Working in an organization (any organization) requires problem-solving skills that lead to effective solutions. Properly facilitating interventions (i.e. solving the problem) and evaluating what works are steps that can be accomplished by most competent employees. Sometimes it takes an expert, an outside observer, but more often it takes an employee that is willing to solve the problems of an organization through creativity and innovation.