Change In Communication

“It has become cliche to say that the world is a global village, largely because of the Internet, but this situation provides the means for easy access to almost anyone almost anywhere in the world at almost any time”, taken from Culture, Communication and Cyberspace by Kirk St. Amant and Filipp Sapienza. Just as the quote states that with our ability to communicate via social media, email, blogs and so forth it doesn’t necessarily globalize our communication.

These means have merely changed the speed of our communication but we still need the education to have effective communication.  In my current position I find it very challenging to communicate compared to my previous position.  I currently work in a company that is connected with trades that are populated primarily by males in a construction setting.  In this setting I find that a vast majority of them prefer in person and phone communication, not heavily on emails.

It is a slowly evolving process and emails have started to take over more and more but, the task at hand for me was working with each individual and finding what communication works best for them. Knowing who my audience/contact is I can then adjust to better suit their needs in order to have successful communication.  To me this relates back to cultural communication in the fact that if you communicating with a client/contact from another country having and understanding of communication in their culture will keep you one step ahead.

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Problems with Multi-classroom Partnerships

In Designing Globally Networked Learning Environments, I was reading about a grassroots partnership that had formed between faculty, students, and student translators from the United States and parts of Europe. This chapter caught my attention because it made me think back on a project I had completed in a previous Technical Communication course. It made me wonder if this chapter could offer any advice as to how that project could have been improved.

For the project, my two partners and I had to write instructions for something we were familiar with and then translate them into another language. We chose Spanish because it is commonly used across the United States, and we assumed we could easily have the instructions translated. We had many weeks to complete the project, and we were told that students from another class would be doing the translations for us. In this way, we were essentially collaborating with another culture, its members speakers of multiple languages. Despite the fact that the other class attended the same college as my partners and me, we felt as if we were collaborating with people who lived miles away.

Unfortunately, as the deadline for our translation drew near, no one heard from our translators. It turned out that the other class would not be able to help us, and we instead would have to recruit the help of language tutors at the college.

In this particular chapter of the text book, I came across a statement that may explain why our project ultimately failed with the other class: “At the heart of the collaboration are negotiation and mediation” (53). Since we were never paired up with members of the other class, there was no way for us to personally communicate with them and start the translation process. We didn’t have the opportunity to negotiate.

This chapter also explains that in order to be successful in these types of partnerships, professors need to communicate with other professors and their students. While our professor was trying to get the project started, the other class’s professor didn’t seem to find time to make the project work. Both professors and students need to show interest in order to be successful in these types of endeavors.

Forming partnerships with members of different communities and cultures enriches students’ academic experiences. Unfortunately, some attempts at this type of enrichment fail because of lack of interest or communication. Trust is a huge factor in these types of projects—without trust between partners that the project will be arranged and completed properly, the project is destined to fail.

 

 

Maylath, Bruce , Sonia Vandepitte, and Birthe Mousten. “Growing Grassroots Partnerships.” Designing Globally Networked Learning Environments. Eds. Doreen Starke-Mayerring and Melanie Wilson. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, 2008. 52-66. Print.

 

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Technology as the Great Divider

Technology has the benefit of providing people around the world with news, information, and communication instantly and freely for the most part. It has been been deemed a bridge across oceans so that people everywhere can connect with others from around the world. However, there is an essential and glaring problem with that assessment which is that many of the people around the world do not or barely have access to technology.

Previous blogs here have discussed the fact that technology may not be the answer and that personal face to face communication may be key to international relations. My assessment agrees with these ideas as the expectation for technological literacy is presumptive and the ability to comprehend instruction and details without a true interaction may not bridge the divide and in some cases may make things much worse.

The poverty, illiteracy, and inaccessibility rates of so many countries limits technology’s foothold as a bridge. It becomes a tool for the elite and the power players to use among themselves. Certainly there are efforts to provide impoverished children with technology but at the same time, why is that more important than drinking water, food, safe homes, and an opportunity for education? Global classrooms and international digital communication are things to strive for, but in order to strive for them we must strive to include everyone. True global communities cannot be formed with only the people who can currently afford the technology.

This was made abundantly clear in our final project. Upon being given email addresses for students in Mali Africa we were directed to make contact and send them a questionnaire regarding their accessibility to technology and the internet.  Almost immediately the answer was given, it wasn’t and if it was it was spotty at best. Contacting a second hand acquaintance from Mumbai confirmed this idea when given the cost of internet in their area. Where the average monthly salary was 1600INR or roughly $24USD, the cost of internet access was 300INR which was 20% of their monthly take home pay.  In comparison most US apartment companies require that the rent not be more than 33% of your monthly income. The monthly rent cost in the US is only 10% higher than internet in Mumbai on average.

The disparity of wealth will continue to be a barrier to technology as a bridge. Let us focus on providing simple education and safe environments before we try to shove a tablet in their hands.

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Closing the Distance Education

In chapter 10 “Closing The Distance Education” by Starke-Meyerring and Wilson,  the intentions of the CDE program is definitely heading in the right direction. Being able to connect students who are constricted in having opportunities to interact with people of different cultures is brilliant. Although this program focused on bringing together indigenous and non-indigenous cultures the program is a great pioneer for future programs such as this one.

I like that the program incorporated large discussion sessions where ideas and thoughts could be shared after reading an assignment with one another, these sessions allowed students to exam how each student’s ideas came to formulation. Students in this class were able to experience the intercultural experience, 4 stages are involved in this process when individuals each go through learning about a new culture. The stages are immersion, reflection, conceptualization and application.

What is most important about this chapter and what it taught me was, though we have great programs that are put in place to teach us about the many different cultures that do exist now. There a countless ways we can find ourselves experiencing this intercultural experiences too. It’s as close as in our back yards with our neighbors, a cultural event or even trying out a new authentic restaurant.  If we just take that big step in trying to understand one another and respecting each others culture the path in learning about one another is costless and closer than we may think.

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Being Your Own Translator

Having ties from Pakistan, English was a second language for me. I was taught English in my school but I really never was fluent enough to talk to people. Partly because all my friends were Pakistanis and majority of the time we spoke in our mother tongue. Moreover, my school never had any strict policies like other schools where it was a must for everyone to talk in English. Therefore, I had the foundation but it really was not that strong.

All hell broke loose when I got here in the United States of America. To this day, I still remember how I was standing in the immigration line. I had my voice trembling, legs shaking, eyes rolling, palms sweating  just thinking how on earth will I communicate with the immigration officer! At that very moment my brain started to work where I was constantly talking to myself in my language and translating it in English and speaking it out loud just to make sure if it makes sense. I had a tough time doing that but I was able to convey my message.

In Chapter 13, “Beyond Standard English,” in Designing Globally Networked Learning Environments, the book talks about translators who are physically or virtually available translating and mediating to clarify misconceptions and miscommunication between different parties. Therefore, considering my case, I believe my brain has been a mediator between me and the immigration officer as it helped me translate my language into English and cleared out any miscommunication that had taken place.

As far as GNLE’s are concerned, I personally being from different culture think that face to face communication is very important. This is because sometimes I write things that become weird for native speakers as they perceive of what I said in a different way, compared to what I really wanted to say. Therefore, miscommunication takes place and becomes disturbing for both groups. Similar situation is depicted in the DSM-MW book from, P.g. (193-197) where a non-native speaker communicates with a native speaker. Hence, GNLE’s should have face to face discussions to avoid any kind of tension that might escalate.

Overall, I believe that English is an incredible language that builds bridges and brings people together from around the world.It has become a part of my life as I think, eat, sleep, walk, and talk in English. This is the reason why I succeeded. This is the reason why I win.

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Technology will never be a 100% solution

As an engineer, the thought that technology might not be able to offer a perfect solution to a problem is almost sacrilegious. However, that is the conclusion that I draw after reading and analyzing two case studies in our assigned texts.

 

Case #1 is revealed in Culture, Communication and Cyberspace (chapter 8, Virtual Design Studio: Facilitating Online Learning and Communication between US and Kenyan Participants, Audrey Bennett, et al) which describes a program to redesign HIV literature in Kenya. Page 188 shows a photo of the educational literature present in Kenya at the time the project began. The text doesn’t mention the origin of the material, nor who developed it. Looking at the literature, the first thing that I noticed was that it was completely text based. Even the wire-diagram was text-heavy. To complicate matters, it was written in English. Although written English and Swahili are both taught in Kenyan schools, literacy fluency in both languages remains low, especially in rural areas where an oral storytelling culture prevails (and the HIV issue flourishes). The textbook didn’t mention the effectiveness of this literature, but the presumption is that it fared poorly among its target audience.

 

Through a combination of online technology and face to face collaboration, the author of the text and his team members were able to present a radically different – and effective – literature product at the conclusion of their project. I am not debating the actual technology used nor the final product they produced. What grabbed my attention was the fact that the online collaboration was plagued with problems ranging from linguistic to technological. But because the project team had a member in situ, the program was still a success.

 

Case #2 comes from Designing Globally Networked Learning Environments (chapter 12, When the Global is Local, James Dubinsky) which describes a grant writing program for a YMCA. Students were embedded into a YMCA program for international students and their families. The main aim was to write grant proposals to get more funding.

 

I found it interesting that the students could have written a decent proposal based on book/internet research and facts obtained without the need to physically be present at the YMCA. However, rather than simply present a cookie cutter grant proposal solution, they became vested in the project by interacting with the program participants. The personal engagement between the students and the participant families helped the students develop a deep appreciation and understanding of the issues involved.

 

In both these cases, it was a direct face-to face relationship, carefully cultivated at grass roots, that facilitated the project’s success.

 

Technology has changed our lives in many ways, but it will never completely replace face to face interaction. Working in collaboration with locals on a personal level is the only way to achieve truly culturally relevant product.

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Defining “International Communication” and Why We Should Care About “Intercultural Communication”

In a July 2013 blog entry by author taberyd, the question “What is ‘international communication’ anyway?” is asked. The author offers two definitions from different sources. One definition from McGraw Hill Online Learning Center suggests that this type of communication occurs between people of different races. The other definition from Wiki Answers suggests that this type of communication occurs between people from different countries. I tend to agree with the latter definition.

Regardless of the definition of “international communication,” I think what we’ve really got to focus on here is “intercultural communication.” Now, I know these are two completely different fields of study, but I feel that intercultural communication is an important field to study while in an international communication course.

In Chapter 10 of Culture, Communication, and Cyberspace, authors Sipai Klein and Sharon Trujillo Lalla offer up the idea that “cultures do not exist between dichotomous poles but rather are rich with possibilities that may be described as ecologies” (230). This means that cultures are not nations—cultures are the individuals that live in proverbial ecosystems. We can’t simply see black and white, but we must look at the gradient of figurative colors present across various cultures within nations different from our own.

One must understand that different nations will contain individuals who have vastly different cultures even from one another. In the United States, for example, a person living in St Peter, Minnesota (population 11k), will be culturally different from a person living in, say, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (population 660k). Even individuals living in different neighborhoods in highly populated cities will have different cultures.

Take this information into consideration when thinking of different cities and neighborhoods in different countries on different continents. As scholars, we can’t assume that “international communication” will cover all cultures. We need to understand that the cultures within nations are not static—they are daily changing. Improving our communications with different cultures (perhaps by participating in GNLEs) is the only way to remain up-to-date with our global neighbors’ thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

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We Need Better Emojis

“Every instructor and student must grapple with language issues…” states James Melton, writing about the difficulty of communicating globally, even if people share what is supposedly the same language in chapter 13 of Designing Globally Networked Learning Environments (185).

If we cannot rely on a Standard English as a basis for communication, I suggest that we start building something new, with emojis. I’ve personally experienced the benefit of using emojis to communicate internationally, working with Korean students on team projects. Our first action as a group was to make a group chat room. Then after, we communicated using a blend of Korean, English, and emojis. It may not have been the most precise method, but we were able to communicate much more effectively than if we had chosen to simply stick to English. In fact, we couldn’t just stick to English. We used the characters to communicate because it was faster and easier.

So if emojis can communicate so quickly, and are seemingly so universal, where are our ‘professional’ emojis? Where are the emojis that can communicate concepts like begrudging approvals, reservation, and enthusiastic support in a professional setting?

I suggest that we embrace digital communication in all it’s strengths, even if that means leaving behind the comfort of well-established languages.

For the technical communicator, this may seem like a brave new dystopia  of misinterpretation. For the entrepreneurial spirit, it’s a whole new realm of possibility. If emojis can be instantly understood by two different language speakers, they are an entirely new realm of language waiting to be developed.

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Englishes and the Need for a Standard

The ideas about the flaw in focusing on a Standard English and the speech of native speakers were not new to me, but they were presented in an interesting light in Chapter 13, “Beyond Standard English,” in Designing Globally Networked Learning Environments: Visionary Partnerships, Policies and Pedagogies (Melton 185-199). The topic of World Englishes is something I’ve encountered before in editing applied linguistics, education, and educational psychology papers—many of which focus on ESL or EFL issues—and many of the related ideas and concerns raise valid points worthy of consideration.

The problem in those papers and in the chapter referenced above is that these works primarily raise questions without providing answers. Indeed, one of the questions posed by the author was intriguing to me: “If the concepts of Standard English, the native speaker, and English as a neutral element of globalization are problematic in GNLEs, where can we look to ground our approach to language?” (188). I couldn’t help but feel disappointed at the answers, though—or the lack thereof.

Instead of replacing those concepts, the author suggests strategies such as the translator-mediator approach and the multicompetent language user. While these ideas are promising and likely to lead to real insight and better understanding, I felt that they do not adequately address the question of what to do with the problematic concepts. Furthermore, the strategies suggested may be useful in an online collaboration educational context (in which the participants are more educated than the average person), but they are unlikely to be broadly applicable to other types of intercultural exchanges with broader populations. And therein lies the problem.

I can understand why holding up Standard English and native speakerness as a model is problematic; I simply can’t think of a better alternative that is actually feasible on a large scale. If we don’t rely on some Standard English (even if it’s vaguely defined one), then what? If we don’t look to the speech of native speakers as a model, then what? I have a background in historical linguistics, and what happens to languages whose dialects diverge greatly is that eventually those dialects gradually separate into different languages whose speakers may not understand each other. Such an outcome would not assist in connecting more people globally, though it would certainly be linguistically interesting.

In sum, although the ideas proposed by the author for the translator-mediator, for example, are promising and appropriate for the higher education context, I am doubtful whether they can be applied on a broader scale to broader segments of the population. Still, I do hold out hope that we can continue working to find solutions to address the problematic and asymmetric use of English (and a very specific kind, for that matter) as a lingua franca in ways that privilege some while marginalizing others.

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When Are Face to Face Meetings Necessary?

Currently, I am sitting at the airport in Salt Lake City, Utah drinking watered down Rum and Cokes…..alcohol guidelines here are foreign to me. This week and for the next four weeks I will spend Monday-Friday in Salt Lake City and the weekends at home in Phoenix. The total cost for my company to send me and pay for all my expenses are about $8,000.00. The entire reason for my trip is to learn a new line of business that we will be bringing to my office in Arizona and to edit the training documents so that associates get a consistent experience across all of our sites which means our customers will get a consistent experience regardless of which site takes their call. One may think that this type of learning could be done through the Telepresence Room in my office where we can interact with all sites through video and audio…or through email and conference calls. The fact of the matter is that a lot gets lost in the transmission of information. Emails are not always received the way they are intended and telepresence meetings have a tendency of getting moved to the back burner and material can be confusing due to delays or just a breakdown in communication. For this reason, companies spend thousands of dollars a year for associates to still meet face to face to set up a physical connection.

Prior to this meeting, we were getting no where with updating information because of a lack of understanding of personalities, backgrounds, and goals for the project. When I arrived on Monday with my colleague, I was unsure of what to expect when I walked into our office here. Fortunately, these are some of the nicest people I’ve worked with and once we all got into the same room and had conversations, the material was updated and agreed upon quickly. While I will still be here 4 more weeks, I know that when I go home further meetings may be able to be done virtually because we understand one another and see everyone’s commitment to our associates and customers.

While internationally, learning and development may be financially beneficial online or through virtual environments, I’m not sure if we will ever be able to eliminate the need for parties invested in a project to meet face to face in order to effectively communicate each persons professional opinion on an impacting piece of information. Companies look at the investment in my travel schedule as a necessary expense because we will be able to accomplish in 5 weeks what may have taken us 6 months without the in person meetings.

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