Saturday, October 31, 2015

Online Communication

I had an interesting comment from a student in an online course message board. Basically, the note was that face to face communication is always better. I agree with the student's premise that technology is not always the answer, but that doesn't mean that it isn't often an answer. I do disagree that a face to face classroom is always better than a technology based classroom. I've been in a lot of ineffective classrooms. My response to the meta-challenge that the discussion of how effective technology is to communicate would be proved by the fact that no one would respond to the post positing such:

I don't know that I'd totally agree with the statement that the authors believe that technology is always the answer. If used correctly and implemented well, it often can be. But it's not always. A large piece of the SDLC which the course covers deals with the need to analyze what the problem is before making a choice of how to fix it. And the course starts with several chapters related to understanding how businesses function before it gets into an substantive discussion of technology.

Even your example of the discussion we might have F2F, while true in just the right set of circumstances, doesn't necessarily work for a couple reasons. One is that how likely would it be that you would be able to get a group of people who are enrolled in the course together? Not likely, due to geography and differing schedules, which is why most of you are taking online courses to begin with.

And two is how often do you actually get a substantial conversation in a group? Does everyone actually get to participate? In many classes in a F2F environment, 90% of the students sit there and don't actually participate. Only a small handful will often dominate the conversation because not everyone can talk at the same time and the introverts like actually thinking about what they're going to say before they say it and by the time they decide what to say the conversation has moved on.

Technology levels the playing field a bit. Not everyone who uses Wikipedia contributes to it by writing or fixing articles, but enough do that it has become an invaluable resource which is comprehensive enough and accurate enough to put print encyclopedias out of business. I will fully agree that technology is often used ineffectively, inefficiently, sometimes just for the sake of using technology and not for a real business need, or using the wrong tool (a hammer when a miter saw is called for).

That, I hope, is the point of the course. If you don't have the right tool or can't speak the right language to get what you need from the IT department, you will have problems. Flip it around. It's not that technology is a hammer and actually talking to each other are the other tools but rather what are the various technology tools that can help us in a variety of situations? Thanks for the conversation starter. I'm glad that the asynchronous post you made allowed me to make an answer later since I was busy at the time you were making your initial post. How about anyone else? Examples of using technology effectively or not effectively at work or other places you spend your time?

The student's eyes were opened a bit, I think, recognizing how common it is for some people to dominate the conversation in a live group. We didn't really talk about this specifically, but as I think back on it later, I wonder how often it leads to bad, extreme ideas, simply because the extroverts who like to blurt things out without thinking about them end up directing most of the conversation. This seems particularly relevant as we are in the middle of election season. The follow-up comment by the student that the younger generation is overly involved in technology and do not know how to communicate face to face is sadly true. It isn't a reason to get rid of technology but rather a reason to focus on when and how to communicate effectively in a variety of situations.

I definitely agree with you there regarding upcoming generations who only know how to communicate through technology, even to people who are in the same room as them. Or who communicate electronically only to people who are far away and ignore the people close by them. Just look at a group of teenagers in practically any environment, and you'll see very little live interaction among them, which is sad to see. I went to Europe a couple years ago, and I was happy to turn off my cell phone for two weeks and just enjoy what was there in front of me rather than trying to stay up on the latest FB gossip. I enjoy the same when heading up to the mountains for some hiking or backpacking. Some literally go through physical symptoms of withdrawal if removed from an always-connected environment. That doesn't mean the technology is bad, just that the person hasn't learned to use other options or is bad at selecting which tool to use when.