Monday, February 14, 2011

"can u tell me what 2 read 4 class 2mrw? thx!"

I am running in between meetings today, but simply had to write a short note about the interesting ways we communicate after I received an email asking, "can u tell me what 2 read 4 class 2mrw? thx!" I sat in a meeting and mentioned I got "text talk" from a student and beside me a slew of conversation began about whether or not one would "allow a student to talk to me that way." I found it intriguing to see our powerful reactions to communication.

Isn't it interesting to examine the primary means through which we choose to communicate? It isn't simply about the text-style writings. For example, I have recently gotten emails from someone while we were both in the office, less than a dozen feet from one another. We each knew the other was available and yet chose email: I hit "reply" to respond instead of hopping up and conversing in person. Clearly we have comfort zones in the way we like to tackle our communication that provide a lot of opportunities to reach out to one another, but they also offer a chance for mis-communication or misunderstandings.

It is easy to see how one who prefers oral communication can think that an email is "too formal" or say, "What? You felt you needed this documented in writing? Why?" and take offense (both comments I have heard recently). Or to see how someone who prefers electronic communication can grumble about sitting in a meeting when the information could have been sent via email and saved everyone the time (again, I heard this comment last week). My desire to communicate via email (instead of phone) is simply because my shared office can be very noisy and I'm drawn out of the office for classes and meetings frequently. I hate playing "phone tag" and email is a great solution. But my preference can be seen as self-isolating to those preferring to communicate orally. In fact, just being my natural communicator and replying by email quickly (via my wonderful blackberry) led the initial message sender to ask that I not "send off a quick reply" but instead come and speak with her. Our comfort zones and natural communication patterns can easily get us into hot water.

We see this preferred communication comfort zone in our students, who are now labeled as the "instant gratification" communicators where email is "too slow" and chats, texts, or IM opportunities are their preferences. You can watch students text one another when they are side-by-side just as my colleague and I emailed within sight of one another. We can see how this can bleed into the instructor/student relationships. Just consider the common complaints we have all heard from professors: a student emails the professor using "text talk"-style writing ("can u tell me what 2 read 4 class 2mrw?") and the result is usually that instructor is highly insulted that a student would send such a thing...While I am certainly NOT advocating for us to allow text-filled papers or communication, I am writing to demonstrate that everyone has a level of comfort associated with different communication mediums and that comfort zone should be a part of our educational process with students. We can easily discuss intended audience, image crafting, message and impact on perceptions with our students who are (perhaps) simply naturally communicating and (perhaps) not thinking through the process. It is a teachable moment, in other words, and one we might all need if we self-reflect.

It is intriguing to see the way we find comfort in our communication can send out various, sometimes unintended messages about who we are. We should be mindful of the communicative comfort zones of others and strive to project the image that we feel most comfortable with by making allowances and modifications in our preferences and, of course, by finding teachable moments in our communication with students.

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