RECAP, Day 1

Today was the first day of RECAP 2007, the annual educational technology conference at West Chester University. I was the moderator of a student panel this morning where we discussed student use of social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace. The students gave us some fascinating insights into the role of online social networking in the lives of young people today.

Many of the students mentioned that they were planning on closing their MySpace accounts after they graduate, presumably because of privacy concerns. There was some concern expressed by the students that potential employers might get a bad impression of them if they looked at their MySpace and Facebook pages. In general, Facebook seemed to have a better acceptance among the college crowd than does MySpace, which some of the students said was more popular with the “high school crowd.” Facebook also was praised for having better privacy options, although none of the social networking sites are immune from abuse by determined individuals.

In addition to the discussion with the students, we were treated to a presentation of some of the student-produced video public service announcements that were made by students in Chris Penny’s educational media class at West Chester University. The videos highlighted the dangers of online social networking, and the growing privacy concerns of students when their activity is viewed by those outside their intended networks. Most of the videos can be seen online; below is one of the better ones…

Following the panel, I attended a session on “Free Web Tools for the Classroom” by Michele Mislevy and Karen Jogan of Albright University. They provided quite a few links to online resources of value to educators, some of which I had not heard of before. Here are some of the links…

A Student Remembered

Today I had the honor of speaking at a special ceremony in remembrance of Megan Bates. A student in one of my classes last semester, Megan tragically died in an automobile accident last December. At today’s ceremony, Megan was posthumously awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies from West Chester University. President Madeleine Wing Adler was present to give the degree personally to Megan’s parents. Many of Megan’s friends and family attended the ceremony, as did Provost Linda Lamwers, Vice President for Student Affairs Matt Bricketto, and Interim Associate Provost Darla Spence Coffee, who was instrumental in planning the ceremony. Many of my faculty colleagues attended as well, including our department chair, Dennis Klinzing. And I was so pleased to see many of Megan’s classmates at the ceremony, two of whom, Cassie Pawlowski and Katie Hazzard, also gave formal remarks.

Megan BatesIn my remarks today, I mentioned the demo DVD that Megan made in the class she took with me. The photo to the right is a still taken from that DVD. (Click on the photo to enlarge it.) As I mentioned today, Megan had a great on-camera presence.

Below is the text of the remarks I made at today’s ceremony…

One of the special privileges of being a professor is the opportunity to be a part of the exciting lives of college students. My students are at the dawn of their adult lives. When they leave the University, most are looking forward to careers, to starting new families, to pursuing their life passions.

So when one of those students is taken from us, when one of those lives is cut far too short, it is more than just sad. It is a genuine injustice when a young person doesn’t get to fully experience the joys and pains of growing older. It’s like a blossom that is cut down just as it’s starting to bloom.

Megan Bates was one of my students last semester in the broadcast performance class I teach here at West Chester University. This course is rather unique, in that my role is more like a coach than a professor. Like I tell my students on the first day of class: I can teach you skills, but I must coach your talent. So in this course I try to bring out the best in my students, to encourage them and critique them as they develop and polish their talent in front of a camera and behind a microphone. I can honestly say that Megan had a great presence on camera. I’m so glad that we were able to capture and preserve some of that presence in the demo DVD she made in my class. Megan seemed to have a natural ability to connect with the audience, to look straight into the camera and project a proud and confident personality. I’m honored to have been able to help her polish that talent, and I so very much wish she were here with us today. She would have gone far.

But life isn’t always fair. Things don’t always work out as planned. And Megan is with us now only in our memories, in our hearts, in our hopes for what lies beyond this life.

So as one of the last professors Megan studied with at West Chester, I would just like to say…here in front of her friends, her classmates, her family…I’m proud of you Megan. You were a good student, a talented individual, and a fine person. You truly earned this degree we are awarding you today. You deserved to graduate from West Chester University. Indeed, you deserved so much more.

WCU President Announces Retirement

This morning, West Chester University President Madeleine Wing Adler announced her decision to retire from her position. She said her retirement will be effective at the end of our next fiscal year, which will be June 30, 2008.

Dr. Adler
Speaking before a packed house at the University’s new Performing Arts Theater, Dr. Adler noted that “this was a very difficult decision,” but “there comes a time, however, when you realize that your principal goals have been accomplished and that the University is best served by providing new opportunities for leadership.”

Dr. Adler was West Chester University’s 13th president, and the first woman to hold that post. She became president in 1992. During her tenure as president, the university has grown considerably, both physically and academically. Of particular note are the successful improvements to campus facilities during her term as president, including the new music and performing arts center, the graduate business center, the science center, new residence halls, and several parking garages.

Dr. Lamwers with Dr. AdlerPrior to coming to West Chester, Dr. Adler was academic vice president at Framingham State College, just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. During her remarks this morning, she implied that she may be returning to the Boston area to champion public education projects. She also mentioned that her husband, Fred Lane, will be completing a new book in the new future.

I would like to personally extend my best wishes to Dr. Adler, and congratulate her on the many achievements of her presidency. She leaves behind a great legacy, and will be a “tough act to follow.”

Want to see more pictures? I’ve uploaded the pictures I took this morning as both a Facebook Album and as an iPhoto photocast.

What is communication?

A number of students have been asking me lately to define a set of terms that are used quite often in communication studies. One of my colleagues, Dr. Kanan Sawyer, has asked her students to ask other faculty for these definitions as part of an assignment in her class on communication careers. While I’m always happy to speak with students, I thought it might be useful to record my responses on my blog for consistency and expediency.

Dr. Sawyer asked students to seek out definitions for the following terms:

Speech Communication
Communication Studies
Communication Technology
Mass Communication

Below is my attempt to define these terms, primarily from a disciplinary perspective. For the convenience of Dr. Sawyer’s students, I’ve added these terms as section titles so that they may go directly to a specific term of interest. Still, I would encourage students to read the entire blog post if time permits.

Speech Communication
For me, the term “Speech Communication” is mainly of historical significance. It’s the term that arose in the 1960s to describe the growing scope of the academic study of speech. It was a sort of compromise term to appease both those who taught speech and those who taught other subjects being offered by speech programs (such as journalism, broadcasting and public relations). The discipline of communication studies typically traces its origins to the establishment of speech departments in the early 20th century (most notably at Cornell and Iowa). These early speech departments were formed primarily by disgruntled teachers of rhetoric within English departments, who felt that English departments didn’t give the study of rhetoric much respect. So from about 1912 to the mid 1960s, speech grew as an academic discipline, and speech departments became established at schools around the country. In many cases, speech joined with theater to create “speech and theater” departments (which I believe is what our department here at West Chester was called many years ago). But by the 1950s, many speech (and “speech and theater”) departments were offering courses in many things besides speech, and the discipline was starting to experience some growing pains. It was becoming obvious that speech departments were teaching much more than “speech,” so the term “speech communication” arose as a more descriptive term for what we did. It became official in 1970 when the Speech Association of America changed its name to the Speech Communication Association. It would change its name again to the National Communication Association in 1997, reflecting what many believe to be the shrinking role of speech studies in the overall scope of the discipline. Still, scholars of speech and rhetoric remain a vital part of our discipline, and the term “speech communication” today is often used to describe the study of speech within the broader discipline of communication.

Communication Studies
“Communication Studies” is a more recent term that reflects our discipline’s move beyond our origins in the study of speech. Of the terms in the above list, this one is probably the broadest in scope. As such, it is often the preferred term to describe our discipline (some prefer to use simply “communication”). Many departments that were previously known as departments of “speech,” “speech and theater” or “speech communication” have changed to departments of “communication studies” or “communication.” This includes the department here at West Chester University, which was previously known as the Department of Speech and Theater, prior to theater breaking off to form its own department in the early 1980s.

Note that as I’ve used the term so far in this blog post, I have typically not added an “s” at the end of communication. There’s a good reason for that. The term “communications” typically is used to describe the products of communication: things like newspapers, radio programs, TV shows, films, etc. Within the discipline of communication, there are those who take offense when an “s” is added to the end of the term. This is especially true among those who don’t study media, since the term “communications” implies a focus on media and media products. In common use, when people refer to communications as a discipline, they typically mean some kind of applied media study, such as that offered by journalism schools and radio-TV-film programs. As you might imagine, I’m not too bothered by students who say they are “communications” majors, but some of my colleagues cringe when they hear that.

Communication Technology
“Communication Technology” is the newest term among those on this list. Within the discipline of communication studies, those who study “communication technology” focus on the increasingly important role of technology, and especially computer technology, in human communication. Many who study communication technology, including myself, began their careers studying broadcast technology. As broadcasting became increasingly digital, and with the growth of the internet as a platform for distribution of broadcast content, the term “communication technology” arose as a more descriptive term for those who study the media and especially the production of content for the media. “Computer-mediated communication” was a term that was used by many for awhile (including myself) but it never really received wide acceptance. (I think that’s because the concept of “mediated” is not as commonly associated with “media” among non-specialists as it is among communication scholars.) “Media studies” has come to imply a more narrow focus on the media, usually emphasizing the sociocultural impact of media. The term “communication technology” still retains a broader scope for most in the field. For this reason, I tend to say that I’m a “scholar of communication technology” (although sometimes I prefer to use the term “media ecologist,“ reflecting my particular interest in media environments.)

Mass Communication
“Mass Communication” is a term that is still widely used, although it is gradually being replaced by the terms “media studies” (to describe the study of media from a historical, social, cultural or economic perspective) or the term “communication technology” (to describe the study of media technology and its role in the production of content for the media). The term is still officially used in the title of COM 212, but I often prefer to use the terms “media of communication” or “communication media” when talking about this course. That’s because most of the media have become “demassified.” Essentially, the media today tend to target narrow audience niches rather than “the masses.” So while many people still use the term “mass communication” to describe the practice and study of communication through the media, the “mass” part of the term is gradually being phased out as the media continue to demassify. In common use, when people use the term “mass communication,” they typically include the broadcast media of radio and TV, and may include the legacy print media (books, newspapers and magazines) as well as film, sound recordings, and newer media, including the internet. A similar term that has fallen out of favor in some circles is “telecommunication” (which seems to have become a synonym for telephone communications, although historically the term has included a much broader range of technologies).

Of course, any attempt to define a term is going to make generalizations that reflect the biases of the one making the definition. Yet perhaps these brief attempts to define these terms will be useful to students as they seek out other definitions, and work to develop their own perspectives.

Communication Studies Open House

Prospective students, parents and invited guests sat in on my 2 p.m. COM 212 large lecture class today. A reception was held after class in the hallway outside of the lecture hall. The Association for Women and Men in Communications helped host the event, which was also attended by a number of department faculty.

The Department of Communication Studies held an open house today.