Portfolio: Global Awareness

The sixth communication outcome within this program is global awareness, of the understanding of how communication affects and is affected by cultures from all over the world. This phenomenon has been sped up significantly with the proliferation of the World Wide Web. Ironically though, by the time we reached this portion of our studies, most seen in Comm 624, we were no longer required to maintain our graduate blog. Therefore, I have few if any posts from that particular class. We were, however, tasked with writing a series of Short Papers that had us examine a different topic nearly weekly, ranging from emergence of information technology to the reshaping of identity, how these transact to alter city operations, and more.

To provide an example of one of these essays, I will place the introduction from one I was to write on a specific virtual community: From its inception, the Internet has been seen as a way to bring together a culture or community with common interests, but widely varying geographic locations. In the initial days, this was accomplished primarily via text-based bulletin board systems, (BBS) and related user groups. An example of this among blind individuals, the sample group primarily discussed here, is The Zone BBS, where people could log in from their PC’s, send Quick Notes to each other, and play relatively simple games.

As time and technology have progressed, however, the emphasis has shifted toward audio-based platforms that can be accessed via smartphone apps. This essay will examine the relative communication, cultural, and identity aspects of one such virtual community: Vorail.

As a heavy Internet and smartphone user, I am well aware of the global nature of communication in modern society. Still I learned a lot about how the kinds of choices I and many others make, such as a constant upgrading of smartphone technologies, can have bad effects on our environment and on those who are tasked with putting these products together, often residents of so-called “third-world” or less developed nations. I also learned that global distribution of these products is not yet equal, and that we should be aware of the kinds of cultural hegemony that can be imposed simply by forcing others to use these things that are regularly only viable in English.

Going forward, I will continue to realize the importance of having a perspective that advocates for others’ cultures, languages, and traditions to continue to exist. Because it is my belief that as a worker on the grand stage of producing consumable content within the Internet space, our experience is enriched when others are able to contribute to it in whatever way they see fit. And that is to say nothing of the idea that diversity should just exist for diversity’s sake, as a basic foundation of the human experience.


Portfolio: Comprehensive Communications Project

The most important element of learning within the communication discipline is the ability to view theory, and take that theory to apply to relevant content, as defined by the seventh outcome of comprehensive project creation. As with all others, students in this program made use of comprehensive elements in nearly every project we completed. But there were a couple that stood out. The best of these is a textual analysis I conducted of an NPR job description. This required an academic paper portion, wherein the actual analysis using a system of codes I created was placed, and a blog post describing the rationale behind the project in less formal language. A video presentation of the final product was added upon the project’s conclusion. I primarily used the lens of organizational culture theory to make my argument.

In preparing this and other multi-part projects throughout the program, I learned the importance of considering one’s audience. If I wish both to write effectively and to convey the intended message, I need to make sure that I’m using language that people can understand based on their background. The more formal nature of academic writing requires less opinion-inspired wording that simply transmits the research as it was found, while often in a blog post one wishes to bring the content to life to make it readable even to non-experts in a given field. The better I can become at composing for both audiences, the more varied my potential use cases of theory and practice that I have acquired along the way.

Going forward, I intend to continue approaching all project with the knowledge that they may be consumed by different groups. I do not especially envision myself in an academic setting, yet it is still useful to have gotten better at preparing well-crafted papers that present supported arguments and the like. More importantly from my perspective though is the ability to demonstrate how research and theory can be applied in new and exciting ways that help people understand communication and how to engage in it more smoothly.

Portfolio: Ethical Considerations

The understanding of how to practice ethical communication is such an integral part of this program that an entire course was devoted to it. Therein, I was given a number of scenarios and asked to analyze and evaluate how best to treat all involved in them. Two of my best examples: In one, I spoke about the challenges of disability as we move into a future where it can be “ameliorated”. I noted the importance of choice in this matter for those who would be given corrective surgeries and the like, explaining my conclusions through the lens of the “good” as proposed by Arnett, Bell and Harden Fritz (2009). In the second example, I noted the ethics of response and care within the context of a relationship by speaking of various ways that my partner and I used dialogic ethics to negotiate and deal with food-borne illness, resulting in a strengthening relationship for the both of us and a quicker recovery for me.

The understanding of dialog and “good” were probably the most substantive things I learned from my experiences within this course. As a result of it, I have a better understanding of how to interact with people in ways that improve them mentally and physically, and that also create safe public spaces for interaction and communication on complex issues. This skill is of immense value in our current climate.

As I advance toward my own career, I intend to use knowledge of good ethical practice in the crafting of my written and audio stories. I will always write and speak in ways that engage people in substantive dialogue, and where I make mistakes (because who doesn’t sometimes) I will employ strategies that are aimed at trying to understand where I went wrong and what action(s) might be better taken next time. As noted in a post about conflict within the Norrie Disease Association, being able to manage difference and help everyone to be respectful of each other’s various opinions and backgrounds is and will continue to be one of the most important things we as communicators can do.

Portfolio: Writing Literacy

Within the scope of this program, writing literacy is defined as the ability to draft an essay for specific audiences and with an appropriate citation style. As with most other elements, this skill had to be applied throughout my time as a Queens University Student. Our required citation style was APA, and probably the best example I have of actually engaging in writing literacy would be the book review I wrote on Richard Ling’s (2008) book entitled New Tech, New Ties. Here, I explained the theories Ling used to talk about what cell phones in particular are doing to us, giving pertinent examples with quotations and page number. At the review’s conclusion, I noted for which groups of readers this title might be most useful.

As a blogger with extensive subscription and social media following, it is important for me to be able to understand for whom certain readings and writings might be of interest. These kinds of reviews therefore helped me improve assessment by understanding context and content of a given piece of writing. I also can look at broader analytics, such as post views and the like, and thus get a sense of whether people are in fact clicking on and presumably reading what has been written therein. I then tailor my essays to fit both what I know well and what seems to be most popular among my readership.

Moving into my career, however it ends up looking in the end, it will always be important for me to evaluate what is or is not relevant. As emphasized in various courses of study while a student here, it can be bad to simply jump on the next trend with anything. But without question, a writer is going to connect with his or her audience better if the audience and their preferences are known, even if one, that one being me, wishes to expand those perceived preferences by providing knowledge and information.

Portfolio: Digital and Media Literacy

A category that at least in some way encompassed nearly every aspect of this program, Digital & Media Literacy can be defined as the ability to create and evaluate content on at least one digital or media platform related to a specific communication initiative and audience. Moving between powerpoint presentations made for YouTube viewing to audio-only podcasts, I honed this skill both in making sure I understood my subject matter and could convey it smoothly. Throughout the duration of these projects, I discovered that the best way for me to generate good results is to draw up a script containing the material I would like to discuss. This was even true when using PowerPoint slides, as the amount of text they contained would often make it difficult for me to remain focused on good vocal performance for want of remembering the full intended context of a given note.

While I indeed had several experiences of varying quality and length, probably my most solid podcast was MetaTalk Podcast Three: Identity Work in the 21st Century. Here, I took relevant interview snippets from three participants, added music and other sound bites, and edited them into a mostly coherent program around a theme. The project called on students to use their voices creatively, that is to bring life to the story through inflection and good rhythm. This was challenging, but I feel I came closest to this goal on that podcast. Others followed, such as a podcast on connectivity with cell phones, but this particular program did not reach quite the same level. But variance is fine, as it is part of the learning process.

As far as my learning goes, I believe I most improved my ability to engage in public speaking. The various project designs allowed me to explore what worked and what was less effective, and given that my most desired career is to work in public radio in some capacity the ability to come up with show ideas, arrange interviews, and the like is probably one of the most valuable elements of practice I have acquired as a student.

Moving forward, I am contemplating creating a podcast that I will use to elevate me toward my career goals. I will use some of the basic editing skills as well as those related to effective inquiry and research that I have also worked on throughout to help me come up with real, useful content that attracts my desired audience. The tentative title of this podcast will be GO: With The Blind Traveler. It will involve collecting a series of interviews from businesses along various public transit lines, thereby bringing together my knowledge of travel, business and nonprofits, and good communication practices.

Portfolio: Research Literacy

Early on in this course of study, during the COMM 601 class to be exact, I was called on to develop basic research literacy skills, which can be defined as the ability to come up with an inquiry project around a communication problem, strategy, or initiative, construct a literature review discussing relevant findings, and use a theoretical framework to help in method creation and the drawing of conclusions. While this skill was utilized throughout learning, the most relevant example can be seen in my inquiry project (video presentation) on Forrest Gump as Equipment for Living.

To start, I chose a position: namely that who tells a story and how it is told are important for those being represented. I noted that movies are an important vehicle for these stories in our modern society, and provided varying types of research to back this philosophical position. I then created a method section as it might look if Forrest Gump were used to study in this way, listing a series of possible interview questions that would ascertain how well those with intellectual disabilities, their parents and other caregivers felt the movie told their story. I concluded with a summation of the literature review and directions for future research.

This initial experience helped set the foundation for several other inquiry projects I composed as a student, notably a paper exploring the same Volkswagen issues I had examined in the video presentation spoken of under theoretical literacy. It has made me a more informed reader, in that I now have a set of strategies I can employ to investigate the validity of a given argument by doing my own research. It also helps me to become more aware of my own biases by measuring my positions and ideas against others presented in the vast amounts of research literature that cover my topic(s) of interest.

Moving forward, I will continue to use research literacy as I evaluate the effectiveness of any strategies I might enact for employers with whom I work, and especially nonprofits. Also as noted, knowing how to write research projects helps me in reading and evaluating them for strength of made arguments as well. This will help as I attempt to investigate and ultimately accept ethical, evidence-based practices.

Portfolio: Theoretical Literacy

s defined within the context of this program, theoretical literacy is the ability to apply at least one theory to a real life problem or scenario to gain further understanding. This was perhaps the most extensively developed of my skills as I progressed through coursework, with my best example probably being the use of The theory of Communicative Action (Habermas) to analyze how the How I See It Campaign went wrong. In an online powerpoint presentation, I first looked at the four elements of Habermas theory; intelligibility, truth, truthfulness, and legitimacy; in terms of how the organization Foundation Fighting Blindness had misunderstood basic issues within the community it was supposedly trying to support. I then used these same analytical tenets to suggest better steps that could be taken if they were to implement such a strategy in the future.

While as noted in the intro most of my work involves blindness/disability and nonprofit communication issues, I did delve into other areas in my acquisition and improvement of theoretical literacy as well. A good example of this is a thorough analysis (in podcast form on SoundCloud) of Volkswagen’s many challenges relating to a emissions scandal using Giddens’ Structuration Theory.

What have I learned from exploration of theory? Primarily that communication issues encountered by organizations are usually more complex than news media or other distributors are able to convey. Theory asks that one delve deep into the problem and example it from multiple angles, thereby generating possible solutions rather than simply highlighting areas of difficulty.

Now that I have a tool kit of theories from which to choose in any given situation, if I manage to enter a media organization I will use these tools to provide better, fairer coverage in the stories I write. My main go-to theories, so long as they apply, are impression management (Goffman’s Dramaturgic Metaphor), Habermas as detailed above, and Bordieu and Putnam’s theories of field and capital and social capital respectively. Between these, I am likely to arrive at outcomes that not only help me to understand and give good feedback on communication issues, but also to enhance the reader/listener’s ability to grasp more relevant story content as well.

#FridayReads On Buzz After the Moon and My Life After McNair 

I have nearly completed a memoir of sorts by the astronaut Buzz Aldrin, written in conjunction with Ken Abraham, called Magnificent Desolation: Long Journey Home From The Moon. The title is a bit misleading, as it implies some not-known-about extra drama in the astronaut’s return, when really it refers to the many downs he experienced once his feet were firmly planted on Earth again. The tale does begin with a brief look at Buzz’s and Neil Armstrong’s touchdown on the lunar surface, assuming I think that the reader is pretty familiar with their near loss of fuel in the lander, and of course that Neil was the first to exit and take “a small step” onto another world. Do not make the mistake of categorizing Buzz as the “second man” though, as he generally eschews this status, probably due to cultural baggage attached to such an assignation. After all, we Americans don’t like to lose! One finds that the crux of the story deals with behaviors on which many may frown, and particularly alcoholism and two failed marriages. These stemmed from a deep depression that, Buzz speculates, may have been brought about by the actual trip somehow. Whatever its origin, when an episode (he called it the “blue funk”were hct, he was rendered nearly unable to function. This part of Buzz’s story effected me very deeply, especially as he struggled to define his life and significance after such a harrowing achievement. Most of us will never walk on the mooneab we can probably identify with the idea of reaching some peak in life and feeling that there’s no way we can best it. He kept trying though, eventually generating interesting ideas about Space travel that he worked into a Science Fiction (“I prefer to call it techno thriller” whatever that means) novel, and doggedly attemped to sell to the U.S. Congress. Not much of this was taken up, sadly, but he does start to emerge from his downers on the shoulders of a strong woman. There is even an unexpected climax of sorts in this version of his post-lunar life. A fair warning, don’t talk to him about the possibility that no humans have actually landed on the moon, because he doesn’t want to hear it! As I read this book, I reflected on another astronaut whose life tangentially influenced mine: that of Ronald Erwin McNair. Born in 1950, according to the Weakipedia article, Mr. McNair received a Ph.D. in Physics from MIT and became only the second Black astronaut to travel to space. I am a bit surprised not to know the first, but should rectify that after posting. Anyway, McNair was on his second mission aboard Challenger, not the first as I had always thought, when it exploded on January 28, 1986. Everyone knows about that, primarily because of the school teacher who had also gone up. Buzz points out that after that accident, NASA was reticent about any allowing any civilians to get a seat, a point that conted to irk him for the rest of the shuttle’s “life”. Back to the McNair story though, a program was created in his honor with the aim of helping underrepresented groups achieve success on the graduate level. I was fortunate to be awarded a spot in this program 15 years ago, and as I’ve probably said before it is that which convinced me to give grad school a second shot. I remember the nerves of presenting at my first academic conference, and feeling I hardly knew what I was talking about. I had completed a 25 page paper on “Invisibility” among African American males, working under a great mentor. Ial remember the fun travel to Georgia, (visiting three Atlanta-area universities) and Knoxville to attend a different conference at the University of Tennesssee. And, after that program, how the grad school offers rolled in. Prestigious institutions such as Duke, Brown, Stanford and UCLA wanted a piece of me, but I wouldn’t bite. It’s not hard to see how I felt that was MY peak. But I now see it as a valuable experience that shaped the backbone in me to let my “nerd” out and be proud of it. Thinking of that and reading Buzz’s story is helping me to finally snap out of my own “blue funk” that still lingered after my recent internship attempt. I’ve got the wheels turning, and think that more excitement is coming soon. 

Next Steps

Hello! I think I’ve been quiet too long, mainly because I’m trying to survive one of the craziest winters I can remember. Snow, ice, single-digit temperatures; you name it, we’ve seen it! Thankfully, this coming week has the promise of 70-degree readings, even if they are accompanied by rain.

Naturally all of this cold has left me with plenty of time to think about what I’m trying to do and where I want to go. I still can’t say that I’m certain, but I think I’ve almost come all the way back around to where I was at this time 10 years ago, in that I’m considering a degree in Journalism.

Now though, I have an idea of what I’d be doing with it and am perusing the accompanying job descriptions. It looks like many of them only require a Bachelor’s Degree, and so hopefully in the next few weeks I’ll be discussing with some who know whether that is a good idea or of I’ll need to pursue a Master’s level.

In any event, I’m guessing I won’t get started till Fall of 2015. I have a lot of preparation to complete to improve my odds of success, starting with making sure I know the requisite writing style and have an idea of how things will be made accessible.

I am continuing my preparation from a technological, web design standpoint. I’m now taking a second CAVI course, this one in WordPress. I think the first class of that semester is tomorrow, and we’ll learn how to work with the WordPress content management system. I gather that this can also be used on web sites, in addition to their blogging platform. I certainly admit to not knowing a whole lot about that yet, but this is why I’m working to make sure I learn. I think I’ve talked before about how I haven’t actually figured out a particularly accessible way to post entries to this blog, other than to email them to myself and upload them via the iPhone app. Look forward therefore to pretty big improvements to the look and feel of this thing as I master them throughout class.

I actually had a fair amount of fun with the website I created for the HTML class, a sort of fake travel agency I called Travel Trails who’s aim it was to work with travelers with disabilities to get what they needed to make a trip accessible. It wasn’t perfect, in that I’d made the headings twice as usual and probably had a coule of other visual issues. I don’t think it was half bad though for one who was starting largely from scratch in terms of building a site.

And that’s basically all I have for today. I’m sure I’ll come alive more as we finally begin to thaw out. We shall see what awaits.