Interpersonal Communication in the Age of Technology:
It Takes Skill
By: Susan Adams, Akram Bhatti, and Edna Phythian
It is said that communication happens even when we are trying not to say a thing. We talk, text, smile, wave, giggle, daze off, etc; it’s a seamless part of who we are. Sue Carneol, MS, CCC-SLP, says, “Communication is what sets us apart from other life forms. It allows us to collaborate, problem solve, influence, empathize, and instruct.” Our ability to communicate is in large part due to the development of our social skills, which means we have learned how to appropriately interact with others, verbally and nonverbally, in order to get a message across.
Education professionals have made it a priority to develop students’ communications skills for centuries, and still are. While the model for communications has not necessarily changed, the barriers and modes with which messages can be transmitted have. Mix together the various factors of a global society (i.e: diverse cultures, technological tools, mass amount of accessible information and a competitive economy) and you get a complex, new environment for which it takes additional skill sets to communicate successfully
Techno-personal Skills in Context Vicki Davis fromFlat Classroom Projectsblogged, “Techno-personal is different than traditional interpersonal skills because technology is the wedge” (Sept. 2007).Techno-personal skills are at the axle of the new communication skills students need. Interpersonal communication involves face-to-face communications, whereas techno-personal communication involves a person communicating to another person through technology. It has become the axle of all communications due to the proliferation of communication technologies, especially voice over internet protocols or V.O.I.P’s, such as Skype and mobile devices. It is noted inSeven Steps to Flatten Your Classroomby Julie Lindsay and Vicki Davis (2012) that only seven percent of techno-personal communication is verbal, in other words, the spoken or written word; but,ninety-three percentis context. The context of a techno-personal message includes the strategic use of emoticons and punctuation in everyday discourse plus the use of embedded multimedia.
The context of the other ninety-three percent of techno-personal communication is vital to consider. The contextual is the space where, as an educator, one has to create a skills set to train students to be able to exploit its full potential. This requires introducing students to all emerging technologies. With ongoing innovations occurring, new technologies continuously emerge and are highlighted in a day in the life of a connected educator infographic created by Sheryl Nussbaum. In her textThe Connected Educatorshe depicts the various communication technologies that are possible to connect with and in turn continue to build one’s personal learning network.
The infographic fromThe Connected Educatordepicts a typical day in the life of a “connected” teacher with an already established personal learning network.
This can also be a typical day in the life of our students as they learn how to manage information and where to seek it . Through project-based learning experiences (in class and out), students can establish their own learning networks.
Edutopia (www.edutopia.org) is a network of students, parents, educators, administrators, and policy makers of skilled techno-personal communicators. Learning together and advancing in our understandings of how to collaborate with new technologies and communicate in effective ways should be uppermost in everyone’s minds. We believe this, in essence, is the flat classroom learning project. One teacher and their students connect with other students and teachers across the globe. How does this happen? It is not just magic. It is a skill set, which requires planning and thoughtful deliberation to utilize the whole array ofWeb 2.0andVOIP technologiesto their maximum effectiveness. This means using techno-personal skills in order to communicate via readers, blogs, wikis and other pull and push technologies. Each arena has their own communication protocol and this has to be learned by the student in order to communicate effectively. For example, posting a website to a social bookmarking tool such asDiigois a different method of communicating and posting information than it would be for a tweet onTwitter,or posting feedback on a social website likeFacebook, on a discussion board in aWiki,or writing one’s comments and thoughts in a web journal blog.To move smoothly in these different arenas requires a clear purpose of communication and thinking. Students must understand their own expectations for communicating and those of the audience, as well. Techno-personal skills are paramount tor the successful navigation through these technical arenas.
But, we can’t stop with the idea that technology itself is the only part of the communication equation. To demonstrate a competent level of techno-personal communication, there are many more skills to develop than we might imagine. Dan Pink has set the educational world on fire with his elements of design, story, symphony, empathy, meaning, and play. Flattening Classroom, Engaging Mindsbrings up the work of Henry Jenkins, who has taken these ideas much further. He asserts that a whole set of crucial social skills are built through collaboration and networking. He defines these social skills as “play— the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving,performance— the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery,simulation— the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes,appropriation— the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content,multitasking— the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details,distributed cognition— the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities,collective intelligence— the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal,judgment— the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources,transmedia navigation— the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities,networking— the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information, andnegotiation— the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms.”MacArthur Report If we are to teach students basic etiquette for online interaction and follow through to help them become whole, collaborative, online social beings, we need to commit to an ongoing program to develop the learner and give them the optimum opportunity for continued success. Participatory Media
As we think of the skills used to communicate in a collaborative and often online environment, it shouldn’t surprise us to see students and adults alike at a loss to consistently express ‘appropriate’ behavior. Beth Holland, inFrom Smoke Signals to Tweets, points out that in all the new communication modes we are seeing spring up so quickly, there is a sense of “anomie,” or ‘normlessness.’ With older models of communication, parents typically taught the norms and standards of etiquette to go with each added communication tool. The burgeoning world of online communication tools has, in large part, been created and pioneered by young people. No one has actually ‘taught’ kids how to use them. As we use these tools for professional products and global interaction, it is up to us to teach kids the social skills that will make interactions with these tools go smoothly. Just as students had to be taught how to use a dictionary, thesaurus, atlas, etc, students today need to practice in order to develop as skilled communicators across the medians that they have now (21st century) and will have in the years to come.
In addition to being taught the norms of what we sometimes call netiquette, students need to learn to to relay emotion and clear meaning. We already mentioned the importance of making use of emoticons, but it is also crucial to learn to avoid slang in order to minimize misunderstandings. Courtney Glazer inPlaying Nice with Othersfound if students would directly express confusion, appreciation, and all emotions in a clear, written form, projects would be completed more smoothly in a more collaborative manner. Perhaps, before students can be inspired to make use of appropriate online communication skills, they need to realize that online personalities arereal.ANordic Study found that there are ways we can help students achieve this state of mind. Even the choice of avatar affects a student’s online behavior and can change their online personality and behavior. Discussions about culture and online “handshakes” are important factors in making overall communication a success.
While many educators see the need to foster every facet of technopersonal skills in students, there are not many formal programs designed to teach these skills. We encourage you, as an educator, not to pass over the development of these skills lightly. Once students have internalized the awareness that each electronic space has its own purpose, tools, and standards of behavior, everything project they do can become a greater avenue for thinking and creativity, rather than stumbling through and unknown country where they don’t know the customs and the rules.