Be Cognizant of Your Interlocutors*

(*”know your audience”)

Big words have their place in communication, but it’s always worth reflecting on the purpose of those long latinate locutions* (*”big words”). Do they add precision to the point, or are they just props shoehorned into sentences to make the writer seem more knowledgeable? In this short video presentation, copywriter Terin Izil makes the pitch that bigger is not necessarily better when you are reaching for “le mot juste”.

Click the image to view the presentation:

Communications research excellence: Yes we can!

The Communications Department is gearing up to select the best CMNS paper submitted in the last twelve months. The winning submission will receive a Research Excellence Award, worth $1,000.

Are you a full-time student this semester, or were you a full-time student in Summer/Fall 2012? Did you take (or are you taking) CMNS courses, especially CMNS 155, CMNS 412, or CMNS 490? Did you write a really strong paper in a CMNS course that accomplished any of the following?

  • established the current state of knowledge on a topic/area
  • identified a gap in the existing literature
  • filled that gap with evidence or rational argument
  • interpreted the findings/evidence, generalized it for wider applicability, or demonstrated how it could be used in applied communication practices
  • identified limitations and future work to be done in the area.

If you wrote a paper for a Communications course last year that fits in one or more of the above categories (or you know another UFV student who did), you may want to ask your instructor to nominate the paper for the University’s Research Excellence award.

Don’t be shy. If you are really proud of a paper or report you completed for a CMNS course, or you were really impressed by the work one of your classmates did, let your instructor know that you think that work should be recognized.

Instructors in the Communications Department will be submitting their nominations on Tues, April 17, and then arm-wrestling to determine which submission is the best…. (No, we don’t do that! In fact, a committee will carefully measure each submission to see which one best represents the department and the communications discipline, and that paper will be forwarded as the department’s selection for the Research Excellence award.)

Cell Phone Etiquette in 2012

“It is customary nowadays to deplore the fact that the art of letter-writing has fallen into decay, and when we read that the entire correspondence of an engaged couple recently was carried on for two years by telephone and telegraph we are inclined to believe it.”

 — Lilian Eichler, Book of Etiquette Vol. I, 1924

“Etiquette” is a word with prissy connotations, recalling books with chapters on how to behave at tea parties, the most acceptable way to decline a wedding invitation, and so on. But conventions govern all our social interactions whether we like it or not, and an enormous amount of information is communicated by the way we “comport” ourselves with other people. Simple example: an office romance was exposed at a group lunch when a person absent-mindedly plucked an olive off the plate of the person sitting next to them and ate it. If you take a piece of food off someone’s plate and eat it, you are communicating a LOT about your relationship with that person.

The thing about rules of etiquette is that they evolve by consensus and over time. Social norms around eating, for example, have had millennia to develop. When rapid technological change affects people’s behaviour it’s hard for the conventions that help us negotiate our interactions (in a word, etiquette) to keep up. The proliferation of cell phones is one example, as anyone who has watched someone take a phone call in a movie theatre will understand. (Pro tip: do not answer your phone at the movies.)

I’ve noticed that no widely-accepted norms exist for cell phone behaviour when you’re in the company of other people. Is it considered rude to interrupt a f2f conversation to take a call, for instance? (I did an informal census, only to learn that opinions differ widely.) What about sending a text message or three, or checking Facebook updates, or replying to email? As the communication instruments in our hands gain functionality, how do we balance the demands of the device against the social expectations of those who are literally in our faces?

I’m not sure if this will catch on, but a recent attempt to introduce some cell phone etiquette to social situations, called “Don’t Be a D*ck During Meals“, has gone a little bit viral on the Internet. The basic rules are simple: when you’re at a restaurant with friends or family all cell phones go in a pile in the middle of the table. The first person to touch their phone before the bill arrives has to pay for everyone. If no one succumbs to the urge, the bill is divided up as per usual social conventions.

I’d be interested to hear what you think of this “game”, as well as the rules and conventions you observe when it comes to your cell phone behaviour in public, with friends or with family.


Student Survey

Communications department student survey & prize draw

The Communications department is looking for student input into their degree proposal plans. Please take five minutes to complete the survey at the link below, and then if interested you can enter to win one of three gift certificates from the UFV bookstore.

The survey and contest end on Fri, March 9.

Profile of new Journalism course in the Cascade

UFV Cascade contributor Tanya Ruscheinski reports on a visit from CTV reporter Jonathan Woodward to the CMNS/JRNL 301 classroom. The course, Advanced Practice of Journalism, is one of the courses that make up the Introduction to Journalism Certificate. Established three years ago, the certificate will be awarded to several UFV graduates for the first time at Convocation this year.

Abbotsford goes to Albuquerque

Greetings from New Mexico and the annual conference of the Western States Communication Association. Don’t be too jealous. It has been windy and cold in the high desert, making me happy that I brought my good, Canadian winter coat. On the other hand, the days have been warm inside while meeting colleagues, hearing about teaching practices, and representing the University of the Fraser Valley in two research presentations.

One interesting teaching practice that both faculty and students may enjoy bringing to CMNS 235, Oral Communication, is the idea of using music to segue from speaker to speaker. Patricia O’Keefe from the College of Marin asks each student in her oral communications class to pick a song that they want to use as their theme for the semester. Throughout the semester, various classmates act as the “DJ” who spins the “anthem” as the student walks up and prepares to present. Pat says this practice has had a phenomenal effect in calming nerves and creating community. A song she particularly liked was Andy Grammer’s “Keep Your Head Up.” Leave a comment and let us know what you think about this strategy.

In preparation for this conference I had the pleasure of organizing two panel presentations that ended up garnering lively discussion. The first panel (at 8 o’clock on a Monday morning I might add) was titled, “A roundtable on theory-to-practice: Applied Communication for social change.” Dr. Avinash Thombre (seated in the centre of the above photo) started the session off explaining a project sponsored by the U.S. State Department that brought university students from Pakistan to Little Rock, Arkansas to learn about the democratic process. His role was to help them understand Diffusion of Innovation theory in thinking about how they could use their knowledge once they returned to their homes. This presentation was followed by Christine Hollis (seated right), the Director of a program called “Kids Count” (New Mexico Voices for Children) who spoke about the use of a variety of message design theories that her organization had used to try to persuade state legislators to increase funding for early childhood education. To wrap up the presentations and lead into discussion, I presented a piece on the use of my 9P planning model in the 2011 “Appreciating You and I” community dialogues organized by Abbotsford Community Services. The audience was enthusiastic about the topic; their questions and comments about their own experiences took us right up to the closing minutes and were brought to a close by people trying to get into the room for the next session.

The second panel I had the pleasure of organizing continued the conference theme of social change but concentrated on bringing social change to the post-secondary classroom through the use of culturally responsive teaching practices. I had the pleasure of talking about UFV’s efforts to indigenize, and my own research on reconciling instructional communication theory between the use of Bloom’s three “learning domains” and the four quadrants of the medicine wheel. Elizabeth Root from Oregon State University explained how she created a program to pair her intercultural communication students with international students on campus. Kris Kirschbaum, who experienced her own culture shock in taking a faculty position in North Carolina, talked about similar issues of working with students who had very little experience outside of their own communities and helping them to understand cultural differences and similarities. The fourth speaker, Willow Anderson, reinforced the Canadian presence on the panel. She traveled all the way from Newfoundland to talk about struggles in making sure that as instructors of oral communications we don’t focus exclusively on Aristotelian traditions of public speaking theory. This topic led to an especially lively discussion about alternative ways of configuring assignments and including choices for presentation rubrics. I am definitely going to bring some of these ideas back to discuss with my colleagues at UFV.

See you all soon!

Intentional communities: A communication adventure

Rammed earth? Off-the-grid? Solar power? What do these things have to do with communication?

Over Reading Break I had the good fortune to visit my son, Taryn Gillies (a UFV Architectural Drafting student) at the Earthships intentional community in Taos, New Mexico. According to organizations such as the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, intentional communities are planned residential communities that are a genuine attempt to “live out ideals of connection, sustainability and economic justice.” This is where communication comes in: it takes a lot of good teamwork skills to live successfully in one of these types of communities.

While Earthships themselves are residential structures that collect and recycle water, harness solar power, and utilize recycled material in their construction, they are also the central feature of this particular intentional community. The houses are pretty fascinating and I enjoyed the opportunity to stay in one. The house I stayed in with my son is 2805 m (9200 ft.) above sea level. It has 3 bedrooms, 3 full bathrooms, 4 fireplaces, 2 lounge areas, a kitchen with a thermal fridge, and a garden growing inside. Water is collected from snow and rainfall, stored in cisterns and eventually goes through three filtering systems (drinking water, grey water, and black water).

If you want to find out more about earthship architecture you can visit and if you want to know more about intentional communities you might want to check out information on the Fraser Valley’s own Yarrow Ecovillage.


Dr. Marcella LaFever (University of New Mexico, 2005) is an Associate Professor in the Communications Department at the University of the Fraser Valley. She specializes in intercultural communication and brings that expertise to various subjects such as communication for workplace, instruction, social media, team and public speaking contexts.

Communication Science over UFV’s reading break

For those who haven’t planned out their reading break activities yet, Vancouver is lucky enough to be hosting the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting from 16-20 February at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

The meeting includes a Career Weekend with a bunch of FREE career development workshops that are open to anyone regardless of degree level or career stage.

UFV’s own Michelle Riedlinger is running a workshop on the Sunday afternoon called Communicating in a Minute: Reaching Decision Makers and is anticipating a lively (as well as informative) session. The workshop is going for a Dragon’s Den (or Science Idol) model where researchers have just 60 seconds to pitch their research to a panel representing decision makers and grant providers.

See the people at the AAAS registration desk (located in the Vancouver Convention Centre, Exhibit Hall B1) on the morning of the day/s you’ll be attending and they’ll organize a badge for you.

Learning Outcomes

image source: 1/2

A couple of years ago I attended a presentation at an Educational Technology conference in Calgary. The presenter used a series of photos to demonstrate the transformative influence of technology on everyday human activity. Examples included music (a Victorola phongraph juxtaposed with an iPod), communication (a wall-mounted telephone from the 1930s contrasted with a Blackberry, and medicine (a doctor’s surgery from the 19th Century contrasted with a modern operating theatre). The punchline for the presentation was a pair of images similar to the ones above: a standard classroom setup separated by the passage of 80 years or so. At least in terms of physical surroundings, a teacher from the past would have no problem fitting in and recognizing the classroom environment where learning takes place today. If teaching methods have changed so little, what’s the likelihood learning outcomes have changed very much?

There’s a lot of talk about transformative change in education, but it’s worth considering how much change is possible when the basic structure of the classroom — the physical space but also the learning activities that are possible within that space — seems to be resistant to change.

UFV is engaged in an institution-wide consideration of what education should provide students in the 21st Century. It’s a great opportunity to consider if the existing structure of post-secondary education adequately prepares graduates for the work environment that awaits them and, if not, what needs to change to make a Bachelor’s degree more relevant.

Basso Profundo

Call it the result of cultural conditioning or some deeper instinctual response, but research published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests that merely lowering the pitch of your voice when speaking can lead to a greater sense of empowerment and gains in the ability to think abstractly. Oddly enough the effect measured was not on the audience, but on the speakers themselves. There’s a wealth of literature linking a deep voice to a greater sense of confidence in the speaker from an audience, but this study indicates that speakers themselves are affected subconsciously by the pitch of their own voices.

Source: British Psychological Society Research Digest