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