Marie Flatley, bcomm professor emerita, sent us a link to a TechRepublic article about a new feature in Word 2013: the ability to add useful apps directly to your Word menu.
As the article explains, clicking Insert > Apps for Office > See All on the ribbon will bring up the list of any apps you’ve added so far and the link “Find more apps at the Office Store.” You can click this link to see the available apps, most of which are free.
For example, you can add . . .
- a link to a Merriam-Webster online dictionary
- an app you can use to create sticky notes that’ll come up the next time you open the document
- a link to Wikipedia
- a Word of the Day app
- an app that will create a word cloud for a given document.
Any apps you select will then be available in your own Word interface via Insert > Apps for Office. You do need to have a Microsoft account to be able to add apps, but it is easy to create one from within the Office Store.
Try out this new feature, and keep watching the Store to see what new apps appear.
Is there anything else you find noteworthy—positive or negative—about Word 2013? If so, please share your thoughts!
In our College of Business, all of the functional areas (e.g., accounting and finance, management, international business, health care administration, marketing, information systems) have business advisory boards. This year, our Business Communication Department joined the fun and formed its board as well.
Unlike the boards in the other functional areas, where the members are from that professional field, the BCOM board comprises members from the fields of health care, information systems, communications, banking, accounting, finance, government, marketing, management, entrepreneurship, and K-12 education.
Our goal in having the board is to help us better connect what we do in the classroom to the needs of employers. Our hope is that by meeting twice per year (early fall, late spring) we can be a resource for professionals who may need projects completed that our students can do and learn from and that professionals can be a resource for us as we develop our curriculum.
Of course, another goal is to enhance the BCOM Department’s visibility in our College, university, and community and assert ourselves as a business discipline.
The Board’s Input
As you might imagine, putting a group of professionals in a room and asking them to talk about entry-level employees’ communication skills yielded a lot of interesting information:
- Tuning in: Several commented on how interns and entry-level employees tend to come to work, insert the ear buds, tune in to their music, and tune out the rest of the world. While the music may help them focus, employees miss the conversations around them that help them learn the culture, develop socialization skills to fit with the culture, and gather useful information from those informal workplace conversations.
- Communicating data: Another common remark was that many interns are weak in their ability to communicate quantitative and qualitative data meaningfully.
- Analyzing an audience and corporate culture: Board members talked a lot about how interns and entry-level employees would communicate better if they were to invest the time analyzing audience and culture.
- Having a command of the English language: Grammar, mechanics, and punctuation were also mentioned as areas students need improvement on—both written and oral.
Our three-hour discussion covered many more topics, but you can see the value in the professional community’s input as we teach our students and promote our value to the university community
In forming our board, we determined the fields we wanted to be represented on the board. Once we did that, it was a matter of making phone calls and organizing the meeting. If you have questions on how we formed our board, let me know. It’s been a fun and exciting venture, and we’re already looking forward to setting the agenda for our fall meeting.
The shift from a manufacturing-based to an information-based economy has created an unprecedented need for employees who are multi-skilled and adaptable. It has taken a while for higher education to catch up to this reality, but a 2013 study commissioned by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) can help us keep moving in the right direction.
The researchers surveyed business and nonprofit leaders to ask what they look for in job applicants and how colleges and universities can better prepare graduates for the current demands of the workplace. Of particular relevance to us in bcomm is the finding that the applicant’s “cross-cutting capacities” are more important to employers than his or her choice of major.
Specifically (quoting from the report),
- Nearly all those surveyed (93%) agree, “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.”
- More than nine in ten of those surveyed say it is important that those they hire demonstrate ethical judgment and integrity; intercultural skills; and the capacity for continued new learning.
- More than three in four employers say they want colleges to place more emphasis on helping students develop five key learning outcomes, including critical thinking, complex problem-solving, written and oral communication, and applied knowledge in real-world settings.
The respondents recommend that schools help develop the needed competencies by requiring more coursework in the liberal arts and sciences and by giving students multiple types of opportunities for hands-on learning (e.g., collaborative projects and problem-solving assignments).
If you’re like me, you nodded your head when you read each point above, thinking “Yep—that’s what we do in bcomm!”
So carry on with the real-world assignments, the collaborative projects, the focus on adapting to audience and context, the study of other cultures’ values, and everything else we do that requires students to think and apply. The need for the skills we teach has never been greater.
Before we get to the main attraction…If you have not yet submitted your conference proposal for the Association for Business Communication’s annual conference in New Orleans next October, you still have time. Proposals are due April 22. You can find more information at the ABC Web site. It’s always a great conference for networking, socializing, and learning about current research and practices in our field.
‘Tis the season for final exams. If your school requires final exams, you probably get to this point in the semester and wonder about creative options for what can otherwise seem like an exercise in futility.
In December 2011 I posted the final for my Advanced Business Writing class in which students report to me what they believe they learned in the course. As I searched the Internet this semester, I discovered several other creative options for final exams and have included the links below. Though none of these Web sites address business communication specifically, they do inspire some ideas for final exams in business communication that demonstrate student learning, provide for some fresh and fun (at least to me) options for assessment, and—perhaps best of all—remove some of the stress and monotony for both the instructors and students:
Research Symposium or Juried Poster Session
In classes such as my Advanced Business Writing course where students spend much of their time writing a formal report for a real client, this option presents some interesting possibilities. In a research symposium or poster session duried by their peers, students could demonstrate their understanding of the client’s problem; articulate their purpose for writing; talk about the primary and secondary research they uncovered; and reflect on what they learned about audience, purpose, tone, style, etc.
Service Learning or Other Community Connection
Students use what they learned in class to conduct interviews and report findings, present a communication workshop to a community organization, or otherwise share what they have learned with those outside the university/college community.
Students submit questions of any type for the final, along with the answers. (An aside: I did this once for a regular exam. I thought the questions were great—thoughtful and challenging. However, I was not prepared for some of the incorrect answers that accompanied the questions, though these did give me some insight to how students were processing information.)
As a final assignment, students submit a final professional employment portfolio that contains assignments from the semester.
Super-Sized Multiple Choice Questions
Instead of having students simply choose an answer, instructors let students explain their answers. According to the University of Minnesota’s Center for Teaching and Learning, this option does not penalize good students who choose the wrong answer just because they have a more sophisticated understanding of the course material. According to the University of Minnesota, only a few students will take this option, which means this practice does not require a lot of extra grading.
A Video Presentation, App, or Podcast
If you prefer not to grade a lot of written work, a final exam where students show what they’ve learned via some type of communication technology might make for a more interesting finals week. The idea is that students perform what they have learned rather than write answers to traditional exam questions.
This idea comes from Becky Ances’s blog on her experiences teaching English in China. For their final, students choose a set of behaviors that result in a score in the 80s, another in which the resulting score is in the 90s, and a final behavior in which the student gets a 100. Business communication instructors might consider what such behaviors would look like in a bcomm final exam and let students choose accordingly.
Do you have a creative way to administer your final exams? If so, please share it with us.
- “This Is What a Final Exam Should Look Like” Remixing College English Blog
- “The 10 Most Creative Final Exams Ever Offered” Best Colleges Online
- “Alternatives to the Traditional Final Exam” University of Minnesota-Center for Teaching and Learning
- “Alternatives to Final Exams” University of California-Berkley Center for Teaching and Learning
- “Just Added: Another Creative Option for a Final Exam” Modern Theatre
- “Best. Final. Exam. Ever” Writer. Traveler. Tea Drinker. (three-tiered exam)
- The App Builder (A free resource for building an app)
I had occasion to reread Gareth Morgan’s Images of Organization a couple of weeks ago and was struck again by how brilliant and useful this book is. Though the latest edition was published in 2006, it seems dated in only a few minor ways. It still offers, in my view, more insightful observations about organizational life than any other book out there.
Morgan’s thesis is that “all organization and management theory and practice is based on images, or metaphors, that lead us to understand organizations in powerful yet partial ways” (Morgan’s emphasis). He supports this thesis by explaining how organizations look when viewed through eight metaphorical lenses:
The organization as machine. An organization based on this way of seeing will be hierarchical and bureaucratic—strong on control but poor at adaptation.
The organization as organism. This type of organization understands itself as a living organism that must pay attention to its various environments as well as foster healthy development internally.
The organization as a brain. Here the emphasis is on enabling quick adaptability through “organizational intelligence,” which is achieved by establishing a minimal set of rules and then allowing employees at all levels to gather, share, and act on information.
The organization as a culture. This vantage point enables us to see organizations as meaning-making systems, with rituals, myths, heroes, values, and shared frames of reference that sustain an interpretive world, much like that of a tribe.
The organization as a political system. All organizations are “intrinsically political” because the people who work there will have diverse and conflicting interests. But conflict, coalition building, and the use of power will be more pronounced in some organizations than in others.
The organization as a psychic prison. “Organization always has unconscious significance,” Morgan asserts: People bring their egos, anxieties, repressions, and many other psychic elements to the workplace, and the organization as a whole can develop tunnel vision or neuroses. These can block positive change and even threaten organizational survival.
The organization as flux and transformation. Organizations that embrace change (and understand that change is inevitable) are more willing than others to redefine the business they’re in, question the traditional boundaries between themselves and other organizations, and let their identities continually evolve.
The organization as an instrument of domination. Organizations can and often do have a dark side, with the will to compete and expand taking precedence over regard for individuals, society, and the well-being of other countries.
As Morgan points out, his list of metaphors is not exhaustive; an organization could be like a sports team, for example, or a family. Also, several different metaphors could be operating forcefully within the same company. But Morgan’s approach enables us to see how complex organizations can be and to have useful ways of getting a grip on them.
So what’s the connection to bcomm?
I would recommend mining this book for insights into how an organization’s structure and ways of operating are likely to shape its communication practices, thereby making some communication decisions better than others. Use the book to get students to talk about the organizations they’re familiar with and to appreciate the importance of interpreting where they work. Then ask them how they’d handle a communication task, such as recommending a change in operations, within different types of organizations, or what communication channels they’d be likely to use depending on what type of company they were in.
We hope to send our students into the work world with communication skills that will help them become successful professionals. Being able to understand what kind of organization they’ve landed in may be the most foundational communication skill of all.
Those of you who were at the ABC Midwest-Southeast meeting in Louisville a couple of weeks ago may have attended a presentation or two about (or using) PechaKucha. PechaKucha (Japanese for “chatter”) is a delivery format in which a presenter delivers images in 20 slides, spending only 20 seconds narrating each slide. Because slides advance automatically after 20 seconds, presenters must stick to the time limit, meaning that the entire presentation lasts only 6 minutes, 40 seconds.
Why use PechaKucha? How might it help students in the business communication classroom?
- PechaKucha forces presenters to really think about their main points and stick to them. The time limits on the slides ensure that presenters do not get off on tangents or extensively elaborate on their topic.
- Because the slides contain mostly images rather than text, presenters avoid the trap of reading slides to their audience and instead focus on the delivery of their message. Another benefit, of course, is that audiences are not subjected to a mind-numbing reading of the slides and then left wondering why they attended a presentation when they could have read the presentation on their own.
- We all know the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. Because PechaKucha relies on images, audiences may be more likely to recall a main point or idea if they can associate it with an image rather than with a lot of words or lines of text.
To see an example of PechaKucha, visit the PechaKucha Web site and check out Greg Judelman’s 18 Tidbits on the Design of Change. You can learn the 18 tips in 20 slides in 6 minutes, 40 seconds…impressive and effective.
Is PechaKucha right for every business presentation? As with any communication channel, PechaKucha should be used if it is right for the audience, purpose, context, and content for a presentation. Do you use PechaKucha in your classes? If so, tell us about it.
My method of teaching grammar in bcomm isn’t working. That’s a fact I finally faced last semester when, at the end of the term, most of my students still couldn’t spot faulty parallelism on a PowerPoint slide.
The method of grammar instruction I’ve been using consists of
1) handing out a table of common errors, with illustrations of the errors and how to correct them,
2) marking those errors on student papers, and
3) collecting problem sentences from student papers and correcting them together in class.
I figured that if I kept the focus on a limited number of common mistakes and hit those hard, the mistakes would go away. The incidence of these problems does go down a little, but not nearly as much as it should given how much time we spend discussing them. (Plus, I suspect that some students just decide to write less complex sentences to try to avoid such mistakes as comma splices and dangling modifiers.)
Some of you, I know, use a much more extensive approach, starting with parts of speech, moving to types of sentences, and then discussing different types of modifying phrases. But I’m resisting this approach because I don’t want to devote so much class time to grammar instruction, and I’m not sure that having students do grammar tutorials on their own does much good (maybe I’m wrong). I’m also not sure that this form of instruction is the best way to give students power over their sentences.
An idea of a better way came to me recently, in the form of an article from The Atlantic that a friend shared with me. The article tells the story of the “Writing Revolution” at New Dorp, a high school on Staten Island that had been one of the lowest-performing schools in the country. The principal and her faculty extensively explored why students were failing, and the answer, they found, was “bad writing.” The students couldn’t “translate thoughts into coherent, well-argued sentences, paragraphs, and essays,” and this lack of skill was “severely impeding [their] intellectual growth.”
Their solution was to incorporate analytical writing into every subject, from English to history to chemistry. But that’s not all; they also explained explicitly to the students how to combine information in sentences to express logical relationships and complex ideas. They had students practice writing sentences including the words “and” and “but,” “if,” “although,” and “unless,” and to complete sentences starting with such words as “I disagree with ___ because . . . .”
I began to consider what such an approach might look like in a bcomm course, and I recalled the form of grammar instruction I was encouraged to use when I first came the University of Cincinnati, in the early ‘80s. It was a method developed by the then director of composition, Jim Berlin, and his composition colleague Glenn Broadhead, and it was based on an approach called generative grammar (also known as the sentence-combining approach).
Berlin and Broadhead’s method basically consists of these steps:
- Teach students to understand what nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs do.
- Introduce students to four basic sentence patterns (noun + verb, noun + verb + noun, noun +linking verb + noun, noun + linking verb + adjective) and the ways they can be inverted and combined.
- Have students practice adding “bound modifiers” to these sentences (these are modifiers that aren’t set off by pauses in speech or by punctuation).
- Teach students about the different kinds of “free modifiers” (constructions that can be moved around, such as subordinate clauses and –ing phrases) at their disposal.
I haven’t worked out an actual lesson plan based on this approach, but I plan to. I like its less atomistic approach; that is, students don’t have to learn all the parts of speech and types of clauses/phrases up front without understanding how they’re related to thought and meaning. I also like the positive focus on what can be said using the sentence elements and patterns that are available rather than focusing on errors, as I’ve been doing. (But I do think Berlin and Broadhead’s approach gets unnecessarily complicated once the basics are covered, so I don’t plan to adopt the whole approach.)
I’ll be presenting a paper on this topic in a few weeks at the Association for Business Communication’s combined Midwest-Southeast regional meeting. I’m eager to hear what my audience thinks of this approach—and I hope you will respond to this post with your reactions as well.
As we bcomm teachers know, the sad reality is that our students largely missed out on grammar instruction when they were coming up through the public school system, and our college-level composition courses teach almost anything but grammar. If we want our students to write correctly and well, it’ll be up to us. Please share what works—or doesn’t—for you.