Month: March 2009 (Page 1 of 2)

“Getting gigs” is really about good communication

This isn’t a stretch. Even though Allison Boyer doesn’t even use the word in her post entitled “One Good Job Deserves Another: Landing Gigs,” everything she writes there has something to do with communication, including concepts about networking, listening, and enthusiasm. Speech students, does this sound familiar? She’s talking about what freelancers do, but as we’ve established elsewhere, “regular employees” are still really in business for themselves, and the same advice applies even if you receive W2 income.

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Examining an educational urban legend

I love these kinds of stories.

Students know I’m a fan of sites like and The average person is too willing to accept what they “hear” without doing any verification. It’s not so much that these two sites do the work for you (although, for the most part, they do), but rather that they demonstrate how to go about verifying things for yourself.

FOXNews reports on a common email that claims you can still read paragraphs consisting mainly of words with the letters scrambled, as long as the first and last letters remain unchanged. As is the case with most good urban legends, there is some truth to it. Much of what is claimed, however, is false, and many of the specific facts (such as its claim of basis in a Cambridge study) are flat-out fictitious.

The article does a very good job of explaining and documenting its counterclaims, which in itself is a good model for students.

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Separating evidence and interpretation

This is for both speech and journalism students. People sometimes have trouble separating evidence from the conclusions drawn from that evidence. Here’s a great example. Recently a study in Wisconsin, which has had a school voucher program in place for a while, found “parity” between representative samples of both public school and voucher-funded private school students. (That means they performed about the same grade-wise.) I don’t know how long the link will remain live, but right now you can read a newspaper story at the Journal-Sentinel.

Even though the researchers have repeatedly warned of the dangers of basing too much on the results of one study, media and politicians seem to have jumped on the results, with all claiming it supports whatever their position is.

Opponents of school vouchers are saying, in essence, “See! See! Private schools aren’t doing it any better. So we can finally just drop all this voucher nonsense and keep doing things the way we were.”

Proponents of school vouchers are saying, in essence, “Let me get this straight. The private schools are achieving the same results as public schools while costing a third less, a savings of several thousand dollars per student. How is it again that this proves vouchers are a bad idea? I don’t get it.”

This alone should help students understand why persuasion must go well beyond simply piling up facts.

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It’s not just getting rid of the textbooks….

….it’s about what you’re going to do instead. Mike Elgan has some solid ideas about getting rid of textbooks altogether, and what to do instead. I have trouble finding anything I don’t like about this post. It’s why we chose the current textbook we’re using in speech, which is really a practical handbook. I love the idea of requiring a contribution to Wikipedia. One class I’m teaching this semester is going to build a tag cloud in He even mentions Hayek! What’s not to love?

(Thanks to Mary Nunaley for the link to this in Facebook.)

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New medium, old idea–working well together

Diana Huff points out the obvious, which is often anything but: relationships are crucial in most areas of human endeavor, and yet hard to measure. Her post, “Social Media: Don’t Expect a Marriage Proposal on the First Date,” uses as an example a contact she developed (and that’s really too strong a word, since it implies a conscious agenda) over a period of years in the old-fashioned face-to-face days. She says:

If I had asked [my contact] if she was going to send me work while sitting at that BMA dinner meeting, do you think she would have hired me a year later? Hell no!

It’s the same for social media. You can’t expect people to send you “juicy fat contracts” simply because they’re following you on Twitter.

And yet that’s exactly what many observers of current social media seem to expect, saying implicitly or explicitly that Twitter is a waste of time unless you can track an almost immediate return on investment.

When you’re planting corn, you can tell how much of it came up in a given year. When you are cultivating a forest, you can’t tell the effects of your efforts for a long time, and even when you can see them, you likely will have no idea which seed led ultimately to which trees. As the old saying goes, you can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the apples in a seed.

My take? Whether through Twitter and Facebook, or the old fashioned way of simply being interested in people, cultivate your relationships–not just so you can make a buck, but so you can make a life. When you do, the bucks come much more easily, and much more enjoyably to boot.

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Especially for students: taking charge of your “job”

This blog is “not just academic,” as the flag shows. While we’re primarily interested in communication-related topics, and technology in higher education, we’re focused on application. Feeds show up in a couple of online classes, though, so I want to take an opportunity to post a link to an article that may spark some pragmatic solutions for students who worry about getting a job once they graduate, whether they’re journalism/PR folks or more general students who read this.

It also happens to be a good example post for speech students to show how expressing an opinion goes beyond merely expressing it, but also illustrating it and backing it up.

Columnist and consultant Peter Bregman tells CNN readers/viewers, “No job? Create your own!” Like anything else, it’s easier said than done. (Isn’t that true of everything? So why is that supposed to be a reason not to act?) The idea, or perhaps the attitude, is the value of this post.

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Words matter

This is reposted from Guiding Your Special Needs Child.

People who know me well know that sometimes when angry I use impolite language. I’ve been known to say things that the average person would find to be profane, even obscene. I’m not proud of it; it’s something I struggle with.

Nevertheless, there are words I cannot bring myself to utter, words that I hear other people use almost routinely. Many of these other people happen to be older, but it’s not required. Many of them would be horrified if a teenager nearby dropped the “f-bomb” (I can’t say that I approve, but when you get right down to it, it’s just a crude word), and yet have little or no problem uttering a word that definitely leaves certain members of the human race feeling degraded, disrespected, dehumanized.

The N-word, as it is called, has almost dropped out of usage, and I am glad. I know that some rappers use the word in a defiant manner, and even that usage makes me uncomfortable, but at least they are practicing the strategy of subjecting a denigrating term to the kind of use that can turn it on its head. (Did you know that “Christian” was considered a derogatory term by Greeks and Romans who first used it? The early followers of Christ adopted it, though, and turned it into a term of honor.) Most of the few people I hear using the word these days at least seem to have enough sense to act a bit ashamed of it. It is so distasteful to people that we have, as a society, even shied away from the legitimate word that it twists and dishonors: Negro. The latter word carries with it the potential for offense, and hardly survives in the English language except in the names of such great organizations as the United Negro College Fund–and even there, it is hard to find the actual word, since almost everywhere except in the “History” links, the Website simply calls the organization, UNCF.

Not so a similar term that I hear people of all ages using with impugnity, a word I can hardly bring myself to utter and that equally denigrates a huge population of humanity, at least in their experience and their family’s. Students in my college classes, and even members of my own family who I know love my daughter, use the word “retard” or “retarded” to describe ideas, institutions, television shows, and all manner of other things they consider to be imperfect or lacking, with no apparent concept as to how it might affect my daughter if she were present, and certainly affects me.

The slang version of the term happens to be spelled the same way as the legitimate version. The effect for others is that they do not experience the word as demeaning the way the N-word is; the effect for me is to make the legitimate version as jarring and insulting as the slang version, so when we receive a letter from one of the state agencies that provides services for my daughter, and I have to open a letter from the “Department of Mental Retardation,” I feel a bit slimed, even though I know quite well that the people who work there work hard to help us take care of her.

Not out of political correctness, but out of concern for others as compelling as that which has driven the N-word underground, and out of the abundance of other more appropriate words to describe either the actual condition or perceived inadequacy and imperfection, I would like to ask you to join in the effort to eradicate the R-word from common usage. To see more about this, please visit the page put up by the Special Olympics organization. As it says, “Change the conversation… stop using the r-word.”

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