Changing channels: Communication scholar evaluates technology, value

Prof. Phillip ClampittThe latest issue of Inside UW-Green Bay — the University’s alumni magazine mailed to most of the institution’s 27,000 graduates — is all about new channels for learning.

One of the UW-Green Bay faculty members quoted in the magazine is Prof. Phillip Clampitt. He is a nationally known scholar and widely published author on communication-related topics, particularly in the areas of leadership and organizational communication.

As new technology and new categories of learners (returning adults, in particular) grow in importance, Clampitt and colleagues continue to assess the impact on teaching and learning.

Clampitt recently taught Organizational Communication, his program’s flagship course, as an entirely online offering for the first time. It’s a course that normally carries a heavy emphasis on effective face-to-face and oral communication.

“It was a little unsettling at first,” he recalls, “to think about ‘translating’ a course like this to a delivery system that is so greatly mediated by technology.”

The results, it turned out, were mostly positive.

Clampitt says he held regular Sunday night discussion sessions with his far-flung class of more than two dozen distance-learning students. Using “audio chat” software (think Skype without the video) the professor moved from caller to caller. The entire class listened in as each student reported on his or her assigned case study, sought guidance from Clampitt, and responded to questions from the professor and classmates.

The software was a little cumbersome but, on balance, the class worked. Students reported satisfaction with their experience.

“Not everything we do as educators and communicators can be pushed to technology,” Clampitt says. “It’s a matter of finding the right tool, or the right niche, and where there’s a fit we’ll incorporate it as a regular part of the process.”

As someone who began his UW-Green Bay teaching career in 1981, Clampitt has kept a close eye on the rise and occasional fall of various communication technologies over the years.

Right now, he sees an impact in the business world in that most marketers and managers have to strengthen their presence in rapidly evolving new media while also maintaining traditional channels. With “mass media” more fragmented, it’s a challenging environment.

It’s challenging for educators, too. Picking a “winner” from among proliferating software options and technology tools — determining which is most likely to have staying power — is no easier when you’re planning curriculum. While the tenets of good organizational communication are essentially the same across platforms, choice of media matters.

“We’ve taught media courses for years,” Clampitt says, “and social media is already in a lot of classes. One of the questions for us today is, ‘Should we be teaching a course on the skills set of social media? And what are those specific skills?’ Four or five years from now, that will have been answered.”