This chapter reports on two University of Southern California collaborations that partner business communication classes with not-for-profit agencies. It argues that technology-enhanced communitybased collaborations support university initiatives and empower students to be better business writers, engage in community issues, and prepare for 21st century communication strategies. Because business requires teams, networks, and technological communication to operate within a diverse global workplace, business schools need to prepare students to professionally manage the communication decisions and media. Furthermore, it asserts that the collaborations among faculty and the university administrators undergird and promote these undergraduate community projects. It examines the background, goals, issues, assessments, future plans, and recommendations for leveraging university-community projects with technology.
In these classes, I compare a moving slinky toy to the communication process; the metal helix changes shape as it’s squeezed and rolled. One move catalyzes the next so the fluidity masks the independent steps. Response to its surroundings propels its movement. Similarly, as the communicator repeatedly considers the audience’s probable attitudes, values, potential questions, and refutation, she alters her own perception of the content and the organization of the text. This process, commonly unrecognized by student writers, becomes more evident when business people and electronic narratives intervene and compel frequent analyses. Introducing technology which promotes self-reflection, peer-to-peer reviews, and professional assessment increases students’ awareness and experience with the communication process.
When student writers engage in a recursive process, generated by the communication need an agency has, they experience a sense of dissonance or a demand that calls on their critical thinking and ultimately produces a product that’s mediated through peers’ and professional managers’ potential or real responses. What distinguishes a generalized approach to process writing from the writing for business, is the know-how to prewrite, revise, and create the professional document that Michaels (2007) would say works “in the discipline.” In order to increase opportunities for students to experience this process as it’s enacted in business, I establish community partnerships and employ technology as a means to achieve the learning outcomes. Although I provide top-down oversight, individual decisions are made by the students and agency. These self-managed teams depend on technology to create documents, interact, and assess.
Many more opportunities for rhetorical decisions become apparent to the communication students when they partner with a not-for-profit business. Most need to learn how to move from a linear individual communication process designed for a classroom audience. In my communication classes, the students learn how to assess the agency’s needs and values, consider peer’s and client’s comments, and see how their parts fit into the completed product. They learn how to analyze and write for multiple audiences, select the appropriate channels, multiply approaches to organizing a message, respond to feedback, and assess the process.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Participation: Practice that engages multiple voices in information-sharing and decision-making.
Wiki: Collaborative Web site. USC uses Confluence software to provide collaborative sites.
Internal Collaboration: Within classrooms, between students within a classroom, and across class sections.
Computer Literacy: Ability to transmit, investigate, share and create knowledge, and critically reason with a computer.
Social Computing: “A social structure in which technology puts power in communities, not institutions” (Forrester 2).
Interorganizational Network: Links between organizations that exist after one team or agency’s original collaborative project.
Social Software: Web-based software that enables to users to establish communities.
Communication Networks: Groups who regularly share communication virtually or face-to-face often, but not necessarily, initiated informally.
Professional Assessment: Comments, recommendations, and challenges provided by not-for-profit or for-profit partners and judges.
External Collaboration: Between students, the University, and the community extending beyond the university.
Virtual Teams: Teams brought together through technological teams, thus providing communication in different times and places.
Community of Practice (CoP): Group of people sharing a mission, may be initiated by volunteers or by an organization.