In an era of technological change, business professionals require communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking skills. They need to be able to develop and leverage professional networks using social media tools in the service of both professional and organizational goals. Above all, they need experience adapting to new technologies and responding in creative ways to situated problems. As a teacher of business and professional communication, my teaching philosophy is based on the premise that networked learning and the creation of connections between people, information, and tools can be a rich context of situated learning that supports of these capacities.
In my business communication courses at University of Minnesota Duluth, I facilitate a student-directed and community-supported approach to developing personal learning networks (PLNs):
My primary goal is to rigorously teach specific skills and relevant domain knowledge while also situating these experiences in the context of building technological and social networks that support students’ lifelong learning and professional development.
Student progress is supported through a custom-designed course site and community blog: BCOM Commons. It is supplemented with a range of virtual collaboration and social media tools including LinkedIN and the UMN Google Apps suite. Through participatory learning activities, students share resources, publish portfolios of communications work, develop digital literacies and a foundational online presence. More significantly, these online activities are designed to facilitate networking experiences and interactions with real-world professionals, business school alumni, and potential employers.
This approach is inspired and responds to a number of significant theories addressing technology and learning for professional contexts:
- situated learning: students engage authentic contexts of creative problem-solving that lead to legitimate peripheral participation (LPP) in professional communities
- participatory culture: students are empowered to become producers of their own learning through social, collaborative, and expressive uses of technology and media
- connectivist learning: students are supported in growing capacities for self-directed, lifelong learning that leverages social and technical networks for professional development
Ultimately, my teaching philosophy is perhaps best expressed through the perspectives and experience of my students. The following digital story documents the outcomes of my pedagogical approach to teaching and learning professional communication. It is a story told through the voices of students who volunteered to share their experiences from my business communication course in the fall of 2013.
These students describe themselves as being excited and motivated by learning experiences that connect them with professional contexts and contacts. They express appreciation for support in engaging with multimedia, social media, and virtual collaboration tools. They say they have learned much and that they will continue to work on their professional development and grow their professional networks. They are engaged, empowered, and self-directed lifelong learners.
Examples of Teaching with Technology
In addition to my overarching teaching philosophy, I have sought to integrate an ever growing list of pedagogical best practices and emergent technologies. The day to day instruction and lesson design of my courses is characterized by a flipped approach that moves through a cycle of student preparation, active and collaborative learning exercises, and reflective integration of lessons learned and principles discovered. All my course materials including a current syllabus and many examples of student work are publicly available on my course site: BCOM Commons. The following example lessons and assignments illustrate some of the ways that my students and I work together with technology.
- Keywords Research: This online assignment is the first part of a flipped learning cycle. In this first step, students utilize several different job search engines to discover job advertisements in their field. Then, they analyze the job ads to pull out the keywords associated with core qualifications in their discipline. Finally, they share the results of their research with the rest of the class; see example Keywords Posts: Group Blog 1, Group Blog 2 (FA14)
- Skills Descriptions Workshop: This in-class workshop is the second part of a flipped learning cycle. After completing the Keywords Research assignment, students engage in a workshop designed to help them create connections between employer needs and their professional experience. It teaches principles of creative problem-solving through direct application to the task of creating skills descriptions for resume drafts. The workshop includes small group and large group exercises, facilitated drafting, and collaborative revision using Google Docs.
- Collaborative Editing Workshop: This online assignment leads student through a peer review editing workshop. This assignment utilizes the collaborative editing and review functions of Google Docs to enable a more interactive and dynamic approach to traditional peer review assignments. In this approach peer reviews and the author can engage in asynchronous discussion around targeted issues for composing business correspondence. This approach also makes the process of learning more visible which incentivizes more substantive peer review contributions.
- Informational Interview: In this assignment, students identify and request a networking meeting or informational interview with professionals in their field. The assignment supports each step of the process including requesting a meeting, completing the interview, and creating a blog post to share the results of their meeting with their peers; see example Informational Interview Posts: Group Blog (SP14)
Professional Development and Contributions to Pedagogy and Technology
My curriculum vitae attests to an extensive record of professional contributions to pedagogy and technology including leadership and research activities. As a scholar of business communication, I have contributed publications and presentations addressing diverse topics in teaching with technology including: collaborative writing applications, blogging, custom-designed assessment tools, digital storytelling, flipped learning, networked learning, personal learning networks, MOOCs, and social media. Most of this work is documented on my research blog: abramanders.com. This includes slides and abstracts for my most recent presentations at the ABC Annual Convention.
My work as a teacher and scholar has also led to both institutional and professional leadership opportunities. The following are two highlights from my recent activities:
- Faculty Fellow for Online and Technology-Enhanced Learning at UMD (2013-2014): In this role, I assisted the Associate Vice Chancellor for Outreach and Online Delivery and supported ITSS faculty development programs. In addition to running a community of practice, educational technology workshop, I co-organized and facilitated the UMD Unconference for Technology-Enhanced Learning.
- UMN OIT Faculty Fellowship Program (2012-2013): This competitive 18-month program fosters a multi-disciplinary learning community that explores possibilities and best practices in technology-rich learning environments, produces scholarship in this area, and advances faculty leadership. I was co-editor and designer of a multimedia eBook collection of digital media scholarship based on participant research projects. See Stories from Faculty Fellows: Adventures in Technology-Enhanced Learning.