This white paper is being released in a variety of forms as part of the NMC's New Scholarship Initiative. Download the white paper in PDF (78k) -- but please also contribute to the paper and add to the conversation around it by commenting on it here. This use of CommentPress provides tools for comments to be attached to individual paragraphs. Just use the Table of Comments on the left to choose a section to read. Click the small comment icons to the right of each paragraph to post your thoughts.
The New Media Consortium’s Series of Virtual Symposia (formerly the NMC Series of Online Conferences) is designed to explore emerging topics in education and technology, using current communication technologies to bring people together online in a way that offers many of the same affordances of a face-to-face conference. Of particular importance are opportunities for the kinds of social interactions that make in-person conferences so valuable: hallway conversations, end-of-the-day informal gatherings, opportunities to speak with presenters in between sessions, and highly interactive breakout sessions that invite participation from the audience.
As part of a new approach to how we design our online conferences, this paper is being released in advance of the NMC Symposium on the Evolution of Communication to spark discussion, discourse, and especially critical thinking on the topic. This first topical paper is being released in a form that encourages discussion and that itself embodies the topic of the changing nature of communication. The conference itself, to be held December 4-5, 2007, will take place in the virtual world of Second Life and will incorporate some of the tools and trends identified here.
The purpose of this white paper is to put forth a proposition that we hope will generate considerable conversation. The premise is simple, but touches on concepts and ideas that are well established within the academy, and as such, it is a topic about which there may be some strongly held perspectives. Our premise is that technology has not only mediated communication in countless ways, but that the very ways we communicate — and even the ways we talk and think about communication — are changing as a result.
Part of this premise is backward looking, in the sense that if we set literature and the creative side of communication aside for a moment, the formal communication strategies we have been taught in schools were often focused on how to convey lots of ideas or information (at relatively infrequent intervals) and generally in the form of written papers (like this one), books, or compilations.
Added to and fueling the premise is an admittedly unscientific assessment of how we have added to those forms in recent years. A look in almost any direction will reveal patterns of communication very different than the traditional writing in which we were trained. Small bursts of information, technology-mediated for the most part, permeate our experiences, and increasingly we have people with whom we are in contact almost constantly—and more so every day, these people are scattered across the globe.
Mediated by new tools and new technologies that have made the marginal cost of long distance communication essentially free, both work and social activities are commonly shared by groups of people who need not be geographically near each other to be close. Our premise, simply put, is that these and similar trends represent a significant shift in the way we interact with others and in the way we understand the nature of those interactions.
This paper is not intended to be a lexicon of terms and definitions. Rather, its focus is to consider the ways that communication is changing and raise the question of how this shift can be applied to teaching, learning and creativity. It is our hope that this paper will encourage conversation, thinking, projects, and demonstrations that will enrich the NMC Symposium on the Evolution of Communication, and that the dialog begun here will continue beyond the conference.