Keri Stephens' Blog

Intellectual Adrenaline Junkie experiencing & studying this communication technology-filled world!

Archive for Research & Teaching Updates

Spring 2014: Understanding Student Meetings on Campus

Ignacio and I are working on an extensive student meetings project.

Ignacio and I are working on an extensive student meetings project.

Spring 2014:  Student Meetings Undergraduate Research Team 

Ignacio Cruz and I have been studying student meetings for a year now and this spring we have a team that will tackle this interesting research challenge.  We are tying to understand how student meetings (using technology and Face-to-Face) can contribute to the development of social capital.  Ignacio and I have some survey data that we are analyzing, but our team will be focused on collecting interview data with students on campus.  It should be fun project and we have an amazing team!!!  The graduate student on the team is Eric Waters.  In addition to Ignacio, a junior at UT Austin, we have three freshman who are learning about social science research to see if this is something that interests them.

What does it mean to “meet?”

In the past few weeks, people have scheduled meetings with me and when it came time to “meet,” I got Skype calls. Meeting through Skype or teleconferencing is not a new phenomenon, but the way we use the word “meet” seems to be shifting. In the past we clarified our meeting location in addition to the time. I wonder if there is an assumption made of knowledge workers that they will have computer or mobile access when the meeting time happens? As a professor, I am still required to hold office hours, and I often assume that people will come in person to “meet” with me. But this is changing. I want to meet my students, but face-to-face is not always their preference or priority. Sometimes the students are out of town and or permanently geographically distant, and meetings mediated by a device seem to be nice option.

I’m not a linguist, but since I study meetings, I find this shift fascinating. I wonder if this word will become the conversation equivalent of a Southerner’s use of the word “coke” (the equivalent of soda or soft drink.) In the South, we often follow the request for a “coke” with the phrase, “what kind.” To which I always reply, “a diet coke or a sparkling water.” Perhaps in the future people will ask for a meeting and we will need to ask what kind. Then we will know to plug in our desktop video camera and be ready to Skype away when the meeting starts.

Emergency Response Focus Groups

I just fininish my 10th focus group on communication technology use and emergency communication. I had amazing groups of business owners, business managers, government managers, and nonprofit organizations who participated in one set of focus groups. I also got the perspective from staff, night shift workers, and students. There are obviously some similarities between the groups, but I am amazed at how many different types of work and school environments people experience. Several work enviroments cut off internet access during work hours to help their employees focus on their job. Other work environments make internet access and the latest social media tools an integral part of work. This is not suprising because jobs vary in how much workers need to connect with the outside world. It is important to remember that emergency communicator cannot assume that people have mobile devices and they are always connected. Many people do not have smart phones, and some have lost them. Just because we see and hear so much about apps, social media, and mobile tools, we cannot forget that access is not universal.

Stakeholders in Emergency Response Communication

While I was attending the 2013 International Communication Association Conference in London, I got to meet with the London Metropolitan Police Department and learn about their stakeholder approach to emergency communication. They have a great philosophy about including the community and business owners in the communication path for urgent situations. They really worked with this philosophy during the Olympics and their strategies of incorporating social media into the communication process are solid best practices. I look forward to continuing the conversation and conducting some research on my own concerning a stakeholder approach to emergency communication. This resonates well with my organizational communication research. I appreciate Trevor Wheatley-Perry of Vocal in the UK for helping arrange the visit and my college Cindy Posey also traveled from Texas to attend the meeting.

Technology Trends in Interviewing

I was preparing to teach interviewing for my internship class and I’ve updated my content substantially this year. For example, this recent article suggests that some companies might use tweets in addition to or in place of resumes. While this might be an isolated case, I think it is a useful exercise to summarize “you” in 140 characters and in as few as 6. I was recently asked to summarize my work life in 6 words and it was really hard. I finally came up with: Biochemist turned social scientist, loves learning. Try it and see if it helps you crystalize what is important to you.

There are many trends in interviewing and hiring today. In my class we will also talk about Skype interviews, current trends of being interviewed by a computer through the Web, phone interviews, and making a substantial first impression.

Emergency Notification Study in HCR

My research on how people used combinations of technologies to receive emergency response notifications will appear in Human Communication Research in April 2013 (but an early version is on their website now). If you want to hear me describe this research and provide some of the background, feel free to check this out. My team found that multiple messages matter when we are trying to help people realize the urgency of the situation. There are differences between whether people receive the notification through an asynchronous communication channel like a text message or through synchronous channels like an in-person conversation. Those differences are discussed in detail in the article.

Spring 2013 Projects

I am excited about the work that my undergraduate research team is conducting. We are examining student leadership and meetings. We will be reviewing the academic literature on this topic, but we hope to create content that is readable, but grounded in research.

What Kind of Multitasker are You?

Are you worried that you can’t multitask like today’s employers expect? Perhaps you get many projects completed, but you don’t do them all at the exact same time. The term “multitasking” has become a catchall for getting more done in less time, and further exploring this topic is why my colleagues and I conducted this research that appears in Human Communication Research in January 2012. The ideas for this study originated several years ago when I realized that my students (primarily juniors and seniors), were really worried about how jobs were being advertised and described. It is very common for the actual job ad to say they want a “multitasker.” My students would come to me privately and speak openly in class about their fear that employers thought they were technology experts and they were not. Furthermore, many of them did not enjoy what they perceived as the pressure they feel when others push them to work fast and juggle many projects and conversations. Now don’t get me wrong, I always have a few students who claim that they get an adrenaline rush from seeing how many chat or IM windows they can have open simultaneously while talking on the phone and updating Facebook and Twitter. But many of my students do not desire this highly externally-focused deliberately overstimulated environment. They might text constantly (even during class), but when they stop and think about how they prefer to work, it is different.

This study provides evidence that ‘juggling many projects in a sequence’ can also be considered multitasking. The pace might appear slower, but I’d like to see more research on which type of multitasker (simultaneous or sequential) is actually more productive over time. Our research found that millennials (people born between 1980 and 1995) perceive work environments to be faster paced and have an increased workload when those companies expect multiple tasks to be completed at the same time—simultaneously as opposed to allowing work tasks to be completed sequentially. These multitasking distinctions also influence people’s perceptions of how much they will need to be available outside of work hours. These findings support other claims that millennials are more aware of how their work and personal life blend, but in this study, women had a more nuanced view (they could tell differences between simultaneous, sequential, and monochonic cultures) than men of how organizational multitasking cultures could influence the expectations for availability outside of work.

I’d like to thank my students who have helped me realize that we needed a way to measure these different types of multitaskers. I am also grateful for the help of my co-authors, Dr. Jaehee Cho now at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Dr. Dawna Ballard, a communication and time scholar at UT Austin.

NCA 2011

I just returned from the National Communication Association conference in New Orleans. I presented research on using text messaging to notify people of emergencies, the use of Twitter for technical communication, organizational meetings, and training and development. It is so interesting to get to see the diversity of research being presented that focuses on communication! I got several ideas for my graduate class on Organizational Technology that I will present in the Spring of 2012. I also talked with many people about my new undergraduate class beginning the fall of 2012 on organizational meetings.

Organizations and Emergency Response Notification

I have been working on analyzing the data from the UT Sept. 28, 2010 active shooter emergency and text messaging really played an important notification role.  I will be presenting the findings from the first study out of this data during the National Communication Association Meeting in New Orleans in November 2011.  With all the fires in the Austin, Tx area it has me thinking about how people were notified.  Sometimes you can smell smoke or see flames, but in the early stages of a fire, how did people know to evacuate?  I suspect that much of this notification occurs by going door-to-door, the same way that my family learned to evacuate during the 1978 flood in central Texas.  Yet some things are very different because during the recent fires, people started Tweeting, posting notifications on their Facebook pages, and the local news participated as well.  This is such an important area of research because hopefully we can find ways to use communication tools to save lives.     

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