Vol. 7, No. 4: December 15, 2000
Incorporating Technology in Communication Instruction:
A Faculty Profile of Dr. Jack Johnson, UW-Milwaukee
by Jennifer Smith, TTT Editor
After twenty-three years of teaching at UW-Milwaukee, Dr. Jack Johnson is truly a veteran of the UW System. Johnson teaches in the department of communication and is also director of Corporate University Programs. Commenting on technology in education and in society in general, the professor states, "We're part of a major revolution," comparing the influx of technology into society to the earlier shift from an agrarian to an industrial society. He asserts that while some may feel skittish or anxious about technology, we must focus our attention on the question, What can the new ways of doing things accomplish that the old ways can't?
Johnson has incorporated technology into his "Business and Professional Communication" class (Com 105) in ways that have increased the learning of his students. The course is targeted at freshmen and sophomores, many of whom are pursuing the Bachelor of Organizational Administration degree. Some of these students are located at various campuses of the UW Colleges, which is one of the reasons some of the course material has been moved online.
In Com 105, students learn interpersonal, presentational, and teamwork skills for organizational settings. The course has evolved over the several years Johnson has been teaching it. Videotaping has always been a large part of the course. Students' business presentations are videotaped and then critiqued outside of face-to-face class time by their instructors. Johnson now uses "Post-Performance Audio Feedback," which allows instructors to record their comments, suggestions, and words of encouragement directly on a student's videotape without erasing the original video and audio recording. The professor jokingly calls this "in-your-face" feedback; by having a record of the student's presentation, the student can objectively see how he or she performed, and the feedback can occur simultaneously with weak and strong points in the presentation.
Lecture delivery has changed over time in the course. Originally, it was conducted as a traditional, large lecture to 350 students in a lecture hall. Then the course added a cable component in which lectures were videotaped and broadcast into several lecture halls and on local public access television. One benefit of videotaping was the ability to put the tapes of lectures on reserve in the library. Spring 2001 lectures will most likely be online or on CD-ROM as "audio-assisted" lectures. These will consist of PowerPoint slides and still photos narrated by Prof. Johnson. Unlike traditional 50-minutes lectures, these web or CD lectures will be broken down into smaller units. Some lab activities will also be shifted online.
Not only is technology one part of the course delivery, it is also integral to the content. Johnson noted the increasing use of "virtual teams" in the workplace. A team of engineers working on a problem might include workers from several different countries, collaborating via computer technology. As Johnson puts it, "Technology is not something a college graduate of this century is going to be able to avoid."
In his work with corporate clients who are seeking training for their employees, Johnson has had less opportunity to integrate technological elements. Many of these clients want socialization of their employees to occur in a face-to-face manner. However, on Johnson's drawing board is a plan to develop continuous learning sites for employees of corporate clients. These will provide employees ways to continue learning and asking questions long after a face-to-face event is over. As a preliminary to developing these continuous learning sites, Johnson and fellow communication professor Kathryn Dindia will create a series of websites for their spring semester graduate seminar on managerial communication.
Keeping the focus on what new technologies can offer higher education, Johnson praised their ability to provide greater access to students, make the educational process learner-centered, foster continuous feedback for the students, and empower people to be more self-motivated in their learning.