Monthly Archives: September 2017

Secrets to Successful Group Work

by Janet Mizrahi, The Guffey Team, UCSB Writing Program

My program is committed to including a major group project into the curriculum of our introductory business communication course, and after teaching this assignment for 17 years, I’ve learned that the secret to positive team experiences lies in guiding students while they learn by doing. That, however, requires specific pedagogical strategies.

Below are some tactics you can weave into your own teaching when you include a group project in your curriculum.

“Sell” the project. Be enthusiastic about the benefits of group work by listing its benefits: more bodies to share the workload, diverse opinions and experiences to add varying perspectives, and different individual skills that result in a better end product. When touting the “real life” aspect of the assignment, mention that the collaborative experience is a great interview story to relate to a potential employer. If the team worked well together, students can explain why. If the team experience was problematic, the student can reflect on a lesson learned with real-world applications. Sharing these upsides of group work help early student buy-in to the assignment and leads to better collaborative experiences.

Choose a group formation practice. Grouping students yourself or allowing them to form their own teams are both valid practices. If you group students, you create a more realistic situation: In the workplace, we rarely choose with whom we must work. On the other hand, students who choose their own groups can better mesh schedules and work styles.

 Discuss teamwork skills and behaviors. Provide students with the background they need to be positive group leaders and productive group members. Many business communication textbooks (including Business Communication: Process & Product, 9e and Essentials of Business Communication, 11e by Guffey and Loewy) contain helpful sections about these topics. You can also provide handouts or point to online resources that offer advice to positive team behaviors.

Make students accountable. Some experts recommend team charters as a way to improve group participation. Such documents spell out responsibilities and consequences for not meeting those responsibilities.

Include strategies to deal with underperformers. Students often complain about “slackers” when naming what they dislike about group work, so it’s a good idea to have some practices in place for dealing with this issue. I ask students to assess their group experience in a letter or e-mail as a way for team members to vent steam, and so I learn about how the group worked as a unit. Students are asked to numerically rate themselves and their peers on specific behaviors (attends meetings, adds to meetings, meets deadlines, etc.) and discuss performance and that of their teammates in a narrative. These documents play a part in the final grade I assign to individuals.

My colleagues and I have also devised an escape clause of sorts: Teams may “fire” a member (after discussing it with the instructor) if they have proof that the member has not responded to attempts to confront his or her lack of participation. I back this up with an alternative assignment to write a 10-page research paper about the benefits of teamwork in the workplace. That seems to be enough to encourage active participation because I’ve never had a team activate the escape clause.

Provide class time for group collaboration. My colleague Gina Genova and I collaborated on a two-year study to help us define what our students saw as impediments to working in groups. We were surprised to learn that the biggest problem was making time to meet outside of class. Accordingly, we started allowing students to collaborate in class most days, at least for a few minutes. It’s a big help, students tell us.

Assign scaffolding exercises. Work plans, progress reports, Gantt charts, and rough drafts that build up to the final project are great ways to help students stay on track. Teach students to break up the project into a series of steps that lead to the end product, and help them manage their time by highlighting important due dates in your syllabus.

Group work is never easy for student and teacher alike. However, we can improve everyone’s experience if we provide students with some basic strategies for working well with others.


How do you guide your students through group work? Share your thoughts and ideas!

 

 

Are Your Students Too Familiar With You? Employers Try Texting for Beginning-Stage Interviews… You Know the Worst Filler Words?

Are Your Students Too Familiar With You?

Many professors are finding today’s students a bit too casual for comfort. From the automatic use of first names to carelessly written e-mails and text messages, students’ informal behavior has some instructors formally perturbed.

The overly nonchalant approach to the professor/student relationship may just be a symptom of a larger societal change toward informality. However, many professors believe the uptick of such conduct on campus is the result of students never being taught college classroom etiquette.

Instructors who advocate formality have their reasons. They say the use of titles is an important way to establish the authority and respect essential to the unique link between teacher and student. Addressing an instructor as professor, doctor, Mr. or Ms. also shows esteem for learning. Instructors likewise note that traditional classroom etiquette is good pedagogy. After all, part of the job of the instructor—especially those teaching business communication—is to correct sloppy or inappropriate prose.

To set the right tone with students, some instructors include specific parameters for student-teacher interactions on their syllabi and discuss proper classroom etiquette early in the semester.

–From The New York Times

Employers Try Texting for Beginning-Stage Interviews

Frustrated by millennials not picking up phone calls or ignoring e-mails, a number of employers are meeting the generation of new workers where they live—on their smartphones.

Using messaging apps such as Canvas or Jobr, firms are texting questions to potential employees to answer in lieu of conducting initial phone interviews or waiting for e-mail responses that never arrive. The practice allows recruiters to share the transcripts of responses to others within their organization and takes up less time than scheduling dozens or hundreds of phone calls.

Texting initial interviews gives candidates time to frame thoughtful responses rather than having to think on the spot. However, interview texting etiquette is still the Wild West. Should the applicant respond immediately? Use emojis? These nuances will likely be worked out as the practice becomes more widespread.

–From The Wall Street Journal

 You Know the Worst Filler Words?

We all use filler words—words or sounds like um and ah that mean nothing but can serve to fill in conversational holes. However, when speaking in professional contexts, filler words can make the speaker sound unprepared, nervous, or ill-spoken.

Increasingly, a new filler phrase is making its way into the lexicon, and it, you know, has some people, you know, pretty irritated. Saying you know instead of what is really meant not only sounds unprofessional, it’s confusing because much of the time, the listener does not know. Whether the speaker is a television analyst, job candidate, or business leader, the use of filler words dilutes a speaker’s message. Below are tips to help eliminate meaningless phrases from your speech.

Watch the pros. Ever notice how sports announcers report the action seamlessly? That’s because they think before they speak, and if they need a moment to gather their thoughts, they leave a pause instead of using a filler.

Record yourself. Observe yourself speaking for a few minutes to catch your own use of fillers. Consider including a friend while you watch to help pick up mannerisms you may miss.

–From Inc.com

Sound Smarter—Grammar Guru’s Greatest Guidelines

 

Instructors: Download PDFs of the exercise and key at the end of the post.

Correct language use is one of the best ways to show an employer you are ready to contribute to an organization. Below are explanations for five of the most common mistakes the Grammar Girl, aka Mignon Fogarty, addresses on her often-quoted website, Quick and Dirty Tips. Use the sentences that follow the explanations to test your understanding of these confusing usage problems.

  1. Who vs. whom

A simple way to choose the correct pronoun is to change the clause needing who or whom into a question and then insert he for who and him for whom. If the sentence would use him, use whom. A mnemonic device to remember this trick is to note that both him and whom end with m.

EXAMPLE: To whom should the package be addressed?

The package should be addressed to him. Therefore, the correct pronoun is whom.

  1. E.g. vs. i.e.

E.g. is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase meaning for example, whereas i.e. is the stand in for in other words. To remember this confusing set of abbreviations, think of e.g. as example given and i.e.as in essence.

EXAMPLE: Use numerals for entering your birthdate, e.g. 05-13-1996.

  1. Anyway vs. anyways

Anyway is the only correct word and is often used to confirm a point. Using anyways is simply wrong and exposes the user’s unsophisticated language use.

EXAMPLE:  Anyway, we are here to support the transition, so please write to us at help@editing.com with any concerns.

  1. Effect vs. affect

Effect is a noun that most often denotes a result. When used as a verb, affect frequently suggests influence. When used as a noun, affect refers to manifestations of emotions.

EXAMPLE: Poor management has a negative effect on employee morale.  Effecting change is difficult when workers resist new workplace initiatives.

EXAMPLE: The marketing campaign’s objective was to affect (v.) consumers’ emotions so they felt a need to purchase the product. The manager’s low affect (n.) was difficult to read.

  1. Alright vs. all right

Alright is never correct and should not be used in professional communication. The only acceptable choice is all right.

EXAMPLE: It is all right to use an electronic signature on the form.


Circle the correct word in each sentence. Be prepared to discuss why you chose that answer.

  1. A recent survey noted the many affects/effects of the proposed changes to the organization’s health care plan.
  2. We will consider all candidates whose applications are complete—e.g./i.e. include a résumé, letters of recommendation, and writing samples.
  3. The problem was resolved anyway/anyways when the IT staff rebooted the system.
  4. The interview was alright/all right, but the candidate’s writing samples failed to impress the hiring committee.
  5. Telecommuting provides employees with a valuable perk, e.g./i.e. flexibility to choose when to complete work.
  6. No matter who/whom is selected, someone is bound to be disappointed.
  7. When Damian was told he was let go, his affect/effect was blank, so we were unable to gauge his reaction.
  8. By the third interview, candidates should have a good idea whether the job is a good fit, e.g./i.e. whether they will seamlessly blend into the corporate culture.
  9. Employees for who/whom childcare is an issue prefer flextime schedules.
  10. Weak writing skills can negatively affect/effect
  11. Workplace harassment training is important for all who/whom want to be considered for managerial positions.
  12. Many customers were affected/effected by the data breach.

Key to Sound Smarter—Grammar Guru’s Greatest Guidelines

  1. A recent survey noted the many affects/effects of the proposed changes to the organization’s health care plan.

      Effects. The context requires a noun that suggests results.

  1. We will consider all candidates whose applications are complete—e.g./i.e. include a résumé, letters of recommendation, and writing sample.

       e.g. The phrase requires the meaning example given.

  1. The problem was resolved anyway/anyways when the IT staff rebooted the system.

       Anyway is always the correct usage.

  1. The interview was alright/all right, but the candidate’s writing samples failed to impress the hiring committee.

       All right is the only correct form of the word.

  1. Telecommuting provides employees with a valuable perk, e.g./i.e. flexibility to choose when to complete work.

       i.e. The phrase requires the meaning in essence.

  1. No matter who/whom is selected, someone is bound to be disappointed.

Who. Ask the question, Is he/him bound to be disappointed? Only he would fit; therefore, the         correct pronoun is who.

  1. When Damian was told he was let go, his affect/effect was blank, so we were unable to gauge his reaction.

      Affect. The context requires a noun meaning the manifestation of an emotion.

  1. By the third interview, candidates should have a good idea whether the job is a good fit, e.g./i.e. whether they will seamlessly blend into the corporate culture.

i.e. The phrase requires the meaning in essence.

9.    Employees for who/whom childcare is an issue prefer flextime schedules.

Whom. Ask the question, Is child care an issue for he/him? Him is the only fit, so the correct pronoun is whom.

  1.  Weak writing skills can negatively affect/effect

Affect. The context requires a verb implying influence.

  1.  Workplace harassment training is important for all who/whom want to be considered for  managerial positions.

Who. Ask the question, Will he/him want to be considered? The only choice is he; therefore, the pronoun must be who.

  1. Many customers were affected/effected by the data breach.

Affected. The context requires a verb suggesting influence.


Sound Smarter–Grammar Guru Exercise

Key to Sound Smarter