Communication Convention: Reflections Big and Small

by Jean Beaupre

badgeIn November, I had the privilege of attending the National Communication Association’s (NCA) annual convention for the first time. Held in Philadelphia, this year’s convention’s theme was “Civic Callings,” designed to encourage scholars and practitioners to deeply examine the role communication plays in our society. There was an amazing selection of workshops and presentations to choose from, with hundreds of participants of varying experience levels in attendance. Below are some highlights of the convention’s primary themes from my perspective.

Communication and the Election: The convention kicked off the day after the historic presidential election, providing many topics for discussion and dissection related to communication. It was certainly the talk of the convention, with many of the speakers stating that they had altered their planned presentations in light of the surprising election results. In several sessions, presenters examined the election through the lens of communication theory. A commonly mentioned concept was confirmation bias, or the tendency to seek out and give credence only to information that aligns with one’s pre-existing beliefs. In one performance, three seasoned scholars used only content pulled from the internet (both fake and real news, as well as social media) in a rapid-fire format to illustrate the role of media in the election. In addition, protests held on the streets of IMG_5555IMG_5557 (1)central Philadelphia were right outside the convention hall. I walked over to see, and found a large, loud, but peaceful crowd holding up signs and banners, observers filming and photographing, as well as local television stations. The scene was a vivid, tangible representation of how communication can be deployed, through interpersonal means, social media, and mass media.

Communication and Activism: One of the more fascinating sessions of the convention offered presentations by several leading social justice scholar-activists. Citing statistics on the increase in hate groups and hate speech, they underscored how communication is not benign — it has the potential to do both harm and good. They discussed the role of the IMG_0222scholarly community in helping to understand the role of communication in society, as well as the opportunity to actively contribute to its positive deployment. As part of that session and as an example of communication activism, a local activist group staged a “die-in” which was powerful to witness, also covered by the local news.

Communication and Teaching: Naturally, a significant portion of the convention was devoted to the practice of teaching. Some presenters tackled the bigger picture, providing exemplars of the development and assessment of program learning outcomes. Others offered their experiences with specific assignments and activities. I was able to exchange ideas with someone who uses a mock press conference assignment similar to mine, see several different approaches to the senior portfolio, and hear how one teacher is using podcasts to examine listening skills. Other pedagogical concepts presented included group communication, language, communication leadership, public speaking, and more.

Overall, it was an eye-opening and useful experience. I left with an increased appreciation for the breadth of the field of communication, as well as some potentially actionable concepts for Communication courses. As I have heard from many of my fellow faculty, conferences can be illuminating, energizing, and motivating. It is beneficial to check in the latest developments and focus areas in your field, as well as to make connections and bring back new ideas to the classroom.

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