Explorations of Written Communication


Explorations of Written Communication: Social Media, Church, & New Parents

 The Concept


Way back on June 28th, 2011, technology giant Google Inc. launched a social media platform called Google+ (“Google Plus”). One of the few defining features which set Google+ apart from other social networking sites was the way they organized your friends. Those clever chaps at Google re-imagined how our real-world relationships are actually organized and applied it to their social media platform. They cleverly named this feature “Circles”. The idea goes like this:

Everyone has relationships. Most of us have a family, close friends, coworkers, colleagues, and acquaintances. However, we don’t always mix these relationships together when we spend time with these people. We keep them separated into… circles. This concept is the essentially the application of some theory in the academics of literacy and composition.

You are part of several Discourse Communities (like Circles). Discourse Communities can be thought of as social groups that share things in common, such as beliefs, values, and goals among other things. Within these groups, ideas and concepts fluid and always passing between individuals within the group and changing. Any time you are drawn to a group of people around a similar theme, you’re entering another Discourse Community. A well-known contributor to Discourse Analysis, James P. Gee, identifies and describes unique aspects about the different ways we speak to others within the same Discourse Community, called “social languages”. He describes it in an analogy. “Consider how thongs, bathing suits, tank tops, shades, and sun hats ‘co-locate’ together to ‘signal’ to us things like outdoor and water activities and the situated identities we take up in such situations” (Gee, p. 30, Discourses and Social Languages). In the realm of academic literary studies, these communities can be described in terms of their complex ideologies. Brian street states, “in talking about literacy, we are referring to the ideology and concrete social forms and institutions giving meaning to any particular practice of reading and writing,” (Street, p. 121, The Ideological Model) and this is literacy taking place within Discourse Communities.

Example 1)


New mothers who go on the internet for information and comfort from other mothers who have been where they’re going are searching for a Discourse Community such as BabyCenter LLC. BabyCenter provides mothers with reliable information, peer advice, products, online community, newsletters, and other features. Mothers who go there know they are interacting with other mothers and those experienced in motherhood.

Example 2) 



New Harvest Ministry is a Christian church ministry in Seoul, Korea. It is one ministry of Sarang Community Church, created for the purpose of sharing about Jesus with English speakers in Korea. People who join this ministry are all part of a Discourse Community. Together they worship, sing, pray, take care of the homeless, orphans, and each other. Having common beliefs gives the freedom to freely use a social language which includes subjects such as the Holy spirit, the devil, and the power of prayer, which might not be appropriate outside of the ministry, since people who do not share these beliefs might not understand the language used.

Example 3) 

The Association for Teachers of English in Korea (ATEK) is an organization comprised of English teachers in Korea who have similar goals of advancing English education. The idea is to provide a place where teachers can grow in the profession by communicating and sharing and promoting the knowledge, tools, and experiences gained. They also have Facebook groups for different regions of Korea in order to localize the communities.
What groups do you belong to?

Now that you know what a Discourse Community is, think about some in your life that you’re a part of? Why are you a part of that community? Is it by choice? What is the purpose or function of that community? What are the means for achieving that purpose? And finally, is it effective, and how could it be more effective? Let’s explore the strengths and weaknesses in examples 2 and 3 above, and then see how some of the problems could be addressed. I bet your personal examples could follow the same path. Since I’m not a mother and don’t have direct experience with example 1, we’ll pass on that in favor of more reliable analysis.

Example 2: Analysis of Successes and Failures

Successes within New Harvest Ministry:
On the New Harvest Ministry website under the “Who are we?” section, they list a vision statement and five ways they believe their vision will be accomplished. The vision statement of New Harvest Ministry states, “To reach every English speaking foreigner and native, and make them disciples of Christ who radically impact Gangnam, Korea and the World.” Five ways to accomplish this vision are listed as:

1. Spirit filled dynamic Sunday Worship Experiences
2. Meaningful and spiritually nurturing Small Groups
3. Leadership and Discipleship Training
4. Local and Global Community outreach serving opportunities
5. Networking with other churches for the advancement of God’s Kingdom

Within these 5 approaches listed to accomplish their vision statement by this Discourse Community, written communication is used in various ways, contributing to the overall success.

1.     The Sunday Worship Experience is supplemented with written communication throughout the service. When first entering, visitors are given a pamphlet which is a compilation of all important information regarding the ministry. The time for singing praise and worship songs is accompanied by displays with sing lyrics for those attending to participate and follow along. The pamphlet contains the subject of the message that the pastor will speak on, along with the verses from the Bible which relates to the message. There are lines for those attending to write notes. Other parts of the pamphlet contain announcements and ways to get involved in the ministry. The NHM pamphlet is a source of information that connects each person attending with their private needs to the many facets of the ministry.

2.     Small Groups is the greatest strength of the ministry. Members of this community sign up online to be in a group of (maximum) 15 people in order to have a more intimate experience of discussion, friendship, prayer, worship, study,  and serving inside and outside of the ministry. Written communication is used in the form of e-mail for announcements, and messaging apps where members can join one group and offer frequent encouragement and other important messages pertaining to their relationships.

3.     Leadership within this ministry is built up in part through a Discipleship Training School, which is comprised of a small group of men and a small group of women who separately study and serve under the guidance of the head pastors for an entire year. It’s a very intimate and personal experience. The DTS is thought of in the same terms as taking an educational course, and some of those tools for education are employed. Participants will complete readings, have discussions, and write papers to reflect on all of these things.

4.     New Harvest Ministry works regularly to serve local homeless, orphanages, and refugees from North Korea. They also work closely with a few international ministries such as Child Life in Thailand with annual visits. The main way that writing plays within this aspect of NHM is in raising awareness and soliciting donations, volunteers, and prayer for these causes. Announcements are done during the Sunday services, on the website, and through e-mail and social media.

5.     New Harvest Ministry is part of a larger network of ministries which serve English speakers in Korea. This larger network is known as AIM (Association of International Ministries) in Korea. They collaborate to organize events which align with the goals and beliefs that unite these ministries together, and also hold annual joint gatherings for all members of all ministries that are part of AIM. The written aspect of this is the same as in #4 above.

In each of these 5 successful approaches, written community discourse takes place to bind things together as a whole and interconnect them, making them more intimate and the effects longer lasting. Written communication is used within each aspect of the ministry as well as shared across all of these aspects like a web.





Failures within New Harvest Ministry:

There is need and room for improvement within the written communication found in the community discourse of New Harvest Ministry. Listed are some shortcomings:

1.     During the Sunday messages, many references are made to different passages of the Bible, yet those citations are not provided except in very brief flashes across a screen. This limits the ability of those attending to successfully copy down the references for further reflection and investigation.

2.     Within the small groups, there is inconsistency in the level of the use of written communication. For example, some people don’t have a smart phone, so using apps is not an option (True story! I have witnessed this scenario!) Depending on which small group leader you have, questions for reflection regarding the week’s readings may or may not be provided before the actual meeting time. Lastly, there is no clearly established method for small group leaders to communicate with one another and share strategies and ideas. This last point is the greatest failure of all, and is the greatest need for improving the overall quality of small groups.

Example 3: Analysis of Successes and Failures

Successes within ATEK:

Admittedly, the failures within ATEK are so great and numerous that this association is on its last leg of existence. The successes in written communication are few, but include the successful implementation of a detailed vision and goals, regionally based Facebook groups to provide written communication within local communities, and the all-important addition of membership to an aspiring English teacher’s resume. Since one of the great failures of ATEK includes the fact that the website seems to be down (at the time of writing this blog), I will provide some basic information listed on another database (Koreabridge.net):

Our goal is to provide English instructors with a voice. Our mission is to:

  1. advance English education as an art, science and profession;
  2. advocate for and represent members to all levels of stakeholders in English education;
  3. improve the living and working conditions of members;
  4. improve the usefulness of English teachers through high standards of ethics and conduct and provision of advice related to the same;
  5. increase and spread best practices in education through meetings, professional contacts, reports, papers, discussions, publications, and online forums;
  6. and provide a community where English teachers can come together in a spirit of mutual collaboration to advance their common goals.
  7. We will accomplish this mission in a democratic and accountable manner.


About PMAs

ATEK is a federation of local associations of teachers of English and their supporters. Provincial/Metropolitan Associations (or PMAs) are organized to respond to the needs of local members. Each PMA elects a local council, or executive, responsible for assisting teachers in the region.

PMAs also elect members to the National Council. The National Council works to represent teachers of English throughout the country, whether they work in hagwons, public schools, or colleges.

About Membership

Anyone who supports our Mission is welcome to join the Association.
There are two classes of membership: General and Associate. General membership is open to instructors whose employment status has been confirmed by the Association. General members may vote, and accept leadership positions within the organization; this ensures that ATEK is run by and for instructors of English in Korea.

Associate membership is open to everyone who is concerned about the status of educators in Korea. Associate members are teachers' friends and family members, concerned citizens, journalists, activists, academics, recruiters and employers.

Failures within ATEK:

First of all, I am a member of ATEK, and I have been largely unaware of their slow fade from existence. In the beginning, I recall seeing a positive community of professional English instructors in Korea. They would share on a limited basis and ask for help from one another. On Facebook, they would sometimes share relevant articles for teaching ESL in Korea as well as dates for upcoming conferences.

However, recently I visited the ATEK Facebook group for my region and discovered that most of the recent posts are from spammers selling things to recruiters listing self-serving and commonly available job opportunities. The website doesn’t work. All written communication is reduced to scraps and the entire association is fading from existence.
"WHY is this relevant to me?"

Making practical use of written communication within the discourse communities in your life can be difficult! But as we’ve seen, it’s worth your time. When used successfully, written communication can create a powerful binding effect that has a long lasting positive impact on your valued communities. Conversely, when not used, it can cause the discourse communities you love to dissipate into disarray or worse: non-existence.
James Porter writes, “in freshman [composition] texts and anthologies especially, there is this tendency to see writing as individual, as isolated, as heroic. Even after demonstrating quite convincingly that the Declaration was written by a team freely borrowing from cultural Intertext.” He shows that writing incorporates pieces and ideas from many minds. In this way, it’s a social act, and thinking about it in this way can help you understand the importance it plays, especially in a community (Porter, p.232, Intertextuality and the Discourse Community).

"So WHAT can I do?"


In chapter 4 of his book, Leading the Starbucks Way, Joseph Michelli describes Starbucks’ entrance into the Chinese market. Initially, it didn’t go so well as he states that “its mere presence was met with strong opposition in the [Chinese] press,” (Michelli, p.121, Ch.4 Macro Resistance, Leading the Starbucks Way). In response to this unwelcoming reception, which came via written communication, the response was to listen to what the Chinese people wanted and to adjust their model of business to suit the preferences of a new culture. “To go” became “To stay”, as Chinese people prefer to enjoy their drink in house.
In other words, it’s important to know the audience for the written communication that you use in your community, and to have clearly stated goals for moving forward. I’ll tell one last story, as my own personal example of success in implementing written communication in one of my valued community discourses. Having lived in Korea for going on 8 years, now, it’s important for me to keep up with my family relationships: my mom, dad, two brothers, and my sister. I was inspired by a revelation from a Chinese friend of mine who sang praises over her own recent discovery. A dominant social messaging app for smart phones in China is called WeChat. Her family made a group chat which includes all of her cousins, aunts, and uncles. In this way, they can keep in touch despite living far apart, and share short videos, jokes, and updates. She says that she has never felt closer to her extended family, before. Piggybacking off this idea, it quickly occurred to me that all of my family members use Facebook (to varying degrees of frequency). I quickly created a Facebook group centered around my immediate family, with hopes to expand in other ways to extended family.


Quick Tips:

Increasing written communication is a great idea, but don't "think big", think smart. One drawback of writing is that it's time consuming and everyone holds their time as precious. Start small and choose a format which maximizes a balance between time, commitment, and efficiency. 


Citations:

Gee, James Paul. "Discourses and Social Languages."

Michelli, Joseph A. "The Starbucks Experience: Five Principles For Turning Ordinary Into Extraordinary."

Porter, James. "Intertextuality and the Discourse Community."

Street, Brian. "The Ideological Model."



Comments

  1. Hi Christopher!

    I appreciate the way you grounded discourse communities in the example of Google+. While my personal presence on the social networking site was abysmal at best, I remember noticing almost immediately the way they organized people's contacts into circles and I liked it. I remember when Facebook tried to mimic the notion, but it never quite caught on. Or, it didn't for me, at least, but I am also an abysmal Facebooker at best. Using social media as a way to ground your discussion of discourse communities is an excellent means to bridge a rhetoric-specific concept with the general public. You handled the purpose of your post with eloquence and clarity-I commend you for such!

    You demonstrated your expertise of the matter by examining discourse communities from a wide variety of perspectives-even a discourse community of which you are not a part and were generally unfamiliar. The various perspectives you cover also provide a variety of access points which your audience can use to enter into a discourse community, or at least examine themselves in relation to one. I appreciated the way you aligned yourself with a specific discourse community, but you did not do so in a way that challenged anybody else's power or legitimacy outside of the discourse community. You clearly provided your perspective and understanding of the situation, but left your audience to determine his or her specific relation and "worth" to the situation.

    I really appreciated the way you developed your personal experience throughout the post. If you would like, I think it would be very interesting for you to develop your perspective with the BabyCenter discourse community because it would show your audience the practice of acclimating to an unfamiliar discourse community. Clearly, you would not be able acclimate yourself in a single blog post, but perhaps explaining the process of how you work to establish yourself in the discourse community will encourage and equip your audience to navigate a new discourse community for themselves.

    The one suggestion I have for improving the appearance of the blog post would be to use some various formatting to improve the organization. I found myself having to backtrack and reorient myself when you changed topics. Sometimes I missed that you had change organizations and I had to look back to see your purpose for analysis. Again, it didn't affect your content at all, but it would help ease the navigation for the reader.

    Overall, an excellent post that I enjoyed reading very much. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete

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