Matthew J. Baker, Anne Carolin Fleischmann, and Erika Twani

Matthew J. Baker: Communicating  Feedback in Business Communication

A while back I realized that today’s technologies enable us all not only to produce web and social content but also to provide feedback on that content. For example, any one of us could go online right now and edit a Wikipedia article, proofread a book on Project Gutenberg, or comment on on a Harvard Business Review post.

This crowdsourced feedback fascinates me. It makes me wonder, How is this feedback communicated? How can it be communicated more effectively? How does it influence the content creators? Why do people provide it? What else can we learn about those who provide it? With this motivation as my background, I’m currently working on two projects related to feedback, both focused on the business communication classroom.

First, as business communication instructors, we already leverage a form of crowdsourced feedback when we ask our students to engage in peer review of writing assignments. But one of the problems with peer review in the classroom is the quality of the feedback. My colleague Vince Robles (University of North Texas) and I noticed that some students critique only what we call lower-order concerns (e.g., punctuation, grammar, etc.), while other students critique higher-order concerns (e.g., organization, content, etc.). Our study is thus investigating how we might help students practice providing higher-order concerns, which seems to be more valuable and strategic feedback.

Second, I personally have struggled over the years knowing how to provide feedback on students’ oral presentations. The presentations occur in real time, providing me with little time to reflect and critique. Then whenever I glance down to write or type feedback, I know I’m missing something in the presentation. Gratefully, new technologies like GoReact or YouSeeU enable business communication instructors to give feedback in real time and to leverage the power of peers’ feedback in the classroom.

However, again, the problem is one of quality—is peer feedback of the same quality as an instructor’s feedback? Research suggests that while peers tend to inflate their assessments of their classmates’ presentations, peer feedback generally correlates with instructor feedback. New technologies like GoReact, however, enable peers to provide not only quantitative feedback but also qualitative feedback. Thus, to assess the viability and value of using peers to provide qualitative feedback on business presentations, my coauthor Bill Baker (Brigham Young University) and I are investigating how the qualitative feedback of peers on oral presentations compares to that of instructors and business professionals.

Matthew J. Baker, Assistant Professor of Editing and Publishing
Brigham Young University

Anne Carolin Fleischmann: Artificial Intelligence as a Collaborator?

Everyone speaks about Artificial Intelligence (AI), but what exactly does it mean in the context of communication?

Consider, for example, Google Mail’s feature to complete sentences. We can program a computer to recognize word combinations and sentence structures. When we provide large amounts of emails from the past, the computer can begin detecting combinations and use them to predict the end of a sentence from the first few words of that sentence.

With the rapid increase of data availability and computing power, AI will soon be a partner that collaborates with humans rather than a mere facilitator of interaction. It will, thus, disrupt existing communication technologies, and nature of communication as we know it. AI enhances human capabilities by processing massive amounts of data for prediction purposes; in combination with the human ability for judgement, the resulting actions promise superior results. AI is note-taker, translator, transcriber, interpreter, researcher, writer, editor, and advice giver in communication processes. This option could potentially have tremendous impact on how employees of the future communicate with each other, and how companies organize collaboration.

We use AI-enhanced collaboration platforms that analyze engagement of teammates, provide speech-to-text transcripts of meetings, and suggest suitable meeting times across time zones, in the Virtual Business Professional Project (VBP). Students explore how to interact with AI and how to be empowered rather than intimidated by the technology.

Research on human-machine collaboration is emerging, and we, as business communication scholars, need to answer questions such as: How does AI influence human communication in the workplace?  What are the costs and benefits of AI-augmented communication? How does acceptance of AI-augmented communication vary by culture, age, gender, and profession? Can AI foster critical thinking? If you are interested in exploring these questions together, please join our workshop at the 2019 Annual Conference of the Association for Business Communication.

Anne Carolin Fleischmann, Assistant Professor of Clinical Business CommunicationMarshall School of Business, University of Southern California

Erika Twani: What is the Right Artificial Intelligence Technology for our Classrooms?

If you live on planet Earth, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a part of your daily life. From the local supermarket club card, to ads on your browser, you are sharing personal preferences in exchange of value, such as discounts or free services. It is the new normal, and you like it! Consider YouTube: you watch a video and like magic, the right column is filled with dozens more videos on the same topic. How about Netflix? Have you ever noticed the same movie presented to you with different scenes? It is exploring your preferences and the image able to catch your attention.  Coincidence? Nope, it is AI.

In Education, some people think the applicability of AI is to replace classroom teachers. Indeed, there are many companies testing this very concept. Other firms use AI in their apps to personalize content according to students’ preferences, or build a “learning playlist” considering a student’s weaknesses. The good news is organizations are exploring the use of AI in Education.  To date however, there is little to no evidence of effectiveness. So, how can we make use of AI in education to truly benefit students?

We are at an inflexion point in history where we can shift the use of AI in Education in the right direction or create total dependency. We must make the right choices when deciding which technology to use in our schools. The right use of AI develops students’ agency, personalizes students’ learning process rather than content, and have the ultimate goal of developing competencies, which will be part of students’ lives. We must ignore any technology offering more of the same, such as regurgitation of content, old learning metrics, or student dependency. AI can open the horizons of knowledge, entices students’ minds to ask more questions, and to explore what they have not ever thought of. How is your school using AI?

Business and professional communicators have a definite role to play in this debate. We have the rhetorical and communicative knowledge to parse out the critical issues surrounding this technology and help our communities and schools make student-centered pedagogical choices in AI.

Erika Twani
Chief Executive Officer
Learning One to One Foundation