My research program investigates how technology changes our perceptions and understanding of interpersonal communication. Within my first area of research, I investigate the ways in which white supremacist groups attempt to promote social change and influence youth through racist ideologies represented on the Internet. Within this line of research I focus on the strategies of these groups to use websites, discussion boards, and music to portray whites as victims of social integration. My second line of research examines how social identities are created and managed through computer-mediated communication. Computer-Mediated Communication is a relatively new area in the field of Communication. Those who conduct research in this area explore a wide range of issues and employ a wide range of methods. However, in the main, research in this area focuses upon how these modes of interaction shape our perceptions of society and the way in which we communicate. My research combines these areas, as I am investigating how social identity and social influence are mediated through computer aided technologies.
White supremacist groups are a pressing social concern; in particular, I am interested in how these groups use the Internet to pre-package identity for the purpose of recruiting and enticing new members. What is compelling in this arena is the frequency that white supremacist ideologies are connected to young white males that have committed mass murders, and other violence, within their school and community. While these young men did not typically attend face-to-face white supremacist group meetings, there are indications that their actions were influenced by these ideologies. As a result, I am left wondering how the Internet could function as such an influential variable in the identity of some misguided youth.
My dissertation offers a point of access into investigating this issue. In the dissertation I examine identity cues embedded in electronic discussion boards. More specifically I compare the language dynamics of the discussion boards of a white supremacist website, Resistance Records, with a comparable group of social activists, Plan-it-X Records. Each website represents a different social identity, and both strive to motivate their audiences to act on behalf of their individual cause, allowing me to examine how a white supremacist identity is constructed and conveyed through discussion board interactions. Since I examined the construction of usernames and the frequency of word choice frequency of their discussion boards, I turned these analyses into two separate publications.
The first publication from my dissertation uses the theories of Communication Accommodation (Giles & Coupland, 1991) and Social Identity (Tajfel & Turner, 1984) to examine cues embedded within the frequency of word choice by interlocutors of the discussion boards. Results of the analysis explain how individuals accommodate their language through the frequency of words used in discussions to conform to the social identity of the online group. Stemming from this inquiry was an article titled, “A content analysis of social identity cues within the online discussions of a white supremacist discussion board” and was published by the International Journal of Technology, Knowledge, & Society, a peer reviewed international journal published by IGI publishing.
The second publication stemming from my dissertations examines how the screen names of discussion board members serve as an organizing variable for participants to situate themselves socially within the context of online interaction. My examination of how online screen names function within white supremacists groups lead to my chapter in Handbook of research on social interaction technologies and collaboration software: Concepts and trends, an internationally peer reviewed compilation of research by top international scholars from over 15 different countries. My chapter titled, “Situating social identity through language convergence in online groups” explores how language convergence, within the creation of online screen names, can function as a cue that facilitates situating social identity within online groups.
Through my research I seek to find out how white supremacist groups use the Internet to spread messages of hate and influence youth. This line of inquiry led to a paper titled “Hate on the Internet: A content analysis of the marketing appeals used by white supremacy websites” and was presented as a top paper at the 2003 Central States Communication Association. The purpose of this study was to investigate the marketing strategies used by white supremacy websites to cater to the interest and vulnerability of minors. Results of the study suggest that white supremacy websites use cartoons, games, and music references to appeal to their adolescent markets. Additional thematic analysis of the websites revealed a recurrent presence of a “brand character” representation on each of these sites, providing additional consumer appeal for young audiences. My research in this area led to recognition by the National Communication Association as I was asked to participate in their Doctoral Honors program, which showcased this research. Furthermore, I was asked to contribute, as a presenter, to a National Communication Association short course on hate crimes with Dr. Shea Howell, Dr. Jack Kay, and Dr. Kimberly Campbell. Revisions of this research lead to the creation of an article titled, “A content analysis of the marketing appeals of white supremacy websites” published in the peer reviewed Florida Communication Journal.
I am very intrigued by the various strategies used by white supremacists to recruit and entice new members. In particular I am interested in the prevalence of music included within the creation and maintenance of their websites. Thus, I am engaged in exploring the important role music has in the identity of white supremacist groups. Concerning to me is the creation of a specific genre of music, labeled “Oi!”, which is a type of “hate rock” that has become the theme music for the white supremacist social movement. My article titled, “Fantasy Theme Analysis of White Supremacist Music” was presented as a top paper at the 2005 National Communication Association’s convention and was published in the peer reviewed Journal of Wisconsin Communication Association. This study uses Ernest Bormann’s (1972) fantasy theme analysis to examine the lyrics of Oi! as a means of understanding the role of music in sustaining three fantasy themes, (1) the white man is a victim of integration, (2) the invention and creation of who is to blame for everything that is wrong in the world, and (3) creation of alliance with “something bigger” that mandates a call for heroic action.
The prominent use of the Internet by white supremacist groups’ to spread their messages of hate is concerning. It is unclear how this mode of interaction can serve as such a powerful persuasive device in the formation of identity. Therefore the project I conducted with Dr. Jennifer Heisler explored whether, in the absence of face-to-face interaction, individuals rely upon mediated “cues” for constructing their perceptions of other individuals. Specifically, this study explains that in the absence of face-to-face interactions, and given only a fictitious e-mail address, students can make varied judgments about their peers’ demographics, productivity, and personality. Findings from our study were presented at the 2003 National Communication Association convention. Revisions of this paper led to the creation of our article, “Who are ‘Stinkybug’ and ‘Packerfan4’? Email Pseudonyms and Participants’ Perceptions of Demography, Productivity, and Personality,” published in the peer reviewed Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, the international flagship journal for computer-mediated communication.
My most recent research endeavor extends my research interest into examining how computer-mediated communication functions to mitigate public speaking communication apprehension. In doing this I collaborated with Dr. Jeffery Youngquist and Dr. Jacob Cayanus, both Assistant Professors of Communication at Oakland University. As the lead investigator for this research I sought funding from multiple sources that amounted to approximately $14,000 to purchase equipment and incentives for student participation. The purpose of this study was to investigate the comparative effectiveness of on-line presentations as a tool for reducing public speaking communication apprehension. This was an experimental design, which required students to present a speech over the Internet using the 3D graphic multi-user virtual environment software Second Life. Results of the study indicated that delivering a virtual speech functioned as a tool for building speaker confidence and systematically desensitizing participants to speaking in front of a live audience. Findings of our study were presented at the 2008 National Communication Association and the 2008 Central States Communication Association. The manuscript, titled “Virtual spaces and places: Using Second Life to reduce public speaking apprehension” has been submitted for peer review to the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, the international flagship journal of computer-mediated communication.
I remain actively involved with disseminating this research through invitations to present in graduate courses at Wayne State University and school districts in the community. In the future I plan to build upon my research in this area and examine how technology serves as a mediating factor in our daily interactions and thus shapes how we construct our relationships and identity through the use of various forms of technology. My aforementioned research in Second Life is my most recent effort in this area and my current work in manipulating variables of audience receptiveness to computer generated avatars will examine how participants react to the receptiveness, or lack thereof, of a virtual audience. I am eager to expand upon the research I have generated and to strive for innovations in this area of research.
I regard teaching as an organic process, one that is learner-focused and involves students in negotiating the relationship between content and application. The essence of my teaching philosophy is that education is an interactive process between instructor and student. The key challenge, as I see it, is to develop coursework that engages my classes in a new and exciting manner that encourages independent student inquiry. Through my efforts to make this connection with students I have supervised more than twenty independent studies. My investment in independent student research has resulted in many productive endeavors with students, including two occasions in which students presented research I supervised at the Meeting of the Minds.
Besides a focus on the relationship between theory and application, I think it is vital to help students develop a sense of how classroom experiences relate to their lives. I have for many years incorporated a service learning project into the Group Dynamics course I teach, which has subsequently become a required assignment for this course. This project not only makes the connection between communication and community, but also connects directly with an important facet of the communication program’s mission and helps prepare students for the community service required in their capstone course. In this project, students not only develop a working understanding of group theory, but also derive a sense of accomplishment through their group involvement.
Through my experiences using Service Learning as a pedagogical method, I have become increasingly involved in leading and advancing this approach across the university. Included in my efforts are my roles in creating faculty learning communities, initiating and launching the Office of Academic Service Learning, creating the Academic Service Learning Faculty Fellows program, and co-authoring the Michigan Campus Compact Americorps VISTA grant with Christopher Jensen. Through my grant application to create a faculty learning community on Knowledge Integration and Civic Engagement, I led a group of faculty in exploring the connections between service learning and varied learning objectives during the 2007-2008 academic year. The intent of this learning community was to bring faculty together from across the university to discuss the pedagogical value of service learning within courses taught on campus. From this learning community emerged the Office of Academic Service Learning which was created to support faculty development and advance service learning as a teaching pedagogy.
Important to my teaching is the opportunity to discuss teaching methods with my colleagues. Whether this is formally or informally done, I engage in serious self examination of my teaching methods. To this end I have become actively involved in planning and attending teaching conferences. I have attended and presented at several conferences on teaching and learning, including the Lilly North Conference on Teaching and Learning, a regional conference focused on instructional development in higher education. This conference has become an invaluable resource for exploring new approaches as well as providing feedback about new ideas that are directly related to teaching and learning in higher education. My keen interest and excitement about teaching prompted me to volunteer for various activities of OU’s Teaching and Learning Committee and to become involved in the planning of the Oakland University/University of Windsor International Conference on Teaching and Learning, a collaborative conference that brings faculty together to discuss research and best practices for teaching in higher education.
I also view course development as a key component of effective teaching as this requires a continuous review and consideration of the learning objectives within the courses I teach. To this end, I was directly involved in developing the General Education Capstone proposal for the programs COM 399, Field Experience in Communication. In cooperation with Dr. David Lau, we authored this proposal that was subsequently approved by the General Education committee. The course now provides communication students with a means of meeting the General Education requirements for Writing Intensive in the Major and Capstone Experience.
In addition to my experience with developing Communication courses for the General Education requirement, I developed HS 402, Field Experience in Integrative Studies as a general education capstone and writing intensive course for the Integrative Studies program. Developing this course was particularly challenging, as the program did not have a common course that was required of all students. Through this course, Integrative Studies students are provided a common experience that is writing intensive and focuses on knowledge integration from the various disciplines students have encountered through their college career. Essential to this course is a service learning project that requires students to draw upon their experiences in identifying and researching a complex social issue/problem.
Continuous reflection, experimentation, and development are essential to improving my teaching process. Recognizing that students have changed generationally and thus construct a unique audience, it is important that I continue to adapt coursework to engage students. Using technology within the classroom has become an important method for adapting to changes in student populations. Consequently, I utilize Web CT and Moodle within the courses I teach to enhance what I do in the classroom. My continued experimentation with technology as an instructional method has led to my interest in moving the Field Experience in Integrative Studies to a fully online course. In doing this I received a grant from Oakland University’s E-Learning and Instructional Support to teach this course fully online during the Fall 2009 semester.
Being a good teacher is very important to me, being a great teacher is something that I hope to become. I have sought out resources within the campus community to enhance the classes I teach. I am committed to upholding high standards and expectations as I continue my teaching career.
Service is critical in what I do at Oakland University and is directly connected to my teaching philosophy of being “accessible” to students. Being introduced to the commuter culture of Oakland University, I was discouraged by the rumbling of papers and book bags as the end of class approached and students hurried to leave for home or work. Realizing that I was essentially doing the same, showing up to teach and leaving, I threw myself into university service. I realized that not only would this provide an active model for community service and engaged scholarship, but it could be most rewarding and provide a valuable extra-curricular connection to students struggling to apply classroom concepts.
Building from the idea that higher education is an enterprise to be lived and cultivated, I have continued to develop my extra-curricular activities with students. I have taken on the role of faculty adviser for Sigma Pi for the past seven years, served as student conduct adviser for several students in academic conduct hearings and coordinated the Communication program’s annual commemoration ceremony for graduating seniors. In addition, I have conducted several workshops for various student organizations on effective listening, mediation, and alcohol awareness. I have volunteered my services for many special events and have been recognized for my efforts in these ventures by being named the 2003 and 2008 “Greek Advisor of the Year” and receiving the 2001 and 2007 “Link Award” from the Center for Student Activities.
I have also taken on major service tasks within the Communication program. I have designed and initiated, as webmaster, the Communication web site. Increasingly, this website has become an important tool for students and faculty. Receiving 1,500 visitors a month, it has become a fundamental tool for reaching current and prospective students. Students use the site to access course descriptions and syllabi, download forms needed for classes, and view schedules for upcoming semesters. This site also provides important information for current and prospective faculty. As part of the web page development, I created an online transfer equivalency guide for all schools in the state of Michigan. I have also designed the university’s advising web site and initiated OU’s first computer-assisted orientation. Stemming from these endeavors I have created an online advising tutorial that is used by current and prospective students as they work to plan their academic future. Variations of this tutorial have been adapted by advising offices across the campus and has maximized the utility of advisers and is in line with the university’s mission of creating greater access to students and will significantly change how advising is done.
My greatest service contribution to the communication program was the six years I served as Chief Adviser for the approximately 550 majors in the program. As Chief Adviser, I was responsible for training faculty advisers, maintaining weekly advising hours, conducting graduation audits, handling petitions of exception, reviewing advising files, reviewing transfer courses, and managing the day-to-day running of the advising office. In this capacity I served as a member of the CAPP (Curriculum Advising and Program Planning) project team, which is a component of the Banner system that computes and reports individual student progress toward degree completion. When fully implemented, advising at Oakland University will change significantly. As part of the CAPP project team, I was designated through the Provost’s Office to participate in the annual SCT conference in 2002 in Anaheim, California.
My interest in advising has led me to the opportunity to chair the Academic and Career Advising Committee (ACAC) a standing senate committee. As chair of the ACAC I worked with the Provost’s Office to revise the charge of the committee. As a result, I was asked be a member of the Ad Hoc Student Affairs Committee charged with creating a permanent senate committee later to be dubbed the Student Academic Success Committee. Through my involvement with these committees I have been able to see the connection between advising and teaching. Apparent to me is a major gap between the value stressed on teaching and learning and the fact that Oakland University does not have a meaningful structure for developing the instructional abilities of the faculty.
This apparent gap has motivated my commitment to supporting Oakland University’s senate committee on Teaching and Learning. My involvement with the committee as a non member has led to the development of a website for the committee, creation of an electronic newsletter and list serv, authoring articles for the newsletter, managing survey collection for the university teaching awards, archiving documents for the committee, and facilitating the operations and activities of the committee to reach faculty on campus. In addition to my supportive involvement with the Teaching and Learning Committee I have volunteered to serve as the coordinator for the Oakland University/University of Windsor International Conference on Teaching and Learning, this conference has been attended by over 200 faculty from Oakland University and is currently in the planning process for the fourth annual meeting. Beyond my service to the Teaching and Learning Committee and the OU/Windsor conference I was successful in securing a $10,000 grant from undergraduate education to facilitate a Faculty Fellows program on service learning during the Fall 2009. Through this grant I solicited the faculty to submit proposals for developing a service learning component for a course they are teaching. In all five courses were selected for development and funded at $2,000 each.
One of my greatest services to the university community is connected to the creation and development of the Office of Academic Service Learning. As part of the development of this new entity, Chris Jensen (Assistant Director of the Center for Student Activities) and I co-authored the Michigan Campus Compact Americorps VISTA grant which was accepted and funded. Through this grant, the university has been granted the expertise of an individual committed to a yearlong service to the university beginning August 2009. The goal of the grant is to build capacity for faculty to employ service projects within their classes and subsequently create sustained partnerships stemming from faculty efforts to implement projects in the community.
My orientation for serving the university community spurred my interest in pursuing a leadership role at the university. In 2006 I accepted an Academic Administrator position as Director for the Bachelor of General Studies programs (subsequently changed to Integrative Studies). In my role as director of the Bachelor of Integrative Studies (BIS) program I serve as the chair for the BIS faculty council and represent the program on the University Committee for Undergraduate Instruction. In my role as director I have devoted attention to strengthening the credibility of the program and ensuring that students complete meaningful academic programs and in doing so have shut the “academic escape hatch” which had so frequently been used by students previously.. .. Through this position I have become very familiar with the university’s structure, governance, and mission. Serving in this capacity has allowed me to support multiple academic programs across the campus by promoting their programs and directing students to courses in these areas.