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The Communication COMMunity

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By Ernest L. Wiggins


Though a journalist by trade, I developed an abiding interest in persuasive communication during graduate school.  I have formally studied the intersection of media messages, group identity and social justice, focusing most of my attention on advertising. I routinely teach a course in mass media criticism, and 1/3 of class time involves the close reading of commercial advertising and cause / idea promotions. I am constantly searching for material that reflects contemporary popular culture. I recently discovered sexuality and gender roles front and center in ad campaigns from around the globe and not just as subjects of promotion. We are finding them as framing devices to convey other messages. For example:


Service with Pride

Volt, Sweden’s print campaign sponsored by the Swedish Armed Forces for the 2018 EuroPride festival in Stockholm, features separate male and female models dressed in battle fatigues and gear, sans helmets, applying rainbow-colored camouflage paint to their faces. They are standing in front of a wooden fence or scaling wall, suggesting they are preparing for training.  The copy in English reads: “We don’t always march straight. But no matter where or when we march, we always stand up for your right to live the way you want with whoever you want. Read more about how we work to protect freedom and the right to choose the way we live at”



The ad’s messaging works on several levels. Most obviously it is reminding viewers that male and female members of the LGBTQ community (those not marching “straight) serve in combat roles in the military. The copy also places personal liberty at the center of Sweden’s national identity and as part of the military’s defense mission. On another level, the campaign also serves as a recruitment tool targeting the LGBTQ community, particularly those skeptical of the army’s support. That the soldiers are shown applying the paint rather than posed with the paint already applied suggests individual agency, openness and decisiveness. This small motion challenges the notion of hiding among the ranks. Additionally, both models are facing the camera, eyes locked on the viewer, their bodies open, all of which suggests boldness and courage.  These are familiar themes at Pride Festivals around the world.



The Havas agency’s E45 skin cream 30-second spot features British Olympic champion turned professional boxer Nicola Adams sporting her trademark partially shaved head, what might be described as gender-nonconforming outfits and athletic apparel.  She is shown engaging in her training regimen in various international locales as her voice-over says: “In my life, I never like to sit still. All the traveling, the training, the hard work, everything I do, it takes a toll on my skin. Some days it needs a little bit more. New E45 rich. It’s everything my skin needs. Just straight-up skin care.”



Adams, who publicly identifies as bisexual, is an LGBTQ icon in Great Britain. As a celebrated face and national treasure, Adams lends substantial gravitas to the endorsement of a product that is not targeted at the LGBTQ community, people of color nor women. Casting Adams as spokesperson acknowledges, yes, her renown but also her substantial appeal across a spectrum of potential consumers.  Additionally, Adams delivers the message that hard work and self-care are companions, challenging the perception among some that female athletes are indifferent to their appearance outside of the arena or the ring.


Playing with Clichés




MullenLowe’s series of spots for Aruba Tourism Authority turns around the male-centric marriage proposal trope – and acknowledges that it’s doing so -- to cut through viewers’ gender-role expectations in service of a unique promotion. In each 60-second ad, a male-female couple in their early to mid-30s is show vacationing together – strolling along a beach, dining al fresco, sunning on a sailboat. The woman tells her companion she has enjoyed their time and wants to take their relationship to the next level. She presents a boxed ring (a solid band) and presents it to her companion, whose face then, in slow motion, bursts into a broad smile and tears. They embrace and the moment dissolves into a love weepy song and the pitch. “Let’s keep the cliché of proposing in front of the sea. Let’s end the cliché of men doing it. Win a trip to Aruba to propose to your boyfriend.”



While being played for laughs, and targeting women viewers, the ad, commendably, asks audience members to consider the social convention at the heart of the commercial’s narrative: Why does the man have to be the one to propose? But, not so commendably, in one instance the campaign overplays the man’s reaction to the point of grotesquerie (see above), leaving viewers to wonder if this is how the ad creator views a woman’s response – as ridiculous. In each of the spots, the female character includes in her build-up to the presentation of the ring a status report of a relationship that might appear static– we’ve lived together for five and half years,we’ve been together for seven and half,you can’t live with your parents anymore. Again, if the ad messenger is turning around familiar scenarios, then the messenger is suggesting that marriages liberate adult women from their parents. While it is likely that this accurately represents the reality for at least some women in the targeted audience, the commercials’ narratives would indicate the ideal customers for this promotion have status and means and are not lodging with Mom and Dad.


These campaigns take refreshing views of sexuality and gender roles and put them to use in selling products and / or ideas while challenging viewers’ conventional notions and expectations.  Each strikes me as affirming (perhaps even celebrating) the richness of human diversity.











Erika Gutierrez

A Back-to-School GIFT

Posted by Erika Gutierrez Sep 28, 2018

Congratulations on the new academic year! We hope your students are off to a grand start and are well on their way to a successful fall semester. Time flies, and it is surprising that we are already a month into the semester. For those of you who don't know me, my name is Erika Gutierrez, and I'm the Senior Program Director for Communication & College Success here at Bedford/St. Martin's and Macmillan Learning. It's been a pleasure to read  and share the Back-to-School posts from our authors. Joseph Ortiz, Choices & Connections, started off the series with a post called, “Back to School Tips 2018: Trigger Scripts,” that presents a compelling way to draw students into course concepts by using communication based dilemmas or trigger scripts. Christopher Martin, Media & Culture, wrote an excellent piece, “The End of the Summer of Media Merger Mania,” to spur conversations about current mergers, their goals, and their potential impact on culture and our media experience. Thank you Joe and Chris! Also, I want to send a thank you to our associate editor, Melanie McFadyen, for her work on the Communication COMMunity site.  


We created this site to provide a space for instructors to connect with one another and with our authors and to share teaching ideas and professional resources. Now that September is almost over, we have one last fall Back-to-School post to share that we hope you will enjoy and that will help you accomplish your teaching goals. We are sharing Communication in the Classroom: A Collection of GIFTs edited by John Seiter, Jennifer Peebles, and Matthew L. Sanders all from Utah State University. GIFTS is a popular term for Great Ideas for Teaching Students. Organized in chapters by research area, each GIFT selected for this professional volume includes information about the author(s) of the activity, a detailed explanation, and a debrief drawing on the instructors' experiences. There are 100+ teaching activities included! If you are interested in sharing new GIFTS on the community site, reach out to us!



This book is an invaluable resource for anyone teaching a communication course who is looking for new ideas to spice up their classroom and engage students. This resource, as well as our other professional resources, are available for you to download from the community site. To access them, register for an account at the top right-hand corner of the screen, and download GIFTs here.


Student engagement is key, and it's our goal to provide you with the professional resources to help, from class activities and video assignments, to blog posts with tips and tricks from other instructors, and now to GIFTs. Look for emails this fall about upcoming webinars with our authors and an upcoming webinar on our new video assessment program powered by GoReact. We hope that you make use of the community’s open resources and events and have a wonderful and successful semester!


Very best,

Erika Gutierrez 

The summer of 2018 has been a momentous one for media merger mania. Although this sounds like a topic for a high-level economics course, the approved and proposed media mergers involve a number of name-brand companies, and will have a significant effect on media culture, journalism, and what we’ll be watching and streaming on phones and other screens in the coming years.


Among the proposed mergers:


  • AT&T’s takeover of TimeWarner
  • Disney’s purchase of 21st Century Fox
  • Sinclair Broadcasting’s acquisition of Tribune Media,
  • a Sprint and T-Mobile merger
  • a re-merger of CBS and Viacom


The most recent wave of mergers waited upon the decision of a lawsuit between the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and AT&T over its planned purchase of TimeWarner, which would signal whether the Department of Justice would prevail in enforcing antitrust law. A federal judge approved the merger on June 15, which put Warner Bros. studios, HBO, and Turner under the corporate umbrella of AT&T, one of the two major mobile phone companies. The DOJ decided to appeal the decision, but AT&T still proceeded with its work, renaming its new subsidiary “Warner Media.”


AT&T’s reason for the acquisition was to control a huge flow of media content to stream on its mobile phone network so it could compete with other digital giants like Amazon, Apple, Google, and Netflix. AT&T’s CEO says they want to deliver a “mobile-first entertainment experience.AT&T has a head start with HBO, which is already streaming premium content, but it will need to continue to produce hits like “Game of Thrones” in the coming years to compete with all of the other digital media companies that have the same idea.


Disney’s purchase of 21st Century Fox (including its movie studio, but not Fox News FS1 sports, or Fox Broadcasting Network), approved in July, was proposed for the same reason. Disney now adds to its roster films like Avatar, Titanic, and the X-Men franchise, along with shows like “The Simpsons” and “This is Us” (broadcast on NBC, but produced by 20th Century Fox Television), along with cable channels FX and National Geographic, and majority ownership of Hulu. Disney reportedly will roll out three streaming offerings: 1) an entertainment channel (with Disney animation, Marvel films, Pixar Films, Star Wars, and everything else in the Disney and Fox film libraries) – people are already dubbing this Disneyflix, 2) a sports stream (Disney owns ESPN), and 3) Hulu, of which Disney now has controlling ownership, for streaming television shows. Disney looks to be a formidable challenger to Netflix.


Still awaiting approval are a Sprint and T-Mobile merger. There are only four main mobile phone companies in the U.S, and these two are the third and fourth largest, after AT&T and Verizon. A&T tried to buy T-Mobile in 2011, but it was rejected by the Antitrust Division of the DOJ on the basis that it would have hurt competition in the business. Will this merger survive the same standard?


After splitting in 2006, CBS and Viacom may re-merge, too, although that story has become complicated by the bad blood between Viacom’s leadership and CBS’s Chairman and CEO Les Moonves, who also became subject to a sexual misconduct investigation this summer after another blockbuster report of a #MeToo case by Ronan Farrow for The New Yorker magazine.


Sinclair, already the largest local TV station owner in the U.S., would have become even larger with the TV station properties of Tribune Media, reaching about 70 percent of U.S. TV households. Of particular concern is that the Sinclair, which has a history of imposing right-wing politics on its local stations’ newscasts, would have created a broadcast version of Fox News. As the FCC began to make regulatory approval more difficult, the deal fell apart in August.


Historically, half of all mergers and acquisitions are failures, and the planned synergies across the various subsidies are never realized. Consider, for example, the disastrous AOL–Time Warner merger of 2001 or News Corp.’s expensive bad bet on the success of Myspace in 2005. Time will tell with the mergers of 2018. Did AT&T and Disney invest billions to create even better (and more profitable) media experiences for the post-cable world, or did they waste their money by misreading the path consumers would be taking in the future? Like with earlier mergers, we should know in a few years.

Dr. Ortiz is an author of Choices and Connections, and has taught for over 30 years, beginning in 1983 at Clovis Community College (NM). He joined the Scottsdale Community College faculty in 1989, where he teaches courses on human communication, interpersonal and small group communication, and digital storytelling. In support of student learning, Dr. Ortiz is heavily involved in the use of classroom assessment tools, service learning, collaborative learning methods, and the use of online technology. Below, read more about one of his teaching methods, the use of trigger scripts.


Competing with the commotion of memes, Spotify playlists, viral videos, and Instagram postings that consume our students’ attention, teachers must somehow design lessons that invite interest in our subject matter. Among the various ways we can catch and hold student attention is to use instructional activities that they will find intellectually stimulating and relevant to their lives (Bolkan & Griffin, 2018). A strategy that I’ve found helpful for engaging students is the use of trigger scripts for introducing a lesson.


A trigger script is a vignette that conveys a communication-based dilemma, and a resolution or conclusion is not provided. Trigger scripting evolves out of the work of performance studies scholars who use excerpts from literature for the expressed purpose of promoting audience discussion about social issues (Valentine & Valentine, 1983). Vignettes can be crafted out of literature; or in my case, I’ve simply employed my imagination and creative writing aspirations to fashion trigger scripts. Here’s one example, which I’ve entitled, “I’ll be 2 hours late”:


You’re out running errands when your romantic partner text messages you that s/he’ll be about two hours late coming home from work. You decide to stop at the mall to kill some time. About 30 minutes later, you pass by a patio bar and see your partner with three other co-workers having drinks. One of the co-workers is someone that you have long suspected is attracted to your partner. How would you feel? What would you do?


I use this trigger script as a basis for starting a lesson on communication competence and its characteristics in my introductory interpersonal communication course. When I present this in class, I always give students time to think and write a response to the two questions before moving them to small discussion groups. I give the small groups two ground rules: (1) You’re not trying to agree on the right answer, and (2) Don’t go “Dr Phil” on anyone (i.e., avoid judgment).



The energy in the room is palpable during the small group discussion, and it reaches a crescendo when I debrief the entire class. Students state that they would feel deceived, jealous, outraged, and some mention that they’d be unfazed because they trust their partners. The discussion then leads us to examine what it means to be effective, appropriate, and ethical in forming a communicative response to this situation. We also begin exploring concepts of perspective-taking and behavioral flexibility.


In addition to writing your own trigger scripts or excerpting them from literature, you can draw vignettes from film and television programs. A television program that is a ready made trigger script is the ABC program; What would you do? I use an episode that pertains to a disruptive baby in a fine dining restaurant for introducing the unit on conflict. I start the lesson by posing the dilemma orally:


You’re at an upscale restaurant (I ask them to name an expensive one in the city) to celebrate a special occasion. A baby at an adjacent table starts to get fussy, eventually crying loudly. How would you respond?


Student responses range from ignoring the disruption (avoidance) to giving the parents a menacing stare (passive aggressive). We then watch the episode in class (c. 8 minutes). The trigger script serves as a springboard for a classroom discussion about the various styles of responding to conflict, including a consideration of the personal, cultural, and relational factors that impact how we respond to conflict.


Although I use trigger scripts for classroom instruction, the strategy certainly can be adapted for online teaching by using discussion forums. Whether it’s in the classroom or online, the management of student attention is increasingly tough to do, but it’s an important prerequisite to learning. The judicious use of a trigger script is a practical way of engaging students to see the the personal relevance of the topics we teach.            




Bolkan, S.  & Darrin J. Griffin, D. J.  (2018) Catch and hold: instructional interventions and their differential impact on student interest, attention, and autonomous motivation, Communication Education, 67:3, 269-286, DOI: 10.1080/03634523.2018.1465193


Valentine, K. B.  & D. E. Valentine, D. E. (1983) Facilitation of intercultural communication through performed literature, Communication Education, 32:3,303-307, DOI: 10.1080/03634528309378546

Melanie McFadyen

Welcome Back!

Posted by Melanie McFadyen Aug 23, 2018

While it may be too early to start eating pumpkin-shaped candies or drinking pumpkin-spiced lattes, the inevitable truth is that summer is once again ending. Of course, that's exciting in itself, as it means fall is on the way - and a new school year with it!



This year, Macmillan is welcoming the new academic year with a series of back-to-school blog posts written specially by our authors. Each Thursday over the next few weeks, we'll have a new blog to help you start the semester off right - including tips for keeping students engaged, trends to discuss in class this fall, and more. We'll also have another message from our team announcing the addition of GIFTs, our professional resource to help you better communicate in the classroom, to our community site.


Be sure to stay tuned over the next month! You can get notifications of our new blogs to your email by clicking the "Follow" button in the right-hand corner of the page. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy the rest of the summer, and have a wonderful start to the new academic year!



The Communication Team

Macmillan Learning

In my journalism classes, I used to teach using the building-block method. I would set up my class in chunks: present the material, assign a story, require follow up reports and peer reviews, and have students turn in an assignment. This process took about four weeks. Then I would do it again with new material, a new kind of story, and more follow-ups that resulted in another story. At this rate, I was lucky if my students could write four stories a semester.


The building-block method is good for perfecting old material before moving on to new material, but it went against my teaching philosophy for writing: "practice makes perfect."


Learning by Doing


Short deadlines and multiple priorities are hallmarks of the newsroom. No one has time to help anyone else because they’re so busy themselves. You don’t get a long, leisurely introduction to the job. You just do it.


Journalism, like public speaking, takes practice, practice, and more practice. You can’t teach someone how to feel when they’re interviewing an intimidating figure. You can’t teach them how to know when someone’s lying to them. You can’t teach them to know when the story just isn’t going to work out.


So how can you give your students lots of practical experience in doing what the pros do? Turn your classroom into a newsroom.


To replicate the newsroom, turn the first three weeks of the semester into Journalism Boot Camp, covering newsworthiness, the inverted pyramid, research, interviewing, and anything else you feel it's necessary to cover in a class setting.


After that, assign stories with deadlines and send the students out for reporting. The time they spend reporting takes the place of class time. By the end of the semester, students will write around 10 news stories.


But, what about all that grading?


Imagine 20 students per class, 10 assignments per semester. That’s 200 assignments to grade per class. What if you teach four classes? Now you’re up to 800 assignments. And that doesn’t include the labs, quizzes and tests that require attention.


That’s why the class is like a newsroom. In my class, students get four assignments at a time and can turn them in in any order they like. There’s a catch: when they turn in an assignment, they must make an appointment with me the next week to edit it. Since they are out working on stories, my class time is freed up for individual appointments. Each student gets 10 to 15 minutes of my undivided attention as I edit (grade) their assignment.


Most of my grading is done on the spot, in the classroom, with the student. No more sending back assignments with feedback they never read. No more wondering if they understand my feedback, or even care. Now I get to look them in the eye.




I do bring them back into class for a week near midterms and again near the end of the semester. They discuss how their stories have gone. They talk about what went well and what didn’t, much like reporters do in the newsroom. Students share how they handled situations that others found troublesome. They take suggestions from each other and offer their advice.


Students have even set up outside groups to discuss assignments and how to approach them. Our “newsroom” has become more collaborative.


The best part is that by the end of the semester they’ve gained a great deal of confidence, and I really enjoy grading their work.


Marti Gayle Harvey is a Lecturer at the University of Texas at Arlington, where she teaches journalism. 


Some see writing as a solitary process. Some teach it as a solitary process. However, teaching writing as a group activity lets students explore how others approach learning the craft, allowing them to come up with their own approach.

The writing process generally goes from thinking of a topic, collecting information, crafting a message and revising it. When done in a solitary environment, feedback is important but lagging because of grading time. When done in groups, feedback is immediate and, since it comes from peers, it seems more like a conversation than a lecture.



I use a form of flip teaching. It consists of students being introduced to a concept through online content by reviewing materials for a basic understanding. When students come to class they work on a low-points, graded lab, applying the concepts to a concrete example. Finally, a classroom discussion among the groups allows for a review of the lab allowing the teacher to guide the discussion making sure concepts are covered and understood.

I found that the lab portion needed more pizzazz. Some students would finish labs early and just sit there waiting on everyone else. Others pulled out their phones. The room was quiet, and students were bored. I was, too.

One day I put them in groups of three, mainly because I could cut down my grading, but it also kept the room from sounding like a crypt. They had to talk to each other.


I had them work on changing a story from passive to active voice. This is one of the hardest concepts for young writers. They must determine if the subject is doing something or if something is being done to it.

The exercise was a hit. I caught them explaining concepts to each other. They got immediate feedback. The lab results were much better, too. They “got it” much faster.

And they laughed. They laughed at each other. They laughed at themselves. Mostly they laughed when they tried something and it didn’t work. Eavesdropping on their conversations convinced me that they were having fun. They were learning.



I came to the conclusion that they learn better from each other than they do from me. One reason is that group work allows for highly differentiated learning styles.

Visual, auditory, reading/writing and kinesthetic learning styles adapt spontaneously to group work. If someone needs to hear it, there is always someone in the group willing to let them read it to them. If someone needs to do it, they can “break it down” for the other group members. Visual learners will understand the structure and reading/writing learners are usually the scribes of the group.

Another reason that group work works is because it is fun. Especially if it’s nothing more than a low-points lab. They get to explore concepts, don’t have a lot to lose if they’re wrong, and they get to do more than sit around on their phones waiting for the rest of the class to finish.

The idea that nonverbal signals can be used strategically to influence an outcome or reveal unspoken information about others has captured the minds of researchers and the general public alike. This fascination with nonverbal communication is apparent across various forms of media, such as articles analyzing nonverbal messages in politicians’ speeches, TED talks, and even television shows.


Nonverbal communication plays a significant role in both the conscious and unconscious processes of encoding and decoding information. Although the effect of nonverbal communication on others’ perceptions is often discussed, the influence of nonverbal communication on self-perception should not be overlooked. Research by social psychologist Amy Cuddy suggests adopting expansive postures, or “power poses,” can significantly affect personal feelings of power. Cuddy’s work provides evidence that embodying states such as confidence or dominance through power poses, even and especially when a person does not feel powerful, can positively influence personal feelings of power.


Here are several nonverbal communication techniques for both feeling and appearing more confident:


Take up space.  Humans and animals often display specific postures and behaviors in response to success and failure. For example, research by Jessica Tracy and David Matsumoto (2008) found congenitally blind athletes demonstrated the same nonverbal expressions of victory (arms raised in a “V” shape, head tilted back, expanded chest, etc.) as athletes born with sight, suggesting nonverbal displays of pride and shame in response to success or failure may be biologically innate. Expansive postures related to feelings of power can also be observed in nature, with animals and creatures often physically taking up space in order to establish dominance.



To project confidence and increase personal feelings of power, think about opening up. Focus on keeping your shoulders back and your chest open and maintaining good posture by standing or sitting up straight with your feet grounded. Remember to breathe deeply and relax your muscles. When interacting with others or giving a presentation, use open and authentic gestures to support your verbal messages and signal confidence. Avoid adopting contractive postures such as the "penguin gesture," which refers to keeping your arms close to your sides while gesturing from the elbows down.



Smile. Smiling can significantly influence others’ perceptions and responses. A study conducted by Grandey et al. (2005) indicates people who smile authentically are not only perceived as more likeable and courteous, but also appear more competent. Many research studies support the idea that smiling is contagious, suggesting it is difficult to control your facial reactions when looking at someone who is smiling.


Smiling can also positively affect one’s mood and emotional experience. A famous psychology study conducted by Strack et al. (1988) examined the effect of manipulating facial muscles on participants’ experiences of humor. Participants reported more intense humor ratings when holding a pen between their teeth in a way intended to mimic muscle activity associated with smiling, suggesting facial expressions can influence one’s emotional experience.


To boost confidence, practice smiling more often. Even if it initially feels forced or artificial, the simple act of changing your facial expression can significantly improve your mood and positively affect those around you.


Dress the part.  Research suggests clothing can powerfully influence not only how others perceive us, but also how we perceive ourselves. For example, Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky (2002) found participants displayed increased selective attention when wearing a lab coat compared to their task performance while not wearing a lab coat. Interestingly, the participants’ performance was influenced by the symbolic significance of the clothing. Participants who were told the lab coat they were wearing was a doctor’s coat displayed increased sustained attention compared to those who were told they were wearing a painter’s coat. 


Other studies suggest wearing formal clothing can likewise influence self-perception due to positive symbolic associations. In a study conducted by Bettina Hannover and Ulrich Kühnen (2006), participants were asked to arrive dressed either formally or casually. The researchers found participants who were dressed formally were more likely to select formal trait adjectives to describe themselves, while participants wearing casual clothes used more casual adjectives to describe themselves. 


To feel and appear more confident, make sure to dress appropriately for the situation. While it is important to conform to clothing norms, especially in professional contexts, consider adding a subtle accessory or distinctive feature to project uniqueness and independence. Research suggests individuals who slightly deviate from clothing norms are perceived as having higher status and competence than conforming individuals, a phenomenon known as the “red sneakers effect." Pay attention to how you feel while wearing specific clothing and take note of outfits in which you feel most powerful.



Speak slowly and intentionally. Just as confident nonverbal communication involves taking up physical space, it also involves taking up temporal space. A study by Hughes et al. (2014) investigating the effect of intentional vocal manipulations on others’ perceptions suggests people who speak slower are more likely to be perceived as having confidence than those who speak faster. Interestingly, female participants in the study tended to speak more quickly when attempting to portray confidence; however, this strategy was largely ineffective. Researchers also found that both men and women who spoke with a lower pitch were generally perceived as being more dominant. Another study examining the effect of vocal pitch on voting behavior suggests voices with a lower pitch are associated with favorable personality traits such as attractiveness and dominance.


Remember to speak slowly and take pauses in order to communicate with confidence. People tend to speak more quickly and with a higher pitch when they feel nervous. Pay attention to your vocal pitch and try speaking with a lower-pitched voice to portray greater power and confidence. Consider varying your pitch within your vocal range to emphasize your message and match the emotions you would like to communicate.


Note: It is important to remember the cultural context when considering nonverbal communication. The techniques discussed above are most applicable to a Western cultural context and may not convey the same meaning in other cultural contexts. 

We’ve all worked on a team at some point, but have you ever been told you would be on a team and cringed at the thought because of a previous bad experience? As we have more opportunities to work with teams, we realize that there are people who we would LOVE to work with again at some point, and there are others who we would prefer to leave in the past. Whatever your experience, it is safe to say that every project that involves group work teaches us a lesson about relationships.

As a teacher, I sometimes use class time to observe and discuss group dynamics. A student once said to me, “team work makes the dream work,” and yes, it does! At least, it does if there is cohesion, trust, engagement, and reliability. What happens when the team doesn’t work? Will you remember who worked their tails off? Will you remember those who still have their tails because of the lack of effort? Sure, you will; the memory of the efforts or lack thereof will always be there. Present behaviors can have a future impact, whether we realize it or not. Pareto’s Law, also known as the 80/20 rule, is a theory that explains that 80 percent of the output from a given situation or system is determined by 20 percent of the input. Speaking in terms of employee performance, this theory suggests that 20% of the people do 80% of the work. Have you ever experienced that? If not, you might at some point.


My point is this: work ethic matters because people are watching, and no job comes with the security of lifetime employment. Whether you realize it or not, you are subconsciously observing people and they are observing you. You know just from your own observations whether or not you would want to work with a particular person again. You remember those who are great, those who are less than great, and forget those who fly under the radar and get lost in the middle. Let’s be honest – you’re not going to recommend someone forgettable for a job anytime soon. Establishing solid relationships and putting your best foot forward are important because when things go awry in an organization and labor cuts need to be made, you need others who can vouch for your work ethic. You need people who will say, “Send me your resume so that I can forward it to…”

As an educator, I put my best foot forward because I know my students are watching me just as I am watching them. I know which ones are dependable and reliable; I also know the ones who are not. I enjoy writing recommendations for those who try, and I write recommendations for those I would hire. I do not feel comfortable recommending someone for a position I would not hire. And who knows? My students might be in a position to hire me one day, so I better be the best possible leader for them.

The key takeaway here is that present behavior impacts future opportunities. Through the power of observation, opportunities can be created or lost. Strive to be in the 20% of the workforce that gets remembered for your impact, and your future self will thank you.

Professionally yours,



Last month, Macmillan Learning welcomed to our New York office economist and author Betsey Stevenson to discuss choices, communication, and her time working as the chief economist of the U.S. Department of Labor from 2010 to 2011.


When I first saw the announcement for Betsey’s talk, “The Power of Communication,” I'll admit I was a little skeptical. What does an economist have to say about the power of communication? Yet as I listened, I found not only that she had a lot to say on choices and communication, but that her words of advice could apply to anyone trying to make solid decisions and get ahead in their respective fields, even if those fields had nothing to do with numbers and data.




Betsey began her talk by highlighting the three key principles she has followed throughout her life and career: 1) have no regrets, 2) communicate, and 3) do your best. These may sound simple and easy enough to follow, but as Betsey could attest to, they're anything but, and will be challenged repeatedly throughout one's career.


In Betsey’s case, the first principle, have no regrets, was tested when she had to choose between her ongoing career in academia and accepting an offer from former President Obama to be an economic adviser for the Department of Labor.


Thinking like a true economist, she realized that the key to making a choice without regret is to know and understand the costs and weigh them against the benefits. Life is full of risks that we take every day without thinking about it (getting into a car, for example), but it's when the risks are unfamiliar that the choices become harder. As Betsey said, the key to making a choice is to "Make the best decision I can with the information I have at the time." By doing that and carefully weighing the risks, you can make a choice you're comfortable with. Then, regardless of what happens, if you start to feel regret you can remind yourself that you made the best choice you could at the time. Sure, it's not as easy as it sounds, but it's the best way to move forward confidently with your choice, and in Betsey's case, it worked out in her favor, with her enjoying her time as a chief economist and later finding a teaching position at the University of Michigan.


After jokingly acknowledging that economists aren’t always the best communicators, Betsey then shared an important tip for communicating: "don't think about you, think about your listener. What do they want, think, and need?" Even if you aren’t the best speaker, if you can think of your audience, emphasize with them, and get in their head, you can communicate effectively. For example, if you start to explain something to someone and they say, “I’ve got it,” stop explaining. They’re telling you that they already understand, and you can both move on in your discussion.


Her last bit of advice was to do your best. When making choices and communicating, it’s important to think about the information you have, weigh the costs and benefits, make the best choice you can, and then be adaptable to whatever changes you’ve chosen to make. “Your brain is out to get you,” she said, with psychological traps like procrastination, which you can beat with lists, tiny tasks, tiny rewards, and acknowledging progress being made. Other psychological traps to avoid include overconfidence, assumptions, and not taking the time to process information.


As an economist, author, and speaker, Betsey Stevenson gave us some excellent advice during her Macmillan visit, and hopefully this advice can be useful to you throughout your career, and with your students.


For more from Betsey, check out her talk, “Making Economics More Inclusive," or her panel on “Economic Empowerment."

In this day where issues like fake news, civility, and civic engagement are constant topics of discussion and debate, journalism’s role as the “fourth pillar of democracy” is growing in importance, with technology propelling the industry into the future of communication.


Communication studies remains one of the most popular college majors, with journalism falling under the same umbrella. Even for those not studying it, student journalism brings value to any educational institution because it instills values of discipline, dedication, critical thinking, and effort. Those who actively participate gain a transferable skill set that will lead them to success in any career path. And for students who choose simply to read the student newspaper, they become informed citizens on current events and the community around them.


Real Work Environment. The only scholastic club or organization that truly simulates a real work environment is a student newspaper. Student writers develop skills in analytical and critical thinking, leadership, teamwork, multitasking, and a sensitivity to deadlines -- the same attributes that are typically highly sought after by employers.


Participants practice managing their responsibilities, leading and working in a team, and even desensitizing themselves to and growing from criticism. Through their different roles in the student newspaper, students boost their résumés and portfolios through writing, photo, and video samples, as well as layout and design skills, editing techniques, public relations, and even social media strategies. Students can explore these different areas of journalism to find their niche and test out the field in a safe environment, all before they even graduate.


For those who work on the student paper but don’t ultimately pursue a career in journalism, these experiences are not lost in the future. In addition to the previously mentioned skills, the importance of clarity and economy of words will transfer into any field. Effective communication is invaluable in relationships as well as professional life.


Communication Etiquette. Student journalists learn the values of fact checking, correcting their errors, exercising transparency in their writing, questioning opposing viewpoints, and perhaps most importantly, carefully considering the impact of their words. These same principles translate into students’ lives in both the real and virtual world, providing a guideline for ethical communication online and in person. Students are forced to take ownership of their words, actions, and decisions no matter the outcome.


Learn from Successes and Failures. Faculty advisors tend to take on a laissez faire approach, giving student journalists the liberty to make their own decisions. Students are treated as professionals as they are held accountable for any errors in judgment, reporting, or criticism and are forced to regularly make decisions regarding ethics, privacy, and the truth. It hurts to get a disappointing grade on an assignment, but it’s far more embarrassing to experience negative public feedback on a misprint, glaring typo, or accidental empty space.

Synthesis of Classroom Learning. Student newspapers provide a practical synthesis between classroom learning and real world experience. In conjunction with their classes, students have the opportunity to apply what they’re learning in the moment.



Free Speech. Independent reporting arms citizens with information, investigation, analysis, and community knowledge on the local, national, and international level. Although vital to good journalism, independent reporting is endangered today due to the prevalence of aggregates and online news, coupled with the decline of robust print reporting. This watchdog principle that is integral to democracy can be reinforced in student journalism by teaching students the need to inform the public through reporting that is objective, truthful, contextual, and readable.


Building Professional Relationships. Student journalists are forced out of their comfort zones and into the real world to report stories. They learn to effectively interview sources, report clearly and accurately, and remain professional throughout the process. In addition to the confidence that journalism builds, students can also develop a network from the sources they meet, peers they work with, and faculty members who guide them.


Students overwhelmingly describe the experiences they gained from working on their schools’ newspapers as positive. While student journalism requires dedication, it is extremely rewarding -- often in the form of a job after college. It can also be fun for students to befriend like-minded people, and empowering to get their work published and see the influence they have on their universities.

Let’s talk persuasion.

In my days as a campus recruiter, I was often called upon to meet with prospective student athletes (and their families) to give them helpful information about the university admissions process. At some point along the way, one of the coaches informed me that 100% of the athletes with whom I met signed with the university. I was delighted, yet somewhat shocked, to hear that information since I truly was not trying to be persuasive in my conversational approach – I was simply being informative yet sincere. I bring this up because our words (and behaviors) inspire action (or inaction), whether we realize it or not.


A person holding a wooden board with three small plants taken out of their pots


Fast forward a few years into the classroom, and I am influencing students to essentially buy into course concepts every day. I find that whatever seeds I plant into the minds of my listeners typically get regurgitated. For example, if I tell my students that a project is relatively easy, they buy into that idea and provide me feedback that it was, in fact, easy. If I tell students that same project will be difficult or challenging, they face it with fear and a sense of being overwhelmed. What happens when people get overwhelmed? They shut down. Language matters. How we frame ideas matters. As educators, we need to set a persuasive tone and use influential language that is filled with possibilities and opportunities so that our students flourish. We regularly draw upon Aristotle’s persuasive appeals when teaching imperative lessons, but is there anything in particular we can do to help our ideas stick?


Let’s change the narrative to being “positively influential”

Sometimes, people attach a negative connotation to the word persuasion. When I think back to my days in recruitment and my present-day classroom discussions, I never felt like I was “persuading” anyone. When I overthink my persuasive tactics, I worry I might come across as “rehearsed” or “sales-y”; I prefer to use the phrase “positively influential”. The best way to plant positive seeds is to do it in such a way that people do not even realize they are being influenced. It is important to note that being influential is both language-based and behavior-based. In your approach to be influential, consider employing some of these ideas to drive home ethos, logos, and pathos even further:

  • Use confirming language. Young, moldable minds believe what we tell them to believe. Confirming language such as, “I really liked your contribution to today’s discussion,” lets students know that you are listening to them and that you truly value their input. This has a great impact on their own identify and can affect their academics, how they communicate with others, and ultimately, how they influence others. Paula Denton, EdD and author of The Power of Our Words: Teacher Language that Helps Children Learn and Founder of the Responsive Classroom, notes, “teacher language influences studentsIt shapes how students think and act and, ultimately, how they learn.” While Dr. Denton’s focus is on interactions within an elementary setting, it is safe to assume that language matters well beyond grade school years. Dr. Denton suggests that by being direct, by conveying our faith in students’ abilities, by focusing on actions, by keeping things brief, and by knowing when to be silent, we are fostering a respectful and positive community.
  • Speak to your listener’s needs. People buy into ideas when it benefits them. Make the information matter to those who are in your presence. It is up to your audience to determine if your message is communicated effectively. Nancy Duarte speaks about the power to change the world in her TedxEast Talk; more specifically, she notes, “It's easy to feel, as the presenter, that you're the star of the show. I realized right away, that that's really broken. Because I have an idea, I can put it out there, but if you guys don't grab that idea and hold it as dear, the idea goes nowhere and the world is never changed. So in reality, the presenter isn't the hero, the audience is the hero of our idea.”
  • Be an Equal. It is important to be able to command a classroom so that we do not lose sight of our desired objectives, but one of my mentors once advised, “you gain power when you lose the power trip.” I have found this approach to work great in a classroom.
  • Be Honest. Even if people ask you hard questions, be honest in your approach to providing information and answering questions. People appreciate honesty and would rather not be persuaded through a false hope; false hope leads to disappointment and distrust.
  • Be Responsive, Timely and Follow Through. Do what you say you’ll do. If your listener has a question with which you do not have a firm response, you may offer to get back to them. Always get back to them in a timely manner. You will build respect and trust.
  • Be Genuine and Kind. Providing information in a genuine and sincere way comes across in various ways. From the tone of our voice to our gestures to our facial expressions to eye contact, these nonverbal behaviors are typically not rehearsed when we are speaking in the moment, authentically. Being authentic creates a sense of trust.
  • Tell a Story. Offering a story helps seal a relatable appeal. One of my mentors once told me, “if you start getting some glazed eyes in the audience, tell a personal story to reel them back in.” People remember stories because they can visualize them, and it also reassures them that you are also a human.


Whether we are inside or outside of the classroom, from what we say to how we say it, we are planting seeds in the minds of those who are giving us their attention. Words and behaviors are powerful tools and we should use them in such a way to help create successful contributors to society. If we do a great job as educators, we will see those seeds flourish into something phenomenal.




Professionally yours,

Jennifer Mullen

Students make the most of their college experiences when they step out of their comfort zones -- which can sometimes mean physically stepping out of the classroom, or even the country. During this past fall semester, I studied abroad in Galway, Ireland (cue Ed Sheeran’s Galway Girl) where the entire continent of Europe served as my classroom at large.


That semester I sat through the fewest classes of my college career, yet I would argue that I learned the most during that time.


Galway, the future host of the European Capital of Culture for 2020, served as my home base for my travels, my host university, and my new developing friendships. Living with both native Irish and American students, we had plenty to learn about each other’s cultures despite the lack of a language barrier. From slang words to accents to cultural norms and even social media practices – for example, Facebook is still huge for millennials while Twitter has yet to really take off in Ireland – it was almost seamless to pick up on these differences and integrate them into daily life. I learned to love cheesy Irish reality TV, appreciate the bounty of Irish dairy products, and live like a native to the extent that tourists frequently asked me for directions. My Irish friends laughed at the fact that I describe myself as “Irish” (as in Irish-American) back home, and I astonished them with the fact that the state of New York is bigger than their entire country.

The Cliffs of Moher located in County Clare, Ireland.Each year, the beautiful Cliffs of Moher located in County Clare, Ireland attract millions of visitors. 


Although I thought I knew what I was getting myself into, the education system was drastically different at my Irish university than back in the States. Where American students are accustomed to continuous learning through daily classes with required attendance, discussion based seminars, homework assignments, essays, presentations, and group projects, European instructors commonly expect students to engage in the majority of their studies on their own time. Without the pressure and reinforcement of continuous learning, students must hold themselves responsible to complete readings and in depth studies outside of class time. As a result, I gained a new-found appreciation for the American education system that I once took for granted, as I learned that I’m personally better suited to a more rigorous class setting.


The availability of class notes and lecture slides online (thank you BlackBoard!) and the lack of attendance policies made for the ideal opportunity for international students to travel while still (more or less) keeping up with their courses. During my semester abroad, I was fortunate enough to travel to eight other countries. And, as cliché as it sounds, that was when I learned the most.


Overlooking Dyrhólaey arch in south Iceland where I road-tripped to Reynisfjara black sand beach and Seljalandsfoss waterfall.


Living, traveling, and exploring independently is one of the best ways to gain self-confidence and a sense of accomplishment. After successfully driving a tiny rental car on frozen back roads through Iceland, I truly felt like I could do anything. As your confidence and comfort zone stretch, you learn more about yourself, as well as the other people and cultures you had set out to explore. A once reserved young girl returned a semester later as sociable as the friendly natives of the Emerald Isle, perhaps earned from the gift of the gab at the Blarney Stone. She acquired tastes for new foods, fashion trends, and a knack for looking like a local in a new city.


Kissing the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle in Cork, Ireland is said to give the kisser "the gift of the gab" -- or the ability to speak with eloquence and fluency. The kisser must climb to the top of the castle where they will lean back over the edge, hold onto the rails, and kiss the Stone. 


No matter how different the landscape, language, or culture, people are people and they can find a way around any barrier. Standing at the edge of the Cliffs of Moher, skiing in the shadow of the Matterhorn, marching through the peaceful demonstrations in Barcelona/Catalonia, and gaping in awe at the aurora borealis showed me how small the world can be, yet how small I am in this big beautiful world. These experiences help you to better know yourself and the world around you, allowing you to communicate more easily across cultures and in any new situations life has in store for you.


Despite longing for my bed, my dog, my family, and my friends back in New York, I knew that studying abroad was the best decision I had ever made for myself. Although I missed Galway as soon as I landed in JFK, I’m lucky that I have a home to return to across the Atlantic, and international friends that I could someday tour around my own country. I highly recommend that everyone given the opportunity to study abroad -- whether for a semester, a summer, a year, or just a few weeks -- live it to the absolute fullest.

“Who do we know?”


This question is frequently asked before any position is posted on a job board in an organization. I have been a member of several hiring committees, and we always start a search by listing out the names of people we know who might be interested in the position and reach out accordingly. Organizations always want the “best fit”, culturally and skillfully, and that “best fit” is not always easy to find. Relying on connections we already have often makes it easier to fill positions, and many companies provide incentives for referral-based hiring these days since it helps with recruiting and retaining great talent.


On the flip side, when potential applicants are on a job hunt, the first thing they think about is their resume, which is great…because formatting and content matters. However, many times, resumes come second to relationship building in the job search process. Research shows that up to 85% of positions are filled via networking; they are filled by either internal employees or through referrals. Even more data suggests that 70-80% of jobs aren’t even posted before they’re filled. It’s not just about who you know but who knows you and can speak to your qualifications when you are not around.


In short, students need to learn to master the art of networking to help them in their goal of obtaining employment post-graduation. Most students do not realize that many experienced professionals enjoy helping and giving advice to young people. Most students also do not realize that experienced professionals are greatly impressed when “go-getters” seek them out.




This past year, I had a freshman in a basic communication course who had been assigned to interview someone in her potential field (business). Brilliant assignment, right? It pushed students out of their comfort zones, but most students want to interview someone they already know, like a family friend or relative. It’s great to utilize your existing connections, but it’s not the best way to grow a network.


So when my student told me she admired my passion for my job but had no desire to teach herself, I told her not to interview me. Instead, I thought about how she could combine her passions and turn them into a career. I knew that she loved to run and wanted to help people, so I searched “Olympics” on LinkedIn (an amazing resource to find professionals in their respective industries) and found the profile of an executive from the Olympic Training Center in Colorado. When I read his bio I noticed that he had several things in common with my student, so I told her about him. (Relationship building starts with finding commonalities, after all). She reached out to him, and they had a great phone conversation a few days later. He was very impressed that she was already networking at the age of 18 and spoke about potential internships she might look into down the road.


The point of that story is, once you find your passions, you can use them to build a career path, but you need to rely on your networking skills to propel you forward. Since most jobs are not even posted, it is vital to start making connections and good impressions so that others remember you. The world seems huge, but industries are quite small once you start finding your passions. So how do you start making these connections? I’ve compiled a brief list to master the art of networking:


  • To make the most of networking, you should first know your why. Know what you desire. People want to know how they can help you, but you first need to know what it is YOU want enough to articulate it to someone else in conversation. If you are unsure about what you are passionate about, a good book to check out is Start with Why, by Simon Sinek.
  • Next, create a LinkedIn account and use it in a way that gives you a competitive advantage. Start with a professional headshot and a unique bio that separates you from everyone else. Everyone has a story; this is an opportunity to start yours, and as my friend and National Elevator Pitch Champion, Chris Westfall says, gives others the chance to say “tell me more.”
    • Follow people on LinkedIn within the industry you seek and you’ll start seeing things they post. This can help you become more knowledgeable in the field. Pay attention to the authors of the articles they post and then look them up. Follow them too and so on. If you would like to do more than just follow them, send an invite to connect. Find a commonality and send a professionally-written email that is unique. This should be concise and to the point.

    • If you would truly like to ask their advice on the industry, do not be afraid to send an email to request 10 minutes of their time to learn more about what they do. People typically do not feel put out by giving up 10 minutes of their time. If they do not respond, do not feel bummed. The fear of rejection is real, but if you don’t ask, the answer is always going to be “no” anyway. Someone will eventually respond. Think of rejection as divine redirection.

  • Create professional-looking business cards with relevant information. Here are some tips for What College Students Should Have on Business Cards.
  • Participate in community service that is MEANINGFUL to you. Do not solely do it to rack up service hours for an organization for which you belong. Participating in something meaningful allows you to create more connections with people who have the same interests. If you can assist in a service project that is related to your career, that is a double-bonus!
  • Attend every single networking event that makes you feel uncomfortable. Truthfully, any public space gives you an opportunity to network and connect with people. Do you like yoga? Do you like the dog park? Whatever your interest, others will be there with a common one. People do not know you exist until you let them know you exist. Be prepared to tell people about your interests and how you can potentially collaborate with them once you find that commonality. You never know where one conversation might lead.


To wrap this up, it’s important to know that it is never too early to start meeting people. It’s also important to be you…authentically you, in every conversation – you will be seen as more genuine that way. And finally, remember that it’s not all about you – it’s about collaboration, and so every relationship should be a mutually beneficial one. Find your tribe and your networking circle will continue to grow. Opportunities will follow.





Professionally yours,

Jennifer Mullen

Spring is finally here! 

Last January, we promised you a new blog, with posts from instructors like yourself. And with the long-awaited spring, we also have our long-awaited blog!


Stock photo of a laptop, mug of coffee, journal and pen, camera, calendar that says "January 2018," and a phone with its calculator open to say "2,020".

Photo obtained from 


Stay tuned for blog posts on teaching tips and best practices, emerging trends in the field, and more! If you're interested in contributing to our blog, click  the link here. If you know what kind of blogs you'd like to see, let us know by clicking here and filling out our short survey.


Keep an eye out for our new posts this month, and have a very happy spring!



The Communication Team

Macmillan Learning