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Communication Students ‘Reclaiming Conversation’ This Fall

Emerson communication students are “Reclaiming Conversation” without technology devices as a part of the School of Communication’s First-Year Initiative.

In today’s digitally mediated society, face-to-face dialogue is being replaced with text and video messaging. While technology has done much to better enable people around the world to communicate, it has not been without consequence – including a sharp drop in empathy among college students over the past decade.

Emerson School of Communication (SOC) students are exploring this paradigmatic shift as a part of the School of Communication’s “Let’s Talk!” First-Year Initiative. The common text uniting this analysis is MIT professor Sherry Turkle’s book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. In addition to the reading itself, concepts from the book have been adopted into course curricula across all four SOC departments.

The school is supplementing the coursework and reading with events and activities throughout the academic year focusing on the idea of face-to-face communication, including designated “Conversation Zones,” at which students are encouraged to set their devices aside and converse with their peers.

The goal of the First-Year Initiative is to build a sense of community within the School of Communication by asking new students to engage with a common program, Dean Raul Reis said. Future iterations could move beyond a singular book and instead surround a material such as a documentary, TV series, comic book, or an event, he said.

“Emerson is steeped in this human communication tradition. We started as a school of communication –public speaking, oratory — and we have developed this long tradition that relates to how we communicate: through writing, face-to-face, to presentation, to performance,” Reis said. “Here, we talk about how empathic skill is great for Emersonians, and how it’s in the DNA of the school. We teach people to be great critical thinkers, listeners, to be empathetic, and to be compassionate.

“[Turkle] is an advocate, encouraging us to reflect on mediated communication and how to go back to a more direct type of communication. Her book is rooted in research conducted by psychologists and educators in areas such as psychological development, and in particular, empathetic listening – which is not something taught anymore nor practiced as much as it used to be,” explained Reis.

The book is chaptered by various types of communication, including solitude, self-reflection, family, friendship, romance, education, work, the public square, conversations over time, and conversations with machines.

Reclaiming Conversation in the Classroom

Marketing Communication Executive-in-Residence Brenna McCormick, a brand and marketing strategist who specializes in creativity and creative thinking, is integrating the “Work” chapter of the book into her Business of Creative Enterprises (BCE) course, Introduction to the Creative Economy.

“We need to have diversity and empathy because we need to be able to tap into the audiences that are not us — That’s where the conversations need to happen because that’s where we’re going to get the most ideas,” said McCormick.

“Technology has revolutionized how we work and it’s given people flexibility to work from home, to reach whole new markets, but I do feel the heart of her book is about discourse and empathy.”

Journalism AssociateProfessor Mark Leccesse, a former longtime political journalist, teaches Emerson’s introductory journalism course, Discovering Journalism, which focuses on journalism’s history, principals, media law and other foundational elements.

Leccesse’s class will focus on the “Public Square” chapter because journalists work in the public sphere, and on how Turkle touches on political echo chambers and people’s reluctance to discuss politics face-to-face.

“The best journalism interview in the end always ends up being a [face-to-face] conversation. As a journalism teacher, there’s a little bit of pushing students out the door or to the telephone to have conversations with people, rather than doing it by email or Googling facts,” Leccesse said.

“There’s a general intellectual curiosity among Emerson students, particularly about new ideas and new arguments, and I think that’s what makes this shared learning experience fun. I’m looking forward to it.”

Upcoming Events

Dining Center – Center Stage
Diverse Voices in Communication presents “BostonRISE”

November 15, 7:00-8:00 p.m.

Authentic Encounters

Dining Center –  Center Stage

Nov. 29, 6:00-7:30 p.m.

Free Conversation Zones

  • SOC Lobby – Walker Building (120 Boylston Street), 9th Floor
    M-F: 9:00 am – 11:00 pm
  • CoLab Library – 3rd Floor
    Every other Wednesday, 6:00-7:00 pm
  • Focus Group Room – Walker Building, Room 635
    T: 1:00-2:30 pm
    R: 1:00-2:30 pm
  • Conference Room – Walker Building, 7th Floor
    T: 1:00 – 2:30 pm
    R: 1:00 – 2:30 pm
  • Conference Room – Walker Building, Room 925
    M: 3:30-5:00 pm
    W: 3:30-5:00 pm
  • Conference Room – Union Bank Building (216 Tremont Street), 9th Floor
    F: 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
  • Dining Center – Center Stage area (122 Boylston Street)
    T: 6:00 – 7:00 pm
    F: 12:00 – 1:00 pm
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