2019-11-28 Bad Communication

The five page PDF of Defensive Climate in the Computer Science Classroom kept me thinking. So much bad communication, and so applicable

basically explains how we get into a setup where formally, computer science education does not discriminate, but the learning environment, the culture around it most certainly does. Data from 2000-2001, but think about it: those are the people that are now in charge.

Bad communication, extracted from the PDF. Simply put, the problem is guarded behaviour. When people perceive or anticipate threats, their communication focuses on self-defence. We want to avoid this.

Impersonal environment. The counter measures are simple: learn people’s names and use them, learn about their interests through intentional self-disclosure. Chat with each other. Don’t sit all by yourself. Ask questions.

Informal hierarchy. Avoid the display of status because everybody is trying to determine their place in the informal hierarchy. Thus, avoid the appearance of excelling, of being better than others. Instead, emphasise shared values. Don’t establish a hierarchy by mentioning that there are people with a certain skill or a certain range of skill levels in the audience because the members of the audience place themselves in this bracket. Establishing such values beforehand reinforces views of who belongs and who does not.

Superiority. It goes even further: Don’t ask who likes this or that because everybody who does not feels excluded. Don’t say a task is easy because everybody who thinks it’s hard feels excluded. Don’t refer to certain individuals as smart, not even implicitly by announcing that certain activities are smart. Anybody who hasn’t done them feels excluded.

It’s hard! We need to work on the entire environment. Don’t make judgements. Don’t let individuals show off. No posturing. No rhetorical questions. No nitpicking. No emphasis on trivial mistakes.

In short: Don’t emphasise neutral communication over empathy. Don’t depersonalise people. Don’t discourage self-disclosure of personal information. Show concern for others.

If judgements, reviews, scores, grades and the like are required, make it a personal experience. Talk to people or they feel rejected.

I really recommend the PDF and now that I’ve read it, I fear that I’ve shown several of these behaviours in the past. 😔

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