Effective communication in a digital world: what should we be doing?
“In the past year or so, this issue has expanded phenomenally with the way we are increasingly communicating not so much via technology but with it: with sophisticated chatbots, enhanced with generative AI systems such as ChatGPT. Interestingly, the lack of linguistic error is one sign that you are conversing with a chatbot.”
Can a publisher remain successful if it isn’t an expert in effective communication?
At Oxford, a lot of brain power goes into understanding what makes communication effective—and how that is changing in today’s world. One of the main drivers for change is the increasingly digital nature of our communications.
Two-thirds of the world’s population—5.3 billion people—are using the internet, and for 95% of those, the principal device for communication is our mobile phones.
The trend behind this was clearly accelerated by COVID-19—for example, one in three companies in this research project introduced live chat channels for the first time during the pandemic. This has generated a lot of debate around the impact of this on our productivity and our well-being. From the benefits of the convenience and cost-effectiveness of communicating with people regardless of location to the problems of information overload, lack of personal connection, and risk of misinterpretation—it is a major challenge for all of us.
One area of importance for us is the way digital communication has impacted the language we use. The traditional distinctions between spoken and written English have blurred in a world where written text can be as synchronous and interactive as speech. We see writing reflects the simplifications of grammar, formulaic expressions (‘imho’), and the acceptance of errors or sentence restarts that characterize written language. Oxford University Press (OUP) has played a role in this field of understanding digital communication through publishing the excellent Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication.
In the past year or so, this issue has expanded phenomenally with the way we are increasingly communicating not so much via technology but with it: with sophisticated chatbots, enhanced with generative AI systems such as ChatGPT. Interestingly, the lack of linguistic error is one sign that you are conversing with a chatbot. It has also created many challenges in the world of education—from rethinking what it means to be ‘good at writing’ to issues around detecting AI-generated essays—see this article on AI-detector bias against students who are non-native speakers.
Digital communication has developed further because of its multimedia dimension—increasingly graphic, with easy streaming of video and audio, we have moved on from mainly text-based communication.
Oxford University’s Reuters Institute noted in its Digital News Report 2023 that video-based content, distributed via networks such as TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube, are becoming the main source of information about the world around us—especially for younger people.
Communication has always been multimodal—making use of different ways of getting our message across. When we speak with each other, it is not just the words that communicate our meaning. We use intonation, pitch, pauses, body language, gestures, eye contact, proximity, and touch to add meaning to our words. In digital communications, we can make use of these through video, we can enhance them with graphics and design, we can edit in additional sounds, music, and visual effects. Effective communication requires us to master these opportunities if we’re to be heard among competing voices.
What are the implications of this for education?
How do we help students master the multimodality of communication?
The first step is to recognize that we are no longer just teaching them to read, write, speak, and listen. They need to develop literacy in the multimodal nature of communication, understand the techniques of combining verbal, visual, and aural modes in a single communication.
We have recently released a Position Paper on Multimodality in English Language Teaching. As ELT publishers, we no longer see videos as fun activities for entertainment or a change of pace in a lesson. They are now treated as critical to what the students are learning—combining the verbal and the visual to get your meaning across. Understanding a video or a graphical text is not simply answering comprehension questions, but also an analysis and evaluation of the techniques used to convey the meaning. Sometimes referred to as the skills of ‘viewing’ and ‘representing’, this multimodal literacy is becoming a more common part of curricula around the world—such as in the UK, Australia, Canada, Singapore, and China.
Please do find the time to download and read through our Position Paper.