Exploring the Situated and Cultural Aspects of Communication in the Professions: Implications for Teaching, Student Employability, and Equity in Higher Education

WCER Working Paper No. 2018 -11

Matthew T. Hora, Bailey B. Smolarek, Kelly Norris Martin, and Lee Scrivener


October 2018, 39 pp.

ABSTRACT: One of the problematic features of the increasingly influential discourse of student employability in higher education is the widespread conception of “skills” as de-contextualized bits of knowledge, ability, and disposition. Instead, how particular competencies are valued, defined, and utilized in practice is deeply shaped by sociocultural, political, and situational factors. The effect of these influences is especially relevant for communication skills, which are widely viewed as critical for employability. In this study we examine how nursing and engineering experts and novices conceptualize communication within specific situations. The data highlight distinct ways respondents define communication and the role of contextual and cultural factors in shaping these perspectives, and how views of “acceptable” communication risk reifying norms of dominant classes while ignoring cultural variability.

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keywords: communication, higher education, context, soft skills, employability