Friday, March 29, 2013

Seeing All Sides: A Critique

By Madeleine G.

I found my text through the EBSCOhost database through the UW—La Crosse online library. Access to this website is privileged because of my status as a student. For example, finding this specific article via a Google search would not be simple, which I will address later in this paper. I chose this particular article because working in teams is a difficult task to perfect, and I wanted to see what certain scholarly articles had to say about group work. Three professors at the University of Central Florida wrote the article, most likely for a college class. It is very detailed and specific, with an abundance of elements of the Official Style.
            Often times the Official Style has higher grade levels and lower reading ease. Here are the readability statistics for this article:

Readability Formula

Grade Levels

A grade level (based on the USA education system) is equivalent to the number of years of education a person has had. Scores over 22 should generally be taken to mean graduate level text.

Readability Formula
Average Grade Level

The most prominent element of Official style that I noticed right away was word choice. It is extremely wordy. Take, for example, the second sentence of the article. “This resulted in unanticipated forces acting against the entry and the ultimate destruction of the craft” (Shuffler, M.L., Wiese, C.W., Salas, E., & Burke, C.S., 2010). ‘Unanticipated forces’ is an interesting choice to use here, when the authors could have stated it more simply and not as abstract. Instead, they could have wrote, ‘Since the satellite was built incorrectly, it destructed.’ This is a much more direct statement, and easier to comprehend for a broader audience. Another example is, “Shared leadership may be particularly important to virtual teams, where team members’ separation from the leader and from one another may necessitate the distribution of leadership functions” (Shuffler, et al., 2010).  This first part of this statement is fine. It is the second part that I take issue with. It could instead read, ‘Shared leadership may be particularly important to online teams, where separated members of a team call for the spread of leadership within the group.’ This sentence is in plain English and easier to understand. A third example is the following sentence: “Furthermore, we present propositions regarding factors that may aid in reducing any hindrances in shared leader behaviors brought about by virtuality and distribution” (Shuffler, et al., 2010). An alternative sentence could be: ‘We provide ways to help minimize complications when working in virtual shared leadership situations.
After further analysis of the passage from this article, I felt that although the authors were writing to their desired audience, I do not think that it needs to be in the official style. I think that it is used in this piece because it is speaking to privileged people who have access to work in or operate virtual teams. I also find it contradictory that when working in teams, no one writes to each other using official style, especially in virtual teams. In fact, virtual teams may rely more on video technologies rather than actual writing. This article is most certainly written to those privileged enough to obtain the article and also to understand it. What of those who are not able to work in virtual teams, or are not at a leadership status? What if the leaders in charge are being intentionally or unintentionally harmful to their subordinates? One example I think of is the tragic case of The Challenger Space Shuttle in 1986. These questions lead me to the main idea of activity systems working within the text of this article.
For the purpose of this assignment, I will be focusing on the students and professors at universities that have the opportunity to access the article. The mediating artifacts are the online .pdf file, through the EBSCOhost database, which requires a login and password. To the authors’ credit, they did provide a translated Spanish version of the title and abstract, which is interesting. They must have been thinking of others in their activity systems when writing this piece. The authors are most certainly writing to inform and to teach future leaders, while offering ways to be effective and minimize negative consequences when they write, “…we present a set of propositions regarding specific leader functions whose sharedness may be differentially impacted by the degree of virtuality and distribution within a team. Furthermore, we present propositions regarding factors that may aid in reducing any hindrances in shared leader behaviors brought about by virtuality and distribution” (Shuffler, et al., 2010). The desired outcomes for the authors and the readers would be to successfully work together in teams with multiple leaders to prevent events such as The Challenger Space Shuttle explosion, or as they say in the article, the Mars Climate Orbiter satellite. These examples also go to show that they are not always achieved in practice, as can happen with desired outcomes. Rules and norms in the activity system that may not be typical are people who have immoral intentions that may come across this article, who use the leadership tactics provided for negative reasons. I also think of those who this article may be useful to, but cannot access it. Even business professionals most likely do not have access to the database because of the login and password process, where the information could be potentially very beneficial. Because of these reasons, there are various communities involved in the activity system at work in this context, specifically college students, professors, and business professionals. In terms of divisions of labor within the activity system, they are wide-ranging, and what truly sparked my interest when analyzing the activity systems within the text. The article blatantly separates the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ through the use of language and technology. The official style is one that is often taught in institutions of higher education. These are people who have power over those who do not even have the opportunity to learn about how to get power via this article.
The Official Style does have its purposes. In this particular context in the article, it is used appropriately for the authors’ perceived view of audience. However, after a more critical analysis, it is apparent that this prose style is not always appropriate to use. It can be very exclusive to others and also further separates the line of privileged and under-privileged. The reason why I do not think this article should be written in the Official Style is because it is relevant, important information that should be readily available to those who need to access it. It would be beneficial for those who want to learn more about the concepts and ideas in the article. Overall, it could be much more simplistic and therefore more relatable to a broader audience to include more people in the activity systems.

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