One could easily make the claim that when it comes to communication, the rise of modern technology beginning in the early 20th century has ushered in a resurgence in the use and importance of oral communication skills. Prior to the development of writing, oral communication ruled. Writing, a technology in and of itself, changed society radically in that it allowed people to communicate with other people over vast distances of both space and time. While oral communication skills ruled when it came to communication with someone in the immediate vicinity, writing became a powerful communication tool for those beyond the immediate vicinity.
True, writing was a skill learned only by the privileged elite for centuries. However, the advent of the industrial revolution, the development of the printing press, and the organization of public schooling changed all that. The primacy of writing became so prevalent that, I would argue, more thought and effort were placed on developing reading and writing skills and less on the development of oral communication skills. Classical definitions of literacy always include the ability to read and write an only periodically included the ability to communicate orally. It appears to me that the thinking was if a person could read and write, the would be able to use words in oral speech as well.
The advent of the telephone, the television and radio began to change this as new electronic technology allowed people to record spoken words and transmit them over large distances of space and time. The tools to record and transmit spoken words were kept in the hands of the wealthy until the dawn of modern digital and handheld technology. Now, with the ability to transmit audio and video recording in the hands of everyone, the ability to communicate orally becomes very important once again. It’s not that oral communication was ever considered unimportant, it just that for centuries, reading and writing took more of the centre stage in society and in schooling.
This blog post, then, is a form of a plea to educators who continue to relegate oral communication to the background of language arts education. It’s a plea to encourage more group discussions and oral communication in daily lessons instead of the one speech or oral presentation per term comprising the total grade for oral communication. Quiet classrooms may be easier to manage, but they are not necessarily the environment where learning can be maximized. the development of oral communication skills is richest when planned conversation is included daily in the youngest of grades and continues every year throughout the schooling years.
The connection of the focus of oral communication to modern technology is obvious – oral and visual communication skills allows one to use handheld technology that features voice and camera functions more productively. This is not to devalue reading and writing as these continue to be very important skills. The idea is to re-elevate the development of oral and visual communication skills to the same level as reading and writing.