The study of organizational communication strives to improve the manner in which individuals work in collective groups.

Dr. M. Scott Poole
Professor
Joined the department in 2006

Have you ever been frustrated at work with your boss? Was it regarding instructions and assignments? What about working with a group on a class project? Professor Poole is an expert on group dynamics and how members communicate with each other in a structured setting. He has also applied his organizational communication background to online games, information systems, and emergency responses. Dr. Poole tells us more about one of his current projects on multiplayer online games and the real world implications. Interested to find out more about the complex nature of group communication? Keep reading Professor Poole’s interview and enroll in CMN 212 for an introduction to the topic.

1. How did you become interested in organizational and group communication?
In my undergraduate and graduate years I worked for several alternative organizations, co-ops, collectives, etc. They often had problems managing conflict and organizing themselves. I was quite interested in democracy in organizations and pursued courses (and in my graduate years, research) to help facilitate these organizations. Once I began my research, I realized that groups did not seem to make decisions in ways that conformed to the models taught in most group texts and my research established that they did not.

I study groups and organizations because they are very important to the functioning of society, and I believe communication research and practice can improve them and the lives of their members.

2. One of your current research projects is the Virtual Worlds Exploratorium Project, a multi-university collaboration, which investigates communication and behavior in massive multiplayer online games (MMOGs). What are your goals for this project?
MMOGs are a huge phenomenon in our society. Millions of people spend significant portions of their lives in these games. They have become important places for recreation and socialization in our society. It is important to understand behavior in these games in order to assess their impacts on society and those who play them, both positive and negative (we have found mostly positive behavior patterns in these games in our research, by the way). We also study these games for a second reason -- many of the behaviors in these games are similar to those in the real world. For example, players form teams to carry out tasks such as killing monsters and exploring areas that are similar to real-world teams of emergency responders, repairpersons, and soldiers. We can measure behavior in these games with a level of precision not possible in the real world and we can also draw samples of thousands of such teams. As a result, we can conduct scientific studies that would be impossible with real-world groups that tell us important things about how real-world groups operate.

3. In another current line of research, you are examining emergency response organizations and how communication promotes or inhibits effective responses. What is this project all about?
We are studying the tensions that these organizations face, such as the tension between the need to plan and the need to improvise because no disaster follows the script they use to plan. Along with Professor John Lammers and graduate research assistant Elizabeth Carlson, we will study the effectiveness of the measures and communication strategies emergency response organizations take in response to these tensions. We are collaborating with the Illinois Fire Service Institute in this research, which we hope will advance theory and help emergency response practice.

4. What is one thing that you would like undergraduates to know about your research, your findings, or your role as a professor?
That there are no easy or pat answers to the important questions we face. Research and critical inquiry are the keys to understanding and insight. We should never stop asking questions or assume we have the final answers.