Notes for a Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda Article

For some time now, I had been planning on submitting a proposal for a special issue of Technical Communication Quarterly on distributed work. However, due to the fact that I'm neck-deep in dissertation work, I have to prepare for CCCC and other talks/engagements, and the fact that I couldn't decide on a topic in time, I'm just not going to be able to do it. It's probably for the best. It would have been impractical to write a draft of a manuscript in April, May, and June that has nothing to do with my dissertation topic AND finish what are currently mighty ugly and sorta stinky drafts of chapters 3 and 5. I'm hearing Dana Carvey as George H.W. Bush in my mind: "Not gonna do it! Not...gonna...doit."

I had a lot of ideas, as I said, and if I could have just decided on one, I could have developed it into something, but again, it's best to focus on my dissertation and publications that could come out of it (one would hope). This is the idea I ended up deciding on that never fully baked, or even half-baked, but maybe someday I can come back to it. I was going to address this question from the CFP:

How do we teach technical communicators who expect to go into the support economy? What are our political-ethical responsibilities and our logistical challenges? What changes do we need to make to pedagogical theory?

I had the idea that the standard technical communication course, with its focus on genre, could be revised to reflect the collaborative, peer-productive practices that Web 2.0 technologies embody. This course would emphasize a dynamic relationship between author and audience, like The Cluetrain Manifesto advocates, as well as networked communication rather than discrete pieces of writing like the memo and feasibility report. Here are the notes I put together for the proposal; in reading this, you'll see how I write to myself when I'm planning a project:

The standard technical communication survey class generally consists of students from a variety of majors, most of whom intend to pursue careers in industry. Because the course serves students in diverse fields of study, the assignments often reflect a focus on genre, with content as interchangeable: resume, cover letter, memo, proposal, progress report, feasibility report.

But is the standard TC course, in fact, designed this way? If so, why? Are there TC scholars and pedagogical theorists who have explicitly recommended that it should be taught this way? I have a suspicion that part of the rationale behind the design of the courses has to do with administrative expediency. What I mean is, the course has to serve lots of students from different majors and has an instrumental purpose for many of them, so students should be able to customize it for their needs; student satisfaction is higher if they can integrate TC with their other courses/internships, etc. Not that scholarship/pedagogy and administration are mutually exclusive here – the principles of flexibility and customization are sound pedagogical principles for student-centered course design – but as with any course, there are administrative factors to consider such as the course’s objectives, place in the curriculum, and enrollment trends.

The subject matter that students write about could still be malleable in a TC course that builds in distributed work patterns facilitated by Web 2.0 technologies, but how would such a TC course be designed? Maybe the focus would just be more attentive to processes, organization, information/knowledge management, and collaborative strategies than to genre. But to be sure, genre isn't going away, and it needs to be taught too.

Right now I'm worried about a few things:

1. Making a case that most TC courses are designed this way (A very smart person suggested looking at the sample syllabi in TC textbooks, but I'm not sure which textbooks are the most widely used and influential, or how to find out.)

2. Making a case that distributed work/Web 2.0 work processes accurately represent what students will actually be doing when they enter the workplace (with students' diverse fields of study and career choices, I fear this one will be impossible to argue persuasively)

3. (As it follows from #2) Making a case that revising the standard TC survey course to integrate Web 2.0 technologies and distributed work principles would better prepare students to write in the workplace than the generic approach does

4. Theory (what theory to use, how to use it, etc. I have a feeling that there might be a theory that would help me sidestep the empirical question implied in #2, but don't know what it is)

I'm not sure how to approach this paper without confronting those BIG claims/problems in 1, 2, and 3. It would be more manageable if I could refine the claims somehow.

...and there was the impasse. Maybe these notes will help someone with a project, at least.

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Sounds like an interesting

Sounds like an interesting article. I hope someone writes it.

Finding out which TC books are most widely used should be fairly easy. You could email major textbook publishers about what their bestselling TC textbook is. You should probably specify intro level, advanced, whatever.

Another way to find out how most TC courses are taught is to design a survey to be distributed via email to TC instructors. You could make a list of X number of institutions (please don't forget community colleges) and email the survey to the chair of each English department, asking that the survey be forwarded to someone who teaches tech comm in the department.

Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, perhaps the project that needs to be undertaken by someone first is to accurately describe HOW tech comm IS being taught today.

One more thing--have you read _Innovative Approaches to Teaching Technical Communication_?

Liz (

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