About a month ago, on August 7, I wrote a piece titled What should a Technical Communication course teach? It sparked an exciting discussion about reigniting a conversation, involving both academicians and practitioners, about how to design educational programs in Technical Communication.
Unfortunately, since the discussion died down, I haven’t heard anything more. So I write this in hopes that it’ll fan the flames and get things started again.
First, a disclaimer: I’m a practitioner. I teach part of a certificate course that’s designed to give students the skills and knowledge they’ll need to work in the profession. But I’m not an academic. As a result, the impressions and opinions I’m about to express might be incomplete or even totally incorrect. I welcome all constructive criticism.
First, a summary of points that were raised in last month’s discussion:
Kristen Moore rightly noted that we should be talking about curricula, not courses. Any course needs to fit into an overarching curriculum; even “standalone” courses like my certificate course need to align with the overriding objectives of the department and the institution.
Lisa Meloncon pointed out that there’s room for all kinds of courses: ones that emphasize theory, ones that emphasize practical skills, and practically everything in between. As before, it depends on the objectives of the department, the institution, and of course the students who take the courses.
There are infrastructures in place for holding these kinds of conversations — the Council for Programs in Technical and Scientific Communication (CPTSC) and the STC Academic SIG, to name two. And in fact the conversations have been going on for a long time. For the most part, though, the conversations have taken place within the academy, with little participation by practitioners. I know that CPTSC is composed mainly of academicians, and I think the same is true of the STC Academic SIG.
(Kristen also mentioned an upcoming podcast, sponsored by Women in Tech Comm, about the Practitioner/Academy divide. Can anyone tell me how it went, and — better still — post a link?)
Now, some suggestions intended to stimulate the conversation. Again, feel free to disagree and to add your own suggestions.
We need to find a venue for the conversation, where both academicians and practitioners can have access and feel comfortable. Perhaps the STC Academic SIG is that place — but I’m open to other ideas. Thank you to Pam Brewer, the SIG manager, for enthusiastically joining last month’s discussion and for pointing out that practitioners and academicians often talk different languages and should instead be looking to develop mutual understanding.
The academic community should lead the conversation. Compared to the practitioners, They’re better acquainted with issues related to pedagogy and to the goals of colleges and universities. They probably also have a better idea of what questions need to be asked and answered.
Let’s start small. If we say, “Let’s define the perfect model for Tech Comm curricula, based on the perfect balance between art and science,” the task will be too daunting. But if we say, “Let’s identify two or three primary issues, and let’s look at what the community is doing to address them,” that’s doable. By starting small we can establish some common ground and we can identify the people who want to, and ought to, be taking part in the conversation.
I’m ready to jump in. Now it’s your turn. How can we make this happen?