Tag Archives: college

Reigniting the conversation: What should a Technical Communication course teach?

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.

Ivy covered buildingLots of people weighed in on the importance of having that conversation. Many of you said you’d be glad to take part.

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. Continue reading

What should a Technical Communication course teach?

Technical communicator, do you wonder why your SME treats you like a pencil-pushing drone? Maybe they took an undergraduate Technical Communication course like the one Becky Todd took.

Ivy covered building“I thought the class was boring,” Becky writes, “because we mostly wrote memos and learned how to format letters. Like any good college student, I completely forgot about the class and moved on with my life.”

But Becky knew that she liked to write. And fortunately, soon after embarking on a career in chemical research, she found the opportunity to enroll in a Professional Writing program where she learned the true nature of technical communication. It changed the trajectory of her career.

Now, six years into her new life as a technical writer, it turns out Becky didn’t forget that first writing course at all. Instead, she remembers it for all the wrong reasons — for how boring and unsatisfying it was.

And I can’t help wondering how many courses are like that one: reinforcing the stereotype that technical communication is dull and menial. And how many students take those courses and then go through their professional lives looking with disdain upon technical communication and its practitioners.

I’ll bet there are lots of courses like that. And I’m certain they do a lot of damage.

So how can colleges and universities ensure that they’re teaching technical communication the right way?

Continue reading

Scary ideas

Zineb El Rhazoui, a columnist for Charlie Hebdo, recently gave a talk at the University of Chicago. She spoke about living under the constant shadow of death threats issued by the Islamic State.

Judith Shulevitz, in a New York Times article titled In College and Hiding From Scary Ideas, describes what happened next:

During the question-and-answer period, a Muslim student stood up to object to [Charlie Hebdo’s] apparent disrespect for Muslims and to express her dislike of the phrase “I am Charlie.”

Ms. El Rhazoui replied, somewhat irritably, “Being Charlie Hebdo means to die because of a drawing,” and not everyone has the guts to do that (although she didn’t use the word guts). She lives under constant threat, Ms. El Rhazoui said. The student answered that she felt threatened, too.

A few days later, a guest editorialist in the student newspaper took Ms. El Rhazoui to task. She had failed to ensure “that others felt safe enough to express dissenting opinions.” Ms. El Rhazoui’s “relative position of power,” the writer continued, had granted her a “free pass to make condescending attacks on a member of the university.”

Fortunately, other students at the university rallied to Ms. El Rhazoui’s defense. Still, isn’t there something backward about people feeling threatened by ideas, especially when the people voicing those ideas are being threatened with literal death?

Cap and deploma: censoredShulevitz also reports on a dust-up at Smith University over a speaker who refused to use the euphemistic “n-word” in a discussion about Huckleberry Finn. The speaker, Wendy Kaminer, is quoted as saying “It’s amazing to me that they can’t distinguish between racist speech and speech about racist speech, between racism and discussions of racism.”

It’s amazing to me too. Continue reading