Breaking mindset

This is my first course for my certificate requirements. I wasn’t totally sure I would “fit” into the MSTPC program since my background is literature, and I have limited experience with technical writing and media. I saw it as a challenge of my boundaries of knowledge. However, as a reader of some of the class material, I felt I was not part of the target audience since I am not familiar with technical writer jargon etc. Of course, if a reader cannot relate to the material, it is a struggle to maintain interest and focus. Nonetheless, I kept on reading. As I was reading Blythe, Lauer and Curran’s “Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World,” I began to relate, to focus and to reflect.

I teach mainly composition at a technical college, yet we still devise our composition classes as if they were for a four-year college. I have had some of my students complain about having to take one writing class since they felt it didn’t pertain to their program. Of course, in the end they understand that any writing genre (mainly essays) will help them communicate more effectively in their careers. However, the set curriculum may not be sufficient if many of my technological-minded students are going into careers where more technical writing would be the norm.

A student who graduates from a technical school is more apt to be required to write similar forms of communication as mentioned in Blyth, Lauer and Curran’s report. Figure 1 (Blythe, Lauer and Curran, 2014, p. 273) lists research papers only on the bottom of the type most valued column; whereas, emails, instruction manuals, websites, presentations and blogs are at the top of both the list of most often used and most valued. So, perhaps I can begin making changes in my courses to meet the future needs of my students.

 

I am not discounting the value of essay writing and the objectives of our mandatory writing courses, for it does require the skills needed to do many of the more technical forms of writing. However, perhaps exposing students to other genres of writing would be beneficial in that it may attract the interest of a more tech-savvy (or interested) audience and may lead students to feel like they are getting more out of their course that they can apply directly to their programs and future careers.

 

Perhaps being a student again (not originally by choice) has reminded me of how my students feel when entering my required classes. Plus, this class is broadening my understanding of writing and the value of different forms of communicating in today’s technical world. Hopefully, my students will feel the same.

Posted on September 23, 2017, in Digital, Teaching, Technology. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I am glad to hear your students seem to grasp the importance of being able to communicate well. I think it is a skill that many college-educated adults seem to lack. Hopefully, you’ll be able to use the Blythe, Lauer, and Curran article in your classes to show your students who think they won’t be writing in their careers that … they’ll be writing. Even if its just a lot of e-mails.

    I’m not sure if you’ve taken ENGL 700 (or if it’s required for your certificate), but that class takes some time to define technical communication and how it is evolving. Part of the evolution is just examining the best ways to connect with users or audience members, so hopefully that is something you can takeaway from this certificate program, too.

    • Half of my students are returning adults who understand the importance of writing but lack experience with technology, nor do they embrace technology. My younger students are the opposite. I hope to bridge that gap. I DO understand audience and am trying to meet the needs of all my students in my freshman composition classes.

  2. I also wondered if this was the program for me, as I have never considered myself a technical writer, but some of the reading we have done for this class and another have showed me how much of my work can be described as professional or even technical writing. I also have to admit that I never really though of emails as business writing. Everybody writes emails. But now that I work for a large organization and have to correspond with top leadership and highly educated medical professionals, I realize how the skills I have honed over the years (including freshman comp so many years ago) also serve me when crafting internal messages – even emails. I took a mid-career break from media and studied computer programming 20 years ago, then worked in that field for a couple of years. Even then, my instructors were emphasizing that workers in technical fields needed to know how to communicate with people, in written and verbal form. This was something they felt was largely overlooked when they had entered technical fields. On the other side, the technology we use to communicate is constantly changing. I’m old enough to sometimes feel like it’s overwhelming to try to keep up. It’s great that you understand where your students are coming from and are working to bridge the gap.

  3. Writing students need to be taught multiple genres for multiple audiences. As an English department faculty member, we often get complaints from other programs on campus wondering why their students can’t write. The short answer is, if we get only 2 semesters of composition with them, and no other course they take requires any writing, how can we be to blame? I do agree that we could do more to practice essay exam questions rather than research papers since that’s a genre often utilized, likely because it’s easier to grade if you’ve got 100+ students each semester.

    But the more writing instructors can vary things, the better, even if just for an in-class writing exercise. Or take a research paper that’s already been written and challenge them to revise it into a 250-word summary or 500-word blog post or even an infographic!

    I look forward to hearing about how you can take concepts from the course and incorporate them into your pedagogy!

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