Friday, October 14, 2005

Reading :: Innovative Approaches to Teaching Technical Communication

Originally posted: Fri, 14 Oct 2005 09:47:14

Innovative Approaches to Teaching Technical Communication

by Tracy Bridgeford (Editor), Karla Saari Kitalong (Editor), Dickie Selfe (Editor)

I really liked Brad Melenbacher and Stan Dicks' chapter in this collection, which describes a framework for conducting service learning-oriented research. The framework integrates a variety of user-centered design and usability methods, and the appendix does a nice job of summarizing usability principles. What Melenbacher and Dicks provide is not a how-to, but a 50,000 foot view of what a solidly integrated course looks like.

If only the rest of the collection followed suit! But the chapters mostly fall into the pattern set by innumerable pedagogy articles: they describe tips, tricks, and palliatives aimed at making TC assignments easier to swallow. If you've been itching to bring literature into the TC classroom, compel students to write autobiographies, or oversee their role-playing, this collection is for you. Otherwise -- the Melenbacher and Dicks piece is Chapter 13, pp. 219-237.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Reading :: Capital, Vol.2

Originally posted: Wed, 12 Oct 2005 20:12:30

Capital: A Critique of Political Economy (Volume 2)

by Karl Marx

As I said in my review of Capital Vol.1, I'm not an economist and my primary interests are in how Marx describes work organization and (more generally) sociological development. Vol.2 doesn't give me a lot to go on here, since it is primarily concerned with describing how commodities circulate. Nevertheless, it hes some interesting points that relate to my current projects.

My current projects have been centering around work fragmentation and knowledge work. As I said in my review of Vol.1, Marx is dealing with industrial capitalism, and capitalism has changed a bit since then. In particular, Marx makes the following assertions:

  • In the transport industry, production and consumption are simultaneous (p.135). This assertion also seems to have direct implications for the communication industry.
  • "Continuity is the characteristic feature of capitalist production" (p.182).
  • The more perishable a commodity is, the less appropriate it is as the object of capitalist production (p.206).
  • Capitalism reduces transport costs by increasing the scale and developing transportation and communication infrastructure (p.229). It seems to me that distributed work results from a radical increase in communications infrastructures, a distribution of means of communication, and communication itself as production.
  • Workers are drawn from a latent surplus population into new lines of work, then released after the inevitable crash (p.391). In distributed work, to what extent is this cycle regularized and how has it changed the nature of work and learning?

I'm still trying to wrap my head around Marx's insights, but it seems to me that he still has a lot to say in terms of how we understand work. The hard part for me is in figuring out ? without any economic background ? what transfers and what has been obviated. >

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Reading :: Power and Legitimacy in Technical Communication, Vol.2

Originally posted: Wed, 12 Oct 2005 20:28:22

Power and Legitimacy in Technical Communication: Strategies for Professional Status

by Teresa Kynell-Hunt (Editor), Gerald J. Savage (Editor)

Technical communication is still trying to establish itself as a field, as we're told in this collection, much of which is devoted to figuring out what to do to advance that goal. But the collection illustrates in quite direct fashion why that goal is going to be difficult to achieve. The authors come to the question from a variety of theoretical (and sometimes atheoretical) perspectives, draw from different literatures, conceive different roles for technical communicators and TC researchers in the academy, chart different courses, assert different values.

Now, it's easy as a reviewer to pick apart collections, which are very difficult to keep cohesive. But in the best collections, the chapters achieve some sort of coherence through a shared, established theme or set of themes ? and they sustain that coherence through dialogue. This collection doesn't do that; "power and legitimacy" turn out too be too weak to hold it together, and dialogue is almost entirely lacking, with so little shared across essays that they don't even seem to come from the same field. So Beth Thebeaux launches an extended attack on theorists and urges us to get back to serving industry rather than reading fiction or dabbling in postmodernism; Jimmie Killingsworth urges us to bring science fiction into our classrooms; Jerry Savage invokes postmodernist theory to critique TC in industry; and nobody responds to each others' points.

The individual essays tend to be interesting, sometimes even thought-provoking. Thebeaux's essay in particular, an extended straw person argument, is entertaining and had me composing responses in my head. But as a whole, there is no whole.

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