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21st Century Challenges to Technical Communication
 

21st Century Challenges to Technical Communication

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We often assume that our expertise is in communication and that we need to spend our energies learning new technologies. But technical communicators may be as challenged by radical changes in the way ...

We often assume that our expertise is in communication and that we need to spend our energies learning new technologies. But technical communicators may be as challenged by radical changes in the way we need to communicate as we are by emerging 21st-century technologies. This talk presents strategies for operating effectively as rhetorically-sensitive multi-communicators in ill-structured design situations working with audiences who too frequently exhibit limited attention spans as a result of too much incoming information across too many media devices.

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    21st Century Challenges to Technical Communication 21st Century Challenges to Technical Communication Presentation Transcript

    • 21 st Century Challenges to Technical Communication Dr. Brad Mehlenbacher Leadership, Policy & Adult & Higher Education NC State University brad_m@gw.ncsu.edu www4.ncsu.edu/~brad_m Mehlenbacher, B. (in press). What is the future of technical communication? In S. A. Selber & J. Johndan-Eilola (eds.), Solving Problems in Technical Communication . Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Mehlenbacher, B. (2010). Instruction and Technology: Designs for Everyday Learning . Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Adapted from:
    • Overview
        • We often assume that our expertise is in communication and that we need to spend our energies learning new technologies. But technical communicators may be as challenged by radical changes in the way we need to communicate as we are by emerging 21 st -century technologies . This talk presents strategies for operating effectively as rhetorically-sensitive multi-communicators in ill-structured design situations working with audiences who too frequently exhibit limited attention spans as a result of too much incoming information across too many media devices.
      http://speedcon.wordpress.com/ and http://coachestrainingblog.com/becomeacoach/where-multi-tasking-fits-into-business-success-coaching/7010/ Downloaded from:
    • Our documents have changed
      • Our documents have changed from systems documentation in the 1970s (Rigo, 2001) to, e.g., PDF and hardcopy documentation, online help, style guides, reference and training materials, intranet sites, books, newsletters, annual reports, magazines, proposals, company websites, performance evaluations, video scripts, usability reports, marketing materials, etc. (from interviews with 67 technical communicators, Rainey, Turner, & Dayton, 2005).
      Rainey, K. T., Turner, R. K., and Dayton, D. (2005). Do curricula correspond to managerial expectations? Core competencies for technical communicators. Technical Communication, 52 (3), 323-352. Rigo, J. (2001). SIGDOC Reminiscences. ACM Journal of Computer Documentation, 25 (2), 31-33. Adopted from:
    • Our problems have changed
      • Our problem situations are unstable, demand flexibility and a creative ability to organize across similar but always different problems and demand that we understand, argue, and evaluate our work both conceptually and pragmatically (Schön, 1983).
      Schön, D. A. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action . New York, NY: Basic. Adopted from:
    • Our understanding of knowledge has changed
      • Our understanding of knowledge has changed: knowledge is no longer represented in the form of lists, primary sources, controlled areas of expertise, or fixed private states of understanding; instead, knowledge is contingent, framed by higher-order and changing structures, publicly distributed, and drawn from multiple, emergent sources (Resnick, Lesgold, & Hall, 2005).
      Resnick, L. B., Lesgold, A., and Hall, M. W. (2005). Technology and the new culture of learning: Tools for education professionals. In P. Gårdenfors and P. Johansson (eds.), Cognition, Education, and Communication Technology (pp. 77–107). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Adopted from:
    • Our organizations have changed
      • Work is characterized by downsizing, automation, flattening of work hierarchies, increasing numbers of relationships between companies, continual reorganization, the breaking down of silos or stovepipes in organizations , and the increase in telecommunications (Spinuzzi, 2007).
      Spinuzzi, C. (2007). Introduction to TCQ Special Issue: Technical communication in the age of distributed work. Technical Communication Quarterly, 16 (3), 265-277. Adopted from:
    • Our definitions of expertise have changed
      • Expertise is contextualized and social (Lave & Wenger, 1991).
      • Expertise comes in many different forms, e.g., in the ability to think critically or creatively or practically or wisely (Sternberg, 2003).
      • We can be both experts and novices simultaneously (Brown & Duguid, 2000).
      Brown, J. S., and Duguid, P. (2000). The Social Life of Information . Boston, MA: Harvard University Press. Lave, J., and Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation . New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. Sternberg, R. J. (2003). What is an “Expert Student?” Educational Researcher, 32 (8), 5-9. Adopted from:
    • Technical Communicators as Presence Allocators
      • As presence allocators , we must be able to survey the available communication technologies, choose a medium that provides the right cues for each interaction, and divide our presence among two or more interlocutors (Turner & Reinsch, 2007).
      Turner, J. W., and Reinsch, N. L., Jr. (2007). The business communicator as presence allocator: Multicommunicating, equivocality, and status at work. Journal of Business Communication, 44 (1), 36-58. Adopted from:
    • Technical Communicators as Rhetorically Self-conscious
      • Rhetorically Self-conscious technical communicators apply the following strategies:
      Bazerman, C. (1988). Shaping Written Knowledge: The Genre and Activity of the Experimental Article in Science . Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press. Adopted from:
      • Consider your fundamental assumptions, goals, and projects
      • Consider the structure of your materials, your communities, and your place in both
      • Consider your immediate rhetorical situation and rhetorical task
      • Consider your investigative and symbolic tools
      • Consider your processes of knowledge production, and
      • Accept the dialectics of emergent knowledge (Bazerman, 1988).
    • Understanding ourselves as Technical Communicators Bereiter, C. (2002). Education and Mind in the Knowledge Age . Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Adopted from:
      • Understanding technical communication depends on your relationship to it. Understanding differs depending on whether you are a programmer, teacher, document designer, engineer, instructional designer, information developer, etc.
      • Understanding is critical to acting intelligently in relation to technical communication, e.g., how intelligently you are able to act in relation to technology, managing technical specialists, deciphering research on technical communication, etc.
      • Understanding interacts with interest.
      • Understanding requires some understanding of systems theory, the social and cultural forces that have shaped and are shaping technology and literacy, etc.
      • Understanding technical communication does not mean you can explain it. Explanation helps understanding.
      • Understanding Just as no single correct, complete, or ideal understanding of technical communication can exist, there can be identifiably incorrect understandings.
      • Conversations about technical communication generally emphasize the products or processes of writing, their usefulness, importance, strengths and limitations, etc.
      • Understanding is conveyed through narratives containing key ideas such as orality and literacy, scientific and technical society, discourse, design, etc.
      • A deep understanding of technical communication requires a knowledge of deeper things such as state-of-the-art technologies and historical developments in rhetoric, literacy, communication, and design.
      • Insightful problem solving is possible with deep understanding.
      • Deep involvement is required for deep understanding (Bereiter, 2002).
    • Your 21 st Century Challenges and Goals
      • What do you think the future of technical communication looks like?