Thursday, December 3, 2015

End of Semester Reflection

The course title “Professional and Technical Writing” caught my eye. I had a vague notion that professional writing meant writing for the “workplace” as opposed to academia, and I had no idea what technical writing meant. I thought it might mean writing instruction manuals for microwaves and televisions. I needed to complete another writing seminar for my graduation requirements and was interested in taking my first online class, so I enrolled. I am glad I did, but it has been a difficult course.

Cornelissen’s text was good start to the course. It was accessible for me as professional communication novice, but, accessibility aside, I was bothered by it. I do not like the practices of American corporations, and this text confirmed it. Before I read it, I assumed my distaste came from political and economic biases and a limited knowledge of how corporations function.

When the reading shifted to the theoretical discussion of professionalization, I was turned off at first. I did not make the connection between the readings and what I thought technical writing was and what this course would be. I wondered why we were reading past justifications of something that has already happened, the professionalization of technical communication. Reading Savage’s and Light’s articles helped create a significant shift in my thinking. To formulate any cogent thoughts on the readings, I had to make comparisons to my own work and profession to understand the stakes of professionalization, and those articles helped me do that.

Throughout the semester, I felt a lag between reading an article and understanding it. Generally, as I would read an article, I would have flashbacks of insight into the previous week’s reading. The Kline and Barker article had this same effect but for the entire semester. Their article compelled me to explore the “personas” in the TCBOK project, and I finally arrived at clarity about what technical writing is and the varied contexts in which it is practiced. In the end, even though it took the entire semester for me to feel like I was on solid ground with the material, the readings were well sequenced and helped me understand the subject matter.

Karsh and Alfred are both references I consider valuable and will occupy space on my book shelf for years to come.

My production in this course has been an up and down experience. I have enjoyed (after the fact, of course) being taken out of my comfort zone. I had never created my own blog, and I loved that experience. Posting a video of myself was not an assignment I relished but one that I am now thankful for because I appreciated watching everyone else’s.

I often struggled to formulate decent blog posts. I just did not know where or how to be appropriately critical with the subject matter, so I relied on the blogs of my classmates and Dr. Bridgeford for guidance. I think this dynamic is what I appreciated most about the online class experience. A traditional class facilitates the transfer of peer-to-peer knowledge and insight naturally, for lack of a better word. In the online format, I had to self-assess my own struggles and actively seek out the examples set by my classmates and professor. This was a good lesson for me to learn, and I am thankful for the particular cohort with whom I took this course.

I loved the job ad analysis assignment even though I did not execute it very well. It was a great challenge for me, and I am stillnot happy with my revision. My difficulty with this project demonstrates the one thing I would have liked more of in this course. More reading and instruction about rhetorical analysis of texts like job ads, especially from the perspective of document layout and design, would have helped me tremendously.

On the whole, working through this course has given me exactly what I wanted from it. I have new experience as a student in online only class. I have a solid understanding of what technical writing is and the contexts in which it is practiced. And, this course’s examination of professionalization allowed me to reflect in new ways about my own work and profession.  

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Response to Kline and Barker

Kline and Barker’s examination of communities of practice within technical communication provides a nice complement to Carliner’s discussion from last week. Their ethnographic analysis of the Society for Technical Communication’s (STC) Technical Communication Body of Knowledge project added a more relatable human element to Carliner’s more abstract, theoretical discussion of divisions within the profession of technical communication. Also, Wenger’s model for establishing a community of practice was a useful framework for analyzing those divisions.

In discussing the success of one aspect (the personas), the flagging commitment to another (content population), or a philosophical standoff (intellectual property concerns), I was struck by the important role that identity, of both users and contributors, played in these scenarios.

In the case of persona development, “each TCBOK participant could imagine [himself or herself] as a user of the knowledge portal.” This certainly contributed to the success of that initiative, and leads to a sense of communal identity. Contributors were eager to participate because of this shared professional identity.

When that communal identity broke down, the tasks were less successful. When engagement diminished during the content population project, one participant noticed that there was “less to share, less glamor, less kudos….sometimes not fun.” When participants were at an impasse over a paywall for the TCBOK, the line of division matched the line between academics and practitioners. Both of these instances illustrate a breakdown of any sense of shared identity within the profession. In the first example, an assumption was made that content population was someone else’s job, and the work diminished. In the second, academics and practitioners were at odds over ideology.
Even though Kline and Barker mention that Wenger shifted his research focus “to explain how people learn in organizations and how community and identity affect the transfer of knowledge during collaboration,” I think much more can be said about the role individual professional identity played in the three collaborative scenarios discussed.

The communities of practice framework was a helpful tool to explain the scenarios, but it does not describe the sufficiently describe the why as much as the how. I do not see how Kline and Barker’s proposed model for collaboration can work without solving how differences in professional identity inform one’s approach to work. The authors conclude that their model of collaboration “is essential for a negotiated meaning of professionalism because professionalism rests on accepting and then transcending academic or practitioner identity.” I would argue that practitioner vs. academic identity should not be transcended after the fact but mediated and negotiated before collaborating.  

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Response to Carliner

I appreciate that Carliner has reframed the professionalization discussion. Instead of discussing the “external struggles” involved in professionalizing the field, he examines the internal struggle and divisions that “do not fall along the well-documented fault lines of academe-industry relations.” Carliner’s central claim, that there is not a unified view of professionalization for the field, and the spectrum of viewpoints he posits has helped me widen my view of the professionalization process.

Carliner’s spectrum of views (formal professionalism, quasiprofessionalism, and contraprofessionalization) are presented to define the tensions within the industry but they are also informative of the “external struggles” he mentions as well. If there is no consensus within a field about the professionalization process, it will necessarily create external struggles because employers are not bound to any standards of professionalization.

I agree with Carliner that the contraprofessionalist stance is resisting and undermining professionalization because practitioners at that end of the spectrum will take any jobs or work available according to the whims of the marketplace. If that practice is allowed to perpetuate itself, the work of standardizing training and certification and organizing an agreed-upon body of knowledge becomes impossible. This undermines the branding of the profession as well, as Carliner points out.

Perhaps I have unwittingly internalized the prevalent free-market philosophies of our times because I cannot object to the contraprofessionalist acting in a self-interested manner. After extensive reading about the professionalization process, I value the effort and think it is important for technical communication (and other fields), but, within our current economic structure, I do not see how can the formal professionalist end of the spectrum can truly control the movement.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thoughts on Coppola, Hallier & Malone

I came to this course with no background knowledge of technical writing. As a result, it has taken me some time to get acclimated to what it is and what is/has been at stake in the professionalization of the industry.

When I read Light’s “Technical Writing and Professional Status,” my understanding of the industry, the importance of professionalization, and the thinking behind the design and sequence of this course all coalesced.  Hallier and Malone’s discussion of the article demonstrates why this might have happened. That article is indeed seminal as it is still being discussed and put forth as a watershed moment in the progression of technical writing as a professional industry. For me, though, the article illuminated so much about the field not because of its importance in a lineage of scholarship but more so because it is just an excellent piece of writing.

Coppola’s discussion how technical writing fits in the contemporary market economy contains a tension I cannot reconcile. I enjoyed her opening statement in part two that we live in an age of irony. The irony here being that just as technical writing is emerging as a profession, professions are being devalued. Part of this devaluation of professions is the demand that workers be mobile and flexible. According to Coppola, technical writers are in a position to thrive because the relatively nascent profession demands flexibility and broad knowledge and skills of its practitioners. I do not understand this. She claims that technical writers have “the integrated skill sets…to navigate the complexities of rapidly shifting work structures.” That seems more like the regression professionalization rather than the affirmation of it and that technical writing will be marginalized and devalued as it has sometimes been in the past. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Response to Light and Malone

Light’s examination of status seeking helped illuminate the stakes involved in the drive for professionalism discussed in articles by Savage and Faber. I have no familiarity with the work The Status Seekers mentioned by Light, but the phrase “status seeking” has always held negative connotations in my mind. Light’s claim that “The existence, intensity, and importance of the psychological and emotion-laden urge for social status cannot be brushed under the rug” seems to hold to this negative connotation at first glance. However, the author’s subsequent discussion and claim that it is a serious effort which involves “professional esprit” and personal satisfaction. I am in agreement that these things do matter and status in the eyes of general society can contribute to them. The combination of esprit, satisfaction, and status lead – I would claim – to the elevation of the quality of work one does. This is not a connection I was making when reading previous articles. The drive for and achievement of professionalization of a field can improve the quality of work done and improve the happiness and satisfaction of its practitioners.

Malone’s examination of the “first wave” of professionalization of Technical Writing also helped me better understand the article by Savage. By attaching a specific “narrative” of actual working professionals to Technical Writing’s development of professional organizations, ethical standards, certification, and accreditation of academic programs, I could again better understand the stakes of the movement.

The articles by Light, Malone, and Faber all demonstrate to me the enormity of the task of professionalization in general. This task for Technical Writing seems even more enormous when considering the project of collecting a body of knowledge for the field as discussed by Malone (and Dr. Bridgeford in a recent post).

These issues of professionalization are relevant to the educational context in which I am currently working. I began working in Adult Basic Education (ABE) because I was attracted to serving a more diverse and underserved population than I was in teaching high school. In my time working in ABE, my past teaching experience has been valuable, but it has not been sufficient on its own. ABE is a field with its own theoretical foundations, and I have had to do a lot of research to refine my practices for the student population that I now serve. It is a still burgeoning profession with organizations like COABE leading the growth of the profession in some of the same ways Technical Writing grew as outlined by Malone.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Job Ad Analysis

This memo presents an analysis of five job advertisements in the professional/technical communication field. The goal of this analysis is to provide an overview of how information is presented in the following categories: employer information, job title, job duties, qualifications, and skills. This overview will provide you with ideas to consider as you craft your resume and cover letter for a position within the field of professional/technical communication.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Savage: The Process and Prospects for Professionalizing Technical Communication

Savage’s discussion of the history and perception of professions in the US compels me to consider my own work within the professional field of teaching. I took a “non-traditional” and thus non-professional path to teaching. When I first stepped into a classroom as a substitute teacher in a Chicago charter school, I had had no training whatsoever. My Bachelor’s Degree was the only prerequisite at this particular school. I was hired for my first full time teaching job as a Latin instructor because I had a BA in Latin and minimal experience as a substitute teacher; the private school at which I worked was not required to hired fully licensed and certified teachers. Somehow, I was able to circumvent all training and certification in the field, but I still consider myself a professional teacher.

My personal experience is somewhat akin to Savage’s observation that “job advertisements for technical writers persist in representing job qualifications in terms that leave the field open to candidates other than those with formal education in technical communication” (p. 144).  Savages cites hiring managers who are over their skies when it comes to hiring for technical writing, and they ironically cannot properly execute a job description for a technical writing position. Both of these strike me as broad strokes observations and quite subjective.

Savage’s observation that many technical writers are hired in-house based on “subject matter knowledge” and a general facility with the written word also strikes me as a broad speculation, but it is logical. This would be a safe, cost-effective practice for an organization. This makes me wonder if corporations who need to employ technical writers are themselves not interested in the continuing professionalization of technical writing. Savage does mention that the road to professionalization is filled with obstacles, and I think this may be one.

I absolutely agree with Savage’s claim that one major difficulty in the professionalization of technical communication is the “difficulty of defining the expertise of technical communicators in order to set the field apart” (p. 159), and I would consider this the biggest roadblock. If employers had a better grasp of what well trained technical communicators can do, the resulting hiring practices would help foster a stronger professional identity which would, in turn, accelerate the breaking through of other roadblocks mentioned by Savage.  

Given what I now know about technical communication, I do think that full "professionalization" (whether as defined by Faber or Savage) is important because it can protect and preserve the security of its practitioners.