In the last chapter of this text, Katherine V. Wills discusses the teacher’s role and how to better prepare students as technical communicators outside of academia. Rather than teach students to be reproducers of culture, Wills suggests that teachers should teach students how to produce culture (259). The problem that Wills sees then, is that of inactivity or passivity. That is, technical communication students are being taught not to engage and be active, contributing members of the field,
Wills strives to join cultural studies with technical communication in this piece, stating that “In order for graduate-level technical writing students to move from reproducing culture unconsciously to producing culture consciously, they are introduced to research methods and writing strategies based on a sociopolitical analysis of power” (259). So, while Wills is concerned with technical writing students in a broader sense, she is also concerned with graduate students, both those learning and those preparing to teach technical writing. What are we (our class perhaps) preparing for?
In this piece Wills draws heavily on Pierre Bordieu’s Homo Academicus. She explains that according to Bordieu there is a spectrum. On one end are professors who do research, and on the other, professors who focus on teaching. who “do the work of cultural reproduction” (260). Integrating cultural studies with the teaching of technical writing forces those “comfortable with teaching and research methods…to rethink the goals and structure of outdated technical writing curricla” (26). It seems that what Wills is suggesting is that it doesn’t matter which end of the spectrum one falls (researcher or teacher), approaches in the way students are being taught tech. comm. need to be reconsidered.
Wills goes on to argue that technical communication is a taxonomic field made up of “materials, thoughts, and processes” (260). She explains that in his work, Bordieu explains why new classifications are needed, stating that what is at work are ‘academic forms of classification’ “‘like the ‘primitive forms of classification’…are transmitted in and through practice, beyond any specifically pedagogical intention'” (261). Tying this concept into her own argument, Wills states that these academic classifications continue to be reproduced in academia but are done so without taking into account the needs of society (a concept brought to light earlier in this text by Slack, Miller and Doak).
Wills then moves into Bordieu’s notion of academic power stating that the academy has maintained its power because of the established commitment “to hierarchical authority” (261). Wills subsequently argues that teachers need to incorporate “an awareness of the anti-intelluctualism” (261) that has been fostered in the university system. This idea of anti-intellecutalism leads into the notion of replication, as Wills suggests that many students in the university system have been systematically institutionalized. She notes that students, especially those with work experience, view their coursework as “hoops” to getting to the “real world” (262).
From here Wills moves into the actual teaching of tech. comm, noting that many teachers who teach tech. comm. courses have little or no “authentic” experience. This goes back to Dr. Arola’s question a couple of weeks ago now, in regards to “real world” experience being brought into the classroom. How is this done if the person teaching the course doesn’t have this to turn to? Wills goes on to provide strategies for teaching tech comm in conjunction with cultural studies. She argues that “Students who are introduced to a variety of strategies based in cultural studies can better recognize ideological agendas and power relationships among writing audiences” (264). One way of highlighting this for students, Wills suggests, is to use the syllabus as a model. For Wills, the syllabus itself can serve and be seen as a “workplace document” if introduced in that manner from the beginning. Wills argues that in doing so “instructors foreground authority (academic, workplace, or institutional” (264). Furthermore, the line between academia and the “real world” become blurred and classroom itself becomes a workplace.
Wills then focuses on curricla and draws on Sam Dragga and the marketing strategies of the Kellogg company by breaking down the strategies used in selling Coco Puffs. What Wills encourages teachers to do through this consideration is to 1) again, incorporate cultural considerations and perspectives; and 2) be creative, that is, to take risks when teaching. She believes that writers need to be cognizant of the power issues in the workplace when it comes to document production (265); and that in engaging tech. comm. students, they become socialized within a community.
In regards to assignments, Wills advocates for the integration of off-campus internships or collaborative work programs (for graduate students). She states that in so doing, students not only “practice technical writing within transactional workplace, they can actualize” (266). Her point here seems to be that there is only so much that can be taught and at some point students need to be encouraged to seek out those “real world” workplaces. Wills goes on to suggest that this sort of approach encourages reflection on power structures within technical writing projects.
Wills continues to consider the curriculum that students are exposed to and suggests that students need to be exposed more to the concepts of Abstraction which pushes students to think “creatively and with an eye toward their social complicity when producing documents” (267). Further, abstraction encourages critical thinking and the development of alternative answers and “avoiding assignments with instructor-stipulated parameters and well-worn answers” (267), allowing students to figuring out and negotiate their own way through a process when they are not given any direction.
Next, Wills discusses System Thinking which is similar to Abstraction in that it is a process that prompts students to consider complex perspectives in their writing. Systems Thinking is then followed by Experimentation (exactly what it sounds like–trying something out and not worrying about the rules). Collaboration and lastly Theorization, which simply put, allows the exploration of how “knowledge is legitimized or marginalized within institutions, relationships, and classrooms” (268).
Wills closes by emphasizing that teachers should emphasize that what makes knowledge knowledge should be approached from and in as many perspectives as possible. It is ultimately a recognition of the power structures in which we operate that the technical communicator will be able to produce culture.
This article also connected to Bernadette Longo’s consideration of the legitimation of knowledge and going outside the institution.
Jim Henry’s handbook –> hyperpragmatism. The idea that teachers need to step away from the text book. Also, incorporating “outside” activities and assignments into curriculum (212).
J. Blake Scott’s call for service-learning while still considering the student’s primary concern in fulfilling the expectations of the organization and the course. Ties into Wills’ concern that student’s only see courses as “hoops”.
I’m not versed in the law, but I’m curious to know how feasible service-learning/outside work would be on the undergraduate level. What considerations would we need to make in 402? Also, are there other costs that would need to be considered if this were approached on an undergrad. level?
I’m still really curious to know what others think about (not) having “real-world” experience and teaching a 402 course. Are there other ways to make up for this? Are we short-changing students?
I might be thinking a tad bit literally, but in what other ways can we turn the classroom into a “workplace”? Would this entail setting up mock-cubicles? Having students “dress up” for classes when a visitor or “client” came in to speak?
Lastly, drawing on a question from last week, and in thinking about Skype and social media forms, how do we accommodate the changes taking place in the workplace?