Tag Archives: Education

Thomas & McShane: The Future of Undergraduate Technical Communication Programs

Thomas, Shelley, and Becky Jo McShane. “Skills and Literacies for the 21st Century: Assessing an Undergraduate Professional and Technical Writing Program.” Technical Communication 54, no. 4 (2007): 412-23.


Thomas and McShane take the outcome of a self-study of their academic department and apply their findings to the broader field of Technical Communication. Their findings have numerous conclusions that all Technical Communicators should note.

A part of many technical communication programs calls for students to develop portfolios, which they can use to secure job positions once they complete the program. With this key goal in mind, Weber State University analyzed their Professional and Technical Communication program to ensure that they were adequately equipping their students with the abilities needed to produce a compelling portfolio. Weber State academics believed that the portfolio indicated clear strengths and weaknesses for each student.

Weber State established a client-centered approach to their program. This approach took into consideration the professional and family background of many of the technical communication students and gave the institution the ability to maximize the community links the students bought with them. By encouraging students to continue to foster their professional relationships, it provided the academics with alternatives to purely academic standards. The interplay between academics, professionals, and students, encouraged the development of more nuanced grading rubrics, which helped to establish a holistic approach to technical communication education.

The result of this collaboration is better preparation of technical communication students and an improved relationship between academics and practitioners hiring graduates from the program, ensuring the viability of the course and the workplace success of the student.


Why is self-study and self-reflection necessary for program and teaching progress?

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The Future of Education

One of my good friends ProfessorTom recently linked me to the following TED talk (if you don’t know about TED talks, you’re really missing out! They’re on YouTube and iTunes).

Below the link are a few of my thoughts about it:

Hopefully you can play the video, but the basic gist of Sir Ken Robinson’s (yes, he’s English!) talk is that our current school education system stifles creativity and doesn’t allow our children the freedom to not only fail, but explore their strengths – no matter where they might lie – and this is a complete travesty that needs reform if we are not to start pumping out xeroxes of our children.

There is quite a lot of truth to Robinson’s thought processes, and something that I agree with in principle. Each individual have their own strengths and weaknesses that provide us with the tools to become (hopefully) productive members of society: for example, I think my talents lie in the social sciences fields whereas my friend Professor Tom is far more talented in computer sciences fields and photography (even if he doesn’t think so!). It makes little sense, therefore, to push someone like me towards fields that can’t hold my interest nor something that I couldn’t reach success in: I’d be miserable, and as such would not be as productive as I could be. This leads to another point Robinson makes that I agree with.

Robinson posits that while a world-wide educational focus on mathematics and physical sciences (physics, chemistry, biology) is a positive, particularly in the current economic climate, why does it have to be at the expense of areas such as fine arts? Robinson highlights that fine arts have been increasingly squeezed out of school curricula as governments and education agencies increasingly emphasize the “solid” subjects of math and science. This is to the detriment of the students who have a natural inclination and ability with fine arts, which is not only neglected but crushed: Robinson uses the example of a girl who could not keep still or stay concentrated while in class and was continually moving; being a “disruptive” influence on her classmates. Taken to a counselor, there was a brief interview between counselor, parent and child and after a while the counselor asked the parent to speak with them outside, leaving the child alone with music playing. Looking back into the room after they left, they noticed the child tapping along to the beat and rhythm of the music. The child had a natural ability for music, which after it was discovered, led to a happier childhood and ultimately national success capped by award-winning performances later in life. This ability could have been squashed and eliminated in today’s climate where any child who is in anyway disruptive is immediately misdiagnosed with ADD or its derivatives and is medicated into a stupor that crushes any innate creative ability.

This creative ability is key to the success, survival and flourishing of the next generation. It is from this creative ability that so many of humankind’s advances have been born: the steam engine, the cotton gin, the transistor, the space shuttle to name but a few. Without this creativity human growth will be stunted and populations will be lackadaisical and boring. It’s something I agree with. While I stop short of Robinson’s call for creativity to be taught in schools, it is certainly something that I believe should be nurtured, challenged and promoted as much as possible. Giving equal time between all academic disciplines up to a point – sometime within the secondary education term – is a start, as is finding alternative teaching methods that encourage different learning techniques. Most importantly, stop “teaching to the test” and encourage broad and wide-ranging problem-solving that accepts all methods of getting to the same end goal. Taking as an example, Captain James T. Kirk’s decision to re-program a supposed “unwinable” situation in Federation training school to be successful. While people can, and have, discussed the ethics of cheating surrounding this episode, the principle stands: thinking outside of the box is what has driven the human race forward, and should therefore be encouraged as much as possible so that we avoid stagnation, the antithesis of progress.

My final suggestion would be to bring in the methods and techniques of some of the most successful business leaders to the classroom, challenging our students to find similar solutions to common problems to start the process of creativity and remove the culture of fear of failure which seems to drive most educational systems now. So many parents report that their children are stronger than we (meaning broader society) give them credit for that by allowing them to fail at an early age can only strengthen them and spark the motivation to do better, be stronger, act maturely and give hope to those generations that went before us that it wasn’t all for naught.

What are your thoughts?

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