Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Worrisome (dis)Advantage of Technology

CCR 760

I find myself consistently concerned with access, specifically in terms of technology. I find that this is a fair concern given the implications of both Jones and Slattery’s articles. Both authors seem concerned with how technology has changed the “technical communicators” work. Both authors also agree the work has changed dramatically.

Jones looks at the role of collaboration in the work place and states, “I define collaboration as interaction by an author or authors with people, documents, and organizational rules in the process of creating documents” (450). Although I appreciate Jones’ definition, having worked in a “corporate” climate and in the non-profit sector it’s hard to imagine any other kind of writing. Yet, I understand the need for such clarification and it does help set up the relevance of his study. Despite the importance of collaboration I find myself most interested in the changing focus of workplace writers. Specifically, Jones claims, “In short, I found that the writing process had changed and that the writers focused less on producing text and more on developing, coordinating, and structuring the newly adopted corporate intranet” (456). I understand this to mean that the production of text itself is becoming less of a priority than developing a usable platform. This focus then will require a large degree of comfortability with technology itself. I see this need to echoed in Slattery.

According to Slattery he, “examines discussions of core competencies of technical communication while foregrounding the role of mediating artifacts, the myriad of (primarily electronic) texts and the tools used to manipulate them” (354). Additionally, he explains, “…the article describes how writers experience their trade through the various information technologies they use and reports their understanding of the role of technology in technical communication to identify the relationship between technological skill and higher-order competencies as these writers experienced them (354). Slattery finds that technological skill is imperative for higher-order competencies to develop. Again, what this implies is that a proficiency in the technology being used is required before more complex interactions can be achieved. Although Slattery concedes that there is not a need to literally know how to use every program there is a “intuitive” element to understanding new software. Slattery shares, “One participant in my study described being able to use an image editing program he had never seen before because, having used several others, he knew what it ought to be able to do. Figuring out how to do the task in that particular program was just a matter of locating the function within the program's menus” (357). In other words, having a working understanding of program conventions is useful when learning a new software. Although this may seem only logical it becomes problematic when considering the populations that are typically unable to access to technology (or limited access).

It leads me to two questions. First, do composition rhetoric teachers have an obligation to not only teach writing in traditional mediums but also in “new media?” Second, if we do teach in new media how do we ensure that students already comfortable using technology are not at an unfair advantage in our courses?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Web 2.0

Disrupting the Machine: Web 2.0 Power to the People

While reading the texts for this week I could not help but to think about a conversation many of us had about Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life. The main question that was posed was about the possibility of “tactics” being enacted within structures (like the web) that are inevitably constrained. In other words, because the capabilities of any particular information platform are predetermined and only customizable within a particular set of parameters subversion is limited. However, it seems many of the articles were actually illustrating how web 2.0 makes it possible to use technology for purposes that it was not originally designed for. For instance in, Karl Stolley’s article, “Integrating Social Media in Existing Work Environments: The Case of Delicious,” he claims “The customization and integration of Delicious that I present here, then, can also be applied to other SMAs, which collectively provide a model of how technical communicators may ‘‘subvert’’ and ‘‘open up’’ a centralized system ‘‘and find ways to build in support for activities that it excludes’’ (Spinuzzi, 2003, p. 204)” (351). He continues to suggest a very specific way to use Delicious that will help technical communicators better understand the end user.

Because I am particularly interested in the issues of the “digital divide” and access I cannot help but to consider two important issues with this kind of “subversion” and/or social action. First, if social media applications are being used to rally support for social action then access to such technology is going to only increase in importance. Obviously, an additional concern is that access is not necessarily enough in and of itself because users need to also be comfortable with the utilizing the technology and/or know where to find it. Second, what is considered subverting? In other words, is Harfouh’s recount of using MyBO a type of subversion? Or is it a fully appropriate use of such technology? Certainly the fact that Chris Hughes, Director of Online Organizing, for the Obama campaign was also one of the founders of Facebook suggests that the use of the technology was in line with the goals, as well as the intentions of use, for the platform. I do not mean to suggest that Obama’s campaign was subversive I just wonder if it is in danger of being considered so because it used the web in ways that had not been done before. If the campaign efforts were considered subversive would that leave room for the stronger and more dominant communities that already have a large presence in technological fields work to silence more effectively small grassroots efforts?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

CCR 760 week 8...really? Already....

Tech Communicator as an Information Designer

I find that in many aspects of writing definitions are difficult to agree upon. When asked to describe what I do or what I teach I often find myself struggling to come up with a concise and appropriate description. Part of this complication is because what I do and/or teach is constantly evolving. This is particularly true if I’m trying to describe the role of “rhetoric” in what I do. So, when reading the texts for this week I realized that technical communicators probably always had a difficult time defining what they did and it has only become more complicated as communication technologies have changed.

Carliner provides early evidence of this when he states, “The Vienna-based International Institute of Information Design (1997) admits that information design ‘can be hard to define, because it is an interdisciplinary approach which combines skills in graphic design, writing and editing, illustration, and human factors. Information designers seek to combine skills in these fields to make complex information easier to understand’”(43). However, he doesn’t seem to accept the-it’s just too difficult to describe-approach and continues by adding, “Because design is focused on solving problems, a design theory must provide more than a series of guidelines about discrete characteristics of the solution; it must focus designers on identifying the problem and supplying a framework for identifying and considering the interrelated issues that must be addressed in a solution” (44).

Although Carliner goes on to describe a more detailed and structured framework and acknowledges both the benefits and the drawbacks to such an approach the difficulty of “definition” is echoed in Abers text.

Because I find most of the “definitions” reader/user-centered and the focus on purpose and context, I can’t help but to feel that writing (whether technical or otherwise) defies definition. As texts become more “visual” and readers become my diverse what and how we write will continue to change. This difficulty for definition is both ironic and liberating. I find this liberating because it allows us as teachers and researchers continue to be relevant and interested in what we do and how we do it.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

CCR 760 Week 6

Privileging the Multitasker

So, I’m reading through Datacloud and thinking about what the implications are for my teaching (as usual) and communication in general. Throughout this course I have been faced with concepts and theories that force me to conjure my previous workplace experience and put them into conversation with my current work as an academic. When Johsnon-Eilola is describing the workspace of Brent Faber in chapter (59-60) I am reminded of my husband’s office when he had his own sign business. He was responsible for nearly every aspect of his business (with occasional assistance from me). He worked directly with every customer from initial sign concept (including logo creation to substrate choice) to completion (installation of sign(s) on client premises). His work process was far from linear too. However, he also had to maintain a somewhat “structured” process. In other words, I wonder how far towards fragmentation is too far?

This question brings me back to the beginning of chapter 2 of Datacloud. Johnson-Eilola recounts noticing how students will vacillate between face-to- face classroom discussion and IM. In this chapter he seems to outline why this behavior should not be considered problematic and instead merely an example of the shift that has taken place in how “we” work. In other words, he suggests that because technology is now ubiquitous and we tend to have several access points to information we are always “multitasking.” Essentially our attention is shared with several concepts at a time. He then takes this example and considers some of the positive effects of being productive in a “fragmented” datacloud environment.

I understand how Johnson-Eiola gets to his point by providing material examples (workplace physical space layout) and interface/platform examples (software capabilities and technologies). And I am in favor of recognizing the non-linear conceptions that are at the core of his theories. I am however, still leery of the potentially negative results from too much “multitasking.” I think again of my husband’s job, he, at some point, has to work in a linear fashion in order to get his “main task” completed. I wonder then if there is a danger in privileging the non-linear work model too much. Are we allowing for attention spans to shrink so much that it will become counter-productive (even to symbolic-analytic work)? I believe there have been studies that call into question the lack of memory capabilities by young adults due to overstimulation. I don’t want to “fight” progress and in no way dismiss all the benefits we reap from technology. I just believe there needs to be a healthy amount of skepticism mixed in and we must remember those that such technology leaves out.

For instance, in Johnson-Eiola’s “Coda” (ch. 8) he reveals that “the digital divide” is still prevalent in our society. On page 156 he states findings from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (2004), “The data reveal that the digital divide—the disparities in access to telephones, personal computers (PCs), and the Internet across certain demographic groups—still exists and , in many cases, has widened significantly. The gap for computers and Internet access has generally grown larger by categories of education, income, and race.” Obviously then this statement brings up concerns of access and opportunity to be a part of the symbolic analytic culture that is being developed and/or evolved. Perhaps, as usual, after reading I am left with more questions than answers.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

AT ANT and the relevance of the University

AT ANT and the relevance of the University

For hopefully obvious reasons I could not stop thinking about my teaching practices and pedagogy while reading "Worlds Apart," by Patrick Dias, Aviva Freedman, Peter Medway, and Anthony Pare. My contemplation only deepened while revisiting Clay Spinuzzi's Network: Theorizing Knowledge Work in Telecommunications. I found it remarkably interesting to read these two pieces in tandem and through the lens of technical communication.

As what seems to be standard practice here at SU, I structure my classes around a theme of my own choice and then create writing tasks that allow me to teach students how to approach said task. However, while reading both pieces I couldn’t help but wonder if I would be more effective in the classroom by teaching genre theory, rhetoric, and composition studies. In other words, instead of developing a class around a theme that is not only interesting to me but also “hopefully” interesting to the students then providing opportunities for students to “practice” important rhetorical strategies, I am considering focusing on “writing” itself.

Although the authors of “Worlds Apart” focus on courses and workplaces that are not typically considered writing centered I felt it was very insightful. According to the authors, "As studies of nonacademic writing proliferate, it is possible to see the extent to which writers rely on situation-specific knowledge in the preparation of texts. This "local knowledge" (Geertz, 1983) concerns all aspects of the writing situation, from disciplinary and institutional regulations governing the form and substance of texts to relationships among writers and readers. Such a view of writing has been confirmed in the growing consideration of genre theory in theorizing about writing (Bazerman, 1988; Bazerman & ParadiS, 1991b;Berkenkotter & Huckin, 1995; Cope & Kalantzis, 1993; Freedman & Medway, 1994a, 1994b: Swales, 1990)" (qtd in “Worlds Apart”).

After reading the excerpt above I was reminded of how often we talk about genre in class but how rarely we focus on the importance of such knowledge. Spinuzzi echoes this concern with genre when he explains, "Genres—which can be glossed as typified rhetorical responses to recurring social situations (Miller, 1984)—do much of the enacting that holds a network together. They do this work not by virtue of being simply text types or forms but because they are tools-in-use. That is, in this analysis, I stress genre as a behavioral descriptor rather than as a formal one (cf. Spinuzzi, 2003b; Voloshinov, 1973)" (qtd in Network).

In fact both the theories Spinuzzi invokes (activity theory and actor-network theory) are greatly contingent on genre. Because “Worlds Apart,” articulates the importance of understanding how to negotiate writing tasks within the workplace and Spinuzzi illustrates the significance of genre for networks to be effective, it seems imperative that genre be central to writing instruction.

To be clear I do not posit composition as a “service industry” but rather as a discipline that is deeply concerned with making transparent what is often opaque.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Dream of Access: Not the Tech Comm History I Was Expecting

A Dream of Access: Not the Tech Comm History I Was Expecting

When I imagined the history of computer development I always pictured a multitude of governmental -war games-loving men in a white walled, dust free, fluorescent lighted, room conspiring to make the world's most "powerful" and dominating machine. I suppose that image was implanted from several films and growing up in a time that featured "powerful" and often mischievous computers.

Unlike my made up history I was pleasantly surprised to find that most computer developers hoped to use the technology for good. Both Wells and Licklider/Taylor wrote directly about the potential benefits to all humankind that computers or access to a central "bank" of information/knowledge could have. When detailing the possibilities created by open access to "knowledge" Wells states, "And its creation is a way to world peace that can be followed without any very grave risk of collision with the warring political forces and the vested institutional interests of today. Quietly and sanely this new encyclopedia, will not so much overcome these archaic discords, as deprive them, steadily but imperceptibly of their present reality" (88). Although I believe this statement to be naive the emphasis on open access and world peace is interesting. It also seems to be in stark contrast to the road tech comm eventually went down (the objective-unemotional-positivist approach).

In addition to Wells, Licklider's text also seems to focus on the positive possibilites afforded by technology. In other words, the attention was definitely on the benefits of new technology that could allow for direct interfacing,"modeling," and collaboration. The possibilty for collaboration is what appeared to be the most effective development in technology. Again ,I find this in contrast to the critiques we read for last weeks class. Although I understand that tech comm's desire for "objectivity" is primarily due to its attachement to science and the need to merely "transmit the facts," however, I imagined a somewhat maniacle figure behind the development of the inital technology. Licklider and Taylor's essay (perhaps idealistic) did make an interesting case for the important role of messaging software and the role of modeling. The authors state, "And through them, all the members of the supercommunity can communicate-with other people, with programs, with data, or with selected combinations of those resources. The message processors, being all alike, introduce an element of uniformity into an otherwise grossly nonuniform situation, for they facilitate both hardware and software compatibility among diverse and poorly compatible computers" (32). The opportunity to connect "communities" offered by technology actually points to a more harmonious existence than that without computers.

What was most striking about these two articles was the sense of "hope" offered by technological advances. I wonder if many of still feel this way or if we are more perplexed and feel more akin to Sullivan (from last week).

Monday, January 18, 2010

Notes for History, Rhetroic and Humanism

CCR 760

Rutter, Russel. "History, Rhetroic and Humanism." Central Works in Technical Communication.

Rutter calls for more inclusion of imagination and liberal arts education in technical writing. He argues that technical writing has gotten too pragmatic and generally ignores the rhetorical nature of any communication. He opens with a powerful example from the the space shuttle Challenger disaster.

Quotable quotes:
It is intellectually simple, though astronomically dull, to regard writing merely as a matter of polish, but worse yet, it leads to a trap. Colleges and universities turn out graduates who discover by experience that recipes for writing that their college instructors once adopted in response to sudden demands for technical writing courses do not satisfy the needs of science and industry as they are now constituted. (28)

Technical communicators, because they depend on both "knowledge and practice," because they rely on learning as a guide to experience, and because they need to bring elogquence, empathy, and imagination to the world of work are--should be expected to be--rhetoricians. (29)

General comments:
As this is new terriory for me it's difficult to consider this essay critically. So far I buy it. I think all communication typically needs to be considered rhetorically. I also like how he points to the importance of theorry. He approaches theory in terms of its importance to the "applied" science in order to strengthen the argument for more attention to the liberal arts in science and technology education. I also like to see this in writing classes. In other words students need not only immulate models of how to write but also be introduced to theory of communication practices so that students can be the problem solvers. I see this analogous with the saying that goes something like "it's better to teach a man to fish than to give him a fish...."