Sunday, February 10, 2008

what we're teaching

I'm trying to jump-start a restart of the exams, looking back over the volumes of notes I drafted during my reading last summer. I came across an interesting line of reasoning; interesting because I'm at the point in my WRT 407 where the students are begining to reuse information objects across their documentation suites (from spec to testing script to implementation/user guide). At this point in the semester I always question how much of the writing activities are serving the students' professional requirements (requirements that they'll be all too familiar with in a matter of months). Is it the skills and activities or the concepts and theories that will serve them best?

Carol David and Donna Keinzler have taken a cognitive approach to the question about student preparation, casting the discussion in a context of "emanicpatory pedagogy." They note that TechCom and Comp courses are increasingly using assignments that reflect the interpretive and emancipatory goals of academic departments and industry. More instructors in both disciplines are requiring that problem-solving skills be based on ethical, economic, political, and social issues in addition to technical issues. Again, I see this discussion as an extension of the ongoing conversation about situated learning in real-world contexts. I'm feeling a bit validated however; that TechCom and Comp writing courses that employ emanicpatory practices (critical thinking and problem-solving skills) can share common pedagogical practices: student centered, value questioning, problems set in real-world contexts; find, analyze, construct, and evaluate data, arguements, actions, and policies.

At the other end of the discussion are social constructionists like Jack Bushnell who take issue with the TechCom course that simply places the student in a pre-professional context for the purpose of preparing the student to meet corporate or industry requirements (something I claim to be guilty of).

What's needed - what it is I think I'm working toward - is a higher level reconsideration of TechCom pedagogy - one that considers activity theory and genre (similar to Spinuzzi’s call) as theoretical frameworks in which to place TechCom writing instruction. Such a framework could be shaped by social constructionist theories and an emphasis on traditional humanities instruction (similar to Miller’s call in 1979). A tall order, but one worth considering.

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