Sunday, February 7, 2010

760: on spinuzzi chapter 6 and conclusion

Not having read chapters 1 through 4, I found myself making a lot of assumptions about the holes in Spinuzzi’s claims. It wasn’t’ until that back end of chapter 6 and the conclusion that I had a better understanding of his framework. This is a must-read text for any student of comp, rhet, or tech com.

The issues with training identified at Telecorp are, as Spinuzzi notes, typical of most organizations. The field work for the text was conducted in 2000. From my perspective, not much has changed since. Arguably, the same issues have been plaguing organizations for decades. As I noted in my previous post, I find it difficult to tie Spinuzzi’s and others’ work here directly to the “modern” socio-economic network of the information age. “…this was a function of the spliced organization, in which it became important not just to learn, but to identify who to ask…” (186). I had this same problem when I was slinging dough at Mario’s Pizzeria in 1982 – what did I need to know and how would I come to know it? Mario’s was a far cry from Telecorp, but the fundamental issue appears to be the same.

Disconnected learning (training) spread across multiple activities and domains is not unique to organizations that employ knowledge workers. One might argue, using the activity frameworks that Spinuzzi erects, that learning is simply another activity domain to which workers are connected. In fact, there has been a tremendous amount of research on how learning can be embedded into the daily activities of workers.
We would all agree (as Spinuzzi notes) that lifelong learning is a byproduct of a networked economy in which nomadic workers fill hybrid jobs that require them to collaborate across functional areas. Again, I have this sense that this phenomenon is not new – and realize that it being new isn’t really the point. However, it still feels like we’re trying to retrofit something here. Yes, that’s clunky, but I can’t quite but my finger on it. Was there ever a pre-information age production organization that didn’t struggle with “…how to retain and extend the insights of each as we continue to deal with rapidly changing work organizations” (197).

I do feel comfortable assigning Spinuzzi’s project, analysis, and claims to the “symbolic-analytic” worker theme I’m trying to string through the readings. “The vital rhetorical skills that were needed to support them [different functional groups] in a networked environment … were developed and supported informally through opportunistic volunteer mentoring” (194); “…rhetoric is a vital part of net work: net workers have to build turst and alliances, persuade others, negotiate, compromise, and haggle to build shared settlements” (206) and the implications for workers: they become rhetors, time managers, project managers, adaptable, liaisons – human APIs, information aggregators, strategic thinkers.

I also see Spinuzzi’s project fitting in nicely with research that considers documentation (technical, professional, training, etc.) as a built in activity to what workers (knowledge or otherwise) do every day. Through this perspective of the reading, I can see the groundwork to argue for structured information architectures and content management. This is certainly something that Telecorp would have benefited from. In the absence of these types of formal structures you get internal documentation that people develop out of necessity – just like at Telecorp. And yet, this “on the fly” documentation tends to be minimalist, practical, highly procedural, and not wrapped with a lot of unnecessary declarative information. It works, and maybe that’s just the point.

I did find interesting the emphasis on stories that contextualize workers learning within a company. I’ve long been interested in scenario-based instruction as a way to capture stories and narratives. What we’ve found in some of our work is that when a story (scenario) is not fixed and regularly reinforced, the stories morph as readily as textual genres do to be shaped for particular purposes. This, in turn, leads to misinformation and incorrect practices.

No comments: