reading/writing connection in techcomm classes

Subject: reading/writing connection in techcomm classes
From: "Roberta J. Kirby-Werner" <rjkirby -at- MAILBOX -dot- SYR -dot- EDU>
Date: Mon, 5 Aug 1996 10:49:34 -0400

Hi, everyone. I'm in the course development mode once again, preparing to
teach two Professional and Technical Communication courses at Syracuse
University, and I could use your input.

My question is this: Based on your experience in techcomm classes and/or
in the workplace, what are some of the most fruitful sorts of readings to
prompt/inform/define writing assignments?

A related question: What relationships between texts and assignments might
be developed in a techcomm class to make it more rewarding for students?

I realize that the questions posted here might seem rather simple, but
they arise out of rather complex pedagogical issues. One challenge of
teaching this class, for me, is finding a textbook and other materials
which support an inductive/discovery approach to learning but which also
provide appropriate guidance when it comes to tackling specific
communication tasks. Consequently, I resist using textbooks that put forth
"models" or "formulas" for completing writing tasks and which show little
or no awareness of rhetorical context. Second, because the students which
take my classes come from a variety of disciplines and sometimes take the
class as early as their sophomore year, I also try to incorporate sizable
publication and/or research projects that students adapt to their
particular academic, professional, and/or extracurricular interests. A
third value I bring to the class is an emphasis on collaboration.

One project that addressed these concerns rather well last year was an
"electronic mentoring project" involving several subscribers to this list.
Mentors provided sample texts they produced on the job and corresponded
with students about various aspects of the drafting and production
process. For many students in the class, this was a wonderful research
project which enlightened them about aspects of the texts themselves as
well as factors which affected writers' decisions concerning content,
design, organization, style, etc. The project was less successful for
other students--an outright failure in some cases--because students didn't
establish a clear focus for their research, they lacked interest and/or
didn't commit enough time to analyzing samples and corresponding with
mentors, their collaborative teams didn't function well, etc. Nonetheless,
this project provided a good opportunity to examine "real world" writing
samples and communicate with writers, thus bringing different texts into
the course and prompting an interesting array of assignments (project
proposal, extensive e-mail correspondences, progress reports, research
report, etc.).

I would consider doing this sort of project again this year, but I'll have
twice as many students and doubt that I could enlist enough mentors, much
less manage the project as whole. So, I'm open to considering some other
possibilities which incorporate creative and fruitful relationships
between readings and assignments.

I look forward to your sharing your insights and experiences with me.

rjkirby -at- mailbox -dot- syr -dot- edu
Syracuse University Writing Program

P.S. I have been asked to participate on a panel focused on the
reading/writing relationship in techcomm courses at our program's Fall
Conference on 8/22, so your insights stand to influence not only my course
design but also my presentation. Needless to say, I covet your speedy

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