Tech Comm Seminar 9/17: The “Soul” of Business and Technical Communication — and Academia

“Business Card Recycling.” Flickr Commons

In this seminar session, Dr. Patrick McHenry and Dr. Andy Frazee will lead discussion on the “soul” of business and technical communication; in so doing, the seminar will also discuss the “soul” of academia. What is our responsibility as teachers and academics to the workplaces our students are going into? What is our responsibility as teachers and academics to the communities beyond the workplaces our students are going into? What about the role of critique? What is the responsibility of colleges, universities, and institutes (particularly Georgia Tech) to those workplaces and communities? What is the role of technical communication (and technology writ large) in complicating the relationship between academia, the workplace, and community?

Required Reading

Online Education at Georgia Tech.Town Hall 2012, GaTech. Web. 14 Sept. 2012.

Georgia Institute of Technology | Coursera.” Coursera. Web. 13 Sept. 2012

Kostelnick, Charles. “Typographical Design, Modernist Aesthetics, and Professional Communication.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication 4: 5 (1990): 5-24. Sage Publications. Web. 13 Sept. 2012.

Miller, Carolyn. “What’s Practical about Technical Writing?” Teaching Technical Communication: Critical Issues for the Classroom. Ed. James M. Dubinsky. Boston: Bedford / St. Martin’s, 2004. 154-164. Print.

Rice, Andrew. “Anatomy of a Campus Coup.” New York Times 16 Sept. 2012. Web. 13 Sept. 2012.


1. Over twenty years ago Charles Kostelnick pointed out that, “The technology of in-house publishing is radically shifting the responsibility for document design from the graphic specialist to the individual writer” (5). As teachers–and practitioners of technical communication–does this cause a moment of pause for how we approach our pedagogy or our practice? Perhaps Kostelnick’s statement points to two challenges: 1) As teachers of technical communication, how can we prepare students to be the idealized employees that can “do it all” while having them question if they should be “doing it all” in the first place and 2) How do we perform this task without romanticizing the elimination of paid graphic designers and the simultaneous reduction, oversimplification, and transfer of their duties to the already overworked writers? Maybe these challenges frame another question: how can we add history, or reintroduce it, to our rhetorical pedagogy? Perhaps as teachers we simultaneously experience the same effects in academia through increases in course loads and class sizes, transfers of staff duties to faculty, increases in administrative duties and service, etc.

2. As Brittain Fellows, we are among the most rapidly growing category of academics: non-tenure-track faculty. Does a lack of guaranteed future employment and academic freedom–usually vouchsafed by tenure–limit or prohibit discussing these issues with our students? Is there pressure at this historical moment to overemphasize, as Miller says, “vocational preparation” at the expense of “cultural awareness” (65)? If so, does this make us more like the graphic designers and not technical writers in Kostelnick’s scenario?

3. Are these historical and ideological bifurcations again appearing in the discussions about higher education’s move toward capitalizing on a moment of “crisis” to move quickly, and deliberately, into online classes? Without the element of cultural awareness in our pedagogy, does this make our classes–if not our profession–more attractive to the types of analytic vocational preparation extolled by Coursera?


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