Week 14 – Readers’ Response to Certification

November 28, 2011

Cuddihy, Kevin. “A Monumental Day Dawns for Technical Communicators: Certification!.” http://notebook.stc.org/a-monumental-day-dawns-for-technical-communicators-certification.


The reader comments on the article posted by Cuddihy on certification for the technical communication field include both enthusiastic approval and vehement opposition.  Those who approve of the certification applaud various aspects of the process because certification:

  • Shores up the business proposition of belonging to STC
  • Differentiates true professionals in the field from those who just have “a knack for writing”
  • Add credibility to membership to the STC and to the technical communication profession
  • Help raise technical communicators’ visibility within a company
  • Provides opportunity for people who are young in the field to gain credibility if their portfolios are lacking

Many of the readers’ comments, however, are less than enthused about the prospect of implementing a required technical communication certification.  They oppose certification because it:

  • Will only become relevant when hiring managers actually understand the skills and details of the certification
  • Focuses on individual work (which is difficult to identify in a climate of collaborative projects)
  • Requires portfolios of work (which is impossible for some people to produce due to non-disclosure agreements)
  • Could exclude a large number of quality writers due to the requirements of the certification
  • Might encourage people to earn a certification in place of earning a technical communication Master’s degree
  • Could be used as a screening wielded by “ignorant HR departments” to screen otherwise qualified writers
  • Does not allow for a “grandfathering” period for practitioners who have been in the field for an extensive amount of time
  • Only has a “three-year shelf-life” before mandatory renewal
  • Could cause people with a solid reputation to have a hard time being hired if they do not become certified
  • Might mark people who are experts in niche areas as unqualified

Looking at the reader comments, it appears that far more people have concerns about certification requirements than wholehearted approval.  I know that for educators in public school, seeking multiple certifications comes with the territory of being a teacher.  This can both be positive or detrimental depending on the current circumstances of a school district.  For example, during the budget cuts in education last spring, several thousand teachers suffered due to Reduction in Force (RIF).  Administrators for each school were given a list of qualifications to assess all teachers in the school to see which teachers would stay and which ones would be let go.  At one PISD school, some of the qualifications that the administrators looked at included: years of teaching experience, years of teaching experience a particular school, number and type of degrees, number of positive/negative reviews from classroom walk-throughs, and number of different certifications. I knew a teacher at that school who had taught for 15+ years with impeccable reviews.  She had her undergraduate degree and her teacher certification for K-4; however, she was RIFed because her only had one certification whereas many of the younger teachers were certified in two or even three different areas of expertise (ESL, Special Ed, grades 4-8, etc.) Though the fields of education and technical communication are not really comparable, the premise remains similar:  placing a strong emphasis on new (or more) certification has the potential for putting the jobs of excellent professionals in jeopardy.  How could the STC reevaluate the grandfathering aspect of certification to accommodate these concerns?

Week 13 – Situating Learning to Write

November 21, 2011

Freedman, Aviva, and Christine Adam. “Write Where You Are: Situating Learning to Write in University and Workplace Settings.” In Transactions Writing in Academic and Workplace Settings, edited by Patrick Dias and Anthony Pare. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, Inc., 2000.


The research completed by Freedman and Adam in “Write Where You Are” explores two types of situated learning described as “facilitated performance” and “attenuated authentic participation”.  The students in the facilitated performance group were undergraduates enrolled in a finance course; the novices in the attenuated authentic participation group were graduate students involved in full-time internships with government agencies. 

The students in the finance class learned discipline-specific writing.  Freedman and Adam found that the purpose and the goal of writing in this academic setting was geared almost entirely to “the learner and to the learner’s learning” (38).  The instructor would scaffold the students’ learning through modeling appropriate approaches to writing and asking numerous questions to help students look at information in particular ways.  Additionally, the students learned through collaborative performance through writing papers together. 

The interns, however, had a much different experience as they engaged in true workplace writing.  One key difference was that “no conscious attention [was] paid to the learner’s learning; all attention is directed to the task at hand and its successful completion” (45).  Because the experiences of the internship were not carefully structured and sequenced like a course curriculum, many of the interns had trouble adjusting to a less-structured environment.  This is primarily because the interns “did not necessarily recognize the opportunities for learning in the new setting because they [were] used to the way they learned in the old setting” (51). 

As a result of this unfamiliar setting, many of the interns experienced adverse emotions during the course of the internship.  I found it interesting that Freedman and Adam asserted that these feeling of “disjuncture, anxiety, or displacement” experienced by the interns “are inevitable, given the differing nature of the institutions, and not signs of student or school failure” (56).  This conclusion was especially surprising to me given the previous article I read by Johns about approaching teaching techniques in a way to better prepare students for the workplace.  Rather than agreeing with Johns, Feedman and Adam appear to almost shrug and claim that the workplace and the university are two discrete institutions; therefore, differences in student reactions to these drastically different environments is not something to be remedied.  I know that to some extent I struggled with this idea when I went from writing lesson plans during my education courses at UNT to actually planning lessons for my students at the high school.  The level of supervision, length and style of the documents, and practicality of incorporating methods into the classroom were drastically different from my student-teaching experience to actually running my own classroom.  Additionally, the differences between the logistics and expectations between school districts are even more pronounced; I was unprepared for the sharp difference between theoretically discussing classroom procedures and actually having to dismiss an unruly student from my class.

How can professors structure classes to make this transition from the classroom and into the workplace more smooth?

Week 10 – Refining Wikipedia through Collaboration

October 30, 2011

Liu, Jun, and Sudha Ram. “Who Does What: Collaboration Patterns in the Wikipedia and Their Impact on Article Quality.” ACM Transactions on Management Information Systems 2, no. 2 (2011): 11:1- 11:23.

The article “Who Does What:  Collaboration Patterns in the Wikipedia and Their Impact on Article Quality” identifies main critiques of Wikipedia and provides research by Liu and Ram to account for these issues.  The main questions Liu and Ram address are 1) Why do Wikipedia articles vary widely in quality? and 2) How can  quality of Wikipedia articles be improved?  Because Wikipedia is easy to edit, an article can be edited by any person; however, all editors do not edit the same way or with the same intensity (2).  The research by Liu and Ram investigated the Wikipedia’s article assessment project as a starting place for determine various degrees of quality.  The criteria for assessment includes:  1) well-written, 2) comprehensive, 3) well-researched and verifiable, 4) neutral, 5) stable, 6) compliance with Wikipedia style guidelines, 7) appropriate images and copyright status,  and 8 ) appropriate length and focus (4).  To study the relationship between collaboration and quality, Lui and Ram selected articles which had been rated by these criteria as a basis for their study.  Their methods involved creating categories of how contributors edited articles; from looking at that data, Lui and Ram then identified collaboration patterns.  Lui and Ram concluded that “article quality depends on different types of contributors, that is, the roles they play, and they way they collaborate” (16). Additionally, Lui and Ram feel that improving Wikipedia article quality is possible if software tools are developed to help contributors make the decision to include references, links, and support for their edits.  These software tools should “nudge contributors to assume different roles and support self-justification and self-policing” as well as “motivate the contributors to revist the article, review their inserted sentences, and respond to other contributors’ modifications” (20). 

The main point of this article truly hones in of the positive results which can emerge when collaboration is instilled into the creation/editing of Wikipedia articles.  Lui and Ram’s research definitely supports the hypothesis that the better-written and better-referenced articles are constructed by multiple contributors who justify their added content/changes and who respond to other contributors.  This same concept could be easily transferred to the field of technical communication where collaboration continues to be rare.  Additionally, this article clearly articulates why Wikipedia continues to receive mixed reviews in terms of being a credible sources of information.  I think that Lui and Ram articulate this best when they state, “It is unreasonable to simply assume that Wikipedia is completely reliable or unreliable” (2).  If practices such as the methods suggested by Lui and Ram are implemented, could Wikipedia change its current status where it is viewed as being neither completely reliable or unreliable?  If so, would it change the way people use the medium?

Week 6 – Collaboration Readiness

October 1, 2011

Olson, Gary M., Stephanie  Teasley, Matthew J. Bietz, and Derrick L. Cogburn. “Collaboratories to Support Distributed Science: The Example of International HIV/AIDS Research.” In SAICSIT ’02 Proceedings of the 2002 Annual Research Conference of the South African Institute of Computer Scientists and Information Technologists on Enablement Through Technology, 44-51. South African Institute for Computer Scientists and Information Technologists, Republic of South Africa, 2002.


Olson, Teasley, Bietz, and Cogburn focus on the realm of international HIV/AIDS research to discuss the possibilities and limitations of collaboration in the age of globalization.  The findings of these four researchers indicate that “not all communities are ready for collaborator technologies” but that there are three dimensions that must be considered first:  collaboration readiness, collaboration infrastructure readiness, and collaboration technology readiness (45).  Collaboration readiness sets the groundwork for a successful collaborator project.  This involves pre-specified “rules of the road” in terms of “how data [will] be shared” and well as already having “an infrastructure for creating data repositories” (45).  Additionally, collaboration infrastructure readiness is necessary to ensure that that technology and the technical support is available to everyone involved.  Finally, collaboration technology readiness is essential to give all members of a collaborator project access to merge data and share information.  Some of these collaborative technologies include e-mails attachments, discussion databases, application sharing, and desktop video. Those these technologies may seem old-hat to many of us in the United States, much of this technology “is still emerging in many communities” (46).

In the instance of the HIV/AIDS research, there are many factors to consider regarding whether or not the collaboration will be successful.  The various organization need to have common ground in order to appropriately deal with ethical norms which tend to be culturally specific (49).  Infrastructure differences need to be addressed as well because “even when the networks are working perfectly, social, organizational, or political factors may influence the adoption of several technologies” (49).  Additionally, there must be appropriate training and guidance in order to enable collaboration technology readiness.

This article gives some depth to the ideas discussed last week regarding collaboration in research, specifically within the scientific community.  Though I knew that collaboration was common in the scientific realm, it was helpful for me to read about how this practically occurs across not only various organization but also across various continents.  I believe that the technical writing field should take note of how these scientific communities work toward collaboration and how it positively affects their work.  Incorporating some of these practices, especially the three standards to determine collaboration readiness, would greatly facilitate the possibility for increased collaboration in the field of technical writing.

Why has collaborator research been a consistent part of scientific field while it’s been minimal in the realm of technical communication?