Summer 2011

Course Introduction

TWC5/401: Principles of Technical Communication
Course Introduction Letter

Greetings, Fellow Professional Communicators – and welcome to TWC5/401.

My name is Michael Moore and I’m the instructor for this course.
Three things you need to know about me and about this course before proceeding:

1. I love this stuff. My interests in the history of writing, writing technologies, and how
people communicate with each other make this an exciting class to teach. In fact, if I weren’t teaching it, I’d like to take it. My research interests are both traditional – printing and publishing history, rhetoric, composition, technical writing, theories of technology – and not so traditional: I’m interested in the connections between design (graphic, textual, video) and board sports and board technologies such as skateboarding, snowboarding, and surfing. Some of the most interesting design applications I’ve seen lately are those that
skaters put on the bottoms of their skateboards, for example, which seem to express personal, collective, and (increasingly) corporate identities; and some of the most influential graphic designers in the past ten years emerged from surfing and skateboarding subcultures.


I mention my interests in skateboard graphics, technology, and design because I’ll be taking some chances and risks in my own thinking and writing in the upcoming months, and I hope you are, too.

What does all of this have to do with our course? Over the past few years, our MWTC online courses have begun to attract more people from outside of the MWTC Program. In our section of TWC5/401, for example, we have majors from Mechanical Engineering, MWTC, Electronics Engineering Technology, Aeronautics, Graphic Information Technology, Air Traffic Management, and others. Our approach and emphases will be necessarily and aggressively interdisciplinary, and that’s a good thing. If you are interested in traditional, conventional forms of technical communication, we’ll do that; if you are interested in more alternative, cross-disciplinary uses of communication technologies, we will do that, too.

2. Teaching and learning online are not easier than teaching and learning in face-to-face environments; it’s not more convenient, necessarily, and in some ways it’s more demanding: you need to be organized; you need enough self-motivation to check in regularly and to ask questions when things are unclear; you need to pay close attention to deadlines. In my experience, and based on feedback from previous students, you should plan to spend 10-15 hours per week to stay abreast of the reading, writing, editing, discussion, and teamwork activities during the summer version of TWC5/401. You’re responsible for responding to e-mails or forum posts within 24-36 hours. Plan to log on daily and to spend a couple of hours daily on this course.

I understand that you may have other commitments—courses, jobs, children, a life—and I am prepared to negotiate certain aspects of the course based on your demonstrated commitment to the project team that you’re on, and the needs of that project. After Week Three, project teams develop team-specific project protocols that you negotiate with your team members and with me.

3. Parts of this course are practical in nature, such as formatting documents for readability, editing online documents, collaborating in online teams, conducting an audience analysis, and some parts of the course are not practical, such as reflecting on the shifting nature of computer-mediated communication, and the roles that increasing dependence on technologies play in our personal, professional, and academic lives.

Learning, Working, and Collaborating Together Online:
How will we do this?

• We will begin by reading, analyzing, reflecting, and writing together on topics related to
technical communication and computer-mediated communication (weeks 1-2)
• We will design team-based formal technical reports (weeks 2-5)
• We will create professionally designed online presentations of our work (week 5)
Most of the writing and designing you do in this course will be done collaboratively, in groups of 3-4.

What you can expect from me
I am genuinely excited to be involved with — and having the opportunity to teach — this course, so you can expect a lot from me. Technical Communication has become very interesting in the past few years now that the field recognizes digital video, audio, and peer-to-peer technologies as standard communication tools.

You can expect from me that I will take you, your ideas, your concerns, and your work seriously. Part of our challenge in this course will be learning how to share, explore, and productively challenge each other’s ideas.

This is often a difficult process that takes time to develop even in a face-to-face classroom, and we have the added feature of technology mediating our interactions. While you can count on me to help structure our questions, discussions, and projects, this problem of mediating interfaces leads to …

… what I expect from you
I hope that as our course progresses you will feel comfortable proposing ideas and alternatives to the project and work structure in the course syllabus. The syllabus and course calendar are designed to take care of procedural matters such as deadlines, which are negotiable only in cases of medical or family emergencies. On more substantive issues, such as creative problem solving and practicing technical communication, our work together will be more interesting—and more meaningful—only if everyone is willing to participate actively and as part of a learning community.

A learning community is built on relationships that promote specific kinds of connections among people, interconnections that result in a particular collaborations. These connections might be based on a shared concern, issue or learning problem, but in each instance, the emphasis is on the relationships built among participants. Issues of commitment, trust and values are inherent in any relationships, which emerge in the community.

In other words, in our class, the people are more important than the technology.

One of the most basic functions of a learning community is our ability to identify and contribute our strengths and skills—whether it’s critical thinking, editing, proofreading, or theoretical speculations—in ways that benefit your colleagues and our class goals. We will be depending on each of you, then, to be active, productive citizens in this learning community.

And yes: It’s okay to have a sense of humor. We’ll need that, too. Trust me.

Agreement on Using Course Communication Technologies
The only aspect of this course that is not negotiable is the requirement that you
always demonstrate respect for your classmates and colleagues.

This aspect of learning — developing and maintaining mutual respect for our colleagues — ensures a thoughtful and welcoming face-to-face classroom. But things change when we are working together online, and we need to pay careful and constant attention to those differences.

Specifically, we lose the necessary eye contact, facial expressions, body movements, and other nonverbal interactions and cues that we use to communicate with each other in face-to-face settings. In our online interactions – whether synchronously, as in a chat room, or asynchronously, like email or a discussion board – we have to develop thoughtful, mature, and caring communication protocols so that our work together is safe and inviting for all participants.

Among those protocols:
When delivering negative feedback — to a colleague, about a text, an idea, a
process — always frame the feedback in professional terms. If you have a team
member who consistently misses deadlines:

Not like this: “You are terrible with deadlines”
But like this: “I think our project would work more smoothly if …”

If you want to deliver negative feedback on course readings, which you will be encouraged to do:

Not like this: “The author is a bonehead, and she has nothing new to say.”
But like this: “When I read this writer’s work, she makes me feel …”

No “flaming” will be tolerated, ever, not even once: i.e., no antagonistic messages posted to your classmates & colleagues.

  • Work to reduce interpersonal conflict while promoting substantive conflict
  • Demonstrate active care and understanding for people who may feel unease or vulnerable with online interactions
  • Never be dismissive of a colleague’s ideas, concerns or questions. You can more productively challenge someone’s ideas in ways that are beneficial to them and to the class by taking a different position, and giving us different ways to think about the topic.

Week One: Your Course Checklist for This Week
Post Forum Introductions on our course forum: Due Wednesday, 6/2
Read Intro Letter, from me to you
Compose Course Survey to help us plan: Due Thursday 6/3; send to me via email
Post Course Acceptance Memo: Due Friday 6/4; send to me via email
Create Your Blog due Friday 6/4; do not leave the default generic blog post visible, but delete that one and create a brief one of your own, announcing the successful completion of creating your blog

Thanks for reading – this is probably the longest thing I’ll ever send you!

If you ever have any comments, questions, or concerns, please post them to the class discussion forum – I check in daily and look forward to working with you.


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