One of my favorite topics I would like to pursue if I get elected to be an officer of STC is helping technical communication students learn how to use the tools and technologies of our industry. I have been involved in many discussions (some of them heated) over the last year or so that deal with the question, "Should academic techcom programs teach tools?" I think it is a bad question; it misdirects us and inevitably the discussion degrades into finger pointing and everyone ducking for cover.
Let's try a new question. How can the community of technical communicators help students develop tool skills while learning principles of good design? I think this new question has win/win written all over it. It falls into the "economy of abundance" arena, that is, avoid arguing over who gets what proportion of the pie (an economy of scarcity); rather, concentrate on making the pie bigger.
Students want to learn how to use the latest tools (students, heck! so do I). Vendors want to promote their products. Schools want to tout employability as an outcome of their programs. STC wants to increase membership and the value of that membership.
So imagine a scenario where a student is enrolled in an online documentation course. She is told by the professor that one of the requirements of the course is to produce a sample Help file with a specification of what that file should contain (e.g., kinds of topics, TOC, index, specific kinds of links, etc.) Just at the moment the student starts to panic, the professor points out that STC has a tools and technology section on its web site for members (and is equally available to student members). That web site has downloads of demo versions of commercial Help Authoring Tools, competency inventories (hmmm, these look a lot like the spec the professor inlcuded in the syllabus), and tutorials that focus specifically on those competencies. Wait, there's even an e-mail address for student support!
- Professor is happy: She can focus on design and critical thinking and not on clicks and drags.
- Student is happy: She has access to a tool and tutorial geared to the critical "getting started" skills a student would be interested in.
- Vendor is happy: The product is getting into the hands of future buyers and influencers.
- STC is happy: They are picking up student members with a good chance of converting them to full members after graduation. Plus, there could be some secondary revenue opportunities hidden in all of this.
This will be a pet project of mine if I get elected.