Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Role of Academics in a Professional Society--
Part of my avowed platform in running for 2nd VP of STC is to help forge stronger, more collaborative relationships among the primary stakeholders of practitioners, academics, vendors, and employers within the field of technical communication. I'm starting with academics because, quite frankly, their contribution is what makes us a professional society rather than a trade association.

Academics contribute to our profession by doing the following:
  • Teaching the skills and knowledge required to be a practitioner in this field
  • "Keeping" the body of knowledge
  • Doing research that informs best practice
Teaching
The obvious contribution that academics make is that they prepare incoming professionals in the core body of knowledge required to be a technical communicator. Additionally, they serve veteran practitioners wanting to upgrade their skills and knowledge to current practice or obtain extended skills in areas such as management.

Body of Knowledge
You want to get a roomful of academics thrashing, just say BoK. It's as much fun as watching technical writers argue about whether or not to capitalize sentence fragments in a bulleted list. I realize there is a great disparity between the gravitas of those two topics, but the principle is the same: I'm glad someone is worrying about this. The issue of the BoK for technical communication is in essence what drives an academic curriculum. Take a look at the courses that are offered in a degree program and that is a statement from that school about what it thinks the body of knowledge is. Granted, practitioners have a big stake in this discussion, but the truth is that our sisters and brothers in academia are the ones doing the heavy lifting.

Research
Ah, we get to my pet corner of the world. As George Hayhoe and I say in our book, A Research Primer for Technical Communication, "Research in technical communication is not an activity conducted in a vacuum; it is generally initiated by a problem or need to understand a phenomenon related to technical communication." As a former usability consultant, UX designer, and design team lead, I am a strong advocate for "data-driven design." Research is the cornerstone of a data-driven approach. One of the issues I see within our profession, however, is that practitioners who are living with all kinds of problems that would benefit from data collection and analysis lack the research skills to construct valid studies and draw reliable conclusions. On the other hand, academics who do have those skills, often do not have access to authentic users and artifacts with which to conduct valid research and are often time-bound within semester-sized constraints. If only they belonged to the same club, one that could put the two together in meaningful collaborations. Hey wait...!

What do you think?
I would love to see comments on this blog, especially around the following two questions:
  1. What are other contributions of academics that I missed?
  2. What do academics want from STC?

1 comment:

Marj Davis said...

Mike, I am enjoying hearing your thoughts about certification and the Body of Knowledge. Because tech comm is a practice-focused profession (like law, medicine, or engineering), we must have strong ties between the academics and industry. That's why I am excited about the work most recently undertaken by the Academic-Industry Liaison group.I appreciate your interest and support--that makes you a strong candidate for my vote! :)