Teaching/Learning with the TC Library
  • In a recent conversation on the ATTW-L mailing list (http://tc.eserver.org/10197.html), Clay Spinuzzi (http://clayspinuzzi.com/)
    asked faculty members in the Association of Teachers of Technical
    Writing which textbooks they use for their TC/TW courses. He compiled
    the results, which included just about every textbook I know.

    But
    a question that wasn't asked, but that I would like to ask, is "what
    online resources do you use to complement your textbook, and how to you
    use them?" And there's probably a good reason why the question isn't
    being asked. Because online articles and resources can be valuable, but
    they're difficult to integrate into teaching. And it isn't clear how to
    incorporate online catalogues/indexes (like the TC Library) into
    courses.

    But it being unclear doesn't mean it wouldn't be worth
    doing. I wonder, sometimes, how effective textbooks are for teaching
    today. My students sometimes speak ill of their textbooks. In my
    experience textbooks tend to produce clear, simple overviews of the
    major issues in a field of knowledge, attempting to convey to students
    (in a simple transmission model, from the 'knower' to the 'tabula rasa'
    student). But I'm not sure that's the only way students learn.

    My
    students, when they're interested in a topic, often use Google or
    Wikipedia searches to learn more. They're often cynical, or skeptical,
    or doubtful of their textbooks. I'm not exactly sure which.

    But
    for technical communication purposes, I don't believe that either
    Wikipedia or Google are really adequate for learning the intricacies of
    the field of technical communication.

    It's nothing against those
    sites. Wikipedia is a fine encyclopedia. A great place to go for a
    one-page or two-page introduction to a subject. It's a great place to go
    if you don't know anything about a field, to see an overview of what it
    is. But that's only useful for about five minutes for my students. They
    need to learn more than that.

    And obviously, Google is a
    powerful system. It could never have risen to such prominence if it
    weren't a powerful search engine. But it doesn't differentiate between
    websites and online documents: if I search Google for technical
    communication (http://www.google.com/search?q=technical+communication)
    I find individual articles as well as organization websites (some of
    which have thousands and thousands of pages). When browsing, it's much
    more useful to have a higher level of parallelism, so that one can
    search for articles separately than organizations. And Google obviously
    can't necessarily find the best sites: when you search Google for
    'technical communication', on the first page of results you find a
    document called 'Sexy girls Online on webcam.' Because Google isn't
    human-edited, it can't discern why some sites are more appropriate than
    others.

    So, when we founded the TC Library in 2001, part of the
    goal was to produce an index that would organize quality online
    resources so that they could be used, either by professors or by people
    who are teaching themselves topics within the fields of technical,
    scientific and professional communication.

    But here we are, at
    the end of 2007, without the problem solved. I'm interested in
    developing a pedagogy that would permit people to learn about issues
    within the field(s) effectively.

    So. Please help us. Let me know
    if you have suggestions or ideas about how we could build a pedagogical
    interface to our body of knowledge in the field. We can do the
    development work, to make the site better than it is now for
    learning/teaching. I just need ideas, suggestions, and discussion to
    help me think through how to do this well. I'll look forward to hearing
    your ideas.