The Promise and Peril of (Virtually) Teaching Technical Writing

Bruce Leland will describe the special opportunities that the use of a communications program like First Class provides in a technical writing class. At Western Illinois University, Technical Writing is a required course for Chemistry students, a choice for Computer Science and Agriculture students, and a frequently-chosen elective for English and Journalism students.

The problem with an advanced writing class with five different majors represented is in finding assignments which will be meaningful and accessable to all. After the resume assignment, what next? Introducing students to a fairly complex communications program as the venue for asyncronous discussion, assignment posting, and conferencing has the double purpose of providing an opportunity for technical writing. Students were asked to explore the limited on-line help available for First Class, figure out how to use it, and then write a set of instructions for new users. The instructions were written by collaborative groups, with English Students and Computer Science students helping one another. A second assignment based on First Class was to write a feasibility study for the university: should we invest in First Class for use in WIU classes?

Conferencing programs like First Class provide a variety of teaching opportunities, as outlined by others on the panel. Leland will emphasize the self-reflexive use of the program as a context for technical writing. He will also report on the responses in the feasibility studies. Do they think it is suitable for university-wide adoption? Is it worth the price?

Presenter: Bruce Leland


Target Audience: Intermediate

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