Key Theoretical Frameworks:
Teaching Technical Communication in the Twenty-First Century
Edited by Angela M. Haas and Michelle F. Eble
Utah State University Press, October 2018
ISBN-10: 1607327570 ISBN-13: 978-1607327578
In their 2020 Conference on College Composition and Communication Best Original Collection of Essays in Technical or Scientific Communication, Angela M. Haas and Michelle F. Eble (2018) curated a book that provides both theoretical approaches and practical strategies for social justice inclusion in the technical communication classroom and field.
Angela M. Haas and Michelle F. Eble have assembled essays from an exceptionally diverse group of academics to create Key Theoretical Frameworks, allowing for a comprehensive perspective on technical communication instruction. These scholars specialize in distinctive yet slightly intersecting subjects including, but certainly not limited to, technical communication, multimodal composition, medical rhetorics, writing, disability studies, and feminist studies. These vast qualifications allow the contributors to have significant theoretical and practical application experiences to share with readers through numerous social justice related frameworks.
Broken into four distinct but interrelated parts, with three essays for each section, Key Theoretical Frameworks calls for the reformation of our educational system, specifically the technical communication curriculum, starting with educators' concepts of what their classrooms can do for students as members of society with the potential to go forth and have a larger impact on the world. Each framework examines different methods for embracing discomfort and pushing back against the established norm to foster a new curriculum or new approach to technical communication that no longer contributes to social injustice of various communities.
Part I: Embodied Knowledge and Risks
The chapters in this section focus on a combination of risk communication and feminist theory, whether that be apparent feminism pedagogy or feminist disability frameworks. These chapters work together to aid the reader in identifying problem areas in the education system and in technical communication classrooms specifically. The chapters also include a focus on knowledge and how the classroom can limit our inclusion or flat out exclude bodies that aren't often in the academy.
Erin A. Frost, Cruz Medina and Kenneth Walker, and Barbi Smyser-Fauble offer deliberated suggestions on how to apply these frameworks to the educator's classroom, from an application of apparent feminism to grading contracts to a complete overhaul of the accommodations statement and procedure at the institutional and classroom levels. These chapters suggest the careful attention of meeting students where they are and breaking down barriers that are keeping students from reaching success.
Part II: Space, (Em)place, and Dis(place)ment
Elise Verzosa Hurley, Godwin Y. Agboka, and Donnie Johnson Sackey contribute their experience in space, place, and environmental theories for technical communication classrooms. These scholars delve into how our surroundings affect us as we develop. Though valuable for educators and students, these chapters might better serve practitioners as they interact with people from different places and environments in the workforce.
Human rights, feminist theory, and critical spatial perspectives are among the frameworks from this section's essays. Each chapter offers insights into why the specific frameworks are key to include with the study of technical communication, and the authors are well aware of the effect spaces, places, and environments have on us as people and in their role for the potential for injustice. Hurley, Agboka, and Sackey all present timely arguments for why our environments should be fought and cared for and ways in which to educate students on a macro and micro level to better combat injustice.
Part III: Interfacing Public and Community Rhetorics with Technical Communication Discourses
The third section features chapters about frameworks of hiphop pedagogy, feminist disability theory, and advocacy engagement with medical rhetoric. The authors urge educators to value the cultures and experiences of students and to encourage students to learn from and truly care about new communities. This section places emphasis on inclusion in the classroom with not only the material being taught, but also the delivery method of that material, in addition to understanding descriptions of and connecting with different groups of people.
Marcos Del Hierro suggests a fresh and exciting framework to aid in diversifying communication for marginalized peoples, whereas Kristen R. Moore and Marie E. Moeller choose Black feminist epistemology and feminist disability theory, respectively, to describe how educators can instruct students on building knowledge of communities, identify retrofitting in the medical field, and deepen their understanding of possible involvement in altruistic but oppressive spaces. Holistically, this section strives to impart knowledge to instructors on how to coach their students to be sensitive of their role in interacting with various populations.
Part IV: Accomodating Different Discourses of Diversity
The use of narratives and critically conscious pedagogies take center stage for the last section of the collection. These pedagogies include critical race theory and queer theory as frameworks to educate students. Each of these chapters emphasize the importance of challenging conversations in the classroom as means to bring awareness to the students on injustices that occur in our society. Jessica Edwards, Matthew Cox, and Natasha N. Jones and Rebecca Walton brilliantly rationalize each of the frameworks' impact on technical communication education in the ways that narratives should be used as a tool to educate on social justice, how language plays a huge role in oppression in the workplace, and that having difficult conversations is imperative to creating the change we so desperately need in society.
Not only do readers get a glimpse of the reactions of students or experience of these instructors, but we're also provided with challenges or difficulties faced with the implementation of a nontraditional form of instruction. These difficulties and then the adjustments by the instructors are welcomed as, presumably, instructors reading this book will face the same or different complications themselves. These sections encourage instructors to educate themselves and then their students to actively reject tradition and inspire critical dialogue in order to mature the minds needed to enact social change.
Chapter 7: "Stayin' On Our Grind: What Hiphop Pedagogies Offer Technical Writing"
This chapter in particular stood out for its novelty and innovation. Del Hierro suggests using hiphop to educate students about technical writing. The key elements and history of hiphop culture can foster an inclusive and engaging classroom for the discussion of technical writing. As Del Hierro rightly asserts: "to dismiss digital booklets, and hiphop technical communication in general, is a disservice to students and teachers because it ignores how culture, technology and rhetoric produce technical communication" (p. 173). Hiphop culture and technique offer a framework to accomplish many things in the technical communication classroom, opening up education and engagement to marginalized and oppressed groups and extending the field to unprecedented and nontraditional methods of instruction.
An example of the kinds of suggestions Del Hierro makes is using the rap songs (or digital booklets) of Jay-Z and Biggie Smalls as illustrations of how rap can educate those who might not have access to resources to pursue traditional education. Del Hierro explains that Jay-Z's song "99 Problems" educates his audience on common law practices by offering "direct and usable techniques to his audience" if they're stopped by an officer while driving (p. 173). In the example of digital booklets, the type of delivery method of information is used for those who might not have access to traditional education or those whose education isn't up to standard. The incorporation of digital booklets can be applied not just to technical communication but other fields as well as they are easily transmitted and "offer marginalized peoples a subversive communication method" (p. 182).
Overall, the framework highlights the use of fresh education methods to extend a welcoming hand to those who might feel like they need to reject their own culture to blend in and "adopt the vestments of upward mobility" (p. 178). Del Hierro suggests that a hiphop pedagogy framework in the technical communication classroom employs a variety of efforts to "engage young people, interrogate power structures, [and] build communities… directly from grassroots, bottom-up efforts" (p. 176). Hiphop pedagogies can offer a further developed inclusive education style and open the classroom into a more hospitable space to meet students where they are and engage traditionally overlooked students. The adaptation of this framework in every education field could radically change the schooling system to strive for social justice in a way not typically executed.
While this collection makes strides in furthering discussion and understanding of technical communication within the frameworks mentioned above, the essays tend to be U.S.-centered at the college level, despite the diversity and multicultural frameworks. Reassuringly, Haas and Eble recognize this limitation and address it in their introduction. They "suggest that a US focus is appropriate for the present disciplinary moment" (p. 11), which stands because of the fact that most current technical communication scholarship possesses a U.S. focus, maintaining the collection's relevancy in scholarship despite the lack of foreign contexts for the contributor's evidence to their frameworks in action in the classroom. They continue with a gentle reminder that U.S. educators, students, and practitioners of technical communication cannot expect other countries to make changes to injustices when there are so many changes to make here. Some might consider the focus on the college education level to be a limitation; however, given that technical communication is generally a topic saved for higher education, it only makes sense that these scholars and contributors all center their teachings and suggestions toward a college audience, whether that be students or educators. This reinforces the relevancy of this text and its focus of U.S. situations in the college classroom, especially since Haas and Eble assume that "the majority of [their] readers are from the United States and/or are teaching or studying… in the United States" (p. 11).
Even as they address this minor limitation, Haas and Eble continue to keep their social justice contexts at the forefront of discussion given that they call attention to the fact that not many United States scholars of technical communication understand their work in relation to globalization. Haas and Eble argue that this privileged ignorance cannot be allowed to continue, as it facilitates the idea that US-based technical communication isn't "international" for those outside of the United States. To teach practitioners of technical communication how to engage with global audiences requires an understanding that "'international' and 'domestic' technical communication is all a matter of perspective" (p. 11). The requirement for this type of understanding speaks to the contexts and ideas offered in Key Theoretical Frameworks.
In a single volume, Haas and Eble have brought together both theoretical and practical strategies to create an advanced and modern pedagogical suggestion to identify and change educational practices that lack inclusivity and social justice. Building on the foundation laid by technical communication scholars Gerald Savage and J. Blake Scott, who also wrote the text's "Foreword" and "Afterword," respectively, this book works to contribute to conversations of intercultural and international communication, race and ethnicity studies, diversity and technical communication programming and curriculum design, disability rhetorics, environmental rhetorics, and risk communication, among many others, in order to inspire change to the education system.
As editors, Haas and Eble expertly divide this content into four easily digestible sections containing chapters by different contributors taking on several hard-hitting questions regarding current and future approaches to technical communication pedagogy, including how to adjust to be more inclusive and to combat the injustice technical communicators perpetuate in the workplace and classroom. These contributors provide a reflection on each experience, allowing insight into their teaching challenges and successes to aid readers in their own attempts toward the realization that "injustice is not just a problem in technical communication, but also one that we can solve with technical communication" (p. 8).
Key Theoretical Frameworks takes the first steps toward social justice work by bringing together those who are passionate about the need for change and encouraging it in others. In my opinion, readers should follow the direction these scholars have started to show us and take up or continue their efforts for social justice in technical communication and beyond.