Introduction: Disruptions of/in Professional Writing Pedagogy


Bay, Jennifer


Economic collapse. Layoffs. New networking technologies. Changing work processes. Emerging workplaces. Professional Writing faces numerous challenges as the twenty-first century unfolds, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the pedagogy it practices in evolving universities. With budget cuts, reduced faculty lines, new student populations, and a greater pressure on producing competent students equipped with practical knowledge, the university as an institution is being forced to transform itself and account for new social, cultural, and economic forces. Coupled with these institutional issues is a concern to keep pace with rapidly developing communication technologies that are changing the ways that individuals interact with/in organizations and outside of the workplace. While the problems concerning the changing university have been examined by a variety of scholars in rhetoric and composition (see Crowley, Samuels, for instance), this special issue seeks to address how those pressures are addressed in technical and professional writing pedagogy.

Here we address the forces, from both outside and inside the university, that disrupt our notions of professional writing pedagogy, as well as the ways that professional writing can respond to these forces and their influence in the classroom. The need for scholarly attention to this topic is clear: in order to maintain the stability of our field, we need to explore the external and internal disruptions that professional writing scholars and teachers face on a daily basis. Moreover, in order to grow and develop as a field, we need to interrogate traditional attitudes toward professional writing that pervade our pedagogies and our scholarship. If we want to maintain Professional Writing's connections with humanistic traditions, we need to ask ourselves how we should educate the professional writing student/scholar of the twenty-first century.

The Writing Instructor is a particularly appropriate venue for such a discussion since it is one of the few journals in our field that focuses extensively on pedagogy. And there have been few comprehensive reflections on professional and technical writing pedagogy in our journals in the recent past. Over the past five years, special issues of journals in our field have focused on important topics such as social software (Spinuzzi, 2009), distributed work (Spinuzzi, 2007), and research (Russell, 2009); the few special issues that do address pedagogy have included issues such as online teaching and learning (Hewitt & Powers, 2007), teaching teamwork in business communication/management programs (Cockburn-Wootten et al., 2008), and assessment (Orr, 2010).

This special issue distinguishes itself from others by its focus on not just one specific approach or change in pedagogy, but on a variety of influences and developments, including the effects of emerging media technologies, new economies, and innovative work configurations. Rather than parsing out specific influences, we believe that teachers face multiple disruptions simultaneously, perhaps due to the related nature of some of these developments. Thus, seeing these influences as intersecting in one collection of essays is beneficial for instructors in understanding the complexities at work in these pedagogical situations.

Similarly, the online and open access of The Writing Instructor provides us with the most appropriate venue for this topic. Our core constituency for pedagogical issues consists of many part-time, non-tenure track, and graduate student professional and technical writing instructors, who will have greater access to these articles since they are easily discoverable on the web. That population is often most interested in practical discussions of classroom activities and specific examples of how techniques, technologies, and approaches might be enacted. The articles included in this special issue do just that, from describing pedagogical techniques to discussing local and specific issues that are impacting our students' lives and by extension our classrooms. Because the issue is online, contributors were able to incorporate new media elements and links to online resources which are unavailable in more traditional publishing venues.

The contents of this issue, which includes both shorter reflections and longer article-length pieces, cohere around three themes related to disruption and response: new teams, new contents, and new "me"s. New teams address the variety of different pedagogical approaches to teaching teamwork and project management. New contents focus on new kinds of technological subjects and influences on our students and classrooms. New "me"s include discussions of recent influences on professional ethos and identity.

New Teams

The articles in this section address how we might teach team-building and project management across courses and through collaborative building technologies. Shrinking personnel resources, tightened deadlines, and increased technology for project planning impact the management of projects involving/focusing on writing. How do we teach students to work in teams in such an environment? Michele Simmons' article, "Encouraging Civic Engagement through Extended Community Writing Projects: Re-writing the Curriculum" addresses this issue by theorizing how we might extend service learning writing projects across courses and student teams. Lisa McGrady addresses this issue in her article, "Hidden Disruptions: Technology and Technological Literacy as Influences on Professional Writing Student Teams" by exploring how technology use and literacy can impact the effectiveness of student teams. Similarly, Tim Krause's "Using Simulation to Teach Project Management in the Professional Writing Classroom" introduces simulation as a pedagogical approach to project management.

New Contents

New contents for professional writing classes involve new genres emerging on the web. This section addresses the ways that new media for communication invite/require a rethinking of the boundaries for writing in professional communication. How do emerging genres readjust those boundaries? How are new genres on the web changing professional writing at work and in the classroom? Mary Godwin's essay, "Disruptive Technology: What Is It? How Can It Work for Professional Writing?" provides an important overview of how new media technologies can be used in productive ways in the classroom. The two other articles here provide specific examples of emerging technologies that can be seen as disruptions to traditional conceptions of professional writing pedagogy. In "Music@Microsoft.Windows: Composing Ambience", Thomas Rickert addresses the issue of music and provides a rhetorical analysis of how the everyday sounds of technology can serve as a pedagogical point of departure. Similarly, Patricia Sullivan and Peter Fadde’s "Guerrilla Video: Adjudicating the Credible and the Cool" investigates the rise of video resumes and how we might teach this emerging genre in our courses.

New "Me"s

Finally, we have the larger shifts in the business landscape that are affecting how students position themselves in their environments. Questions emerge from this discussion, such as how do we prepare students to ethically confront the demands of new economies and new technologies? How can (and to what extent should) professional writing programs meet the needs of new populations? How do changing workplaces challenge the stories about writing at work that ground our pedagogies? Where are the boundaries of personal, public, and professional? "Globalization Amid the Cornfields: Teaching Sustainable Practices in the American Midwest" introduces us to one local environment and the industries that are emerging within that environment. Michael Salvo provides an important investigation of the influences of globalization on contemporary worksites and how they are affecting professional and technical writing. Jennifer Bay's "Networking Pedagogies for Professional Writing Students" continues this track in discussing the kinds of experiential learning that are emerging from new worksites. "Rhetorical Savvy as Social Skill: Modeling Entrepreneur Identity Construction within Educational Content Management Systems" by John Spartz finishes up this section with a discussion of how rhetorical ethos is taught in emerging courses on business entrepreneurial writing.

These three topics—how people work together, emerging classroom content and technologies, and new conceptions of professional identity—demonstrate that our students and classrooms are changing. Our hope is that these articles will help our pedagogies adapt in innovative ways that can continue to educate our students for the 21st century.

Works Cited

Cockburn-Wootten, Cheryl, Prue Holmes, & Mary Simpson (Eds.). (2008). Special issue: Teaching teamwork in business communication/management programs. Business Communication Quarterly, 71, 4.

Crowley, Sharon. (1998). Composition in the university. Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh University Press.

Hewett, Beth L., & Crista Ehmann Powers (Eds.). (2007). Special issue: Online teaching and learning: Preparation, development, and online communication. Technical Communication Quarterly, 16, 1.

Orr, Thomas (Ed.). (2010). Special issue: Assessment in professional communication. IEEE Communications on Professional Communication, 53, 1.

Russell, David (Ed.). (2009). Special issue: The state of research in technical communication. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 23, 2

Samuels, Robert. Changing universities.

Spinuzzi, Clay (Ed.). (2007). Special issue: Technical communication in the age of distributed work. Technical Communication Quarterly, 16, 3.

Spinuzzi, Clay (Ed.). (2009). Special issue: Social software. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 23, 3


This text was accepted for publication after an anonymous peer review process.

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