Monday, April 19, 2010

Intellectual Property Right Holders and IP Users in Collision Course

John Logie’s “Parsing Codes: Intellectual Property, Technical Communication and the World Wide Web” raises some salient issues about the conflict between intellectual property laws and public in general and IP holders and users in particular. He argues that with the revision of Copyright law and enactment of new IP Acts like The No Electronic Theft Act of 1997, The digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, The Sony Bono Copyright Extension Act of 1998, and The TEACH Act, the IP laws have become more stricter and insular than ever before and general public’s access to artifacts of knowledge has become more and more limited. This has put the copyright holders and the general public in a collision course. The former is campaigning for more stricter laws for infringement cases while the latter is demanding for more flexible or ‘thin’ IP provisions.

Regarding the implication of new Acts to technical communicators, Logie says that “in the past decade, the penalties have grown exponentially, and technical communicators now face a creative landscape loaded with legal landmines” (232). In fact, anything creative under the sun is copyrighted now. So, for technical communicator who works often times with existent models, templates, images and other resources, the stakes are really high. Technical writers therefore should campaign for more porous and flexible IP laws that foster new creativity while also ensuring enough protection for the creators.

But current IP laws are more favorable to the copyright holders. Logie quotes Gurak in this regard who contends that “current trends in copyright legislation is very much out of balance, favoring the author or creator…over the public” (234). So general public including technical writer is deprived of the sources of information and education. This, for Logie, is a horrible state. Therefore, he calls on technical writers to use their rhetorical skills and technical expertise to fight for people’s access to artifacts of knowledge and information thereby ascertaining the formation of informed citizenry. Technical writers are in a better position to do that because, as Logie thinks, “With the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web, the opportunities are manifold for communicative practices to move several steps ahead of the law of institutional policy” (240). Since IP laws always chase the technology, the Technical Communicators can reap the benefit of their skills to make the resources available to the public before the state enacts new law tp contain the loopholes at the least. Are we ready to fight what Andrea Lunsford calls ‘hyperprotectionism”?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Future Work Model: Distributed Work

Reading Clay Spinuzzi’s “Guest Editor’s Introduction: Technical Communication in the Age of Distributed Work” and excerpts from Tapscott & Williams’ Wikinomics gives the sense that the workplace is seeing paradigm shift from modular work model towards distributed work model i.e. from “the stable, rationalized, modular work structures that characterized the Industrial Revolution’ (266) towards “coordinative, polycontextual, crossdisciplinary work that splices together divergent work activities (separated by time, space, organizations, and objectives) and that enables the transformations of information and texts that characterize such work” (266). The readings also present wonderful instances of distributed work model in action, such as in Geek Squad and Best Buy and few others where bottom-up and horizontal approach appears to be working more innovatively than conventional up-down or vertical approach. More interesting to see in these readings is the workers’ use of Web 2.0 technologies in the workplace and the administration’s exploitation of their rhetorical skills and analytical power for policy making and work execution as opposed to conventional up-down communication, executive and decision-making system.

Basically, the readings are highlighting the fact that the traditional hierarchical working system is collapsing and more egalitarian networked trend is emerging which has implications for both the industries/organizations and the workers including technical writers. A permanent staff, job and static/physical workplace is increasingly becoming the thing of the past and job switching, multiskilling/deskilling and virtual, collaborative work patterns are characterizing the workplaces and workers. Spinuzzi thus describes the emerging distributed work pattern in the workplaces:
Control over organizations is just as distributed as ownership is
in managerial capitalism; digital technologies play a vital role in
forming, interconnecting, and even dispersing nodes; consumption is
individuated,taking the form of the desire for unique identities and
unique experiences;relationships between customers and businesses
become more important,even as the distinctions between them become
unclear; and customers look for stable beneficial relationships among
consumers and producers that support these individual experiences (cf.
Sless, 1994). These needs are supplied not by large, vertically
integrated companies but by temporary federations of suppliers for
each individual transaction. These federations are endlessly
recombinant. Lifelong employment is replaced by what Zuboff and Maxmin
call “lifelong learning” —what Donna Haraway calls continual deskilling
and retraining, and Castells calls multiskilling—as workers cope with
continually changing arrangements" (271).

Similarly, Tapscott & Williams offering the case of Geek Squad whose employees use “blogs, wikis, and other new tools to collaborate and form ad hoc communities across departmental and organizational boundaries" (240) argue that “openness, peering, sharing, and acting globally [are the] fixtures of the future
workplace” (240). Another climactic moment for Robert Stephens, the CEO of Geek Squad that authors present here and that impressed me is his moment of epiphany at the discovery of the fact that his staff is not using Wiki that he set up as much as the Battlefield 2 Online game for sharing information and experiences in the workplaces: "Instead of trying to set an agenda," he said, "I'm now going to try and discover
their agenda, and serve it." (243). Stephens made Battlefield part of the Geek Sqaud.

No doubt that the work environment is in transformation and that integration of new technologies in the workplaces are indicating that distributed work model is sure to dominate the work places soon and TC needs to be ready to face the challenges but few questions are gripping my mind as I meditate over this transitional phase in the workplaces:

1. The authors have talked mostly about the service sector whose major target is customer satisfaction and profit-making and the distributed work model seems to fit them well. But I wonder if the same model works for military and similar cases where strong chain of command and physical presence of individuals in, for instance, camps/battlefield is required for the execution of their duties/work.

2. The authors project that the future workplace will see the increasing use of Web 2.0 technologies, workers’ rhetorical/analytical skills and interpersonal communication skills. I here wonder again how realistic is it to expect every worker to be technologically proficient and rhetorically savvy?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Annotated Bibliography: CCR 760 Technical Communication

Santosh Khadka
CCR 760: Technical Communication in the Digital Age

Annotated Bibliography

1. Hunsinger, R Peter. “Culture and Cultural Identity in Intercultural Technical
Communication”. Technical Communication Quarterly 15.1(2006): 31-48. Print.

This article draws from the critical cultural theory of Arjun Appadurai and discusses how culture undergirds the intercultural technical communication research. Hunsinger argues that theoretical concepts of culture and cultural identity are yet to be fully explored for their implications for the study and research in technical communication. He observes that oversimplification, essentialism, or ethnocentrism and limited theoretical reflection on the concept of culture are the major stumbling blocks for the critical intercultural technical communication. He also critiques the predominant heuristic approach to researching and teaching intercultural technical communication that overlooks the crucial aspects of cross-cultural communication, and neatly explains how Appadurai's insights can enrich the theory, research, and pedagogy of intercultural technical communication.

2. Sam, Dragga. “Ethical intercultural technical communication: Looking through the
lens of Confucian ethics”. Technical Communication Quarterly 8.4 (19990): 365-81. Print.

Sam believes that understanding of differences in ethical behaviors across cultures is crucial for ethical intercultural technical communication. Since the ethics of Confucius (including the virtues of goodness, righteousness, wisdom, faithfulness, reverence, and courage) inform the communication patterns in China, the technical communicator must take that into consideration while communicating with Chinese individuals. Chinese culture, according to him, is indirect, high context, and collectivist but many fail to understand the ideals underpinning these manifestations. Unless the underpinnings are fully examined and understood, there is high possibility that intercultural technical communication with China fails. With the Chinese case, Sam believes that today’s technical communicator should learn to be multicultural, intercultural communicator and should also engage the issues of translation, interpretation, and localization. But he laments the fact that there is very little research to enable technical communicators to perform the changed role. Following an outlining Confucian thought and ethical behavior, Sam concludes his essay by analyzing a salient artifact of intercultural communication according to Confucian ethics thereby highlighting the ethical differences between China and America and implying that unless we develop a comprehensive understanding of such ethical differences, effective and ethical communication is unlikely to happen.

3. Barnum, Carol M, and Huilin Li. “Chinese and American Technical Communication:
A Cross- Cultural Comparison of Differences.” Technical Communication 53.2
(2006): 143-166. Print.

Barnum and Li compare the cultural values embedded in documents in China and the United States as well as the ways documents are viewed, created and used in Chinese and American cultures. They also observes how a variety of documents reflect those cultural differences and explain those differences in light of the historical, economic, and education influences that have shaped both countries' need for technical communication. Along the way, they also review the reasons for the need of technical communication in China and obstacles for integrating it in the academic system. They hope that their comparative approach can benefit ttechnical communicators in the United States and other Western cultures, technical and professional communication teachers of students from China as well as EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teachers in the U.S. and in China in various ways including getting the resources to explain and understand the differences in the composition and reception of technical and other writing genres in China as well as in the United States.
4. Mirshafiei, Mohsen. "Culture as an element in teaching technical writing.”
Technical Communication 41.2 (1994): 276. Platinum Periodicals, ProQuest. Web. 12 Mar. 2010.

Mirshafiei interviews non-native students in the upper-division technical writing courses asking whether their native cultures affect their technical communication ability and gets positive answers from almost all of them. He says that his research was inspired by his observation of cultural interferences in technical communication of his students. He therefore wanted to find where the problems his students confront in technical communication lie and what the solutions could be. In the process of research he studies, in addition to differences in style and tone, the problems that his students with different cultural backgrounds faced in technical communication. His major concentration, however, is on the impact of culture in technical communication. Finding the influence of culture in his students’ technical communication ability, he recommends that cultural problems be differentiated from those of language interference while teaching or training the non-native technical communicators and/or workers. In addition, he suggests instructors to make non-native students aware of the differences in cultural thought patterns between them and the native students and teach them to adapt their styles to intended audiences. Finally, he ends by mentioning directions for further research on the problem of cultural influence in technical communication.

5. Topf, Mel A. "Job application correspondence: integral to the technical
communication course." The Technical writing teacher 14(1987):114-17. Print.

Referring to many textbooks of technical communication as failing to treat job application letters as integral to technical communication and lamenting the fact that even ones that have discussions on them treat that genre as static form with definite rules and features, Topf calls for rhetorical approach to job application letters. “Missing in the texts are exercises in treatment of context—the nature of the audience, company, and position, through which students develop and apply substantive rhetorical strategies” (114), says Topf. According to him, the textbooks fail to point out the fact that job correspondence should address a special rhetorical situation and urgently require the deployment of rhetorical strategies. Given this vacuum, it falls on the shoulder of instructors to discuss the rhetoricity of job application letters. The courses should include discussion of strategies to deal with audience traits such as clarity and conciseness in style and format as rhetorical strategies to affect the audience; correctness to impress the audience; analysis of data to define audience; selection and inclusion of information from the writer’s background that is most pertinent to the job in question and strategic organization of the letter to the audience’s interests. Such discussion, claims Topf, will highlight the rhetorical nature of technical writing genres and therefore be instrumental in changing the current view of technical writing as a product of prescribed and inflexible rules.

6. Andrews, Deborah C, “Forum: Teaching international technical communication”.
Technical Communication Quarterly 7.3 (1998): 329-339. Print

In this article, in response to guest editor, Deborah C. Andrews’ request, three experienced teachers-Jan H. Spyridakis, Linda P. Driskill, and Nancy L. Hoft- describe how they integrate research on international technical communication into their classroom: a graduate seminar, a high-tech course in engineering communication, and an introductory course on creating world-ready information products. Their descriptions show that communicating internationally is complex and even frustrating but can be exciting in the sense that thinking internationally can transform a classroom, a discipline and/or a career.

7. Amant, Kirk St. “ When cultures and computers collide: Rethinking computer-
mediated communication according to international and intercultural
communication expectations”. Journal of Business and Technical Communication
16.2 (2002): 196-215. Print.
Advent of online communication technology has made globe even smaller and intercultural communication has been faster and direct than ever before, observes Amant in this article. While he claims that, he is also aware that with the greater facility of intercultural communication, the risk of cultural misunderstanding and communication breakdown has also increased. Therefore, the more investigation on the part of communication scholars on the potential areas of conflicts and misunderstandings in online communication is necessary to resolve complications if they were to arise. Amant also ask the scholars to compare the patterns in CMC (computermediated communication) and intercultural communication to see where these patterns collide.

8. Starke-Meyerring, Doreen, Ann Hill Duin, and Talene Palvetzian. “Global
Partnerships: Positioning Technical Communication Programs in the Context
of Globalization.” Technical Communication Quarterly 16.2 (2007): 139-175.

Given the fact that global partnerships in academic programs are in rise in this era of globalization, technical communication (TC) in both the workplace and higher education is undergoing powerful change as a result of globalization and TC programs now are finding themselves positioned in an altered environment, the authors, in this article, examine the changes in workplace and education brought about by the forces of globalization. They begin the article with the analysis of globalization trends and their influence on TC in the workplace, focusing on the type of literacies necessary for technical communicators for global work and citizenship and then highlight the need of program partnerships that facilitate the interaction of students with people and professionals from across cultures and places. The authors also examine a case study of Council for Programs in Technical and Scientific Communication (CPTSC)-supported study of program partnerships and explore how TC faculty and programs position themselves amid globalization. They end the article by providing insights for those interested in developing global partnerships of TC programs and offering directions for further research.

9. Andrews, Deborah C, “Guest editor's column: “Internationalizing”.” Technical
Communication Quarterly 7.3 (1998): 245-247. Print

This is an introduction from the guest editor Deborah C to an issue of Technical
Communication Quarterly where he highlights the issues raised by the contributing authors. Surprisingly, he finds that all the articles in that issue have a common point that “an increasingly global economy is changing how professionals in science and technology communicate” (245). According to him, six of the seven articles are about the study and work in the changed working environment. “Integrating”, he says, is the key word across articles which he interprets as calls for integrating international perspective into the technical communication classroom. Critiquing what he terms the international coating in technical communication classroom, he argues that international perspective should run deeper than that. Integrating international perspective should make students aware of the rhetorical situation of technical writing and the articles in the issue, he claims, have insights that foster such awareness.

10. Amant, Kirk St. “Online Education in an Age of Globalization: Foundational
Perspectives and Practices for Technical Communication Instructors and
Trainers.” Technical Communication Quarterly 16.1 (2007): 13-31. Print.

This article provides resources for online courses and instructors. Online instructors are now faced with the challenges of designing courses that can address the needs of the students located around the globe. Keeping in view the increasing access and interest in online technical communication courses across the globe, this article presents the information and approaches for designing the online courses for those students and preparing instructors both in US and elsewhere to teach courses in changed environment. In short, the article outlines the new developments particularly in internet technology that have facilitated the increasing interest in online courses across the globe and then presents the potential approaches to formulate effective online instruction for global students.

11. Paretti, Marie C, Lisa D McNair, and Lissa Holloway-Attaway. “ Teaching Technical
Communication in an Era of Distributed Work: A Case Study of Collaboration
Between U.S. and Swedish Students.” Technical Communication Quarterly 16.3
(2007): 327-353. Print.

This article discusses the need of new framework for the technical communication faculty to train students for new roles in the workplaces characterized by distributed work. The workplaces now are increasingly networked and globalized therefore global collaborative skills are prerequisite for the potential technical communicators. Therefore, faculty has to keep up with changes in the work places which means that they need to develop courses that addresses and corresponds to the complexities in the workplace. To that end, this article reviews current scholarship on collaborations as well as presents a case study of collaboration between U.S. and Swedish students as an example of how class should be taught and what kind of working condition students should be prepared to work in the era of distributed work.

12. Pascale, Richard Tanner. “Communication and Decision Making Across Cultures:
Japanese and American Comparisons.” Administrative Science Quarterly 23.1(1978): 91-110. Print.

This article observes the communications and decision-making practices of Japanese firms operating in Japan and the United States versus American firms operating in the United States. Contrary to popular conceptions that there are differences in Japanese and American management and decision making systems, the investigation finds more similarities than differences between the two. The implication of the finding is that some kind of universalistic organizational theory should precede the particularistic factors like culture while examining and analyzing the cross-cultural practices. This data-driven study reminds that sometimes hasty generalization, cultural essentialism and stereotying could be grossly wrong. It further implies that special care should be taken while talking about managerial characteristics both within and across cultures.

13. Ulijn, Jan M, and Kirk St. Amant. “A Mutual Intercultural Perception: How Does It
Affect Technical Communication? Some Data from China, the Netherlands,
Germany, France, and Italy. Technical Communication (2000): 220-237. Print.
This paper examines the intercultural differences in the perception of questioning and pausing. Beginning with the premise that different cultural systems and practices get reflected in people’s writing and spoken style, the authors contend that for the effective intercultural communication to take place, an understanding of those cultural factors is imperative on the part of professional communicators. The paper then provides insight into these cultural communication factors by presenting the results of an experiment involving how individuals from China, the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Italy perceived a videotaped example of intercultural business negotiations. By comparing
cultural perceptions of the same event, the paper demonstrates that culture plays a big role in how different people perceive and interpret the same situation. The experiment, claim the authors, can have implication for the professional communicators. For instance, they argue, “[B]y realizing how different cultures might perceive and interpret the same nonverbal cues differently, professional communicators can begin to understand how intercultural confusion could occur, especially in the context of a business negotiation. And this increased understanding can help communicators anticipate and reduce the degree of confusion that could occur at such negotiations” (Ulijn and Amant 235).

14. Orlikowski, Wanda J, JoAnne Yates, Kazuo Okamura, and Masayo Fujimoto.
“Shaping Electronic Communication: The Metastructuring of Technology in the
Context of Use.” Organization Science 6.4 (1995):423-444. Print.

This article contends that adapting electronic communication technologies to the contexts of use is the way to facilitate ECT in changing organizational forms. As a case study, the article presents the findings of a case study of a computer conferencing system in Japanese R & D project group. Through what the writers call technology-use mediation, effective communication was achieved in new context of use. About the metastructuring process and its implications, the authors say: “This mediation serves as an organizational mechanism for facilitating the ongoing adaptation of technologies, their use, and organizational contexts to each other and to changing conditions. The identification and articulation of the metastructuring process and of technology-use mediation have a number of implications for research and practice” (Orlikowski 440)

15.Varner, Iris, and Linda Beamer .Intercultural Communication in the Global
Workplace. Chicago: IRWIN, 1995.

A coauthored textbook Intercultural Communication in the Global Workplace includes chapters on culture and communication, business language, nonverbal language in intercultural communication, intercultural negotiation etc. and therefore can be a valuable resource for the technical and business communicators. Together, the chapters provide much needed insights and skills for successful intercultural technical and business communication. It is a blend of theoretical discussion and practical tips for approaching and interacting new cultures. A number of instances and cases of cultural values and their manifestations in or implications for technical/business communication abound the textbook. In short, this textbook suggests that the explanation for any behavior should be sought in particular cultural values and worldviews that the communicator holds. That’s why this resource is valuable for workers in today’s globalized workplace.

16. Amant, Kirk St. “Online Ethos and Intercultural Technical Communication: How to
Create Credible Messages for International Audiences.” Technical Communication and World Wide Web. Eds. Carol Lipson and Michael Day. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005. 133-166. Print.

In this chapter, Amant provides technical communicators and instructors with resources to handle the misunderstanding or conflict, if any, during cross-cultural online communication. As such, the chapter is full of discussion about potential problem areas, solution and strategies and teaching tips concerning intercultural online communication. Amant believes that awareness of the potential conflict areas and strategies to resolve them can help technical communicators immensely as teaching tips do to the instructors. With the awareness, both the groups will attempt to develop international and/or cross-cultural perspective in the design of their materials or instructional activities. One thing to note here is that Amant employs ethos-based approach while discussing problem areas as well as offering solutions to resolve them. With a range of strategies, solutions, teaching tips and heuristics all across, Amant concludes the essay by recommending an array of online resources for TC, instructors and students to turn to as they design the materials for international audiences.

17. Thatcher, Barry. “Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures.” Digital Literacy
for Technical Communication: 21st Century Theory and Practice.New York and
London: Routledge, 2010. 169-198. Print.
In this chapter, Thatcher critiques the ethnocentrism characterizing U.S. digital media and communication and proposes what he calls a global or cross-cultural approach for understanding them across the globe. He maintains that we need four competencies in order to avoid ethnocentrism and adopt a global/cross-cultural approach such as understanding the rhetorical characteristics of the digital medium itself; adapting those characteristics to rhetorical situation of the culture in question; assessing cultural variation in target culture and finally appropriating rhetorical strategies to fit the expectations of the target culture (Thatcher 169). The chapter is divided into four parts. The essay begins with a case study highlighting the need of cross-cultural approach to digital media and communication. The following part discusses why a different approach is necessary to make sense of digital literacy in the U.S. and around the world. In the third section, Thatcher list five strategies of adapting digital media and communication for cross-cultural contexts and finally the essay ends with a case study of digital literacy adaptation to fit cross-cultural needs.

18. Sample Job applications from Nepal.
A Nepali web site for posting job opening announcement by the employers and job application letters and resumes by the potential candidates from around the world, this site has a number of actual job applications letters and resumes of Nepali job candidates that can serve as samples for research projects in cross-cultural technical writing/communication practices.

19. Lannon, John M. Technical Communication. 11th Ed. NY: Pearson Longman, 2008.
This is a technical communication handbook designed for a class with students from across the disciplines, cultures and places. Rhetorical principles undergird the technical genres presented in the book. Published in the U.S. it could be a good source for sample job application letters and resumes for research projects in cross-cultural technical communication practices.

20. Heytze, Ingmar, and Rene Weijman. “Intercultural Technical Communication: No
Problems for Technical Writers?” Communicator 5.9 (1997): 18-19. Print.

The DOE-STIC evening held on 17 June 1996 in Utrecht, the Netherlands and devoted to intercultural communication discusses whether or not there should be different versions of documents in different cultures for one and the same machine. The questions like: Will Eskimo treat instructions for a video recorder differently from an Australian? How should a technical writer deal with differences in his products? Is the conversion of manuals for different cultures really the job of the technical writer? (19) were also considered. A number of technical communication experts expressed their views on these crucial questions. Carl Jansen (Professor of TC, Eindhoven U of Technology) deploys Hofstede (1984) and Hoft (1995) and demonstrates that the role of culture is very small while writing good technical pieces. For him, individual factors like age, sex, and education, have a greater influence. So he does not see any meaning in investment for document alteration to fit a different culture. But another expert, Gerry Gentle mentions that there are vast differences in the ways people use technical documents across cultures and languages. So employing experts from different cultures and languages for the design, composition and alteration of those documents to fit the cultural expectations could be a good idea.