Social Justice though Technical Communication: Teaching Resources

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[edit] Social Justice through Technical Communication

The resources shared in this entry were developed by a graduate special topics technical communication course at the University of Texas, El Paso. The course was titled [“Social Justice through Technical Communication.”][1] The course description is as follows:

This course will introduce students to the field of technical communication through a specific focus on justice, empathy, and ethics. The purpose of the course is to help us think about how technologies are are created based on specific ideologies, and to provide a space where students can collaborate to design technologies that purposely work to counter injustice for marginalized populations. In this course, we will approach social justice from an intersectional feminist perspective, meaning that we will consider to issues of class, gender, race, and ability intersect in the creation and dissemination of technical tools and documents. Class conversations will be grounded in an understanding that we seek to develop tools and technologies to facilitate justice for populations that are marginalized based on race, class, nationality, ability, sexual orientation and identification, among other factors.

Through this course, we will begin to answer questions such as: How do technologies both facilitate and limit the work of specific communities? How are power and privilege embedded in the tools and technologies we use to communicate? and How can we design tools to ethically influence these dynamics?

[edit] Student Introductions

Because this was a special topics course offered in the summer, students in the course came from various disciplines and backgrounds.

Sam Mata: pursuing Interdisciplinary Studies Degree, focusing on Financial Fitness (helping people get out of debt, stay out of debt, and become financially fit for life).

Shelly Mansfield: mother of five who previously worked in the field of public relations. Currently pursuing an MAT degree and will be a teaching assistant at UTEP in the Fall. Eventually planning to teach high school or college English.

Lionell Manlutac: an army veteran with a Bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education-English/Language Arts and pursuing a Master’s degree in Rhetoric and Writing Studies.

Aaron Goulette: experienced English teacher of 10 years with a majority of his work focused on multimodal literacy pedagogy and social justice oriented lessons in AP classrooms. Serves as the English department chairperson at Pebble Hills High School. Currently pursuing the MAT degree for English.

Laurie Garcia: mother of two and pursuing a Masters of Art in Teaching English with a personal focus on social justice and civic education. Currently an Advanced Placement English Language and Composition teacher and U.I.L. academic team coach.

J. Sonya Patino: High School Teacher certified in Business, Speech, and English Language Arts currently teaching at Bowie High School, a Title I school. Holds a Bachelor's degree in Communication Studies from UTEP and currently pursuing a masters in Rhetoric and Writing Studies at UTEP.


The materials shared in this entry will provide both an overview of specific readings and potential applications for this work both in and beyond the field of technical communication.

[edit] Course Readings

The materials shared in this entry will provide both an overview of specific readings and potential applications for this work both in and beyond the field of technical communication. Course readings were divided intro three major units [2], including "Foundations in Technical Communication," "Foundations in Social Justice," and "Social Justice and Technical Communication on the Border," which is the unit that we used to localize technical communication and social justice conversations in our own community in El Paso.

[edit] Foundations in Technical Communication

Hart-Davidson, W. (2001). On writing, technical communication, and information technology: The core competencies of technical communication. Technical communication, 48(2), 145-155.

Historically, technical communication was considered to only be the companion of engineering. Now it is becoming part of the whole creation process of information technology. Hart-Davidson identifies four kinds of value-added activities that technical communicators perform: experimentation, collaboration, abstraction and system thinking (p. 150). He establishes writing as the integral competency necessary for effective technical communication. Technical communicators are able to bring in their own identity into the equation by incorporating social, ethical and political discourses of technology (p. 152).

Experimentation uses research that questions the results but not just the meaning of the information or the delivery (p. 150). Collaboration is the ability to work in teams, which focuses on collaborative success and a commitment to improve the product (p. 150). Abstraction is finding and stating patterns, structures, and relations in large amounts of information (such as articles and research) that is compiled together without restricting the use of the information (p. 150). System thinking is finding and stating patterns, structures, and relationships across specific problems, projects, and tasks domains, which focuses on strategic thinking that can impact large social structures (p. 150).

Hart-Davidson establishes value for the role of the technical communicator in this article, especially in reference to the importance of writing. He speaks of writing as a technology, saying, “writing might be understood as an array of technologies focused on the production, display, distribution, storage, and recall of information. It is no accident that the five ancient canons of rhetoric isolate these very features: invention, arrangement, style, memory, delivery. We might think of the canons of rhetoric as the basic operating system features of writing” (p. 147-148). Technical communicators are able to understand their audiences and tailor the information accordingly to address and articulate user needs and preferences.

Hart-Davidson also lays out the idea that there was a theory gap for the field which lead to under recognition of the importance of the contributions made by technical communicators in the workplace. Hart-Davidson looks to Johnson-Eilola’s four kinds of value-added activity that technical communicators perform to explain their competencies and what they look like in action. Hart-Davidson also uses Nardi and O’Day’s comparison that technical communicators are like gardeners in the field of information technology because they help to nurture productivity of their work by using tools and skilled expertise to create efficiency.

Hart-Davidson also references the work of David Albers, who discusses a future in which information is dynamic and, “What the reader sees is not a document that an editor has carefully groomed, but rather a dynamic document that was compiled from a database just before the information was presented” (p. 145). That particular opinion is from 2001, so it would come as no surprise to Albers that we are living in that future. One of our students is currently employed as a “flexbook author” for the El Paso Independent School District. The type of document to which he refers is precisely what she is working on alongside four other authors. The idea is that we are creating dynamic online textbooks in which multiple authors can add to, teachers can adjust to suit their specific populations, and information can be fluidly changed and updated as necessary. It is important to remember that this very intricate world of technical writing in which we are exploring is not only limited to the IT world.

Slack, J. D., Miller, D. J., & Doak, J. (1993). The technical communicator as author: Meaning, power, authority. Journal of business and technical communication, 7(1), 12-36.

Slack, Miller and Doak effectively trace the evolution of the role of the technical communicator, which apparently is still very much misunderstood and unresolved. The TC is seen as moving beyond an invisible, silent transmitter or translator of meaning, to a true author and articulator. The role of the technical writer is indeed a challenging and undervalued one. While integral for conveying the appropriate meaning and message in the most clear and concise manner, the technical writer gets very little praise or recognition, yet is often the first one to be blamed when the message is not accurately received.

As an articulator of knowledge, technical communicators have increased agency and power, and can even advocate for the user as a mediator of social justice. Slack, Miller and Doak trace the evolution of the role of technical communicators based on three views: transmission, translation, and articulation. Each view is defined below:

The transmission view is referred to as the possibilities and problems of transmitting of conveying meaning from one point to another. (i.e.: Developer to Consumer)

The translation view, in contrast, "can be understood in terms of a primary concern with the constitution of meaning in the interpretation and reinterpretation of the message" (Slack, Miller, & Doak, 1993 p. 14). For example, this view is concerned with presenting technical jargon into more streamlined terms that do not lose the original meaning, and can even include language and cultural mistranslations (especially if a word or phrase doesn't exist in a language). Translation views tend to be more complex than the transmission view implies.

The articulation view is described as the struggle to articulate and rearticulate meaning in an expressive or easy to read manner. In tandem with all views, the process of technical communication proves to be rather overwhelming. The need to not only effectively transmit messages, is fettered by the need to maintain exquisite articulation while maintaining effective translations that represent the original message.

All three views are important, but due to transmission being the view most defined, written about, and discussed, it also seems to be the crux of technical communication work (Slack, Miller, & Doak 1993, p.14-15). This favoritism for simple transmission often proves detrimental to the other views, which are often more effective when working in unison.

The article, written in 1993, highlights the necessity for and lack of writing education and practical experience for engineering students as well as a need for an ingrained sense of ethics (Slack, Miller, & Doak, 1993, p. 33). Conversely, from an educator’s perspective, there is an imperative desire to see if this deficit in learning has already been remedied. Perhaps more frightening, is the inability for corporations or non-English / writing based fields to recognize what should be obvious (the need to focus on the user’s cultural background and schema as a potential design tool). This inability to see the color of language as a tool of rhetoric through these simplistic and common sense based views proves to be quite paradoxical. If technical communicators and corporations are unable to see beyond the transmission based view, what hope is there to effectively getting one’s message across without proper translation and articulation? As educators ourselves, it has also been necessary to adapt pedagogy to the needs of our ever changing students. Simple transmission of content is largely ineffective, and often requires the need for effective translation and articulation of content to meet the needs to diverse student populations. If only developers would follow suit.

Selfe, C. L., & Selfe, R. J. (1994). The politics of the interface: Power and its exercise in electronic contact zones. College composition and communication, 45(4), 480-504.

Selfe and Selfe (1994) illustrate the true problem of language and power isolation that occurs within the Internet and several programming based on languages. Though sometimes unintentional, the implicit nature of progressing the colonial language and devaluing the culture and language of minority perspectives is real. Selfe and Selfe discuss the dominance of the English language in programming that many computer languages such as ASCII, C++, Visual Basic, HTML, and Java are exclusively written in English, which causes problems with non-English speakers.

Even knowing English proves to be a miniscule advantage, unless the user understands the programmer's original thought processes for abbreviated commands. If a person were to even consider distancing themselves from English, they automatically enter with a disadvantage and even more so if they decide to maintain an isolationist perspective. If a native/fluent English speaker gets confused with the programmer’s intention, then non-English speakers would be more so.

It’s interesting how users from non-English backgrounds not only have to learn the English language to effectively use many applications and tools when on a computer, but they also have to learn some of the imagery used by white, male, middle- and upper-class professionals (p. 481). Clearly, by taking part in this conversation, we can see how borders exist between different groups in the use of computers. If not for conversations such as these, the borders would probably continue to be normal, accepted, and somewhat invisible to most.

Sun, H. (2006). The triumph of users: Achieving cultural usability goals with user localization. Technical Communication Quarterly, 15(4), 457-481.

The primary themes in the Sun article can possibly serve as a solution to the dilemma Selfe and Selfe raise in “The politics of Interface: Power and its exercise in electronic contact zones.” Based on personal and technological experience, language, and culture, technology is being forced to change at an impossibly fast rate. Technology is often playing catch up. This requires companies to make use of user experiences as potential data in order to try to prepare their products for the unpredictable nature of technological advances. Users have already shown their unpredictable uses of products (Snapchat, Facebook, SMS, etc), and they, ultimately, determine the next big “app”. Sun (2006) states that “Users are designers who are actively redesigning, or --- more accurately --- localizing, an available technology to fit into their local context… [a] user might be able to articulate those cultural and contextual factors well, but they know what works in their own contexts…” (458). For example, text messaging, which began as a very basic mode of communication used in the workplace, has gained in popularity worldwide, and is used by many different cultures in a vast array of applications far beyond what any developer ever imagined. While companies often focus on the operational and instrumental affordances of their inventions, they tend to neglect the social affordance that users can add to their product lines.

As addressed in class discussion, this idea that user experience research is a necessity to any successful product is also applicable in the field of education. Advances in education are constantly pushing the boundaries of what learning should look like in the classroom. Much of this research is done divorced of the actual classroom and student input though. In order to assure that these advances are actually effective, much research must be done in practical settings, with different populations, with input taken from teachers and students. The user experience has to be taken into consideration.

Walton, R. (2016). Supporting human dignity and human rights: A call to adopt the first principle of human-centered design. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 46(4), 402-426.

Walton adapts the first principle of human centered design (HCD) as a frame to address how technologies should support human dignity and human rights. Much like Sun's (2006) article, Walton (2016) expresses his concern of HCD being overtly focused on "short-term, narrowly scoped considerations of its effects on people" (p. 409). Walton's concern stems from the inability of most HCD failing to investigate or question the cultural and personal influences that a product may have on a consumer’s life.

In the pursuit of support for human dignity and rights and as we become more global, the challenge when developing technical professional communication now is to create a sensitive multicultural space. The role of technical communicators (TPC) requires a need to advocate for consumers by investigating or questioning the cultural and personal influences that a product may have on a consumer’s life. While language and culture are significant considerations in the work of technical communications, Walton tells us that “TPC scholars should consider relevant factors beyond language, such as local knowledge systems, political systems, economic factors, and historical framing (408, referencing Agboka, 2013, p. 29).

Clearly the process of practicing sensitivity and honoring human cultural differences becomes increasingly complicated as we develop and use technologies across a global, multi-cultural space. Walton (2016) includes the following to support his viewpoint: “People we would argue, are the ultimate end, not the technology. Not only is this a value set in technical communication, it’s also the way we work. We use tools not as an end but as a means to help people“ (p. 407).

Redish, J. G., & Barnum, C. (2011). Overlap, influence, intertwining: The interplay of UX and technical communication. Journal of Usability Studies, 6(3), 90-101.

Redish and Barnum (2011) illustrates three major problems in the technical writing field. 1) That technical communication has changed (it is no longer simply writing instruction manuals) but the industry does not reflect these changes and consistently denies technical communicators (TCs) the opportunity to partake in user experience (UX) research. 2) That technical communication is recognized as a good background for UX jobs due to the undefined and broad nature of TC studies. And 3) The UX community does not present or publish the successes of TCs in the UX field (p. 95).

We found that often, it seems that the model of business and technology has failed to understand not only the users for which they create content, but the mediators that serve to improve their bottom lines. This disconnect is quite substantial. Technical communicators influence the creation of products to increase usability so a user can find what they need, understand what they find, and use what they find to meet their needs (p. 93). When consequences are not life threatening or don’t affect one’s pocketbook, such as government documents, UX may never get the attention it merits (p. 92). The role of a TC seems so broad that it is a challenge for which to effectively train. Worse yet, companies and development firms do not have a firm handle on the roles of a TC either.

In our class discussion, an interesting analogy was made applicable to the field of education. In the field of education there are curriculum writers who are often teachers and other members of academia, and then there are teachers who are tasked with carrying out the curriculum generated by the curriculum writers. The curriculum writer can be seen as the technical communicator. It is their job to put the information together and send it out into the world in hopes that it performs its potential function. The teachers can be seen as the user experience researchers who are tasked with finding out exactly how the curriculum is going to function in real-time. It is only through open communication and a series of constant revision that the curriculum can become effective.

Business and Technology fields must consider that TCs shape the interface and the messages of the information products we use and user experience (UX) is also valuable for the more critical technical applications, such as maintenance directions used for machinery or operations that can affect people’s lives. The spacecraft industry, environmental industry, and public transportation maintenance industry are a few fields where this would be an important application but has yet to be prioritized.

[edit] Foundations in Social Justice

Agboka, G. Y. (2014). Decolonial methodologies: Social justice perspectives in intercultural technical communication research. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 44(3), 297-327.

Decolonial methods recognize how colonization has negatively impacted research, especially with marginalized communities. Colonial research practices, as Agboka clarifies, position research participants as merely subjects of study, rather than as human beings with rights, histories, expertise, and experience. With social justice as a goal, decolonial approaches to research use liberatory methods that are beneficial to both researcher and participant, positioning both researcher and participant as humans with rights (p.303).

As Agboka (2014) explains, a decolonial method of research can often prove quite beneficial in the long run, making research practices both more ethical and rigorous, as they allow participants to shape research structures and results just as much (if not more) than the researchers themselves (p. 302). In our course discussion, we connected Agboka’s proposal for decolonial methodologies to our previous work with Youth Participatory Action Research. Considering the already “traditional nature” that already encompasses research, its makes more sense that has been greater success in YPAR or PAR (Youth / Participatory Action Research) in the educational arena. For instance, when students are able to connect with research on a personal level (which often goes against traditional research methods) there is more to be gained not only from the individual conducting the research, but also a deeper connection and understanding of the content under research. However, as Agboka (2014) states, we need to understand not “merely what motivates the research, but also the institutional and cultural influences that shape the research context and eventually how they will influence the research outcome” (p. 302). That is, when conducting research in technical communication, education, and other areas, it’s important for researchers to consider the power structures in which our work is always partaking. Therefore, we have to pay added attention to how issues of power, race, and culture may influence our own experiences and those of the participants who gift us their time by contributing to our work.

Haas, A. M. (2012). Race, rhetoric, and technology: A case study of decolonial technical communication theory, methodology, and pedagogy.Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 26(3), 277-310.

In this article, educator and researcher Angela Haas explores race, rhetoric, and technology as related to the field of technical communications. Haas draws on the foundations of critical race theory, and defines race as a rhetorical construct that is a “real lived, social, political, embodied experience that affects everyone, directly or indirectly, on an everyday basis” (p. 282-283). Haas emphasizes the need to understand the implications of differences in racial perspectives in order to become better communicators.

If race is a real experience, rhetoric is always cultural. Haas defines rhetoric as “the negotiation of cultural information—and its historical, social, economic, and political influences—to affect social action (persuade)” (p. 287). In Haas’ view, rhetoric has the potential to reposition traditional ideas about race and technology in order to create new ways of seeing the world. Race and rhetoric are inextricably tied to technology and communication. Though the author states that conversations of and courses in rhetoric are widespread and common, of the four main ideas she discusses (race, rhetoric, technology, and technical communication), the term and idea of rhetoric incites a look for a definition and how it fits with this article. Haas defines rhetoric as: “The negotiation of cultural information-and its historical, social, economic, and political influences-to affect social action (persuade)” (p. 287). Haas’ definition of rhetoric places social action at the center of all communications.

Haas continues the trend of critical perspectives that occur in both Jones articles, albeit with a stronger focus on critical race theory, which is arguable similar to the critical lenses found in literary theory. Much like the social and cultural lenses of literature and the real-world (via counter storytelling or the antenarrative) Hass reminds technical communicators (and educators indirectly) that "critical race theory can work toward more culturally responsible understandings of how race and ethnicity influence technical communication theories, methodologies, pedagogies, and practice" (p. 284). As a potential addition to Hass’s work, critical race theory can also aid students and their interpretations of a text (as well as encourage self-reflection) by understanding the perspectives of characters based on racial, socioeconomic, or other critical perspectives.

Haas’ insights can be viewed as a response to questions raised in the previous articles by Jones. Both of the previous articles call for an interrogation of the field and rhetoric itself. The concern is that technical writers need a broader education in the field of race and rhetoric to determine exactly how it is possible for “decolonial ideologies to emerge, new rhetorics [to be] spoken, written, or otherwise delivered into existence” (p. 237). Haas’s specific field of study and instruction (race, rhetoric and technology) allows for such strides in the future evolution of technical communication.

Jones, N. N. (2016). The technical communicator as advocate: Integrating a social justice approach in technical communication. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 46(3), 342-361.

Through Jones’s (2016) article, we discover the need to incorporate social justice into the technical and professional communication field. Jones (2016) states, “that integrating a social justice perspective is necessary for further legitimizing the field of [Technical and Professional Communication] and interrogating how TPC can be complicit in reinforcing which perspectives and whose experience are valued and legitimized” (p. 2). This focus on the move towards social contexts and processes creates a more inclusive environment that focuses on the experience of the individual. In doing so, it solidifies that TPC does not just address technology, but includes social aspects.

Furthermore, Jones (2016) suggests that rather than favoring neutrality and objective language, Jones (2016) instead argues that language should be "political and imbued with values. Technical communication reflects certain perspectives, viewpoints, epistemologies" (p. 4). It is through these methods of perspective analysis and diversity that the work in the field of TPC and teachers forge new paths. To accomplish this, Jones describes several pedagogical strategies to encourage this behavior. First, is the use of PAR (Participatory Action Research), which also has its findings in the educational field (Youth PAR) for students at the high school or middle school level. Though Jones’s (2016) specifically highlights the need for TPC’s to include elements of social justice, it is quite possible for teachers to do the same for their own students. For instance, when students are provided opportunities to analyzing the views and perspectives of others, it “encourage[s] empathy as a conduit to understanding and advocacy” (Jones, 2016, p. 15). Additionally, the focus of the antenarrative and counter-storytelling contributes to the idea of critical literary theory. That is, encouraging students to pay attention to how a text or event may be interpreted by others based on different criteria. With these pedagogical strategies, students can analyze the effect of social status, gender, age, culture, or even geographical location on a literary or historical event. The result is a self-reflective process for the students own values, and the evaluation their social/economic capital in the world that they live in.

Jones, N. N., Moore, K. R., & Walton, R. (2016). Disrupting the Past to Disrupt the Future: An Antenarrative of Technical Communication. Technical Communication Quarterly, 25(4), 211-229.

In their article, “Disrupting the Past,” Jones, Moore, and Walton make the argument that the field of technical communication is “a field of study and practice that contributes not just to self-perpetuation and best practices in its own area but also to the good of society” (211). With that being said, their specific stance then is that technical communicators have a responsibility to represent all individuals in the “tapestry” created by the world of technical communications (219). Whether we are discussing minorities in terms of race, sexuality, or class structure, each group must contribute a “thread” (219). Technical communicators have the power to help heal the previously eurocentric identity of the entire field by helping to ensure that antenarratives are included in the overall message. An antenarrative is a new 'word' and 'theory' developed by David M. Boje (2001). It can best be defined as a collection of the previously untold stories, the “other,” the side that isn’t mentioned or typically heard. “Diversity for social justice must mean making the field of technical communication open and accessible to the people whose understanding and experiences of science, technology, professions, and institutions are quite different from the overwhelmingly Euro-American culture of technical communication academics and practitioners in the U.S.” The authors go on to illustrate the idea that this inclusion of antenarratives to the overall conversation can go so far as to create a new era of “agency and advocacy” amongst previously disenfranchised groups (220).

Pertinent to our discussions in the educational field, there seems to be another equivalent of narrative writing that causes the same effect; specifically, counter-storytelling. Though slightly different in format, counter-storytelling values the views and perspectives of minority or unheard cultures, especially in responses to the majority culture that is often louder than others. To add further, these perspectives (like antenarratives) can be employed to question Jones 3Ps: positionality, privilege, and power. In a border town, this issue hits very close to home. It is imperative to bring in the antenarratives that are often overlooked in the Mexican community. So often our students are only exposed to the narratives of the oppressors and the victors, that their identities are subjugated. Jones’ tapestry metaphor is not only beautiful, but what should constitute our new vision for the future. It is no longer a melting pot which we should be aspiring to at all, but a tapestry which allows for an inclusion and display of all of the “threads” which make us who we are today (219).

Thrush, E. A. (2001). Plain English? A study of plain English vocabulary and international audiences. Technical communication, 48(3), 289-296.

Thrush explores the idea that communicators should adopt a strategy of using over-simplified language, or “Plain English,” and should be more aware of the social and cultural values their audience holds in order to reduce communication misunderstandings. The author tells us the key to successful professional writing is to remember both the audience and the purpose of the communication. When considering the audience, the writers must take into account the native language of the reader. This will influence and impact how the writer can make more effective choices aimed at ensuring the message is effectively received and understood by the receiver. From their resources, the writers must choose the best tools to deliver their message.

Today, and in the future, our audiences are including more and more non-native English speakers who may not understand some of the basic English (Plain English) words and phrases. Writers and teachers must remain aware of these issues, especially in communities such as El Paso, to help ensure the communication is worthwhile. The majority language in the El Paso area is predominantly Spanish, though there is quite a bit of code-switching or code-mixing used by the population, when people mix and match English and Spanish words in their sentences, as well as Spanglish words made from combining both languages. Thus, in El Paso, communicators must know their audience and adapt their message in a “Plain El Paso Language” to effectively send communication.

[edit] Technical Communication on the Border

After discussing foundations in social justice and foundations in technical communication, we continued the course by reading and talking about how social justice and technical communication issues play out here in our local context. Because we are located on the border of El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, technical communication takes place across language and cultures in our borderland context. Thus, to understand how we can apply social justice principles in our technical communication work on the border, we read and discussed the following framing readings as we developed ideas for our final course projects.

Álvarez, C. (2016). Educational Technology in Mexico: Developing New Tools for Students in Latin American. User Experience Magazine, 16(2).Retrieved from Prieto Alvarez examines the educational system of Mexico and the role that technology plays within this system. He noticed that there are barriers that prevent many individuals from getting a formal education such as poverty, language barriers, no access to the Internet or computers, and unable to attend school.

After providing technology and bypassing the issue with the Internet, he found a structure that would help individuals learn. The three-step process includes: “introduction to the subject, playful activities, evaluation and rewards.” This improved scores on tests by 35%. Prieto Alvarez and his team “identified four heuristic of an effective design of learning” and its description:

Provide good communication with the students: describing complex concepts or ideas by using simple and familiar analogies, usage, and implementation that all students can understand. Eliminate device problems: tools or technology that require connectability (such as the internet) should be uploaded to the devices before issue. This will create more work for the educational unit; however, it will benefit the students. Provide different learning options: students have different needs and they might not have the same level of knowledge, the educator should accommodate or modify the lesson to help students understand the content. Provide a device appropriate to the content: the devices used must be appropriate for the content being taught. If the devices do not meet the requirements, modifications should be implemented to ensure that students understand the material. Using three four solutions can help professionals identify and address these challenges. Prieto Alvarez and his team suggest taking a three-step process to develop a strong education system: (1) provide different design that takes into account the diversity among students, (2) research groups around the world need to collaborate to create a functional strategies, share knowledge, and avoid repeating mistakes, and (3) ensuring that everyone has access to obtain a better education.

Anderson, C. (2008). ¿Habla Español?: Testing and Designing for U.S. Latino Users. User Experience Magazine, 7(1). Retrieved from Cliff Anderson’s article, “¿Habla Español?: Testing and Designing for U.S. Latino Users” provides his view of working with a technical communication team in an attempt to redesign a website with the Latino market in mind. Specifically, Anderson works for Wachovia, a nationwide bank who understands that the Latino market is a previously untapped market. He defines the Latino market as, “Latin Americans living in the USA. “ Anderson highlights the process that his product-testing team went through when they ran a series of studies on how to address this market in order to make their website more user-friendly for the Latino market - looking at special characteristics and challenges. The team actually divided the population into three different segments in order to make them more manageable. They decided to alienate an entire segment of the market, the “Isolated – 35 percent; speak Spanish exclusively; they are older and represent the most recent immigrants” because they were deemed unreachable. With only two-thirds of the marketing remaining, and after repeated product testing, the team found numerous problems with areas that had to do with translation and population behavior. The team was unable to determine how simple one word to one word translations were not seen as appropriate. They were also unable to overcome barriers such as a distrust of impersonal information sources, such as FAQs. This reflects an overall issue in the field of technical communication - the complete underemphasis of user experience research and an undervaluing of cultural understanding. Anderson does suggest that moving forward, his team should employ a “seasoned translator” in order to help alleviate some of the language issues. Wachovia and Anderson do at least acknowledge there are inherent issues with their testing process, obviously the industry has a long way to go.

Evia, C., & Patriarca, A. (2012). Beyond compliance: Participatory translation of safety communication for Latino construction workers. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 26(3), 340-367.

Evia and Patriarca (2012) explore the use of cultural-studies-based recommendations by using user experience (UX) and multimodal strategies to develop meaningful discourse between workers who seldom (if at all) spoke English and technical communicators. By using the critical input from Latino construction workers, TPCs are able to effectively create messages of safety that not only translate to the intended audience, but are articulated well enough to fulfill community needs. This goal has accomplished several stages of discourse: PD (which implies that the user is the expert), Initial Exploration (a symposium of worker / designer intended to explore the problem at hand), Discovery Process (the interaction between researcher and worker to envision a future of the desired outcome), and the Prototyping Stage (which tests the new changes).

Playing in tandem with these stages is the use of multimodal strategies to aid with a mostly Spanish-speaking only or even illiterate group of users. Strategies include the use of stop-motion animation, visual representations made by the users, scenario writing based on mainstream sitcoms, and interactive drama.

With the processes and strategies in place, TPC are able to effectively transmit, translate, and articulate their messages to their audience and effectively involve the user in the design process. This advocating of user involvement once again highlights the need for TPCs to push for user involvement in the creation process.

Evia and Patriarca’s (2012) positive approach to this form of PD encourages the concept that “users should be regarded as experts when they enter the design process… [it drives] the concern for a more humane, creative, and effective relationship…” (p. 351) The strategies of using various visual-based forms of learning (such as the stop motion video and other illustrations) provides significant value in the workers involved. Much like the ESL populations in the educational field, multimodal strategies often serve as useful tools to make content meaningful to students. Additionally, there is a social justice oriented approach being used here when the workers (who are like students) see that their work will create change. Even if the experiment were to fail, the simple validation of voice proves to be quite substantial for the workers on the job, and students in the classroom. The ability to possibly enact change has created a new form of motivation and empowerment.

Noe, M. (2009). The corrido: A border rhetoric. College English, 71(6), 596-605.

Noe espouses the idea of seeing the corrido (which can be defined as a Mexican ballad which typically narrates a historical event) as a way to bring cultures together in order to establish a bridge across boundaries. As “a result, the border ceases to be exclusionary and becomes a rich space within which cultures intermix rather than a place where one culture disappears until it is simply a shadow of the other” (599). Noe also argues that borders are mere constructs of society, “the difference between the boundary and the border is simple yet significant: boundaries are political constructs intended to enforce power differentials; borders are cultural phenomena found at the nexus of culture and identity” (597). Noe emphasizes the idea that democracy flourishes on the border because of our instincts to resist impositions placed on us by the two opposing forces, the Mexican south and the Anglo north. As Noe clarifies, “The corrido, as a border rhetoric, questions that metaphor by insisting on a border space in which oppositional binaries no longer order discourse” (599). One of the benefits of employing the corrido as a borderland rhetoric is that the corrido inherently fights against a rhetoric of assimilation that is often used in classroom spaces. Noe explains that “multiethnic” students are often taught to assimilate to western academic discourse by learning to mimic and imitate these discourses. As Noe clarifies, “For multiethnic students, as these imitations take precedence over inauthentic discourses, mimicking leads inevitably to assimilation” (601). The corrido, on the other hand, teaches students not to assimilate but rather to question and challenge western normalized practices, “opening up the possibility that as students mimic academic discourse, they do so as a challenge to that discourse” (601).

Johnson, J. R., Pimentel, O., & Pimentel, C. (2008). Writing New Mexico White: A critical analysis of early representations of New Mexico in technical writing. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 22(2), 211-236

Johnson, Pimentel, and Pimentel (2008) begin their article with an analysis of the portrayal of New Mexico from early technical documents. From their findings, they discover that a majority of the documents were meant to "increase the number of white Americans to create a clear white majority… and thereby prevent the Mexicans from gaining power" (Johnson, Pimentel, and Pimentel, 2008, p. 211). Though technical communicators traverse between elements of science and humanity, it is their job to represent both worlds of differing cultures, however, some have seldom given attention to racial others. Instead, it often favors majority perspectives and cultures. Using elements of White Theory, Johnson et al. (2008) analyze the frames of white privilege and systemic racism that exists in New Mexico, as well as most of the United States. This perspective, Johnson et al. argues, is "intricately designed to provide psychological, discursive, and material privileges to whites and to disadvantage people of color.

Using the following frames, Johnson et al. (2008) use color blindness (refusal to see color or race), selective attribution (specific application of race), whitewashing (the removal of race for whites), and privileged language (the valuation of one knowledge ideology over another) as forms of analysis (p. 215).

Color blindness, for instance, can be implied when people believe that everyone has equal opportunity to privileges when this may not be the case. In a sense, Johnson et al. argue that whites can feel comfortable with their advantages as they have "earned them" (p. 216). Other races that are not in the same situation are seen as lazy, despite the ignorance of social and economic imbalances between racial structures. Selective attribution, on the other hand, is the raising of one particular race as determined by the white majority. Its unfairness stems from the majority race that exemplifies a minority as "honorary whites" (Johnson et al., 2008, p. 216). Whitewashing, in comparison involves the removal of difference to create a singular white perspective. At the same time, Johnson et al. (2008) argue that it can vilify groups as racists against the majority perspective. Finally, privileged language can occur when an author decides to include their own sets of beliefs and values over another culture. For example, a writer could rewrite mythical or historical events by deliberately excluding content, or even changing its characters to fit the majority status quo. Based on several historical documents related to New Mexico, Johnson et al. (2008) conclude that New Mexico's history was often recorded by the white majority. Native Mexicans or immigrants of the area were constantly portrayed as absentminded or insignificant (even in retold religious myths), whereas white immigrants were viewed as intelligent and resourceful. Unfortunately, the sheer amount of information available at the time, created a social culture within non-white immigrants to believe these statements, despite them coming from the mouth of the majority power.

Pimentel, C., & Balzhiser, D. (2012). The double occupancy of Hispanics: Counting race and ethnicity in the US census. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 26(3), 311-339. Pimentel and Balzhiser examine the U.S. Census Bureau’s process of collecting population data, and how the census form perpetuates regular patterns of responses and even lack of responses, that create a double counting of Hispanics. Their analysis tells us the current format and structure of the census questionnaire leads to a “Double Occupancy” of Hispanics.

The census process was developed to count population to determine the respective number of representatives for each state. Ever since its inception in 1790, the census questionnaire has included questions on race, and the Census Bureau has had trouble keeping an accurate count on race, especially for Latinos and African-Americans. The questionnaire is problematic for Hispanics because Hispanic is assigned as an ethnic identity and not a race identity; defining origin and race as two different aspects. Many Hispanics, thus, must choose a racial category that does not accurately depict their racial identity. Throughout the years, the Census Bureau has had to manipulate the format of the questionnaire to prompt Hispanics to identify themselves as ethnically Hispanic as well as racially black or white.

Categorizing Hispanics as a nonracia ethnic group is problematic because it shows a clear disconnect between social practice and textual representation of Hispanics (p. 323). Despite the large overlap in the Hispanic (ethnic) and White (racial) categories on the questionnaire, the reports show whites and Hispanics as mutually exclusive, comparable, and even competing racial categories (p. 326). Through their study, the authors conclude that the idea of Hispanic as an ethnic category in conjunction with the exclusion of Hispanic as a race category produces the double occupancy of Hispanics. The article recommends a very simple revision to the census questionnaire to correct this double occupancy: 1) delete the Hispanic-origin question and 2) for the race question, add Hispanic as one of the responses (p. 334). It appears the census questionnaire is an example of how technical communication can lack social justice and can be used to discriminate.

Matveeva, N. (2015). Teaching Technical, Scientific, or Professional Communication at Hispanic-Serving Institutions. Programmatic Perspectives, 7(1), 3-20. Matveeva references many previous writings we have studied that provide evidence to support concerns related to Hispanic rights, safety and medical information in technical communication. Matveeva looks at technical communication programs across the U.S. to examine the experiences of Hispanics and provides advice on programming and retention strategies to benefit Hispanic college students.

Matveeva focuses primarily on “Hispanic-serving institutions,” or HSIs, schools with a significant population of Hispanic students that are designated as such by the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU). These HSIs are eligible to receive federal funding to assist with special programs and resources. Matveeva notes that, as of 2010, Hispanics comprised 16% of the U.S. population, and more than 20% of the civilian labor force. Yet only 16% of that Hispanic labor force over the age of 25 years had bachelor’s degrees (p. 7). This data illuminates the need for more support for Hispanics to obtain higher educational status.

Looking at technical communication programs specifically, Matveeva articulates some of the beneficial offerings that HSI students are now receiving including courses and/or certificate programs that highlight bilingual skills, courses that “target the issues of diversity and culture in workplace settings” as well as service-learning or client-based courses that provide job-related opportunities and experiences for students (p. 9-10). By way of extending these concepts, Matveeva recommends four specific strategies for teachers of technical communications to support Hispanic students (p. 12-13):

Strategy 1. Prepare to address ESL issues Strategy 2. Consider adding a learning module in one of your courses or a separate course on diversity and workplace communication Strategy 3. Establish close ties with local nonprofits and business Strategy 4. Identify and teach the skills for employability

It seems to us that it would be advantageous for ALL students in a technical communications program, Hispanic or otherwise, to gain opportunities to connect with local businesses for work experiences and exposures (no. 3). Providing certifications for bilingual skills, as an example for strategy no. 4, is certainly valid for Hispanic and any other student of technical communications, as those skills are increasingly valuable in the workplace. However, we discussed in class how Matveeva’s language in regards to strategy no. 1, to “address ESL issues,” seems to perpetuate the very problems and misperceptions that Hispanics are trying to overcome. In addition, strategy no. 2, which deals with critical race theory and embracing multiculturalism, seems extremely important in technical communications programs, however, not solely for Hispanics but for all. As we advocate for social justice it is important to keep these factors in mind.

[edit] Themes and Takeaways from the Course

Although we didn’t have specific backgrounds in technical communication, the major takeaways that we can share about the intersections of technical communication and social justice include:

Noted overlaps between technical communicators and teachers: Because many of us in the class have backgrounds and extensive experiences in teaching, we made numerous connections between technical communicators and educators. For instance, we noted that TCs can make the difference between UX being effective and efficient, much like teachers can make the difference between students learning and growing to their potential. However, business and technological industries have a reputation for overlooking the importance of what a TCs contributes to the bottom line. Similarly in education, administrators and other decision makers tend to also have a reputation for undervaluing the contributions of a teacher to the learning environment by overloading students in each class, underpaying teachers, and only recognizing a teacher's efforts only if students are effective at passing a test instead of recognizing them for the growth of learning within their students. The technical communication process is often synonymous with daily teacher duties. Despite being a job that is commonly misconstrued as being a free and isolated environment, there is much dictation from administration about a teacher's pedagogy. To add further, teachers rarely participate at the “design table” like some TCs, and are rarely allowed to advocate for their users (or students). Unfortunately, a “top-down” method of leadership is constantly enforced.

Additionally, like TC’s, the focus on transmission based flows of communication is favored over proper articulation and translation. Teachers and TC’s are constantly placed in environments where getting from A to B is all that is necessary, without any proper regard to the methods of getting there in the first place. Even the mere recognition of success is largely ignored. Successes are often placed on the success of the product (for teachers the “product” would be the student), but seldom is any positive recognition attained. A failure, however, is blamed solely on the TC or teacher, with a complete disregard of the user, the methods, and other haphazards that surround the workplace of both TC and teacher.

Recognizing that technologies and tools are not neutral. As technical communicators, we need to be conscious advocates in technology design: As technology evolves and advances, our world becomes increasingly connected and accessible. We must remember that every individual has a unique background and perspective, and not everyone can or should be reached in the same way. If we challenge the status quo, we can appeal to under-represented minorities to embrace their culture without compromising the integrity of our communications. We noticed that our primary modes of technology have been created mainly by fluent English speakers, which creates an issue for many non-English speakers. With this idea, we realized (especially in border towns and education) that technology benefits those fluent speakers, making it biased.

Social Justice is not just optional in technical communication; it should always be a core value and objective: Technical communicators, like any writers or designers, are always advocating for something in their work, even if this work may appear as unbiased on neutral. By acknowledging the cultural values embedded in all technologies, we should develop a commitment to ensuring that our work represents our goals not only as communicators but as social justice advocates, choosing purposely to engage in work that acknowledges and works against standardized systems of oppression.

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