Examining Education and Considering Options

Every day, we’re bombarded by reminders that continuous training and ongoing education are essential to career success in the modern economy. At the same time, the number of education providers offering courses, certificates, and degrees seems to be growing exponentially, as do options for study. Now, classes can be on-site, online, hybrid, real-time, self-paced, individually directed, or an almost endless mix of options. It just seems to go on and on, and it’s a bit much. What we’ve created is a case of “educational information overload,” and it’s more than most of us can manage. The challenge for technical communicators is determining, “Which option is right for me?”

Answering that question is not easy with so many factors to consider. Perspectives, however, can help. By perspectives, I mean the reflections, opinions, and insights of others who have participated in different educational options and have ideas to share based on their experiences. The key is finding a balance of perspectives to help examine and assess options effectively. This issue of Intercom represents an initial move toward examining educational options in an attempt to achieve a balanced perspective. Like all initial attempts, the perspectives presented here are far from complete, nor are they comprehensive. They are varied in terms of the options they review and the programs they examine. As such, they help create a foundation of ideas, aspects, and factors that you can consider when making decisions about what educational options work best for you as a technical communicator.

The objective of this issue is to examine some of the educational options available to you, particularly those options offered by more traditional educational institutions like colleges and universities. In reviewing these options, it is important to recognize you will need to balance such educational undertakings with ongoing work obligations and a range of personal and family responsibilities. It is also important to be aware of factors that could affect what constitutes valuable and viable skills and knowledge in the future. For this reason, you’ll want to compare current perspectives to prospective trends. Doing so can help you make decisions that address immediate and long-term educational objectives. This issue of Intercom examines both factors from the perspectives of those engaged in such activities.

The authors of the first five feature articles in this issue are working technical communicators who have written on the dynamics of different educational options and the related lifestyle factors to consider. Most of these authors also had to balance a job and a range of personal responsibilities as they pursued their programs of study. Additionally, they studied technical communication at different kinds of institutions—from private engineering schools to large public research universities—and via different kinds of programs including on-site, online, and hybrid. These contributors therefore represent a cross section of the individuals who might pursue educational opportunities in technical communication and a sampling of the options available to technical communicators in the field. The final feature article, in contrast, offers the perspective of career educators in the field. In this case, the two authors worked with individuals from industry and academia to identify factors that could affect educational programs. Their entry examines how educators identify different trends when reviewing, revising, or developing educational offerings in technical communication. With these factors in mind, let’s take a look at each article.

In the first article, Kelly Smith examines a key question: Should I go with an online option? Her response involves identifying factors one should consider when assessing online education. The issue then moves to a review of kinds of programs available to technical communicators. Jessica Lynn Campbell and Lauren Jones start this discussion by reviewing factors associated with undergraduate degrees (or courses) in technical communication. Lance C. Becker then examines the next step in the educational progression by looking at graduate certificates in technical communication via his own experiences in such a program. These discussions provide those new to or who wish to enter the field with ideas of the options available to them and the dynamics involved in certain programs.

Graduate degrees generally offer different educational experiences and serve a different population—usually individuals with prior experience in a particular area. They also often involve different commitments in terms of time, money, and focus. To examine such factors, Lindsay K. Saunders discusses the reasons for which she pursued a master’s degree in technical communication, and how doing so reflects different professional and personal goals. (Note: In pursuing her MA, she made the move from graduate certificate to graduate degree within the same program.) Dubravka (Debbie) Davy then discusses the reasons she decided to pursue a PhD in the field after a successful career working as a technical communicator. In so doing, Dr. Davy notes factors potential students should review when considering such programs, and provides suggestions for how to evaluate the options and benefits of a PhD.

The final feature article provides a macro-level perspective of the field. In this entry, two professional educators—Carlos Evia of Virginia Tech and Rebekka Andersen of the University of California, Davis—provide an overview of ongoing research they are doing about how educators in technical communication can better prepare students for success after graduation. In examining this topic, Evia and Andersen have worked with industry leaders, university administrators, and professional educators to identify how curricula should change to address today’s technical communication industry and education options.

Education is a complex topic involving a range of dynamics. Understanding such factors requires multiple perspectives and access to lots of different kinds of information. The entries in this issue represent an initial review of such factors. Ideally, we—as members representing different areas of the field—can continue the discussions of these topics as part of our professional interactions in the short and the long term. Let the discussions begin.

—Kirk St.Amant


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