One area of my research has been ongoing work to understand programs in TPC better. The overview about TechComm Programmatic Central helps to situate the larger project and its current status. The research into programs has helped me and my colleagues make evidence based and data driven decisions locally when it was time to consider changes or updates to curricula.
Data, however, can only be used contextually and with due consideration of local constraints and strengths. To use data effectively from a programmatic perspective means an ongoing consideration of
- student learning outcomes
- continuous improvement models
- programmatic inclusion
Student Learning Outcomes
In a forthcoming piece on program student learning outcomes, my co-authors and I put forth the idea that the SLOs are not only assessment devices. Rather, SLOs should be used to help students understand what the program (or course) will do for them. In other words, SLOs have too often been seen simply as devices for institutional assessment. This approach limits the the potential of using SLOs as a pedagogical tool to help students understand and talk about what their courses and programs are teaching them.
Along with a team at USF, we are pushing this argument even farther using field-wide outcomes from the service course to say that SLOs should serve as the foundation for guiding and directing programs from the assignment to the course to the program. In doing so, outcomes then become a direct means for antiracist assessment and just and fair assessment practices. Focusing on outcomes emphasizes the learning students should do but more importantly, outcomes allow for a range of student successes within the framework of learning.
There is not a set ideal or one way the outcome can be achieved, which opens up assessment to meet students where they are and take into consideration the unique experiences and expertise that students bring with them and match to the content of the course. Using SLOs more deliberately and thoughtfully for guiding student learning helps students achieve fair and just “opportunities for advancement.”1
Continuous Improvement Model
A continuous improvement model is a logical solution to organizing programmatic work since such models are designed to be iterative frameworks that assemble, analyze, and align processes and knowledge work. What we offer is a continuous improvement model that promotes sustainable programmatic growth by
- providing an iterative process that can ensure sustainability called for by scholars;
- offering a way to address the multiple identities at play in and across programs (e.g., as degree program and service course provider);
- offering a way to engage industry expectations reciprocally with academic expectations;
- visualizing connections among all processes and knowledge work (e.g., reflection practices) that contribute to programmatic formation;
- recognizing and offsetting the potential tendency to focus too much on the production of texts and skills only to get a job;
- acknowledging and aligning multiple reflective practices, processes, and other knowledge work; and
- moving TPC PAs beyond assessment-only thinking and data collection. (Shreiber & Melonçon, 2019, pp. 261)
The last chapter of the book-in-progress is titled “Programmatic Inclusion.” This is an idea that I’ve been working on and around since I started my work on accessibility (ca. 2013). Using the principles GRAM and continuous improvement, I have developed a program inclusion audit from different “landscape” perspectives to help TPC PAs and faculty approach the work of programs and curricula from an inclusive standpoint. Doing so in an iterative way will create and sustain programs that acknowledge and then mitigate whiteness, work against racist and oppressive curricula, expands views
The program inclusion audit is still a work in progress and should always be a work in progress based on local contexts, but it does give TPC a starting place in considering issues of race, ethnicity, ability, class/economics, and gender/sexuality more directly and explicitly when we building, expanding, and sustaining programs.
Two direct examples of using the programmatic inclusion audit to effect actual change within the programs at USF. First, we often forget that labor practices are indeed a justice issue. One of the first things as I did was uncover and then codify within departmental frameworks the work of the TPC Writing Program Administrator. This high labor job that impacted so many students was not adequately recognized or compensated. In July, 2020 in a. revision of departmental by-laws this position was elevated to a director role with commiserate representation on committees and compensation.
A second example was the revision of the custom textbook for TPC to include more direct and explicit language about the fact that TPC has never been neutral or objective. As I wrote in the first chapter, “What is PTC?”:
This critical approach needs to start with an understanding that no matter how it may appear on the surface, there is nothing objective about professional and technical communication. Professional and technical communication is always produced in conjunction with an organization’s culture, which includes the norms, values, and ideologies of that organization. Ethical professional and technical communication must take as part of its goal the role of naming racist and colonial practices that uphold systems, usually created through policy and documentation, of inequality and disparities.
But what does this mean exactly–this idea that PTC is not objective and that it can continue racist and/or unjust policies and practices? Let’s consider what may seem like an innocuous example. Many job ads will list “excellent communication skills” as a preferred qualification. This makes perfect sense because, as you’ve read in this chapter, professional and technical communication is how business gets done–specifically, business gets done through communication (written and oral). But what we need to recognize is that there is an embedded assumption—a bias—in this idea of “communication skills.” The phrase “communication skills” refers to communication skills in standardized English that is a by-product of colonial practices in which linguistic diversity and vernacular languages were a symbol of inferior socioeconomic or cultural status. In other words, the overall concept of “excellent communication skills” is one that begins in a system that was meant to exclude certain groups….
But change cannot be effected within organizations without first understanding those organizations. This course works to help prepare you for the workplace you will enter while simultaneously preparing you to improve those workplaces.
Programmatic inclusion deliberately focuses programs and the curriculum in those programs on the necessity to address the power that language, policies, documentation, and other forms of writing and communication play in the upholding and the changing of existing systems. Much like we wrote in the PTC textbook is at the heart of the program inclusion audit, that is, the necessity to find ways–both big and small–to enact and to effect change.