Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine / Volume 1, Number 2 / June 1, 1994 / Page 4

New Media for Technical Communicators

by John December

MINNEAPOLIS (May 16) For more than forty years, the Society for Technical Communication (STC) has helped its members explore new ways to communicate. The theme of the STC's 41st annual conference held recently in Minneapolis, "Explore Communication," was therefore apt. Participants at the conference discussed new ideas for communication via computer, and charted the beginnings of STC's foray into Internet-based scholarship.

The annual STC conference is the world's largest event for technical communicators. The 1994 conference included over 220 sessions on issues in education, training, management, research, technology, visual communication, writing, and editing. From its roots in paper-based media, the STC now now delves into opportunities presented by online communication, multi- and hypermedia, and computer-mediated communication.

One sign of STC members' expanding interest in new media was the formation of new Professional Interest Committees (PICs) at the conference. PICs are special-interest groups within STC that focus on a particular field or set of issues. At the conference, two new PICs held formation meetings: Online Information and Interactive Multimedia. The Advanced Technology (AT) PIC also met, and Cordell Woods described its goal to identify trends and techniques that are now on the bleeding-edge--technologies that are not yet understood enough to define applications. For example, the AT PIC seeks to define the skills technical communicators might need in defining virtual reality communication systems.

Discussion at the Advanced Technology PIC Meeting also revealed steps in STC's migration to online communication and scholarship. Eric Ray, of Oklahoma State University's Computer Center, described his informal TECHWR-L LISTSERV discussion list which has served as a forum for STC members and others to discuss technical communication. While not officially sponsored by the STC, the TECHWR-L list has been the only online forum dedicated to discussing technical communication issues. Based on the success of this online forum, Andrew Davis, of the STC's Silicon Valley chapter has lead an effort to foster STC-sponsored online activity. The first step in this process has been the creation of the domain. Plans are in the works for ftp, gopher, and a web-based information system on a host with this name.

Other sessions at the conference covered Internet-specific opportunies for communication: Eric Ray moderated a discussion entitled, "It's More than E-Mail: An Overview of Inter-Networking," and Nancy Davis of the Georgia Tech Research Institute moderated a panel, "Getting the Most Out of the Internet." In a session about Human-Computer Interface, Communication and publishing, Livingston S. Schneider, the organizer for the Interactive Multimedia PIC, gave a presentation about how interactive multimedia gives added value over multimedia presentations that lack true interactivity (such as a VCR). In this same session, I presented my paper on Computer-Mediated Communication as a Component of Technical Communication Education.

In a session, "Visions to Shape Technical Communication by the Year 2000," panelists representing industry, government and academia discussed the dominant trends in technical communication extending to the year 2000 and the STC's role in responding to these trends. Richard T. Julius, of Oracle Corporation, identified trends shaping technical communicators' skill sets. These trends, according to Julius, involve increasing human-computer interaction in the form of more online, multimedia, and Internet activity as well as more subject-specific and specialized sets of knowledge. Ann Hill Duin, of the Department of Rhetoric at the University of Minnesota--St. Paul, identified increasing emphases on people-oriented skills such as interactivity, collaboration, and issues such as gender, age, and cultural styles. Duin sees a blending of social and technical areas of expertise in the future--merging studies of the technologies (interactive, multimedia, and virtual reality) with the contexts of use (power, politics, relevance). Saul Carliner, of Carliner & Co. Information Architects, described his vision for an increased focus on content versus tools to unleash the power of information as a product. The new president of the STC, Elizabeth Babcock, of the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, echoed many of the other panelists' comments when she outlined her vision of the future as involving increased internationalization and continued growth in focusing on user needs.

Overall, the conference gave participants a chance to explore many technical communication issues and marked the beginnings of this professional organization's exploration online.

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