Northern Arizona University strives to ensure the curriculum for its online Professional and Technical Writing Program reflects real world trends and supports student needs. Recent and upcoming changes to course offerings cover the gamut of skills-based and general competencies such as creating and managing a content strategy or participating in Agile teams.
Erika Konrad, the regional coordinator for the program, and one of the lecturers, described the ways in which they solicit feedback on current and potential courses. “One of the assignments in three of our current classes (Tech Writing Style and Technical Editing, and Writing for the Web) is to find job advertisements and learn about key terminology and requirements in those advertisements.”
“The last two courses I created were designed to match what we were seeing in the job market as a result of student findings in those job advertisement assignments,” she said.
One of the new courses, Content Strategy, includes a unit on “Software Exploration,” which introduces students to the current technology skills being sought by employers, such as “MadCap Flare, Framemaker, oXygen, and others that change over the years,” according to Erika.
Direct student feedback is a key driver of new course development in the program. Erika notes that “sometimes students clamor for classes,” which resulted in both the software exploration unit in the Content Strategy class, and a new offering this summer, “Workplace Grammar.” “I created the grammar class because many of my students asked for a grammar refresher course, especially those who have been out of school for a long time and can’t remember or never learned the terminology. This course will offer practice with some things those of a certain age never did in school–like diagram sentences–for example. We won’t diagram just to diagram, and we won’t learn terminology just to learn terminology. Instead, we will diagram in order to diagnose and prescribe solutions to workplace writing issues. And we will learn terminology and concepts that are important when we follow workplace style guides such as the Chicago Manual of Style, the Plain Language Guidelines, the Simplified Technical English specifications, or the Microsoft Writing Style Guide.”
Occasionally, corporate sponsorship interest can play a role. NAU will offer “a technical documentation course for both undergraduate and graduate students in which we will create documentation for products via a partnership with the iFixit program” beginning in the Fall 2019. Erika summarizes the course as one in which “all students will create documentation in teams. Grad students will lead the teams and get some experience as content managers.”
NAU faculty members’ own continuing studies can also uncover curriculum gaps and new ideas. “I’m taking a class through the Phoenix STC on API documentation this year, so I can see whether API documentation is appropriate for this class or a future class. I rely on my STC friends to keep me up to date on industry trends and skills needed for current employment opportunities,” Erika says.
NAU courses include the core of professional and technical writing offerings—Technical Writing Style, Technical Editing, Ethics of Professional Writing, Project Management and Document Development, and Information Design and Usability. In addition, the following new courses were inspired by recent industry trends and student needs:
- Professional Writing for Digital Audiences
- Content Strategy
- Technical Documentation
- Management Communication
- Environmental Writing
- Teaching Professional Writing
- Workplace Grammar
NAU remains committed to offer a curriculum that balances concepts and theory with genuine practical application to support students’ career goals. Erika also emphasizes the flexibility of the program, noting that students can apply to the program as “non-degree students,” allowing them to take one or several courses to see if they’re a good fit. “You can apply a maximum of 12 units from non-degree status to your MA degree or professional certificate if you decide to apply for regular admission.” She encourages those interested to contact her by phone at 928-523-9064, or by email at Erika.Konrad@nau.edu to discuss options and interests either before July 17 or after August 27, 2018.