Stuart Selber, Associate Professor of English and Sciences, Technology, and Society
For my faculty fellowship, I propose to investigate the changing nature of instruction sets in online environments, including Web 2.0 environments. My deliverables will include a research-based heuristic that provides a rhetoric for electronic instruction sets, which can be applied by teachers of technical writing and by instructional designers responsible for procedural documentation.
Instruction sets have become a fixture and a focus of online participatory culture, illuminating the significance of technical writing to an ever widening audience of authors and users. By "online participatory culture" I mean the activities and practices in social spaces on the Web that encourage the production and distribution of user-generated content (e.g., uploading videos to YouTube and photos to Flickr; writing and rating product reviews at Amazon; adding and editing encyclopedia entries at Wikipedia; sharing and tagging collections of bookmarks at Delicious; offering advice in user forums at Apple or Microsoft).
At present, it seems that nearly everyone on the Internet is a technical writer--or at least has the potential to be one. The sociotechnical interfaces that organize literate activity today are inclusive and remarkably flexible. They no longer position data and information--or people, for that matter--in one context or another. Nor do they care very much about the boundaries the field has used to define technical writing. Although the range of user-generated content is extensive and includes a wide variety of materials (new media or not), instructional discourse occupies a conspicuous position in the landscape of online participatory culture. At the previously mentioned websites, which incorporate so-called Web 2.0 features, there is no shortage of how-to texts, images, and videos of both an official and vernacular nature; these items have been produced by amateurs and experts who confound distinctions between subject positions (or audience categories) and between elements in a mixture of additional binary oppositions that have come to organize Western culture (e.g., private/public, work/play, literacy/technology).
In addition, Web 2.0 websites such as Expertvillage.com, Instructables.com, and Docstoc.com have been specifically designed to support the activities and practices of participatory culture in the context of instructions. Sites like these--there are many of them--host hundreds of thousands of instruction sets framed with metadata and mechanisms for various forms of feedback.
My argument is that Web 2.0 environments have begun to recast the instruction set in concrete and meaningful ways. The relevance of the instruction set has been amplified and widened by an online participatory culture that encourages involvement, collaboration, and information exchange. More than simply a good example, the instruction set has become something of a metonym for the complex world of Web 2.0. Although such a part-for-whole substitution is certainly reductive, it has heuristic value in that it helps people to understand a role and function for user-generated content--a phrase with no shortage of interpretive flexibility. In other words, the sharing of expertise, which is an easily understood and frequently practiced form of human discourse, has become an archetypal task of online engagement and interaction.
You can learn more about this project by visiting the ETS Wiki.