Technical communication students in Mercer University’s School of Engineering recently had the unique opportunity to participate in an international collaborative project with France’s Université de Paris to promote virtual teaming and research.
The 10-week project was shepherded by Dr. Pam Estes Brewer, professor and incoming chair of the Department of Technical Communication at Mercer.
“I’ve been using virtual teams for close to 20 years in order to teach,” Dr. Brewer said. “It opens the world to students, and they can get an international experience without the extensive travel. It’s another way to globalize education and works well in a pandemic.”
Dr. Brewer received support from longtime colleague Dr. Patricia Minacori at Université de Paris to initiate the project.
“I’ve collaborated with Dr. Minacori for three project iterations. We collaborate almost every year and have been doing so for about six years,” Dr. Brewer said. “We crafted the first project, and it’s gotten better every year.”
Both professors had intended goals and aspirations for the project that ensured the maximization of learning about virtual teaming concepts.
“Dr. Minacori wanted her students to practice their professional English, learn more about technical communication in the United States and work effectively in virtual teams,” Dr. Brewer said. “I wanted my students to learn more about tech comm globally, work in virtual teams and practice editing non-native speakers of English.”
Eight of Dr. Brewer’s students recently published a report about their experiences with the project in Corrigo, the official publication of the Society of Technical Communication Technical Editing Special Interest Group.
Dr. Brewer said the most difficult part of the project was the time difference.
“Their time zones and calendar are a little different than ours, so making timing work is the biggest challenge,” Dr. Brewer said. “You might think it’s the language barrier, and occasionally it is, but not so much.”
Dr. Brewer believes that this particular project set the stage for future iterations that further incorporate virtual teaming in various ways.
“The first time you do anything can be a little intimidating. For our students, it was the first virtual team project they’ve ever done, and they were intimidated at first. But they were especially delighted to be a part of a team that bonded into an international relationship,” Dr. Brewer said.
“Any professor can provide an experience like this to their students who may not have the money or time to travel for an international learning experience. It just takes a little creativity.”
Dr. Brewer said the project also showcases the importance of technical communication as a career.
“The reason it’s a healthy field, and will always be, is because we live in a tech world,” Dr. Brewer said. “Where technology needs to be used, we will be needed because we are translators and communicators of tech. The world couldn’t function without us.”