Corporate Advisory Boards, Portfolio Assessment, and Business and Technical Writing Program Development
Dillon, W. Tracy, Business Communication Quarterly
Some five years ago, my university embraced its identity as an urban institution and revised its mission statement to emphasize connections among the university and various constituents in the surrounding metro community. The technical writing program found itself in a strong position to contribute to the implementation of the urban mission simply by virtue of the pragmatic nature of the discipline. The metro region is a popular and growing area for major technical industries such as semiconductor manufacturers and chemical and environmental engineering groups. A liaison with these firms would be a natural fit: the writing program could provide technical writers to meet their communication needs while the firms themselves could enhance the education of writing students by offering internships and other opportunities.
In light of the university's urban mission, I became interested in involving such firms in curricular development. Put simply, I want local organizations who might hire our students to recognize a degree from the writing program as a credential qualifying our graduates to do the job.
To move toward this goal, I formed an advisory board made up of key managers and executives in the metro region. I first approached them by modifying an accepted classroom assessment technique - the annotated portfolio (Angelo & Cross, 1993) - for use in a contest. The idea was to get the targeted companies interested in assessment of student writing and then to solicit their representatives' interest in continuing to serve on an advisory board.
Representatives from Arthur Andersen, Cascade Earth Sciences, CH2M Hill, First Interstate Bank, The Harris Group, Intel, Sequent, and Tektronix participated in the initial contest, awarding cash prizes donated from the companies. More important, each representative committed to an ongoing relationship. Subsequently, representatives from Timberline Software and US West have joined the advisory board.
I draw on the board to advise me regarding curricular developments, including course content and offerings. They keep program faculty informed of important needs in the local community of technical and professional writers, and faculty in turn can share this input directly with students. The board also represents a potential pool of adjunct teachers and guest speakers. This winter, for instance, the senior technical editor from C[H.sub.2]M Hill taught our technical report writing course and received outstanding reviews from students who recognized this voice of authority as a working expert in the field. Other board members have designed and proposed new courses for the curriculum. Additionally, board members regularly visit classrooms as guest lecturers to share their experience and advice with students. These visits translate into sincere mentoring relationships in some cases. And, in line with the university's efforts to catalyze education in the community rather than containing it within classroom walls, the board facilitates internships, capstone experiences, and community-based learning courses that get students learning by doing.
But the annotated portfolio remains central to the relationship: each year the board comes together to determine first, second, and third place portfolio winners, awarding cash prizes in recognition of communication excellence. The portfolios provide a touchstone for important and ongoing dialogue about what works and what doesn't in technical and business writing.
This article offers guidelines for those who might wish to establish a similar advisory board to improve student learning outcomes in their programs. It advocates student portfolios as an effective assessment technique and shows how devising an annual portfolio contest can encourage students to develop and retain their portfolios in order to prepare for their careers. Additionally, portfolios that students enter into the contest can be used to identify and exemplify standards and criteria for performance success, and program administrators can use this information to inform decision making. …