Dr. Andy Fiss, STC-MGL member and Associate Professor of Technical & Professional Communication at Michigan Tech, was awarded a 2023 CCCC Technical and Scientific Communication Award for Best Book in Technical or Scientific Communication. Andy and his book, Performing Math: A History of Communication and Anxiety in the American Mathematics Classroom, were honored at the CCCC Awards Presentation on Friday, February 17, during the 2023 CCCC Annual Convention.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Andy to ask him a few questions about his work. When I asked him how he found himself conducting research at the intersection of communication, anxiety, and mathematical instruction, he answered that he was a mathematics major as an undergrad. He reflected on the weird reactions and phrases like “I hate math” he received when he told people his major and recollected that other majors didn’t get the same type of response. As a result, he started thinking about the history of the pedagogy of mathematical instruction and became curious where where communication and anxiety arose in that early work. Notably, related studies are limited to high school mathematics instruction. His book expands on the general dread many people express toward math by analyzing several historical documents including songs and plays written about math education.
The selection committee awarded his book the title of Best Book in Technical or Scientific Communication because it is “Compelling, well-researched, and a very interesting read. Though Fiss’s book focuses on the historical instruction of math, his ideas about classroom performance can be translated to other fields,” so I asked what can writers/communicators take away from your book, in or out of the classroom? He replied that this book is a collection of stories of past practices and can shed light on general approaches to helping make things unfamiliar more familiar, much like the work of technical communicators.
The selection committee also said “… It offers some insight into how we may accidentally create anxiety when producing technical communication.” In response to my question about how this happens, he explained that, for example, the pedagogical practice of “chalk talk” suddenly required that students not only demonstrate proficiency in mathematics but also oratory instantly. The connections between increasing demands for skills outside the purview of a subject may certainly ring true to the technical writer experience today.
Fiss has been the I am the faculty advisor for the STC student chapter at Michigan Tech and MGL member for 4 years. The book, published by Rutgers University Press, can be purchased at: https://www.rutgersuniversitypress.org/performing-math/9781978820203