BUSINESS SYSTEMS AND PROCESSES: Technical Communications
Associate Professor of Humanities
Associate Professor Bernadette Longo, Department of Humanities, questions the relationships we have with our technologies. She asks how language helps to shape what we consider to be possible and impossible relationships between ourselves and our technological devices, increasing our relationships with computing devices that we perceive to be almost human.
The link between modes of communication and technology has long been an interest for Longo, who earned a PhD in rhetoric and communication at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She also has master’s and bachelor’s degrees in English from California State University. Longo joins NJIT from the University of Minnesota, where she taught technical and professional communication and directed the master’s and certificate programs in scientific and technical communication.
In her doctoral work at Rensselaer, Longo was among the first technical communication researchers to complete an extended cultural study, investigating how technical communication acts as a control mechanism for assigning value to scientific information. She explored this approach even earlier in her career in Spurious Coin, her first book.
Longo uses cultural studies to investigate technical communication practices within particular cultural contexts, mediated by technological devices. She understands technical communication as an everyday practice working to stabilize a power/knowledge system. This research accounts for technical communicators' language choices, illuminating how technical language circulates as currency, assigning value to information within a scientific knowledge economy.
Longo’s research has taken her well beyond the campus. From 2005 to 2010, she worked with an intensive care unit (ICU) medical director at the University of Minnesota Medical Center to study how insulin protocols disseminate research findings into clinical practices. The study's purpose was to develop a prototype protocol to share with other hospitals, based on design elements that were identified and tested.
Longo has also explored information design issues with First Step Initiative, a microfinance NGO working with women entrepreneurs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo). She worked with University of Minnesota graduate students and partners in DR Congo to address communication and design problems as opportunities to apply their expertise within a specific cultural context.
The situation required Longo and her students to research and learn about relationships between people and technologies that were unfamiliar to them. In January 2010, she visited Lubumbashi to meet people with whom she had been collaborating virtually for two years. As a result of that trip, she and her students began working with another NGO and two University of Minnesota engineering professors to develop a mobile phone messaging system for small farmers and artisanal miners in Katanga Province. This project was the topic of Longo’s graduate-level information design courses from 2008-2010.