Teaching Technical Writing

I am giving a presentation at the New Jersey Writing Alliance Spring (NJWA) Conference this week on my experiences teaching technical writing this year at New Jersey Institute of Technology and at Montclair State University. NJIT is NJ's science and technology university and MSU is the state's second largest comprehensive university.

Although the two schools are seen as quite different, the approach I take to technical writing is very similar. My presentation is on "Technical Writing Across Disciplines" and will examine how a technical writing course can emphasize a research approach and problem solving that is not like most of the academic writing done in other writing classes.

One thing I enjoy about the NJWA conference is that it has presenters and attendees from both K-12 and higher education. That doesn't occur often enough.

Keeping with the conference theme of "Achieving College-Ready Writing: The Common Core and Beyond," I'll also examine how secondary school teachers can teach writing about science and technical subjects. That is a strand of the English Language Arts Standards that are part of the controversial Common Core State Standards Initiative as adopted in NJ and other states.


European Students and Employers Want More Web-Development MOOCs

Students, education providers, and employers call massive open online courses one of the best ways to learn web-development skills, according to a report released on Thursday by the European Commission.

The report, which drew on a survey of about 3,000 people, including 731 students, said that only one student in four was not familiar with MOOCs and that about 64 percent of the respondents had taken such courses.

Web-development courses appeared to be in high demand but were not always easy to find online. According to the report, only 56 MOOCs teach such skills throughout Europe, compared with 115 in the United States.

Most employers surveyed, including corporate managers, developers, and human-resources staff members, said MOOCs could help close a skills gap in web design. “They stressed the fact that in the current market it is especially difficult to find employees with domain-specific skills, iOS, Android, and HTML5 experts,” the report said.

For the most part, respondents rated MOOCs as more effective than colleges in teaching such skills.


The Death of the Home Page

The New York Times lost half their traffic (80 million visitors) to the nytimes.com homepage in two years. Does that mean they lost half their visitors? No. It's visitors to their home page - that landing page that "starts" off your website. For this blog, that is http://www.serendipity35.net.

Why did that happen?  Well, did you arrive at this post by going to our home page and reading this OR did you arrive directly at this post's permalink URL because of a link from a search, or that you found on Twitter, Facebook, tumblr or some other location? The odds are very good that it was the latter.

Websites once tried very hard to get readers to that home page and not to the deeper links. The home page was not only the home of the brand, but also the page with the main "cover" advertisements and news. That is no longer the case.

An article from The Atlantic says that the incoming traffic from "Facebook, Twitter, social media, and the mix of email and chat services summed up as 'dark social' (dark, because it's hard for publishers to trace)" is the main source of traffic. That may not be what site owners want, but it is what they are getting. Social powers much of the Net today.

This is changing how news sites handle their home page and it should and will influence the design of other websites, including those for colleges.

cMOOC and xMOOC: Will They Blend?

dual layer
Ever visited the WillItBlend.com site? They literally blend things - like iPhones. They have powerful blenders, but they would not be able to blend the two types of Massive Open Online Courses.

George Siemens, a MOOC pioneer who is still deeply involved in them, wrote recently that is planning a MOOC for this fall (Data Analytics & Learning on edX), the topic of xMOOCs & cMOOCs and possibility of blending the two types was discussed.
His conclusion on that?

I’ve concluded that cMOOCs and xMOOCs are incompatible. They cannot be blended. Pedagogically and philosophically, they are too different. It’s like trying to make a cat a dog. Entertaining, perhaps, but a fruitless venture.
That doesn't mean he has given up on some redesign. Siemens suggests that the two can work "as parallel tracks where learners can navigate from one approach to another."

xMOOCs are the most popular now with the big MOOC providers (like Coursera and EdX) with module-based courses and traditional test-based assessments. It is impossible for a MOOC to be instructor-centered, but the design of the instruction and delivery is still much in control by the instructor(s).
In a cMOOC, the technology should a learner-centered system. That is harder to do with tens of thousands of learners.

Matt Crosslin (who participated in Siemens' "DesignJam") suggests that perhaps one day a platform will be able to offer a course that presents a learner with the option of choosing their path.
Maybe at some point an Artificial Intelligence data-driven program will even be able to recommend the path for them. Learners would enter one of the two paths and follow the paradigm presented. At any time that the learners on the cMOOC track need help (or at some point, when the AI data identifies a need), they can be directed towards the appropriate part of the xMOOC track for help. At any time the learners on the xMOOC track start to get comfortable with the idea of interacting with others (or the AI data identifies this), they can move into the cMOOC track.