Technical Writing

Technical Writers are often the link between engineers, marketing associates, developers and external users of a product or service.

When I have taught undergraduate classes in technical writing, something I have to address with students right away is their definition of technical writing. In many people's minds, writing that is "technical" is complicated, full of jargon and difficult to read. But in fact, the goal of the technical writer is exactly the opposite. It is usually to make technical subject matter less complicated and easier to understand and use.

In my undergraduate technical writing classes (which are considered advanced writing courses) we combines current theory with actual practice to prepare students as technical writers. They analyze complex communication situations and then design appropriate responses through tasks that involve problem solving, rhetorical theory, document design, oral presentations, writing teams, audience awareness, ethical considerations and ethical issues.

When I teach at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), my students are engineers, computer scientists, architects and scientists who often dislike writing and are used to only academic writing. Unfortunately, much academic writing is students demonstrating their learning to a professor who already knows the subject. In most real technical communication, the writer is the expert and the readers are the learners. In professional life, you may be writing for supervisors, colleagues or customers. You might be explaining a problem, a product, an experiment, or a project, and the format may be a proposal, abstract, report, email or manual.

When I teach technical writing at a more comprehensive university, such as Montclair State University, the students are more comfortable with writing, but less comfortable with the technical part.  That is because they don't think of technical writing as being a part of every field. For education, biology, art, music, and other science and liberal arts students, they need to rethink the technical aspects of their studies. For example, I have had art history majors who wrote technical documentation on art restoration.

My graduate students in professional technical communication are often dealing with social media, documentation, video presentations and a variety of real world tasks. NJIT offers a Technical Communications Certificate that attracts primarily professionals who intend to learn/expand their careers as technical writers, editors, trainers, website designers, and documentation specialists.

I don't know that being a technical writer at Google is typical of that job, but this video gives you a little taste of technical writing and life at Google.


Civilized Debate on Social Media?

Do you think of social media sites, such as Twitter, as a place for debate? Yes, I know that people argue about things on Twitter and Facebook, but is that what you would consider to be "debate?"

There is a fairly new start-up that has been around for about a year and wants to offer you a place for more civilized debate or discussion than the current angry "discussion" on social media.

The site is Kialo (Esperanto for “reason”) and hopes to prohibit the shouting, rudeness or irrationality that is currently part of the Trumpian Twitterverse that has evolved.

kialoSome have called Kialo an "Internet Unicorn" and "The Utopian Fantasy of Rational Debate On the Web."

You can just read the discussions on topics of the day, and you can take part as a debater.  You may even be designated as a moderator. It is not for commenting on others posts.

It's a nice idea, but I don't see it becoming a huge site on the scale of Facebook or Twitter. I don't think people who are on social media really want debate. They want to say how they feel and they want others to agree with them (as in getting a "Like" for what they have said). And there is a smaller percentage of those people who actually want to argue with strangers. 

And argument is not exactly debate - and many arguments are not a civil "set of reasons given with the aim of persuading others that an action or idea is right or wrong." They are the other kind of argument - when people have opposite views and express it in a a heated or angry way. Did we learn nothing from Monty Python?

I have read that some teachers and professors are using private areas of Kialo for class discussions and exercises in critical thinking and reasoning.

For everyday debaters and for schools and universities, access is free. The site does not carry ads. They say they do not sell data.

Kialo uses the term “claim” rather than "argument" and contributors sometimes not only make a claim but also post counterpoints to their own claim. Of course, a good debater does need to know both sides in order to debate well.

Tech Design for Seniors

In my previous post, I wrote about andragogy, the theories behind adult learning. Today, I'm writing about what might seem like an extension of andragogy, especially when dealing with technology.

Many (too many) people assume that learning about and using technology is very different for older adults. I am a "Baby Boomer," one of a large group born between 1946 and 1964. I consider myself to be very well versed in technology, but fter all, I have been using and teaching with and about technology for 40 years. But many of my peers are not so comfortable with technology and often come to me for recommendations and help.

Some companies have realized that generally companies and probably educational institutions are underinvesting in, and underserving, older adults. On the educational side, this is a great disservice to this large group of people. But on the marketing side, companies (and colleges?) have discovered a large market and opportunity with the growing over-65 population.

There are approximately 46 million people aged 65 and over living in the United States, and that number is projected to more than double to 98 million by 2060.

This group grew up with 20th century technology that has radically changed in their lifetime. Think of the present-day automobile or phone. They adapted to banking via an ATM and cooking with a microwave — though they may still prefer a teller and a gas oven.

Looking back on those andragogical principles and moving the adult number up 44 years, some seem particularly relevant. For example, when the content and processes have a meaningful relationship to their past experience.

Designers and technology entrepreneurs are most often in their 20s, 30s or 40s. They are not thinking about older generations. But they should. 

 

Adult Learning and Andragogy

adult child learningYou hear the term "pedagogy" fairly often in education. It literally means "leading children" and is usually defined as the art or science of teaching children. Though it is studied and used from pre-school through college, the term "andragogy" is not as well known as it should be.

Andragogy was a term coined to refer to the art/science of teaching adults. Malcolm Knowles and others theorized that methods used to teach children are often not the most effective means of teaching adults. In The Modern Practice of Adult Education (1970), Knowles defined andragogy as "an emerging technology for adult learning."

Knowles arrived at 4 andragogical assumptions:

1) He felt that adults move from dependency to self-directedness; 
2) draw upon their reservoir of experience for learning; 
3) are ready to learn when they assume new roles; and 
4) want to solve problems and apply new knowledge immediately.

Though many people still consider andragogy to be the adult version of pedagogy, more recently it is sometimes considered to be an alternative to pedagogy. In that newer view, andragogy is viewed as a more learner-centered/directed approach to learning for people of all ages.

This view doesn't necessarily mean that all the studies done on pedagogy are invalid, but the sense that it is more of a teacher-centered or directive style of learning started to fall out of favor in the last three decades., and andragogy as "learner-centered/directed."

In my first encounter with andragogy in a workshop, I recall the presenter saying that while adult learners can learn when presented with theory presented before practices, children have little tolerance for learning theory when they haven't seen it in practice. Of course, anyone who has taught adults for a few years will tell you that some adults seem to learn better when treated as children.

If you are teaching at the college level, you can be considered to be at the edge of child and adult learning, especially if you still consider age 21 to be the entry point of adulthood. But since we are seeing fewer traditional fresh-from-high-school freshman and more over-21 undergraduates, adult learning is a greater concern. This is especially true in online education.

Andragogical principles that should be considerations in designing courses are based on studies of how and when adults learn most effectively.

Adults generally learn best when:

  • They feel the need to learn
  • They have some input into what, why, and how they learn
  • Their schedule and learning styles are taken into account.
  • Course learning objectives are based on the learners' needs and interests based on prior evaluation.
  • To obtain objectives, there are sequential activities
  • The learning’s content and processes have a meaningful relationship to their past experience.
  • Their experience is used as a learning resource in the course.
  • The course content relates to the individual’s current life situation and tasks.
  • They have as much autonomy as possible
  • The learning climate minimizes anxiety
  • Freedom to experiment is encouraged

Of course, I believe children can benefit from some of these andragogical principles too.

Being Secure on Chrome

The Chrome browser’s “not secure” warning is meant to help you understand when the connection to the site you're on isn’t secure. It is also a bit of a shaming motivation to the site's owner to improve the security of their site. But that process of getting the httpS site is not really easy in some cases and for non-tech average web users. 

Google made a warning announcement nearly two years ago and there has been an increase in sites that are secured. They started by only marking pages without encryption that collect passwords and credit card info. Then they began showing the “not secure” warning in two additional situations: when people enter data on an HTTP page, and on all HTTP pages visited in Incognito mode.

Their goal is to make it so that the only markings you see in Chrome are when a site is not secure, and the default unmarked state is secure. They will start removing the “Secure” wording in September 2018, and in October 2018, they will start showing a red “not secure” warning when users enter data on HTTP pages.

Source: https://www.blog.google/products/chrome/milestone-chrome-security-marking-http-not-secure/