Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Death of the Lecture?

A New Year's Day story by American Public Media focuses on the disappearance of the lecture as a teaching tool in physics.  Reporter Emily Hanford specifically quotes physics education innovators Eric Mazur and  Joe Redish (whose wife is one of my mentors).  

They talk about the end of the lecture and the rise of the interactive classroom, which promotes discussion, discovery, and clarification as key elements of teaching.  In some cases, they advocate for recorded lectures to clearly and effectively communicate concepts. 

Some people see this as the death of the lecture.  

I'm not sure I'd be so quick to rush to that conclusion.

Such classrooms are as driven by instructors as the all-talk classroom.  What differentiates these classrooms, however, is that the instructors share the podium with their students and engage them in conversations and inquiry with one another during the class lesson.

More fundamentally, these instructors seem to go to the inconvenience of planning their lessons and investing considerable thought about not only what they want to cover (which seems to be the traditional approach) but how, and seem similarly concerned about which techniques ultimately result in the highest level of retention among their students.  

Monday, January 16, 2012

User-Generated Documentation 

One trend that garners the attention of many instructional designers and  technical communicators is that of content generated by people other than us.  We typically face two major competitors to our work:  
Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), whose have an in-depth knowledge of the content and save time on translating it for communicators by writing the material themselves 
Users and learners, who have hands-on experience with the content and can offer real-world perspectives on ways that people actually use the content in the context of their jobs and lives

For the purpose of this article, I'll refer to contributions by both groups as user-generated documentation, even though the technical term for the first category is SME-generated documentation. 

Like many technical writers, Malobika Khanra and Debarshi Gupta Biswas 
authors of User-Generated Content: Embracing Social Networking to Deliver More Engaging Technical Documentation,   (UX Matters, 
primarily focus on the advantages of user-generated documentation, noting that it is an inevitable byproduct of a Web 2.0 world, democratizes content and offers broader perspectives on the content than possible by technical communicators alone.  They note that technical communicators still play a role in publishing user-generated content, calling that role a content curator. 

One of the tools for producing user-generated content is the template, which guides users through the process of preparing content on their own.  In Are You Tempted to Use a Template to Expedite Policy & Procedure Development (http://www.urgoconsulting.com/enewsletter/2011_Nov-Dec/template-policy-and-procedure-development.php), policies and procedures expert Raymond Urgo distinguishes among the different types of templates available:

Content, which presents a fill-in-the-blank form that not only addresses formatting issues, but also prompts authors to provide particular types of content in a particular order--and use  particular headings to signal that content to readers.  

Mechanical, which primarily assists with formatting.
Pre-written, which contains most of the text needed on a particular topic, prompting users to replace certain types of things.

Urgo notes that none of these templates guide their users through the foundational process of analyzing users and their needs and, as a result, using these templates might speed up the production of content, but the content might fail to actually meet the needs of its intended users. 

This problem of analysis is also raised by Khanra and Biswas, who note that instructional designers and technical communicators often do not conduct a full audience analysis.  

The same pressures driving people to use templates are the ones presumed to prevent instructional designers and technical communicators from conducting audience analyses:  pressures to reduce costs and time to publication.  

But in many cases, the problem is more fundamental.  In some organizations, instructional designers and technical communicators are actively prevented from gaining access to users; only marketing representatives and a few select members of the product development team have such access.  

Worse, when confronted with such situations, instructional designers and technical communicators merely complain that they don't have It's that someone actively prevents access to users.  They don't push to gain access or, at the least, to talk directly to those people who do have access.  

For example, I once had a student--a professional technical communicator--who was supposed to do an audience analysis in her work environment for her class project.  She said she could not do so because her company prevented it.  I said that she should then speak to the people who do have access to users to get this information; previously she relied solely on product specifications and internal marketing plans for information.

She did so--and the experience was enlightening.  The documentation on which she relied was misleading; they described the intended markets and users for her products.  After speaking with the people who had direct access to users, she learned that the primary audience assumed for the product was actually a secondary one, the group assumed to be a secondary audience was merely a tiny population, and that the primary market was one that was not even on her radar.  

User-generated content has its value, but it is not vetted content.  

That vetting is the value added by instructional designers and technical communicators.  But we don't bring much value unless we truly do the vetting--and push to gain the broad, practical perspective that SMEs lack because of technical focus, and users lack because of their one-environment-only focus.  

Perhaps the best advantage of user-generated documentation is that it keeps us on our toes.  

Saturday, January 14, 2012

How Different Are Millenials--Really?

As I wrote in an earlier post, perhaps some of the discussions about the differences between Millenials and other generations might be basic generational differences that have existed throughout time, rather than completely unique characteristics of this generation.

Here's another piece of evidence to support this alternative view.  In his analysis of three years' of the Allstate/National Journal Heartland poll, Ronald Brownstein found that Millenials, "fabled for preferring variety to stability, also echoed that sentiment" were nearly as likely to seek job stability (that is, a long-term job with a single employer) as those in other age brackets.  

Read his analysis at http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/01/what-the-great-recession-wrought-the-state-of-the-us-in-3-years-of-polls/251010/.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What's Ahead in Technology for Higher Education in 2012?

While we wait for the annual Horizon report of the 6 most significant technologies to affect higher education in the next 5 years, Audrey Watters of Inside Higher Education has shared her predictions 

One significant difference in approach distinguish Watters'  predictions from most others:  her list includes policies and practices related to technology as well as fallout from tit.  

Among her predictions:
  • The impact of accreditation and recognition for participation in open courses.  
  • The impact of machine grading on work opportunities for graders, teaching assistants and even instructors.  
  • The impact of open source materials on publishing--and the openness of faculty to the new economics of publishing.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Good News for Education Graduates

In a posting on the Economix blog of the New York Times, of 15 majors, education had the lowest unemployment rates: of recently graduated BAs/BEds, of BAs/BEds with work experience, and MAs/MEds.

Admittedly, few get rich on an education degree.  But they do stay employed.

View the details at: