Monday, April 23, 2012

Integrative Literature Review Workshop Canceled

Because of low enrolment, the Integrative Literature Workshop that was scheduled to begin this Thursday has been canceled. 

I hope to offer a section at a later time.  

Differing Attitudes Towards Professionalization

Check out, The Three Approaches to Professionalization in Technical Communication, one of the articles in the special issues on professionalization in the journal, Technical Communication.    

The article explores internal divisions within the profession by exploring a spectrum of attitudes towards professionalization.  At one of the spectrum is professionalization, which seeks to formalize the practice and preparation for the profession. At the other end of the spectrum is contra-professionalization, which actively resists efforts to professionalize.  

Here is the abstract of the article:
Purpose:  Explores internal divisions within our profession by exploring one particular type of tension that exists: that technical communicators do not have a unified view of professionalization for the field.
Methods:  Proposes that prevailing approaches to professionalization are rooted in theories of occupations, the exclusive right to perform a job. True occupations have such rights legally; aspiring occupations like ours are professions.  Common components of an infrastructure for occupations includes professional organizations, bodies of knowledge, education, professional activities, and certification.
Results:   Professions often establish these in anticipation of becoming an occupation, but some practicing professionals interpret and use them differently, resulting in a spectrum of approaches to professionalization.
At one end of the spectrum is formal professionalism, which views professionalization as a stepping stone to full occupational status. It is rooted in a worldview that values expertise and sees the infrastructure of an occupation supporting the development of expertise and controlling access to the profession.
In the center of the spectrum is quasi-professionalization, in which individuals participate in the activities of the occupational infrastructure but without the expectation of exclusive rights to perform the work. Quasi- professionalization is rooted in professional identity.
At the other end of the spectrum is contra-professionalization, which refers to initiatives that offer or promote professional services outside of parts or all of the infrastructure, sometimes circumventing it completely. This world view is rooted in market theory and characterized by  concepts like Do-It-Yourself (DIY), user-generated and Subject Matter Expert (SME)-provided documentation.
Conclusions:  The differing views suggest tensions regarding support for specific efforts to professionalize technical communication, including formal branding of the profession, establishment of certification, and support for professional organizations.
To see the complete article, visit  (Note: Only free to members of the Society for Techincal Communication and to those entering through university libraries with a subscription to IngentaConnect.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Next Wave of EdTech: 12 Years After the Last Bubble, Have Investors Figured Out the Market As We Enter the Next One?

Over the past few weeks, the technology press has focused on a new wave of investments in online learning.  (It's interesting, those of us in the field moved from using the term online learning to e-learning in 2000; investors have remained with the term online learning.  But that's another discussion.)

For example, the Chronicle of HIgher Education has been running a series on new educational technology startups and the New York Times has run a series of similar features. Its series highlights a variety of startups, including one that helps professors manage e-mail from students.  (See Students Endlessly E-Mail Professors for Help. A New Service Hopes to Organize the Answers at

Many of the features in the Times focus on services providing online courses, like a feature on a series of online services that provide training on various languages for writing Internet applications (see A Surge in Learning the Language of the Internet at  

In today's edition, the New York Times reports on a large investment in Coursera, a company founded by some professors at Stanford and that provides university-based courses for free online (see Online Education Venture Lures Cash Infusion and Deals With 5 Top Universities at

Nestled between the enthusiastic reporting for these new ventures are some troubling details:
  • The founder of the e-mail company has
"no plans to generate revenue—the service is free and does not carry advertisements. Ms. Sankar said that she didn't write a business plan for the site, because she doesn't believe in them, and that she believes that once a critical mass of students and professors are signed up, revenue models can emerges" (quote from the article from the Chronicle cited above).  
Isn't that how the tech bubble burst the last time?
  • The quality of the free and low-cost courses for writing Internet applications mentioned in the New York Times article sounds pretty poor. An expert acknowledged that most students who complete these courses still cannot write applications.  One company quoted in the article admitted publicly that its courses could be improved.  
  • If one reads the fine print, the free university courses offered by Coursera and its competitors don't fully compete with those from universities. If students want feedback, they only receive it from other students. Sounds like a good plan but the article never explores the participation rates of students in these students-evaluate-students programs. Avoiding teaching assistants reduces costs, but if participation rates of students in evaluating one another are low, then many students might go wanting for feedback. (This is a real concern; the courses are voluntary, after all.)
Students also do not receive university credit; they receive certificates of completion.
The courses have no measures to protect against cheating.
And, most significantly, when the article cites the impact of courses on students, they have no figures to report. They provide qualitative data.  That's fine, because it provides insights into whom and how the courses affect students.  But both of the students mentioned are working professionals, rather than degree-seeking students.

Perhaps, then, these services are not really meant to replace universities; they're the beginnings of an online system for continuing professional education.  The only problem is, it doesn't sound like the founders of these companies have figured that out yet and, even if they have, the courses might need extensive rework before they can help workers really develop the skills and knowledge they need to succeed on the job.  

Monday, April 16, 2012

A New Book Is on the Way

Informal Learning Basics, my newest book from ASTD Press, should hit bookshelves at the end of May. 

This book, which explores one of the hottest topics in training today, describes how training and development and other Human Resources professionals can better harness informal learning.  By some accounts, informal learning—in which learners define some combination of the process, location, purpose, and content of learning and may or may not be conscious that learning occurred—provides as much as 70 percent of all learning in the workplace with little or no involvement of training and development professionals.   

So readers have realistic expectations and plans for the application of informal learning in the workplace, the book first describes how informal learning works and identifies how to use it effectively at key touch points in the life cycle of a job.  Then, to help readers harness the power of informal learning, this book describes how readers can support 22 specific types of group and individual informal learning,  how social, enterprise and other instructional technologies can assist in those efforts, and how to evaluate informal learning.  Each chapter includes exercises that help readers apply the concepts presented in the book and worksheets that readers can use when planning informal learning efforts in their organizations.

Keep checking this blog for updates on the publication.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Jargon Affects Understanding of Architecture

Why Don’t We Read About Architecture? asks Allison Arieff in a recent blog post for the New York Times.

Among the many reasons she suggests (including the difficulty of bloggers about architecture to think critically with the pressure of posting as many as 5 entries per week) is language:

“Writing about architecture is like mangling language, and far too often the experience of reading architectural writing feels about as pleasurable as tooth extraction.”

She elaborates on the ways that critics make their work unbearable to read. 

Although Arieff focuses on the challenges of writing architectural criticism in a way that compels the general public, I’m reminded of the many ways that academics in my own disciplines make their research and theory inaccessible to the practicing professionals whose work the researchers want to influence.    

Check out Arieff’s post at:

Monday, April 09, 2012

New Case Study about Training Evaluation

New Hire Scorecards at Discover Financial Services, recently published in Training Magazine online and co-written by my student Alexis Belair and I, describes how Discover Financial Services (the Discover card people) developed a series of scorecards, reports that visually report the progress of their new hire training programs.   

Written with the close cooperation of Jon Kaplan, a training director at Discover, and Doug Anderson, manager of this project, this case study not only describes the report, but also describes the challenges, costs, and development resources needed to prepare these reports.  

Read the entire case at

Friday, April 06, 2012

New Lives for Old Malls

When I was in my 20s, a friend of mine challenged me to go a week without visiting the mall. (We really only had one in the small city in which I lived at the time.)  I couldn’t do it. 

In those golden days, a large enclosed mall was truly the center of shopping.  They contained nearly every type of store (though few in the US had supermarkets, a staple of early malls in Canada and other countries).  But they were a weather proof hangout; I almost always ran into someone I knew at the mall. 

But with the rise of big box stores and the return-with-a-vengeance of strip malls in the 1990s, followed by the rise of online shopping in the past decade, coupled with the remaining scars of a few recessions and a heck of a lot of overbuilding in-between, many malls aren’t what they used to be.  Some are dead or in hospice care, as noted by the website. 

Others are discovering life beyond retail, as noted in How About Gardening or Golfing at the Mall? reported by Stephanie Clifford in the New York Times

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Online Workshop on Writing Integrative Literature Reviews in Professional and Technical Communication

Background: To introduce the community of authors for the IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication to the nature and methods for creating integrative literature reviews, we are holding a second introductory workshop.  

The first one, was a success, but many people who wanted to participate could not, because of scheduling conflicts and asked for a second session.

About the Workshop:  The goal of the workshop is to not only teach participants how to prepare an integrative literature review, but to help them start one and receive feedback on the work-in-progress (with the hope that the finished review will be submitted to the Transactions).  Some reading before the first four class sessions; research occurs in the gap between the fourth and fifth session and participants prepare an early draft before the sixth session. 

The workshop leader is Saul Carliner, Editor-in-Chief of the IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, Director of the Education Doctoral Program and Associate Professor at Concordia University in Montreal, and a past recipient of back-to-back Frank R. Smith Awards for Best Article in the peer-reviewed journal, Technical Communication. 

Who Should Attend:  Faculty, Researchers, PhD students, and advanced master’s students (who have completed a research methodology class) in Technical and Professional Communication or a Related Field.  

Schedule:  The next 6-session workshop is scheduled:

Thursday, April 26  11 AM – 12:15 pm Eastern
Thursday, May 3, 11 AM – 12:15 pm Eastern
Thursday, May 10, 11 AM – 12:15 pm Eastern
Thursday, May 17, 11 AM – 12:15 pm Eastern

Thursday, June 7, 11 AM – 12:15 pm Eastern 

Thursday, June 28, 11 AM – 12:15 pm Eastern

Location:  Webinar using Adobe Connect.  

You’ll need a computer with a live internet connection at the time of the class.  (Sessions are not recorded.)

Fee:  No cost, but a commitment to (a) preparing a draft of a literature review during the course of the workshop and (b) submitting a completed integrative literature review to the Transactions for consideration within 9 months of the completion of the seminar.   

To enroll or receive more information:  Contact David Price, Editorial Assistant, IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication:

Monday, April 02, 2012

Avoid Making Assumptions That Backfire When Writing e-Learning Content

Check out Avoid Making Assumptions  That Backfire!, recently published online in Learning Solutions Magazine.

The article explores three of the most common assumptions that instructional designers make when writing—about knowledge, feelings, and culture—and suggest how to avoid them.  It is the first of several I am writing for that magazine that explores issues in writing e-learning programs.  

Visit this link to see the entire article:

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Happy Birthday, General Hospital

Today, General Hospital marks its 49th anniversary on the air.  Since As the World Turns was cancelled two years ago, it has been the longest running American soap opera.  (The U.K.’s Coronation Street has actually been on air longer—over 50 years).  And since the cancellations of fellow ABC soaps, All My Children and One Life to Live within the past year, the only vestige left of “Love in the afternoon” (the tagline for ABC soap opera lineup back in the 80s and 90s). 

Although writers and producers approach soap operas as romances (and certainly, romance is central to their plot lines), that they are structured around families, explore relationships among family, friends, and co-workers, and use social issues as plot points suggests that their overall impact goes well beyond the basic romance.  In a recent commentary in the New York Times, author Patrick Healy shares some of the lessons he’s learned from soaps. 

I’ve mentioned many of the lessons that I’ve learned through soap operas in the classes I teach. Some focus on behind-the-scenes lessons (even before the advent of the soap opera press, I paid close attention to the writing staffs of soaps), such as the roles of contractual and staffing issues guiding the plotting of Bill and Laura’s star-crossed romance on Days of Our Lives in the 70s, how annoying the authorities ultimately has serious consequences (like headwriter Harding Lemay who, fed up with the ad-libbing of an actress on Another World, killed off Mary Matthews, acknowledging that she died for no other reason than the headwriter wanted her to),  and how sometimes “outlandish” is needed to gain attention, as headwriter James E. Reilly demonstrated when using the demonic possession of Marlena to compete with O.J. Simpson and the rise of reality TV (also on Days of Our Lives)—but it has to be an “in-character” outlandish rather than “out of left field”outlandish, as learned from Guiding Light turning Reva into a clone.  And the powe

Others focus on the lessons learned on-screen, such as the cognitive dissonance caused when Dorian’s first on-screen kiss with Mark Toland started in the cliffhanger (closing) scene of one episode, in which Dorian was played by fill-in-actress Dixie Carter, and she completed the kiss the following day, played by regular actress Nancy Pinkerton, who had just returned from a medical leave.  Other lessons learned include that of Jill Abbott on the Young and the Restless, who—after being twice screwed over royally by Mrs. Chancellor—learned how to protect herself by becoming the screwer-overer, while Nina Webster and Bridget Reardon who, also having had been screwed over, ended up discovering and flexing their spines.

In their day, soaps launched conversations (nothing could bond Americans trekking through Europe like the latest updates on All My Children) and inspired others to act (I remember reading years ago that one reader followed Mrs. Chancellor’s trips on and off the wagon, matching her drink for drink when Mrs. Chancellor was drinking, then going on the wagon when Mrs. Chancellor did) or the stories of characters who went for cancer screenings when Bert Bauer was diagnosed with cervical cancer. 

Although talk and lifestyle shows address similar topics, that they start and end most of these conversations in 15 or 30 minutes usually means they lack the emotional and intellectual impact that comes from unfolding the story in 5 to 15 minute bites over a period of 3 to 18 months.  They pack a whollop when they reach their climax in a way that no talk show interview can.  

As fans of General Hospital  celebrate this anniversary, many worry that the show won’t live to see its fiftieth.  ABC loudly signaled its intentions to cancel a year ago when it signed Katie Couric for a talk show, then scheduled it during the time slot for General Hospital—after years of quietly signaling its intentions by letting the show degenerate into a repetitive mob story and destroying its most beloved characters in the process, stories that ostensibly showed the characters as three dimensional but merely made them unmotivated, unlikeable, and most of all, barely watchable. 

Circumstances other than story might salvage the show, but its continued longevity is only assured if it returns to the core of what makes soap operas so special: the opportunity to watch, feel, and learn about relationships and life. 

For Patrick Healy’s heartfelt ode to the life lessons learned from soap operas, visit