Hello, Readers! Super happy to be delivering our Q2 2017 newsletter. As you know, this is post-Summit. As with all successful conferences, attendees leave re-charged and rearing to go. This positive energy radiates in most of what you will read in this issue, as our contributors are eager to share their summit lessons and experiences.
But, before we get there I must share our good news: We are continuing to reap the rewards of our student outreach competition. In this issue, we share two student essays earning the judges’ nod.
Whitney Lewis, reading for a Master's in Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences, explores the value of rapid prototyping in the instructional design process. Read Rapid Prototyping.
Viqui Dill, in her co-manager's column, reflects on Summit 2017. She records the achievements of the IDL SIG over the past year and, waxing warm and grateful like only Viqui could, she thanks those who volunteer for the SIG. Read more.
Marcia Shannon uses her Secretary's Column to share her Summit 2017 experience. She focusses on how the Summit is helping in her re-visioning of her career. Read More.
Jamye Sagan reviews eight summit sessions for us, touching on sessions ranging from how to complement written work with video to tips for professional success. Presenting cliff notes of topical sessions, Jamye gives us many great take aways: Useful to those who want to recall the session and particularly useful to those who could not be there. Read more.
Sylvia Miller presents a very careful account of a summit session on Responsive Design. Reviewing Dr. Lanier’s presentation, entitled ““How to Fix the Credibility Problem When Using Responsive Design”, Sylvia has extracted for us the characteristics of a credible website: Characteristics worth remembering as increasingly more content gets accessed from devices with vastly differing screen sizes. Read More.
Viqui Dill puts us in touch with what is happening. She reviews some sessions at the STC Philadelphia Metro Chapter Annual Regional Conference. Clearly, they had a blast while learning and sharing! Read more.
Finally, we salute and send out heartiest congratulations to:
IDL SIG colleagues who now serve on the STC Board. Read more.
The Chicago eLearning & Technology Showcase. It’s their 10th Anniversary. Read more.
Robert, your webinars about audio and PowerPoint are among our most watched and best loved. We look forward to more great sessions from you in the future.
Mellissa, your webinar about Word™ and your hilarious Speak Easy lightning talk were informative and engaging. And we are so happy that you’ll be continuing to travel along this road with us as our new treasurer!
You both showed us how it’s done and led the SIG to great success.
Dear Jim Bousquet,
Thank you so much for your service as our SIG treasurer. You kept us straight and afloat, and were often the voice of reason in our community decisions. We are so proud of you, as you take up your new role as STC Treasurer https://www.stc.org/about-stc/board-of-directors/ . Please do stick around to continue to advise and guide us in the coming year.
Dear Maralee Sautter,
Thank you so much for stepping up as our new webmaster. We are so glad you’re back on the SIG leadership team. Your combination of technical savvy and institutional knowledge are such a gift to us.
Dear Phil Havlik,
Thank you so much for stepping up as our new content curator. This is a new position for us and one that is very valuable to the Society and to the profession of technical communication. We admire your initiative in joining our group and coming forward to volunteer. We look forward to working together to strengthen the Technical Communication Body of Knowledge http://www.tcbok.org/ This is a test pilot role and you’ve got the right stuff!
Thank you so much for your faithful service as our membership manager. Your superpowers of attention to detail and warm heart for greeting and welcoming new members are such a blessing to our SIG. And thank you for connecting us to the NEO STC chapter and bringing the “Spotlight” series to our newsletter http://www.stcidlsig.org/member-spotlight-meet-kim-lindsey/ .
Dear Marcia Shannon,
Thank you so much for being our secretary and keeping this crazy group organized. You do so much more than just take our meeting minutes. I really appreciate how you take initiative to document and archive the random comings and goings of our SIG.
Thank you so much for supporting the SIG by coming to our meeting at the Summit http://www.stcidlsig.org/we-had-a-blast-at-stc17/ . We were thrilled to see face to face Maralee Sautter, Jessica Surdin, Kelly Schrank, Patty Viajar, Phil Havlik, Chuck Campbell, Mandy Wright, Mary Ollinger, Cindy Pao, Jamye Sagan, Jim Bousquet, Lori Meyer, Marcia Shannon, Mellissa Ruryk, Sylvia Miller, and Li-At Rathbun. We look forward to sharing this journey so that we can all grow and support each other in the field of instructional design and learning.
Dearest Lori Meyer,
Thank you so much for being our co-manager. I am thrilled to be connected with you and learning from you about nurturing and growing our community. Your strong leadership, patient mentoring, and organization amaze and inspire me. Thank you for taking up the mantle by chairing and running our annual meeting at the Summit http://www.stcidlsig.org/slides-from-our-stc17-idl-sig-meeting/ so that I could rush off to sound check the Rough Drafts. I look forward to our journey together and to learning from your superpowers for many years to come. Love you!
THE (emphasis intended) event of the year, of course, was the Summit, with the theme Gain the Edge to Get Results. Our IDL Sig was well represented by attendees and speakers at a conference packed with education, information, networking, and fun.
I am very glad that I participated in this year’s Summit. I am in the process of taking my career in a new direction and this was an opportunity for exposure to a wide and deep pool of technical communication expertise and experience.
I had several goals for my Summit adventure: to put faces to the voices of the people I have met through online SIG meetings, webinars, and online classes; to freshen my perspective on my career in technical communication; to socialize with fellow tech commers; and to learn about techniques, trends, and theories in technical communication.
Did I gain the edge to generate improvements in my career and in my writing? Yes. I was engaged, energized, and found at least one take away idea in each session. I attended the opening and closing talks and ten education sessions. Two of my favorites were Leveraging Cognitive Science to Improve Structured Authoring, presented by Rob Hanna and A Tech Writer, a Map, and an App, presented by Sarah Maddox.
In Leveraging…, Rob described how to increase the effectiveness of documents by structuring them the same way people think and learn. A Tech Writer… was something of an adventure: Sarah decided that she wanted to write an app that would display a map of technical communication-related events. She described stepping way out of her writer’s comfort zone to learn how to develop the app, how she engaged developers to participate in a group revision of the app, and how we can participate in keeping the app up to date.
Another engaging (and interactive) session, Gamification of Instructional Design by Phylise Banner, was an introduction to Learning Battle Cards, an instructional design technique new to me. I am still chewing on what I learned and am researching for additional information about this topic. I will have more with details about this in the next newsletter.
Did I meet, interact with, and engage with other people, both known and unknown? Yes, I definitely did all of those. There were plenty of opportunities to network or just chat between sessions, at receptions, breakfast, and lunch. I enjoyed conversing with other techn comm professionals because we shared common experiences and language. Learning one-to-one from someone else and sharing my own expertise made every minute interesting. All of my Summit goals were well met.
If you did not attend the Summit, look for regional conferences, online meetings, and webinars where you can dust off your ideas, learning and teaching with other tech commers. Our SIG will keep bringing opportunities to you, so check the web site regularly.
Rapid prototyping is way to save money and time by getting feedback on your design and ideas immediately. Trust me, it’s the way to go and by the end of this article, you’ll be able to incorporate rapid prototyping into your design process.
Rapid Prototyping and Testing
There are a lot of different ways for testing our instruction. We have one-to-one evaluations; formative evaluation; focus groups; user testing; participatory design; and many more. Including the user is at the heart of these testing strategies, which is no different for rapid prototyping.
Rapid prototyping is testing the design or the instruction as soon as possible at the beginning and then throughout the entire production process. To imagine what this looks like, here is a scenario: I’m creating instruction for a software company. The instruction is on how to use a certain program, so I do some initial steps to get an idea of how this instruction will look. At this point, I could begin rapid prototyping with inexpensive tools like pen and paper. I would sketch out the flow and include as much information as I can, so the interaction is as authentic as possible (for a paper prototype). Now, all I need is to gather 4-5 users from my target population and hold a user test.
This might seem a little weird because we are using paper to test an interaction that may be electronic, but the fantastic thing about rapid prototyping is that it doesn’t matter. You will still learn so much from your users before investing a lot of time and money creating the learning product.
At this point, you have gathered some good insights from your first user test with your first paper prototype. Now, you can create an even more informed second prototype. This process can repeat with a version of the final learning product that is bit by bit more completed and effective than the last. Before you know it, you have a final draft and are ready to do a more formal evaluation for a final deliverable.
Rapid prototyping is testing with your target population at multiple stages throughout the design process. Because the testing is so frequent, the biggest challenge is finding people in your target population for your tests. Depending on your company and the scope of the project, this can be difficult. Even if the resources or people are not available to test a paper prototype or an initial digital prototype, it can and still should be done with either SMEs, the client (whether internal or external), other instructional designers, or anyone. You will still learn much about your design that can be incorporated into your next prototype.
You may have heard the saying, “fail early and fail often”. This seems discouraging, but can be quite liberating when looked at it the right way. So, let’s examine how this aphorism applies to rapid prototyping.
Failing early just means learning that something doesn’t work before a lot of money or time has been invested in it, which is a very good thing. Learning a certain aspect of the instruction won’t work after spending countless hours developing it, can feel like a true failure. But, learning that it won’t work after a low-cost prototype? Well that saves you time, money and effort. The lessons learnt pay rich dividends as they inform the next iteration of the design.
On the flip side, maybe you have an out-of-the-box idea you need to get your manager or client on board with. Testing it early in the process, using low cost materials and without spending a lot of time, could result in finding it is a great way to move forward and now everyone is on board. This is where “fail often” comes into play. Because we are rapidly prototyping without spending a lot of time or money on a prototype, we can try new, creative ideas without the pressure of “I’ve invested so much into this now, it’s got to work!” We can truly participate in the creative process to find ideas that shine.
Overall, rapid prototyping is how we can try out big ideas and, if we are lucky, get the backing for them. Or they can fail: So what? We are still lucky because only a little time and a little money was lost.
How to Start Rapid Prototyping
To start rapid prototyping, you’ll need to know two things: the process and the tools to use.
(from low cost/little time to higher cost/more time)
1. Select the tool for this iteration
2. Build the prototype as authentic as possible
3. Test with users
4. Debrief – understand what was learned and what changes should be made
Whitney Lewis is committed to problem solving through design thinking strategies such as empathy, co-design, diverging on problems, and rapid prototyping. She strives to bring these strategies into her educational and professional work by including her audience every step of the way, to gain valuable insights and by starting with low fidelity products before beginning development. During her time at Intuit, Whitney has learned the importance of these strategies as she connects with her customers, to help improve training. She intends to complete her Master's in Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences in May 2018. She aspires to transform online corporate training into seamless and enjoyable experiences.
By Jessica Lynn Campbell, Alex Gurtis, Gabriel Latorre
The evolution of web-based tools, applications, and digital communication today has changed the role of a technical communicator. It is necessary to bring technical communicators into the usability testing process earlier in the design and development of instructional applications. This optimizes both the effectiveness of the product and the end-user experience. Instructional System Design (ISD) is the process of creating instructional aids that help learners gain proficiency in a subject matter.
Usability testing for ISD is often done procedurally, which is to say, as a standard practice; however, technical communicators are not effectively used during development. When focusing only on whether software worked rather than if the user experience was optimal, ISD teams miss the mark on the value of usability testing. A product is not successful if the end-user is not able to effectively employ it.
Even today, when developmental teams include a variety of experts and deploy various quality assurance testing, a prevalent problem is the lack of simultaneous discourse production and user testing. Thus, the need for technical communicators to be involved the in the process is made evident. Researcher Robert R. Johnson agrees, "Bringing users to the table with writers and developers is necessary if we are to do more than just represent the fictional user in technologies or texts."
With the proliferation of many online instructional technologies, usability testing must play a central role in the design, development, deployment, and discourse of instructional systems. According to scholar Elizabeth Fanning, the understanding of students’ computer-based education, “may evolve into a more personalized, expressive dynamic.” Technical communicators are at the forefront of integrating user testing into the design and developmental process, which affords ongoing feedback on the functions and features desired by the audience. When a technical communicator brings user testing into this process, both the user and the design and developmental process benefit from the enhanced knowledge of end-product use and context.
Technical communicators’ user-centered approach to instructional system design and development is critical to the success and usability of both the end-product or application and the corresponding technical communications. The user-centered approach to ISD guarantees the purpose of instructional systems will be achieved, as developers are able to make incremental changes to the system that are informed by the results of simultaneous user testing. Dianne Cyr and team found that even the slightest details of an online environment can improve and enhance a user’s experience. Their research shows how the mere placement and position of images and text focuses users’ attention on certain paragraphs and phrases. Understanding these minute aspects of a system design enables designers and developers to emphasize important content in instructional systems, which enhances the effectiveness of the system. Technical communicators are uniquely positioned to understand these minute details, which makes it vital to involve technical communicators in the ISD process.
A similar conclusion is echoed in Shahron Williams van Rooji’s study of a collaborative team of students. After working together to build an instructional website, the design team concluded that to create an effective instructional interface, an ISD team should focus on a user-centered design. This approach includes identifying elements such as users’ interaction with the data display and how they comprehend the information.
In today’s technological landscape, consumers demand not only innovative, functional technology, but user-friendly products. The practice of a user-centered approach to ISD ensures developers’ focus on functionality. As online interfaces, games, and instructional platforms evolve, users expect more stimulating learning environments. It is key for ISD teams to identify their target audience and their needs to accurately build in the instructional system elements that will facilitate learning. Technical communicators’ user-centered approach enables the design and development of effective instructional systems and optimizes the end-user experience.
Cyr, Dianne, Milena Head, Hector Larios and Bing Pan. 2009. “Exploring Human Images in Website Design: A Multi-method Approach.” MIS Quarterly 33 (3): 539-A9.
Fanning, Elizabeth. 2008. “Instructional Design Factors as They Relate to the Creation of a Virtual Learning Environment.” Journal of Interactive Instruction Development 21 (2): 24-42.
Johnson, Robert R. 2004. “Audience Involved Toward a Participatory Model of Writing,” In Central Works in Technical Communication, edited by Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Stuart A. Selber, 91-106. New York: Oxford University Press.
Williams Van Rooij, Shahron. 2013. “Usability Testing with Online Research Panels: A Case Study from the Field of Instructional Design.” International Journal on E-Learning, 12 (4): 403-423.
Jessica Lynn Campbell received her Master’s in English-Technical Communication, from the University of Central Florida. She has a Bachelor’s in Psychology, from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Jessica is an expert and experienced technical communicator, author, and multi-media manager having been published on multiple media platforms including print and online. Jessica has been an active member of the Society for Technical Communication, since 2010, and has been a mentor in the group’s Mentorship Program, since 2014. She is skilled in APA, MLA, Chicago, and Bluebook citation styles. Her scholarly interests include digital spaces and online connectivity, online sociality, the consumerization of the consumption of animals and deconstructing social norms, and digital marketing. Jessica can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org 407-810-7542.
Alex Gurtis is Technical Communications major at the University of Central Florida and will receive his degree in August 2017. In addition to being a talented technical writer, he has published creative works in the Santa Fe College literary journal "Zephyr." Alex has been a member of the Society of Technical Communicators since 2016.
Gabriel Latorre graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Technical Communication from the University of Central Florida in 2017. Gabriel is a skilled technical communicator in the areas of web design and web communications. Having studied markup and programming languages, Gabriel is proficient in creating, communicating, and designing websites that effectively deliver a user-friendly experience. Gabriel’s academic hobbies include learning programming languages, creating user-friendly designs in websites, and implementing a concise and effective language in user manuals. Gabriel can be reached email@example.com and at 407-916-9978.