Co-manager’s column

By: Marcia Shannon

Stepping into a new role is scary and exciting. Being co-manager for the IDL SIG may be the biggest task I have taken on in quite some time. Being an active member of the SIG, first as secretary, then assistant co-manager was interesting and satisfying. Now, as co-manager, I have Lori and Viqui supporting me through the transition. That’s one strength of volunteering in this SIG, someone is always there to help you succeed.

Being a SIG volunteer sharpens my skills, widens my view, and provides professional fellowship. Volunteer duties can average as little as an hour a week, depending on the role. The “co” in the co-manager title means I need someone else in that same role because two heads are better than one and sharing a job makes it easier for both managers. If that job seems intimidating, go for the assistant co-manager role instead. Co-manager is part of the succession plan, where future leaders learn the co-manager role.

The first time I heard, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person,” I laughed. Now I know that it is true. We need more busy people to donate a little time to keeping our SIG strong. I challenge every SIG member to look over the open roles, find one that fits your interests, and join the leadership team. The IDL SIG is a platinum community because talented members are active participants. You are one of those talented members, and we need you. The monthly meeting is open to all members. Come to the next one to find out more about volunteering.

Marcia Shannon was assistant co-manager for in 2018, and transitioned to co-manager in 2019.

Holistic vs. Atomistic Design of Learning: two types of learning design

By: Mark Philp

Holistic vs. Atomistic Design of Learning

How detailed does a document need to be to get the best result for the end user? Can the user skim the document and understand the concepts effectively enough? Or does the training require a more in-depth understanding? There are two schools of thought on document design regarding these questions: holistic and atomistic. Holistic learning design is creating a document that examines a whole idea by looking at the sum of all parts rather than the individual details. Atomistic design, by contrast, looks at an issue on a granular level by examining every element in detail.

Both methods can be useful when explaining a new topic to someone. However, the context surrounding how the information is delivered and interpreted differs significantly.

The Water Cycle: Atomistically and Holistically

We will use the example of the water cycle to compare the differences between a holistic and an atomistic approach.

Level of Detail

First, a training document must assess the level of detail needed in the document by understanding the needs of the end user. Who is going to use this information? Is it a training document for a grade 12 science instructor, or is it a pamphlet given out to boy scouts who are attempting to get their science badge? The information may be the same in both cases, but how the information should be delivered differs significantly. Both parties have very different levels of comprehension, so that must be addressed in the document design. A teacher must be able to field questions regarding this topic, so a deeper understanding of all the items must be included to ensure there are no gaps in the transmission of information. On the other side, when designing a document for a 10-year-old who will most likely use it outside and look at it for a total of three minutes, the document must show the big picture, be easy to read and, most importantly, be accessible to that particular user.

Context

Secondly, context is important. We briefly brushed on that in the previous paragraph by saying a 10-year-old boy scout may read their document outside. This is an important part of document design. Where will the intended user access the information and under what circumstances will they absorb the information? A teacher will most likely access the document while sitting down at a desk and with proper lighting. The document will most likely be a part of a larger document in a science curriculum. The audience reading the document will already have a background of knowledge regarding the topic. On the other hand, the document for the boy scout will most likely be read outside, perhaps in low light conditions. Most likely, the boy scout will have a very limited background knowledge of the subject. Maybe he will read the document while it’s raining. Does the document need to fit in the user's pocket? These are all items to consider when designing the material because designing for context will allow the documents to be successfully utilized.

Outcome

Lastly, what is the desired outcome of the document? The technical communicator should ask a few questions:

  • What is the goal of the training?
  • What is the importance of it?
  • How accurately does the information need to be delivered?

In the case of the science teacher, the desired outcome is to facilitate a lesson for grade 12 science students on the water cycle and to comprehensively examine each stage. The goal is for the students to pass their science test and to have a better understanding of the material. The information needs to be delivered accurately for it’s a senior level high school course. As for the boy scout, the desired outcome is to understand the fundamentals of the water cycle. The goal is for the scout to show he has a basic understanding so that he can receive a badge. The knowledge is most likely tested in a verbal interview by a scout leader to assess their understanding of the basic concepts, so the level of accuracy needed will be much less.

Even these simplified situations demonstrate how both of these learning designs have a purpose and can be applied.
Technical writers should ask themselves a series of simple questions, such as:

  • Who is the end user?
  • What does the end user need to know?
  • In what setting will the end user be reading the document?
  • How should it be delivered?
  • What is the goal of the information?
  • How accurately does the information need to be delivered?

By asking these simple questions, one can determine the granularity of the information and decide whether they should move forward with either a holistically or atomistically designed document.

About the author

Mark Philp is a student in the Technical Communications program at Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology in Toronto, Canada. He has an undergrad degree in Urban Planning from the University of Waterloo. Mark enjoys writing, pub trivia, Chinese food, break dancing, baseball, home improvement projects, and Christmas.

Effective Use of Screen Real Estate in E-Learning

By Vivian Luu

Screen real estate refers to the amount of space that is available on a screen. In e-learning, it is not the available space on the computer screen that concerns us—it is the space on the slides we design and use to teach the material that we find to be most important. Creating e-learning slides, in programs such as PowerPoint or Captivate, may be simple and they may look aesthetically pleasing, but it is our effective use of space on the slides that give value to the user.
This article covers six principles you should consider in order to use screen real estate effectively.

Use white space, but not too much

White space can help a page look elegant and clean. Also known as negative space, white space is the part of the page we leave blank, such as the margins and the space between paragraphs. Used properly, white space can unclutter a page without it looking sparse. It also applies to e-learning slides. We want to teach the users everything we can, but we do not want to overwhelm them by putting too much information on one slide.

Each e-learning slide should cover only one topic. In doing so, we will not only control the white space on the slides, but also limit how much information we share at one time. We tend to use white space as borders to separate topics; these very paragraphs that you are currently reading are separated from one another using white space to help you see where one paragraph ends and where another one starts. If we focus on having only one idea per slide, we can decrease the use of white space typically reserved for separating topics. Then, you will only have to worry about line spacing, text, images, and navigation buttons.

Narrow the margins

Unlike a page that might be printed, e-learning slides are mostly viewed on a device and will not encounter the problem of information being cut off by the printer due to narrow margins. You can narrow the margins and use the few extra pixels to add more to the slides. It is a way to effectively use real estate and deliver a positive user experience.

Use graphics and figures carefully

In technical writing, graphics are meant to reinforce the text. Because of the limited real estate on e-learning slides, graphics should be small and used only to help the user understand the information. Instead of placing graphics in the middle of the slide and forcing the text to the margins, try putting the graphic in a corner or giving it its own slide after one that explains the graphic.

Use audio functions

Unlike a textbook, e-learning can use audio to enhance learning. Using the audio function to supply voice over on the slides gives the users a more personal e-learning experience. Not only will this save space for more information, but it will also be more accessible.

Place closed captioning strategically

We must also think of users who use closed captioning. Despite having limited screen real estate, e-learning slides can have closed captioning and still use space effectively. Put the closed captioning on the bottom of the screen where everyone is used to seeing it. It can also go into the narrowed margins of the slide. When the closed captioning has a solid background color, it is immediately differentiated from the slide’s main text without using up more real estate.

Use a responsive e-learning design

Different devices have different amounts of screen real estate, so e-learning designs will have to change with each type of device (for example: phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop). This is where responsive e-learning design comes in. With responsive e-learning, the slides adjust so that users have an optimal learning experience no matter what device they use.

Here are some considerations to keep in mind for devices of varying sizes and input methods:

Smart phones

  • Avoid making the user scroll or zoom in, as it would be inconvenient.
  • Use as few photos as possible, or incorporate them into the background at low opacity.
  • Replace “next” buttons with the option to tap on the screen to proceed; it will save space.
  • Use sans-serif fonts for easy reading—additionally, the size of a sans-serif font can be reduced and still maintain legibility.

Tablets

  • Follow most of the considerations listed for smart phones.
  • Make the font size larger, as tablets have more real estate than smart phones.
  • Spread out the information to fill up some of the extra white space tablets have.

Laptops and desktops

  • Use arrow keys and clicks to advance through the e-learning slides, as a keyboard and mouse almost always accompany a laptop or desktop.
  • Use a larger font size to balance the available real estate on the screen.
  • Make graphics larger than they would be on a smart phone or tablet, but ensure that they reinforce the text.

Conclusion: Think like a user

To use screen real estate effectively in e-learning, we must think like a user. What do they want to see on the screen? How will they interpret the information? What aids do we anticipate them needing for a positive learning experience? How much is too much information? We must strike a balance with white space, text, and images if we are to convey the right amount of information in the best possible way. As communicators, it is our responsibility to effectively use real estate in e-learning so that the learning experience will be valuable to the users.

About the author

Vivian is a technical communication student at Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology in Toronto, Canada. She is currently on a work placement as a technical writer at the IESO. Her interests in writing and the environment encouraged her to pursue an undergraduate degree in Professional Writing with a minor in Environmental Studies from York University.

Personalized Learning and Engagement: Why Flipped Classrooms are the Future of Education

By: Jessica Rand

While the concept of the flipped classroom, and the very name itself, may seem backwards, in reality it is an innovative way of offering students and educators a more engaging, personalized learning experience. With the rapid growth of online and blended learning, and the proliferation of technology devices, educators have more opportunities than ever to provide personalized, meaningful learning experiences to their students. Using a flipped classroom model is one of the most effective strategies for achieving this.

What is a flipped classroom?

One of the biggest challenges that educators face is trying to meet curriculum or course outcomes within a short time period. As a result, many courses adopt a lecture format to instill as much knowledge as possible within the calendar constraints. While the majority of educators understand the benefits of collaboration and problem solving, they struggle to find the time. The flipped classroom model addresses this challenge by “flipping” the way courses are taught.

Flipped classrooms are not an entirely new practice. Many people have experienced some aspects of the flipped classroom model when their professors have asked them to pre-read course materials or watch a video online before coming to class. Anthony Bates explains that constructivist theories of education, argue that learners must construct personal meaning through experience and reflection. Flipped classrooms can be so much more than having students pre-read a chapter before attending a lecture. The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour reports that over 20 years ago Alison King argued that educators should move from a “sage on the stage” way of teaching to being a “guide on the side”. She argued that many instructors try to impart the knowledge they have by lecturing to a room of students and would be more effective by guiding students through exploration of content. The goal of exploration and collaboration is at the center of flipped classrooms.

An instructor engaging in a flipped classroom will provide students with a means of learning course content outside of class time, followed by collaboration and learning activities in the class. For example, a student may learn course content for a science class by watching a short video and playing a relevant online educational game before each class. When the student comes to the following class, he is already familiar with the content and is able to engage in more meaningful learning through discussion, collaboration and experiential learning.

Benefits of flipping a classroom

Individual student needs are addressed more effectively in flipped classrooms. Content can be made available in different medium. For example, students who struggle with reading can listen to informational podcasts or watch videos. Rather than educators spending class time teaching content, they are able to meet with individual students, facilitate learning stations and engage in hands-on experiences with students. Students are also able to access content material at a time and place that is convenient to them. This allows students to learn in a way that meets their needs. Student autonomy over learning is critical, especially for struggling students. Learners that take ownership of their learning are more likely to engage in personalized learning.

Engagement is another advantage of flipped classrooms. Many students become bored or disengaged in traditional class settings. This occurs for two reasons. First, many students find lecture-style teaching dull and uninteresting. The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour report that a student’s attention declines after just ten minutes of class lecture and that only about 20 percent of material is retained. Second, students who require accommodations or extensions will become disengaged as content material is presented in a way that is either too difficult or too easy for them. Flipped classroom educators have the opportunity to provide content in a more varied, personalized manner and provide truly meaningful, engaging experiences in the classroom.

The role of technology

As you can imagine, technology plays a vital role in flipped classrooms. An effective flipped classroom does not simply ask students to read chapters of a textbook prior to class and then expect them to have learned the content. Flipped classrooms use technology as a tool for facilitating and improving learning experiences. Great examples of technology being used effectively in flipped classrooms are podcasts, Smartboards, voice recorders, video logs, blogs, document cameras, robotics, and tablets.

Technology provides many opportunities to students learning in a flipped classroom, and the devices and programs available are becoming more exciting every day. There are, however, many terrific ways to offer students a flipped classroom learning experience without obtaining a Computer Science degree. Educators should use technology that they are familiar with and slowly expand their expertise to include more devices and programs that they feel would benefit their students.

Many post-secondary institutions are choosing to provide flipped classroom learning experiences to their students. The proven benefits to student engagement and personalization of learning indicate that students are seeing more success with this style of teaching. Educators from the University of Hong Kong provide several strategies for teachers inspired to start their own flipped classrooms. They recommend that instructors take the process one step at a time and keep technology simple (especially in the beginning), avoid providing too much information to students at once, find ways to engage students with material and reflect on practices to make changes as needed.

It is an exciting time to be in the education system. The increase of technology devices and programs has changed the way we learn and teach. As educators, we can harness the strengths of emerging technologies and practices such as the flipped classroom to engage each of our students like never before.

About the author

Jessica Rand teaches part-time in beautiful Prince George, British Columbia where her three sons keep her busy. She is currently working on an Online Learning and Teaching Diploma from Vancouver Island University and says that her hope as an educator is to use technology to engage students in their own learning journeys. When not teaching, Jessica spends time with her husband and boys, and also loves to read, run, volunteer and spend time with friends.

New member – George Abraham

By: Kelly Smith

George Abraham
George Abraham

Whenever possible, we like to welcome new SIG members by asking them to share a bit about themselves. In this issue, we welcome George K. Abraham IV.

George is a materials scientist, technical communicator, and manager of technical services at Allied High Tech Products Inc. where he has become an industry authority on metallography. He is responsible for providing technical support, seminars, workshops, training, and demonstrations on Allied’s metallographic equipment and consumables, Zeiss’s optical microscopes, cameras, and imaging software, and Mitutoyo’s hardness and microhardness testers. He has a Bachelor of Science in materials science and engineering from Case Western Reserve University, and he previously held positions at H.C. Starck and Rhenium Alloys Inc.

George manages Allied’s applications laboratory, overseeing the development of metallographic procedures and assisting with research and development of new metallographic equipment, accessories, and consumables. He has authored numerous application notes, reports, technical bulletins, operation manuals, technical articles, papers, presentations, and webinars.

George serves on the editorial board of the journal Metallography, Microstructure, and Analysis, as secretary of the International Metallographic Society Board of Directors, and as a member of various professional committees focused on standards, education, and mentoring.

Also appreciative of the art of metallography, George has been known to get lost in microscopes exploring the beauty of materials; his favorite microstructure is nodular cast iron. George has developed and taught materials sample preparation seminars for ten years and enjoys mentoring emerging professionals in science and engineering.

Welcome, George!


If you are a new member and would like to submit a bio, please email it to newsletter@nullstcidlsig.org!