Note From the Editor, Q1 2021

By Paul Scott, IDL SIG Newsletter Editor

CONTENTS

This quarter's issue is uncommonly large and high-quality, and almost all of it focuses on our student members. In fact, most of our issue is actually written by student members. Let this encourage more of you to write for us!

We lead with not one, but two featured articles, both by student members. Catherine Wecksell provides an excellent analysis of the instructional design of some of television's pioneering teachers: Fred Rogers, LeVar Burton, and Bob Ross. Then Kylie Call discusses the ins and outs of needs assessment in the context of a class assignment: designing an application with user documentation for an audience in Nepal. We follow this with Student Member Anne Matechuk, discussing how she works to benefit from her Student Membership.

Then we have articles from our officers. Jamye Sagan, our Treasurer, gives our quarterly financial report, as well as the results of her demographic survey of our membership. Membership Manager Lori Meyer assures us that there is still time to renew your membership for 2021, and our Webmaster Maralee Sautter then tells us about Lori's well-deserved Distinguished SIG Service Award (Lori was too modest to mention it herself).

This has been my favorite issue to edit so far. I hope all of you will continue to write this great content for us. See you in June!

FEATURED ARTICLE: The Original Remote Instructors: ID Lessons from TV’s Greatest Teachers

By Catherine Wecksell

With an increasing demand for online learning, instructional designers are adapting existing online instruction programs to create remote learning. TV legends like Fred Rogers, LeVar Burton, and Bob Ross provided effective distance learning before it became widespread. What techniques do these three TV hosts offer instructional designers for effective workplace learning today?

Fred Rogers was more present virtually than most people manage to be in person. 

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood ran from 1968 to 2001, one of the longest-running children’s PBS series. Mr. Rogers spoke directly to children, validating their feelings and helping them name, face, and understand their emotions. Many have applied his methods to adult contexts such as leadership, HR, and pedagogy. 

Mr. Rogers engaged children with open-ended questions, asking them about their experiences and urging them to draw upon prior knowledge. He presented models and examples in "The Land of Make Believe,” encouraging children to connect these to their own experiences. Jack Mezirow established transformative learning theory in 1978, with the concept that the learner’s critical self-reflection can transform the learner’s perspective (Mezirow, 2009). Mezirow grounded his concept in the foundational theory of constructivismbased on the idea that people actively create their knowledge and understanding. Your reality is determined by your experiences as a learner.  Learner-centered instruction further acknowledges learners' differences, shifting the planning and control of learning from the instructor to the learner.

Mr. Rogers exemplified this principle, to the extent one can on TV. While the children couldn't direct the content on the episodes (the true learner-centered approach), his show included enough other content (such as visiting factories and interviewing guests) that the emotional instruction was an "offering" rather than a lesson to be imparted. Mr. Rogers’ gentle guidance and questioning put the learner at the center of the experience. He sang these words at the end of each episode: “I’ll be back, when the day is new, and I’ll have more ideas for you… You’ll have things you want to talk about… and I will, too.”

LeVar Burton helped a generation become self-directed learners.  

Actor LeVar Burton (Roots, Star Trek the Next Generation) hosted Reading Rainbow on PBS from 1983 to 2009. This beloved show encouraged a love of reading by exploring various topics related to a featured children’s book. Segments approached books from many directions, from character interviews and celebrity appearances to visiting the book's setting. Reading Rainbow earned over 200 broadcast awards, including a Peabody and 26 Emmy Awards. There are now interactive Reading Rainbow apps and video field trips for the iPad® and Kindle®.

LeVar taught around a subject, adding context by introducing related topics. Interdisciplinary learning combines learning objectives and methods from more than one branch of knowledge to focus on a central theme, issue, or problem. Interdisciplinary learning transfers knowledge gained in one discipline to another and deepens learning. 

Even with LeVar's acting skills, he didn't read or dramatize the book. Learners were encouraged to read the books themselves. Sometimes people misunderstand self-directed learning (SDL)—it is not about working alone. SDL means a learner sets and often measures their own learning goals and progress.  Another critical part of SDL includes sharing the learning process with peers and collaborating. LeVar would say, “But you don’t have to take my word for it…” Children would then come on screen and make book recommendations to each other.

Bob Ross taught skills one happy cloud at a time.

Bob Ross hosted The Joy of Painting, another PBS television show that aired from 1983 to 1994. Bob Ross demonstrated with each brushstroke how to paint landscapes in oil. Many enjoyed watching him demonstrate specific landscape painting techniques by showing how to create integral elements, such as the sky, trees, and “happy clouds.”

Observational learning is a subset of social learning theory and describes learning from watching and mimicking others' behaviors. Techniques of observational learning include modeling, shaping, and chaining. Observational learning is most common with children as they tend to copy adults naturally. However, on-the-job skills are also learned via observational learning.

People often develop new skills by shadowing. An example of this is having a new hire observe a more experienced employee on the job. Video tutorials and recorded screen captures are also observational learning. 

Bob Ross’s consistency and demonstration of skills set his instruction apart. His impeccable planning of the show achieved this consistency. Bob planned each word and made three copies of his paintings for each show. Careful planning, prepping, and storyboarding are also vital to quality workplace learning and facilitation excellence.

Employ Learner-Centered techniques as Mr. Rogers did:

  • Build open-ended questions into the learning experience.
  • Have the learner draw upon their own experience and construct their own meaning.
  • Allow the learner to direct and take ownership of what is learned.

Encourage Self-Directed and Social Learning the same way as LeVar Burton:

  • Encourage independent exploration of content by providing ample resources and materials.
  • Build peer collaboration with discussion boards and communities of practices.
  • Use an interdisciplinary approach to teach many job functions around a single example.

Create consistent Observational Learning in the same way Bob Ross did:

  • Include demonstrations or simulations. 
  • Provide guides to support workplace shadowing.
  • Prototype your learning assets.

Mr. Rogers’ listening and empathy were profound, allowing children to feel acknowledged without even being in the same room. LeVar Burton stimulated self-directed and social learning. Bob Ross led learners through excellence in observational learning. They engaged learners without being able to see or get feedback from them. You can use the same learner-centered, self-directed, social, and observational approaches employed by these famous TV educators to engage remote workplace learners today.

REFERENCES

Mezirow, Jack (2009). An overview on transformative learning. In Knud Illeris (ed.), Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists -- In Their Own Words. Routledge.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Photos of Fred Rogers and LeVar Burton were obtained from Wikimedia commons, who provide the sourcing and copyright information for them at the following links:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:LeVar_Burton_July_2017.jpg

https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Rogers#/media/File:Fred_Rogers_and_Neighborhood_Trolley.jpg

®Bob Ross name and images are registered trademarks of Bob Ross Inc. © Bob Ross Inc. Used with permission.

IDL SIG Treasurer Report – 2021 Q1

By Jamye Sagan, IDL SIG Treasurer

How much money do we have?

As of March 15, 2021, we have $2,242.71 in our account - $1,742.00 from community funding and $500.71 in our vested funds. 

So far this year, the only expenses we have incurred are speaker honoraria for the webinars we’ve had so far. In the next few months, we anticipate the following expense: speaker honoraria for upcoming webinars. Since the Summit will be virtual this year, we will not have as many expenses incurred for that event. Normally, we would purchase giveaways and door prizes for our community receptions and in-person meetings.

Where do we get our funds?

Our primary source of income comes from community funding and vested funds. Community funding are funds we receive from the STC office, based on SIG membership numbers. We receive a certain dollar amount per member. Since these funds do not carry over from year to year, we must use them or forfeit them. 

Vested funds are funds we have earned through the years. These funds can carry over year after year.

 

We constantly review our budget to see where we can save costs and, most importantly, how we can use our funds to best benefit you – our members. 

We’d like to hear from you!

If you have any questions about SIG finances, please email me at treasurer@nullstcidlsig.org.

FEATURED ARTICLE: The Importance of Needs Assessments in Global Technical Communication

By Kylie Call

According to John K. Burton and Paul F. Merrill, "the first step in solving a problem is to decide that you have one." In a college technical communication course, I applied this idea to engage with an international community in Nepal. My professor divided the class into groups. We were required to design a web or mobile application prototype with user documentation. The products needed to demonstrate cultural awareness by addressing an issue that people in Nepal face. First, my group conducted a needs assessment.

Needs assessments are the foundation for products intended for global distribution. They outline project goals and explain how cultural differences may impact reaching those goals. I can break down my experience into three steps: data collection, data analysis, and data application. 

Data Collection: Knowing Your Audience

Collecting sufficient information is essential to the needs assessment's success. I gathered data from local newspaper articles, journal articles, and various websites because distance prevented me from direct observation. I sought out information about digital literacy and gender inequality. Doing this initial research helped me think of questions to ask the subject matter experts (SMEs) who represented Code for Nepal, an international volunteer-based organization. The SMEs filled in my data gaps and helped me understand the context and issues brought by the COVID-19 pandemic better. I learned about factors that play a role in Nepal's low digital literacy rate, such as geographical differences and limited internet connectivity. Digging deeper, I discovered how digital literacy empowers people economically and socially. The SMEs’ involvement was valuable because I struggled to find information about Nepalis communities during COVID-19 on my own. They eased my initial hesitations about whether I was capable of communicating to a global audience. The relationships that I formed with them are among the most significant takeaways from my service-learning experience.

Data Analysis: Putting the Pieces Together

Data analysis helped define a specific audience and objectives. From my data, I concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated Nepal's existing problems with digital literacy and gender-based inequalities. Students and teachers are struggling to adapt to life online. Technological advancement has many positive outcomes for communities, such as providing economic mobility. But the greater use of technology coupled with the lack of knowledge about cyber-safety makes people vulnerable to predators. Cyber-crime has been referred to by The Kathmandu Post as one of the "biggest challenges to law and order." Data also revealed that women and young girls in Nepal experience cyber-crime in the form of cyber-sexual harassment at high rates. While social media has become a popular pastime for young people during quarantine, it has also become a platform for cyber-sexual harassment to occur. My findings helped me brainstorm a mobile application geared towards young Nepalese women to understand cyber-sexual harassment and provide them with social media safety tips. 

Data Application: Creating a Mobile-based Prototype

My data helped the group make decisions regarding the design of our project. We formatted our mobile application as a quiz game to capture the attention of our young audience. The user answered questions about realistic scenarios that they might experience online. The questions taught users how to identify cyber-sexual harassment and what actions to take to protect themselves. Real-life occurrences inspired the questions. The Himalayan Times stated that in 2015, police arrested Rahul Balmiki for hacking the Facebook accounts of over 40 women and blackmailing victims with obscene images and messages. This incident prompted my group to include questions about sexual harassment on Facebook. Data also influenced the prototype’s and user documentation's development. GlobalStats reports that Android is the primary operating system in Nepal, so the prototype was developed as an Android application. The user documentation provided step-by-step instructions for navigating the application. My group used plain, simple sentences for easy translation to Nepali. We created annotated visuals to aid the text. A section in the app included additional cyber-safety resources for children and adolescents from reputable organizations such as UNICEF.

Overall, needs assessments serve to guide decision-making when developing a project. My needs assessment allowed me to target a critical issue that puts people's health and well-being from a marginalized community at risk. I better understood the problem of cyber-sexual harassment in Nepal and outlined a course of action that benefitted my intended audience the most. Through the process, I gained skills valued by the modern, global workforce. I learned how to collect information for stakeholders (i.e., my Professor from Nepal and the class's community partner) and work with diverse colleagues. Performing a thorough needs assessment was time-consuming. But it improved the quality of the deliverables. I feel that higher-quality products increase the likelihood of the audience reaching the desired outcome.

 

I want to thank Dr. Sweta Baniya, my professor, and the representatives from Code for Nepal, for providing me with this opportunity. I gained a greater intercultural understanding; familiarizing myself with the needs assessment process also enhanced my skill set as a technical communicator. 

Bibliography

Burton, John K., and Paul F. Merrill. “Chapter 2 Needs Assessment: Goals, Needs, and Priorities.” Essay. In Instructional Design: Principles and Applications, 21. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications, 1977. 

Dhungana, Shuvam. “Crime Rate in Nepal Rose by 40 Percent in Past Five Fiscal Years, Police Data Reveals.” The Kathmandu Post. The Kathmandu Post, December 8, 2019. https://kathmandupost.com/national/2019/12/08/crime-rate-in-nepal-rose-by-40-percent-in-past-five-fiscal-years-police-data-reveals#:~:text=National-,Crime%20rate%20in%20Nepal%20rose%20by%2040%20percent%20in%20past,in%20the%20last%20fiscal%20year. 

“Operating System Market Share Nepal.” StatCounter Global Stats, February 2021. https://gs.statcounter.com/os-market-share/all/nepal. 

“Youth Arrested on Cyber Crime Charges.” The Himalayan Times, July 9, 2015. https://thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/youth-arrested-on-cyber-crime-charges

Getting the Most from my IDL SIG Student Membership

By Anita Matechuk

I made the scary decision to volunteer for the IDL SIG last fall. Because I was only half-way through my schooling in technical communication, I didn’t feel qualified to volunteer. I was unsure what most of the roles did and did not have the skills to help with the rest. The email offering to volunteer was sent with one goal: learn one new skill before they realized I was not a qualified volunteer.

My first IDL SIG meeting was not as terrifying as expected. I did not understand the majority of the topics, but the friendly nature of the meeting was encouraging. The impact of meeting professional technical communicators was surprising. Working in this field requires constant learning and even though I had the most to learn, it was less daunting to know I was learning with others.

I joined my second management meeting expecting to be told my invitation was a mistake. Once I got over my shyness, they not only tolerated my student input; they valued it. After the meeting was over, I read the entire website and signed up on social media.

A notice for a free webinar showed up on Facebook, so I signed up even though I knew nothing about the topic. Since then, I have attended every free webinar that fit into my schedule. I learned a lot during some webinars while others were above my comprehension level. Each webinar expanded my technical communication vocabulary.

I looked forward to my third management meeting, but felt a little guilty because I hadn’t contributed any value. That was solved when I happily agreed to join the student outreach planning meeting when it was offered.

The student outreach planning meeting uncovered another benefit of volunteering: The more I volunteered, the more people offered mentoring. Mentors don’t force you to take on a task you aren’t comfortable doing. They encourage you to try new tasks while supporting you in your learning.

I still find some aspects of volunteering scary. Okay, I admit writing my first article is terrifying and I have no idea how to create a webinar. These are both opportunities I volunteered for, and I am excited to learn.

I plan to try everything I can as a student. This includes continuing to volunteer and signing up for webinars. I registered to become an STC mentee. My one last goal for myself is to enter the IDL SIG student article writing competition. I am not planning on writing articles for a career, but this is a great learning opportunity.