Digital Literacy Embraced

Earlier this week I was chatting with one of my superiors who was visiting the regional campus from where I taught my IDL class that day. Of course, she asked me about my class (since I am required to take classes to keep my Speech certification). I told her what we have been discussing and told her about the case study I am doing on Western’s use of social media etc. She asked me what I thought of their Twitter posts. I mentioned that I enjoyed the content, but the spelling and grammar mistakes are plentiful. Her response was that in the more technical fields, grammar and spelling are second to content. I pointed out that the president of the college just tweeted and it contained an obvious error. She scoffed and said it was no big deal. Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut, but I told her that Western’s Twitter followers may not share her view about spelling and grammar since many would see that as lacking an eye for detail or incompetence. He expression changed and she proceeded to a back office. So, I revisited that conversation when I read Dicks’ article, “The Effects of Digital Literacy” and his quote of Moore and Kreth (2005) stating “The days of being grammar cops, wordsmiths, and software applications experts are not over for technical communicators, but those skills are diminishing in value. . . ” (2010, pg 54).

Perhaps the English instructor in me has difficulty with letting those skills fall into second. I imagine many technical communicators may feel the same way. However, with the changes in responsibilities for technical communicator’s, I can see having to let something go. . . perhaps one has to put away the grammar cop badge and focus on other areas.

So many changes have occurred over the last 30 years, but many significant changes in the last decade have really eliminated many responsibilities of what I perceived many technical communicators do. In fact, I recently changed a writing assignment in one of my classes to a website review. I figured it would give them more of a technical view of writing and also get them to see what is considered when devising and evaluating a website[ Audience, purpose and content (as is for other types of communication)] verses an essay. The students (typical college students at a UW school) are much more engaged on this assignment since most are more technology-minded.

Technical communication is changing so rapidly, I am not sure I can keep up. I can’t imagine how challenging it must be for someone who has been in the field for 30 years. Dicks’ states, “Technical communicators watched some people leave the profession because they chose not to change the way they worked and because they insisted that true writing involved writing for paper (2010, pg 76). I see the same happening in my field. Some instructors at Western refuse to teach Online or IDL classes and refuse to use Blackboard. I find that a bit ironic since it is a technical college; however, it benefited me since I don’t mind teaching in either mode. I was pleased to hear that the college is finally making all instructors at least use Blackboard next year. Also, in some disciplines, faculty will have to teach Online or IDL if needed. Some may see it as an infringement of their rights (which I don’t understand), but technology is changing the workplace, not just for technical communicators, but for those of us teaching people who need some or all the skills of that field.



Posted on October 29, 2017, in Digital, Literacy, Social Media, Teaching, Technology, Workplace. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I think one of the challenges of using Twitter for professional purposes is that they tend to bypass any editorial process. When I first started following news sources in my previous job in radio news, I was surprised at the spelling and usage errors tweeted out by the major news networks. As I began tweeting breaking news myself, I would kick myself every time my desire for speed got ahead of my internal editor and a typo (sometimes introduced by auto-correct) went out to the public. I think we have learned to be a little lenient in cases where immediate communication is needed, but I agree that when I read a misspelled tweet, I cringe, and it does not help my confidence in the source.

  2. I don’t think that I’ve seen that many misspelled tweets from “official” organizations, so I’m surprised to hear that your superior didn’t think much of the errors you described. As Dan notes, errors (autocorrect or otherwise) when it comes to breaking news can be easily dismissed, but tweets from a college president often aren’t urgent and could easily be proofread! Also, why not delete the error and post again?

    As for profs resistant to online teaching, every person we hire in the English department is asked about their willingness to teach online and their use of technology in the classroom since we’re a laptop campus. As a program director of the undergraduate online program, I’ve been frustrated when I see colleagues treating online students differently because they’d prefer to teach fact-to-face, especially since they’re notified of the online section at least 6 months in advance!

    • I can’t imagine why anyone would treat online students differently. All my students at the regional centers have IDL or Blended classes, so they do not “choose” that instead of face-to-face. This can really stress out students, especially if they are not physically at the location from where the instructor originates. I do travel to the various centers so students can meet me. However, one location is almost a 3 hour drive from my home, so I do not travel there. I had a student at that location who was struggling with the lack of face-to-face contact. She called to offer to drive to my center to meet me. We met halfway at a McDonalds since I already had my car being serviced in LaCrosse. So, we share a conversation and lunch. She was much more comfortable in class after that.

      • I think it might have more to do with workload than anything else. We started the online undergrad program with the hopes for separate sections but don’t have enough online students to justify that so it’s double the prep work if you decide to still meet f2f.

  3. I can kind of understand leaving out certain grammatical attributes in social media, especially when it comes to punctuation. You can have a little more fun without always being “correct.” Unintentionally misspelling words, however, seems kind of unprofessional even in social media. Especially when social media can be the gateway for relationships directly with customers, you need to consider it a raw representation of your company. But this does seem to be the trend, many are becoming more relaxed with grammar and punctuation even outside of social media.

    Thanks for sharing your experience with online teaching. I’m pretty shocked to learn the other side of distance learning. I never knew that some teachers would be so adverse to it. I know a lot of people teach because they get an emotional reward from helping and watching people learn. Does teaching online ever seem to take some of that away?

    • Miriam, teachers fear of online learning mainly stems from a fear of learning technology and adapting their teaching practices for that modality. It requires a lot more work prepping for classes too. Also, some do see it as less personal too. Like any job, what you put into it, you get out of it. I do prefer to see students faces when they experience an aha moment, but those moments can still be shared online.

  4. I agree with Miriam. I enjoyed reading about your teaching experience. I thought online school was going to be challenging because I thought I’d be teaching myself. That hasn’t been the case at all, and I enjoy interacting from my classmates and instructors.

    During the summer, I took Advanced Editing, and during the second half of the class, we didn’t have discussion board posts. I must say, I missed everyone.

    My half-sister is enrolled in an online high school, where she watches videos of lectures and doesn’t have any interaction with other students. She doesn’t seem to miss the interaction but I still wonder if that would help her with her studies.

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