Creating Agile Communicators: Teaching Writing with ICTs

This week we read several scholarly articles on the technical communication field, where it’s going, how it’s defined, and how it uses social media. As a writing instructor, my major take-aways from the readings by Ferro, Longo, Blythe et al, and Pigg include:

  • The need for more collaborative writing
  • The need to understand the importance of emergent technologies
  • The need to understand how writing will change because of those technologies
  • The “need for social and communicative agility” (Ferro, p. 19)

Ferro asks, “how do we teach students to write in forms that do not exist?” (p. 20), while Longo argues that “teachers must understand their roles as mediators and integrators of ICTs [information and communication technologies]” (p. 23). While I don’t specifically teach technical communication, this question and assertion can guide what I do in the classroom to ensure that my students are prepared to communicate well in the 21st century.

We can start by using the  ICTs that students use in their personal lives. As a department, we’ve recently struggled with how to address the issues of “fake news” and the broadening complexity of information literacy.

lib-info-lit-chart

Information Literacy, courtesy of Otis.edu

Now that ICTs allow us to tailor our news feeds to show only what we want to see, how do we promote a more comprehensive analysis of news and information? As teachers, we tend to shun the use of social media in our classrooms, but perhaps we are fooling ourselves while simultaneously doing our students a disservice. Recent links on this blog indicate that fewer students are using Facebook, but we why not integrate lessons using Instagram, SnapChat, or blogs? Some may bristle at the notion of interacting with students this way (it’s too personal, too gimmicky, too much extra work), and we will have to embrace that once we’ve finally figured out how to use a certain ICT, “those darn kids” will be on to the next one. However, incorporating more ICTs in the classroom could make the classroom more relevant to the current technological climate as well as help students become more agile in the future technological climate.

Using ICTs can help students understand the concept of audience better. Longo’s article “Using Social Media” emphasizes that users have become producers. One common complaint of composition students is that they feel their writing is “just for the teacher” and that the notion of a real audience is therefore false. If educators can create content that supplies student writers with a real audience (even better, a real audience of their peers) perhaps they will invest more in the content they create? If they are already composing SnapChat group chats and YouTube videos, asking them to write a five-paragraph essay for their instructor can feel archaic and pointless. By using social media, “we can design documents that are more explicitly responsive to audience needs” (Longo, p. 24). Using social media in the classroom provides educators a way to “recreate a professional setting where [students] learn about users directly” (Longo, p. 31). This real-life writing assignment provides immediate feedback for students from a larger audience and can allow them to carry that writing portfolio with them relatively seamlessly.

Using visuals is increasingly important in communication. Blythe, Lauer, and Curran’s article, “Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World,” reports that surveyed technical communication alumni are increasingly responsible for visual communication (not just written communication). We are largely a visual society, and though the uptick in emoji use makes some of us nervous

HieroglyphsEmojis

How far have we come? Are we just circling back around? Courtesy of Steemit

(me included), visuals help to contextualize the written word and ensure greater reader comprehension. The social media applications that younger people are using are more visual (Instagram/Snapchat), but visuals will not replace the written word. Learning how to use both well cannot be a detriment.

HieroglphHumor

Source: Medium.com

Students should practice critical thinking as often as possible. Blythe et al recommend that technical communication students should be “exposed to situations in which they must choose the best channels for communication”, that they should be “exposed to a wide range of technology that will facilitate that process”, and that they should be “versatile with multiple media” (p. 281). I’m no longer a technical writer, but one of my most bemoaned complaints as a new technical writer in the early ‘00s was my lack of technical training. My college classes taught me how to be a better writer, but I had to teach myself how to use the technology. Aligning technology with communication is training students, no matter what their final profession, to be skilled in all forms of communication: audience analysis, visual communication, and content creation.

Creating better communicators across disciplines serves all of us. As more and more of us become both producers and consumers (“prosumers”), embracing the changes in teaching and technologies keeps our work interesting and makes our global world a more interactive and understandable place.

Posted on September 30, 2018, in Blogs, Digital, Literacy, Social Media, Teaching, Technology. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Hi Amery,

    I don’t think I’ve come across the term “information literacy” before, and I like it. It encompasses a lot of the forms of communication we have today and the need for us to be able to interact competently using all of them: Media, network, computer, alphabetic, library, cultural, and visual. In my blog post this week, I wrote about publicly available online services (PAOSs), and I was bemoaning the fact that I have to be proficient in more than a dozen of them. We all have to adapt and learn constantly to communicate with each other in this rapidly advancing, global community, and if we have skills in all of these forms of communication, we will be a lot more successful.

    Thinking about your audience and how information will be consumed are essential components to consider for effective communication. I find my clients want to use a new or different form of communication such as podcasts or videos even when they are not the best form of media to convey the information they want to communicate. For example, my clients will want to do a podcast about a visual subject. That doesn’t make a lot of sense. They also want to do videos about subjects with a lot of details and steps. That also doesn’t work. If they were more literate about these forms of communication, it would help. Sometimes my job is to ask questions about their goals and point out the best way to achieve them.

    Thanks for your post,

    Angie

  2. Thank you for your feedback, and for taking the time to read my post. I often wish we could teach an entire course on information literacy; instead, we usually have students do a library orientation and touch on it as much as we can in our researched essay unit, but it feels much bigger than the 2-3 weeks we give it. Additionally, with apps making changes to how they flag verified content (think of Facebook’s use of the check mark next to authentic content providers), we have to stay alert to those changes.

    You make a good point about the best vehicle for delivering communications. I love podcasts, but you’re right; they don’t really work for showcasing visual content. I imagine you spend a great deal of time educating clients before content is even created.

    • Replying to your reply because i feel it resonates with my experience too. Even though I’m an internet researcher, social media trends evolve quickly so it can be difficult to touch on all the issues. In fact, way back in 2009 when I wrote the course proposal for ENGL 745 I was not allowed to mention specific platforms like Facebook or Twitter as that might would have limited the course content. In fact, I think that’s how we ended up using the phrase “emerging media” rather than “social media”!

      Great application to your teaching of writing and acknowledging the technology skills your students both have an need to continue working on!

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