Author Archives: Kim Smith mccroryk0613
I did it. I finished my final paper for my second to last course in grad school. The class is Communication Strategies in Emerging Media. We had a choice of class objectives from which to choose. I chose the following from Dr Daisy Pignetti at UW Stout:
Analyze the ways emerging media and digital technologies are changing our workplaces, classrooms, and social lives with emphasis on the technical and professional communication workplace.
I work regularly with engineers in my professional life, and I’ve always found them and their workplace norms interesting. I started to dig into best practices when communicating with engineers – how and when they prefer to do so, etc. This is a big ask of a professional technical communicator in today’s workplace, especially when they’re striving to appeal to a broad audience via emerging media. I found quite a few trends in the resources I collected. With the help of Dr Pignetti’s feedback, I narrowed my paper’s focus to two main points. One, engineers, surprisingly, largely prefer to work directly with others to complete the task at hand. Two, proofreading isn’t as common as it should be, but lots of authors mention it’s importance. This is the introduction to my paper:
While content and products tailored to distinct audiences is an archetype for business, today’s technical communicators are increasingly expected to appeal to a wide range of consumers via various emerging media and technological channels on behalf of their company. In order to collaborate with diverse teams to produce the needed content, technical communicators must adopt effective collaboration methods throughout the life of a project, including how to elicit needed information from engineers and ensure that final products are useful to broad audiences. Bridging gaps between creators and consumers remains a central role for technical communicators in 2020.
The most intriguing new discovery I made is how some authors are automating the identification of expert jargon in academic and professional writings (see Rakedzon, T., Segev, E., & Chapnik, N. (2017)). The potential for utilizing AI rather than developing focus groups is definitely a topic I’ll be keeping an eye on.
So, I’m in graduate school, right? During an aspirin-and-an-antacid-every-two-hours election year. Drawing conclusions from the readings and sharing them will my class cohort is especially tricky when my mind is overwhelmed with social issues. This week’s response is tangential, but it’s where my mind took me.
Our readings this week are about content management, information distribution, and the differences between ‘real life’ technical communication jobs and online collaboration needed to do them well. The authors both go beyond the job site, though. They discuss what it means to form a society, a culture, and the norms that take root therein. This happens almost anywhere people gather (virtually or not). Two quotes stuck out to me and had me thinking about how information moves groups to act, which is as important at work as it is in society right now. First, Spilka (2010) wrote “from a cultural perspective, the important question is this: Who gets to decide whose culture and knowledge will prevail, and whose will be silenced? Determining whose culture and knowledge will prevail will lead to decisions about which group of people has the power to make things happen and to prevent other possible things from happening” (153). Spilka opines that culture and community are fundamentally built upon the inclusion and exclusion of different groups just as much as they are physically built upon concrete. Second, Longo (2013), though she’s speaking about technical communications careers specifically, also has a view about human relations: “as connected and open as we would like our work to be, we still rely on the relations we build with people in a physical world. The reality is slightly disappointing in the sense that it is still very difficult to build bridges across our global contexts” (29). Longo says communities are stronger when people can interact face-to-face (or otherwise foster personal bonds). Only communicating perfunctorily online does not suffice for optimal knowledge making.
The most visible niche cultures we see today are protests. People participating are, in Spilka’s terms, trying to prevail, which often means overriding or silencing the opposition. Longo is right in this context that it takes more than an online movement to truly connect others with similar views and force change. I thought specifically about the protests in Poland, which delayed the implementation of a law and may well alter their constitution. Women came out in droves. The sheer numbers gave them the power to make things happen, forced the government to acknowledge them. Opposition was all but silenced in the coverage of the protests. The Guardian described the protests as a “backlash against patriarchal culture.” Norms were established to maintain volume and longevity. There was indeed a community born.
Ok, so I know protests are an extreme example of how culture, society, and norms are formed, but they’re definitely not altogether different. Spilka’s view that it’s about who’s included and excluded equally was a succinct eye-opener for me. Longo’s view that cohesion is more effective IRL is definitely viable in this example, even when groups like Anonymous are challenging those limitations. I know there will be a lot more protests in 2020, and where and how they organize will be interesting.
I am always impressed by the ideas that come from a collective passion for a project. I like to watch clever people solve problems, elevating teams with their ingenuity and helping to build a better community in the knowledge industry. One of my favorite things to do is read through constructive (underline, highlight, bold, triple emphasize constructive) comments online. Open source software forums, innovation blogs, and advice pages are some of my favorite online places to spend time. Of course, there is garbage to be filtered out, but when I find nuggets of wisdom, it’s inspiring.
Crowdsourcing has a foothold in the professional world, too. Not only do companies use online portfolios (like this one from Zendesk) to tout and refine their products, they’re encouraging companies to develop community forums to take functionality even further (another example from Zendesk) by asking questions, requesting features, and troubleshooting problems. When the data in these sites are collated, a very useful overview develops; one that welcomes not only industry success stories, but customer experience stories, both of which help companies to remain competitive.
Rachel Spilka, from UW Milwaukee, wrote about this trend back in 2010 in her book “Digital Literacy for Technical Communication: 21st Century Theory and Practice.” In looking at internal business cases, she wrote “using databases to publish content lets the company welcome contributions from people outside the technical communications department, including those who work for the company in technical and marketing capacities and customers who have developed expertise with the products and services who have a first hand user’s perspective” (29). In my professional experience, this is the norm, one that has provided value and reduced duplicate work. One tool I’ve used to encourage this type of inter-departmental communication is Confluence, part of Atlassian’s suite of products. Their product allows teams to publish project tables, wiki pages, schedules, historical data and trends, and knowledge bases. Each of these publications comes with a comment section at the bottom. Anyone could comment on any page at my company. This helped most notably, in my mind, when designers were working through a project and someone from customer service chimed in with concerns or praises about how a change may impact the customer experience. Their knowledge of the UI and developers’ knowledge of system dependencies helped to find an acceptable solution, thus avoiding costly redesigns and disagreements before they happened. I also saw a very scary maintenance schedule altered after a conflict between teams surfaced. Because one team’s schedules and plans were published, others could search for key words to ensure their own work in the same network spaces weren’t at risk. Instead of weeks of undoing the changes and follow up meetings, the teams simply changed their schedules by 4 hours each, allowing both of them to do their work in the same 24-hour window without incident.
I’m curious about positive, specific experiences others have had with crowdsourcing. Do you have an example of a clever solution that was contributed by a user? Perhaps a responsive employee helped to prevent a problem? I could use a dose of human ingenuity and innovation.
There are a lot of conversations happening, and evolving, around the use of technology in scholastic settings. Before 2020, there was a majority opinion that phones and laptops can be disproportionately distracting during classes. Kentaro Toyama, Associate Professor of Communications Information at the University of Michigan, sat down with James Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media, at a 2015 talk presented by the Aspen Institute where they discussed their preferences for the students’ use of technology in their classrooms. Overall, they didn’t support it, saying that it can distract from the lesson and the student interactions. They asked students to refrain from using cell phones and laptops during lectures, saying that when screens are on, our tendencies to wander through social media are stronger than the desire for deep learning. Though putting screens out of reach can cause some distress initially for the students, by the end of the course most expressed appreciation for the ability to focus solely on the content without the temptation of social media distractions.
The drive to be constantly entertained by screens, and an equal apprehension about giving that up, is perhaps most common with younger generations, but it’s part of everyone’s life to some extent. It’s part of our normal, both when seeking out information and maintaining relationships. Mary Chayko talks about this quite a bit in Superconnected (2015): “we require some kind of continuity and sameness from day to day. Taking part in techno-social life online can provide this type of constancy for it is always, dependably, there” (202). Additionally, “being plugged in can provide us on a very deep level with the comforting feeling that we are not alone” (201). Nevertheless, Chayko touts the benefits of unplugging: “it can be enriching to be bored sometimes” (200).
Today, however, things are different. Students are online remotely from kindergarten to graduate school because of the pandemic. It’s no longer a conversation about avoiding distractions in the classroom; it’s about being online in order to participate in the lessons overall. Even Steyer’s Common Sense Media site has been overhauled to support remote learning for students and parents alike and provide support during Coronavirus. There are new challenges now – how can we do MORE online while maintaining a healthy life balance? Common Sense Media offers advice on motivating students, taking care of our mental health, even hosting and attending remote birthday parties.
It’s counterintuitive when Chayko declares “while modern people certainly experience their share of stress, digital technology and social media users do not generally have higher levels of stress than those who are less digitally connected” (192). For me personally, this isn’t the case in 2020. Reading the news, not interacting with neighbors, working and studying remotely – they all take their toll on my stress levels and I struggle to unwind. The CDC site has an entire section about coping with stress during the pandemic. Am I in the minority here? Are others settling into this normal better than I am? I’m especially curious about how kids and parents are doing with online school, and how they’re balancing that with few social interaction opportunities offline. I bought a bike to try and find some balance, but in WI that’s a temporary solution. I am open to others’ ideas.