Author Archives: srherbert
I have now completed my final paper. The topic I chose for this lengthy process involves technology, digital literacy, and the degradation of quality and rigor in student learning.
The title of my paper is The Ugly Side of Technology: A Breakdown of What’s Happening to Education and Strategies to Maintain the Quality and Rigor of Student Learning. Below, I have posted my abstract. Enjoy!
Technology affords people innovative learning opportunities, such as using digital tools to shape understanding. However, it produces many adverse effects that can overshadow the benefits, including the degradation in the quality and rigor of student learning. Unless parents and teachers take action, student learning will continue to suffer. In a detailed analysis, the author discusses the growth of technology by acknowledging the digitally literate generation and discussing the digital literacy narrative of a young woman. Next, the author highlights the benefits of technology, but contrasts them with the many negative effects technology causes on student learning, including the breakdown of reading for comprehension and the increase of multitasking. Finally, the author provides strategies for both parents and teachers to help maintain the appropriate and necessary use of technology. Parents and teachers must provide students with strategies so they realize that technology does not replace traditional learning and that digital literacy requires the same, if not more, rigor as traditional reading and writing.
Therefore, I say farewell and enjoy your winter break! I am glad to have shared the experience of this course with all of you and I hope to collaborate again in another course.
Due to technical nature of technical communication (I know, big surprise!) we, as professionals, must address ethics and how they’re related to technology. Clearly, ethical concerns arise in any field of work, but they relate to technical communication differently than other areas.
I think many of us who currently work for any (type of) company that requires the use of computers, the internet, and/or email, have had to sign an “acceptable use,” “internet use,” or “email use” agreement. (If not, stay tuned. I’m sure one will be coming to you soon enough.) Acceptable use policies are becoming more common, as employers are limiting what employees can and cannot access at work and protecting themselves in case of the possible reprimand of an employee. The reason employers have to limit the use of the internet is that the internet is everywhere. Compare surfing the internet to watching a TV show. What do these activities have in common? Both are entertaining activities that you can partake in at home. What’s different? You can surf the internet at work, but you cannot watch TV at work (unless it’s part of your job, obviously. However, I don’t think most of use sit around with a TV readily available at work). Engaging in internet use is something people can do anywhere and, as a result, companies have created policies so their employees know the expectations of acceptable use of computers and the internet. Although Katz and Rhodes seem to abandon the idea of limiting employees’ use of the internet and email, I think this is a fair ethical standard as long as the policy is consistent, clearly stated, and frequently mentioned. I work as a teacher for a large school district and the acceptable use policy in my school district is stricter than strict, but the Human Resources department does a good job of communicating expectations to employees. My school has signs posted in every area used predominantly by teachers informing us that they are monitoring us via email, internet, and video surveillance. Furthermore, the Director of Human Resources sends out periodic emails informing employees that they will subject to investigation for inappropriate email and internet use. I know of teachers who would probably engage in inappropriate technology use if they weren’t so fearful of being investigated. However, the Director has definitely scared most of us enough to leave our personal business at home.
Katz and Rhodes discuss the idea that many companies expect employees to use email for “neutral” purposes, or messages that do not contain any incriminating information. Is it possible to separate an employee’s necessary work from the internet? What if employers only allowed employees to communicate with coworkers in a “neutral” way when talking f2f, too? I don’t think limiting the way employees interact with one another through email is a fair ethical standard in the workplace. As a teacher, I am explicitly told not to communicate with the parents of students in any that they would consider questionable. If I need to contact a parent about grades or behavior, the administrators at my school encourage teachers to contact the parent by telephone because, unless the parent records the conversation, it cannot be used against the teacher later. Due to the number of schools and teachers getting sued, this is what email communication as a teacher has boiled down to. I think society has taken a turn for the worst in this regard. I don’t think teachers should be fearful of backlash based on their communication via the internet, especially when the communication is work-related (about their child). Sadly, I have to edit myself when emailing parents and usually just step away from my computer and pick up the phone. I don’t mind calling parents, but I think I should be able to email them if I want to. In my opinion, I should not have to worry about the details of an email message when communicating with my students’ parents, but with lawsuits and teacher investigations, that is what teachers of today must consider.
In technical communication, and in every area of work that uses email, the internet, and computers, we must consider ethical issues. In the future, I would like to see the standards change. I think that some limitations on computer, internet, and email use is acceptable to some degree, but I think trust in a competent employee can be much more powerful than constantly monitoring every aspect of an employee’s work life.
Thus far in the course, we have read about individuals using the Web to find work, love, and entertainment. Now, at last, we have read about the audience and the implications for a digital world. I feel like what we learned in this week’s readings are somewhat no-brainers because we are becoming so incredibly familiar with technology and digital literacy, but nonetheless, the authors presented many excellent points. However, when my eyes scanned the sentence that mentions, “audiences of digital documents may different from those of print documents,” I almost chuckled to myself (Blakeslee, 2010, p. 201). Blakeslee also mentions that now, nearly all texts that technical communicators design is created for digital use, which means that even if a text is in print, likely, a digital version also exists.
When technical communicators create texts explicitly for use on the Web, they need to keep several factors in mind. They need to know how readers will engage in the texts, the frequency readers will use the documents, the scenario in which readers will use the text, and the expectations readers have. As a result, designing texts for the Web is a complicated process. In digital texts, users have a greater opportunity to engage their readers. For example, readers of an online text have the ability to leave comments on a text and provide a technical communicator with immediate feedback.
As a K-12 educator, I envision the increase for digital literacy within the next decade. In the future, it will be nearly impossible to survive in the world without digital literacy skills. The need to read and write digital texts will continue to grow as desktop computers, mobile phones, tablets, and laptops become obligatory in school and workplace settings. So, what specific skills will readers need to be deemed “digitally literate?”
First, basic reading and writing skills are necessary to begin becoming digitally literate. A reader must have the ability to read scholarly information of higher reading levels and to construct highly effective pieces of writing in a digital setting. Next, familiarity with various technologies is also an important digital literacy skill. A reader must be able to use the Web, word processors, and other programs to design and publish information. Additionally, the ability to search and locate through various technological tools is vital to becoming digitally literate. Readers need must be able to use computers, mobile phones, etc. to their advantage. Readers must also be able to evaluate digital sources and determine their credibility. As I mentioned last week, with so many “voices” on the Web, it is critical for a digitally literate reader to be able to decipher which texts he/she can trust. Furthermore, digitally literate must be able to determine what not to read. With information so readily available, readers usually do not have the time to read everything, so they must have the skill to determine relevance.
In my opinion, readers of digital texts need even more skills than do traditional readers. For most of us now, the transition from traditional to digital is complicated. However, since the children of today are born with a mobile phone in one hand and a laptop in the other, digital literacy skills will continue to develop and change, as new technologies develop in the future.
Information design and content management are two terms that I knew existed, but they never would have crossed my mind. Technical communicators write and create their documents, but must also design the way they distribute information and manage what they write. Most people only consider the writing part of a technical communicator’s job, but these are tasks in which technical communicators have always engaged. Before the Web grew in popularity, technical communicators kept track and managed their writing in hard copy formats. However, with the enormous increase of documents being created and distributed online, somebody must be responsible for maintaining it: “Search and retrievability – or findability – as well as navigability become increasingly important as the information age produces more documents than ever before” (Salvo & Rosinski, p. 103). A document is useless if the user cannot navigate it or cannot properly access it. I imagine a digital filing cabinet and a technical communicator working diligently to keep it organized. I have created a visual to aid with my giant digital filing cabinet analogy.
I took a stab at defining the two terms:
- Information design – creating or establishing a text using a set of principles to improve the readability of a document
- Content management – maintaining the usability and searchability of a document so that it can be accessed by users
So, in terms of information design, technical communicators “[design] information in written documents so that those who put ideas to work can access content when needed” (Salvo & Rosinski, p. 105). With the increase of electronic documents, it is important that technical communicators consider the format of their document. If they want their users to be able to open up an electronic file and type their information directly into the file, they must design it in such a way. Design in a key element in helping readers understand the document. Also, technical communicators are “charged not merely with the activity of writing, but also with […] looking after the information assets of the organization” (p. 128). Increasingly, technical communicators are responsible for keeping the information they write organized so users can locate it. If a graphic designer creates a company logo, it will fall on the technical communicator to keep a digital copy of the company’s logo managed so that the marketing department, and any other departments, can locate it for their work.
Technical communicators use various systems for designing information and for maintaining documents. InfoDesign is a blog that provides technical communicators with current information and communication strategies. Technical communicators can use the tags to search for posts about a relevant topic. Companies have many options in terms of managing their content. CMS Matrix allows users to sort through a list of 1,200 content management systems and compare selected systems. Top Ten Reviews contained numerical data comparing the most popular content management systems.
So does this giant digital filing cabinet create more work for a technical communicator? I don’t think so, unless the technical communicator is not properly designing and managing his content. I think properly designing information and managing it correctly can actually help a technical communicator be more productive in the long run.
As someone who is not currently working in the field of technical communication, I enjoyed the introduction of 21st Century Theory and Practice and the chapter by Saul Carliner. I enjoyed reading about the changes of the field that I aspire to join in the near future.
The field of technical communication has evolved so much during the past 25 years, because technical communication is such a computer-driven field. As I read through Chapter 1, I made a mental comparison of my father’s career path. The chapter reminded me of my father’s job, which I wrote about in my technology literacy narrative during the first week of class. A major influence on my technological upbringing, he started his job in 1986 with the job title of Data Processing Manager in one person department at a small school district in south central Kansas. Now in 2013, his job title is Director of Information Technology and he manages over 15 full-time employees who report to him on a daily basis. The reason his job changed, like technical communication, is because it had no choice. You can’t keep going to middle school if you have been promoted to 9th grade. The same is true for technology. You can’t keep using an outdated system when everyone else moves to the more advanced system. The only way technical communication could survive was to embrace every change it ever faced.
To connect the chapter with the introduction of the book, the opening page states only some 2% of hospitals have made the transition to digital (p. 1). I think it is unfair and unrealistic to think that gigantic operations, such as hospitals, can suddenly make the leap from paper to paperless in a matter of years. They were never expected to become digital until recently, unlike technical communication, so they did not take the technology tip and transition gradually. Hospitals have been doing business just like normal. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely think hospitals becoming paperless will be benefit the hospitals, insurance companies, and patients, I just don’t see it happening in the immediate future. According to Forbes in January 2013, only 1.8% of hospitals have an electronic record system in place. Many hospitals, according the article, are not ready and are asking for more time, despite the amount of money they have received to assist in their transition from paper to paperless. I worked at a very large hospital in the accounting department part-time while I was in college. The reason I got the job, in fact, was to help transition their invoice system to a streamlined digital process. The hospital was trying to use a new system, called GHX, and there were so many hiccups with the system that they extended my employment by an additional year.
I compare it to teaching my 80-year old grandfather to set up an email account and get a cellphone. It took YEARS for my family to convince him to set up an email account and use a cellphone. After he finally did, it took quite a while for him to be able to use his new technology correctly. Asking people to change from one habit to another, especially when they have been doing things the same for a long time, is unrealistic and requires a great deal of time.
To conclude, I am not surprised that technical communication has made so many leaps in the digital age. Such changes and adjustments are necessary for the continuation of the field. I hope to learn more about the programs and software I will be using when I start working in a technical communication field, but who knows if they will even be the same by that time!