Author Archives: srherbert

Farewell and enjoy your winter break!

Seasons greetings!

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.

Happy holidays!

What’s the limit? Limiting computer, internet, & email at work

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.

What does it take to be “digitally literate?”

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 wph.i.am.rockville202.jpgeek, 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.

Too Much Technology Creates Communication Problems

According to Bernadette Longo, everyone has a voice, but we do not hear some voices in the digital world.  So who determines which voices we hear?  I thought this was a great conversation starter.  I consider the World Wide Web a place where anyone can say anything, although we do not always hear the people with the best voices, but instead the people with the most popular voices.  In our culture, people expect to be able to say whatever they would like freely.  People promote the ideas they like the most, which is why we hear the most popular voices.  Thus far, I have used the term “voice” to represent a person’s digital thoughts, opinions, and ideas.   However, perhaps a little ironic, I think our ability to use our “voice” to communicate with another digital has led to the decline in our ability to communicate with each other in the physical world.  I believe that too much technology has created a community of people who feel comfortable enough to hide behind their computers and use their voices, but uncomfortable or intimidated in real communication settings.  Is technology creating social barriers or social connections?

Dating.  Over the past 10 years, the stigma of online dating has worn off as people are warming up to the concept.  But has starting an online dating profile affected our ability to communicate with one another?  Perhaps.  Online dating may hinder our ability to notice social cues and judge someone’s body language.  Quoted in a CNN article, Blake Eastman, a body language expert said, “People have an easier time picking out an emoticon to display the emotion they are feeling rather than actually showing it on their face” (Strickland, 2013).  Also quoted in the same article, dating coach Adam LaDolce says that people are fearful of rejection and, as a result, look to hide behind the computer screen instead of seeking organic relationships.  In my opinion, online dating can be useful for people who may having trouble meeting a mate in their daily life, but I am definitely a proponent for emerging from a hermit crab shell, venturing out in public, and striking up a conversation with a real person.  I think so much of communication, body language for instance, happens when we are with another person, and that aspect of communication is impossible to achieve through online dating.

Job Recruiting.  Qualman mentions the increase in online job recruiting.  Previously, employers paid big bucks to a “middleman,” such as a headhunter or agency, to seek out potential employees.  However, online job recruiting has eliminated the need to hire or pay for such services.  Now, websites such as a LinkedIn, enable employers and employees to directly contact one another.  Unlike Facebook or a similar social network, LinkedIn is strictly professional and allows users to post resume-like information on their profiles.  Users can also directly look at job postings and reach the hiring contact with the company.  LinkedIn can be a great tool for all parties.  However, does online job recruiting affect real life communication?  I think it can have an impact.  Before, professional social networking websites became popular, people contacted potential employers through written and verbal communication.  Today, people still do.  However, I think literacy skills as a whole are declining, and now the quality of the information people transmit to potential employers had decreased.  Especially if people are using sites like LinkedIn as their sole form of communication.  Furthermore, the quantity of information has decreased.  As mentioned in a previous week’s readings, people now seek speedy, truncated answers and do not spend time writing well-developed, quality responses.

Although I think human-machine relationships deteriorate human communication skills, I do not think they are entirely bad.  I believe that online communication can greatly affect our ability to communicate in person.  If we constantly meet people online, we will eventually lose our ability to interact in person and social skills will become nonexistent.  People need to use their “voices” to help, not hinder, their personal relationships with one another so that they do not ruin their real “voices.”

References

Strickland, A. (2013, Feb 12). The lost art of offline dating. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/12/living/lost-art-offline-dating/

A Giant Digital Filing Cabinet

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.

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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.

Very ‘pinteresting’: let social media users do the work

In Chapter 7 of Socialnomics, “Winners and Losers in a 140-Character World,” Erik Qualman discusses characteristics companies must now abide by if they plan to break even in a social-media driven world.  He provides the reader with examples of companies who have embraced social media and used it to grow and develop their companies.  Qualman also shares examples of companies who have the what’s-mine-is-mine mindset and have actually lost business due to their ignorance of social media, or their pure selfishness.  I was surprised when I read that Qualman thinks it’s acceptable to let others run your business for you, but his explanation makes sense: “Take advantage of what others who have already done the legwork to help you position your brand throughout the social media space” (p. 171).

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A comparison of Words with Friends and traditional Scrabble. Source: http://www.wired.com/geekmom/2012/10/hasbro-zynga-words-with-friends-board-game/

The example of Hasbro suing the makers of an application called Scrabulous helped Qualman prove his point.  If the company would have accepted the application or attempted to purchase it, they would have probably increased the number of customers instead of irritating people who already liked the application Scrabulous.  Reading this part of the chapter made me think of a similar application that is now popular: Words with Friends.  After doing some research, I found out that a company called Zynga developed the Words with Friends application that users can operate on smartphones, iPads, the computer, and other devices.  However, in 2012 a traditional version of the game was released.  Can anyone guess who was involved?  Yes, Hasbro.  I guess the company finally learned its lesson.  Although the traditional version of Words with Friends is basically the same as Scrabble, users who like the application (and younger users who may not even have ever played Scrabble) may prefer Words with Friends.

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A snapshot of Old Navy’s “Wear Us Out” board on Pinterest.  Source: http://www.pinterest.com/oldnavy/wear-us-out/

This lead to me think of how I have seen companies allow their customers to own the brand.  I am an avid Pinterest user.  On Pinterest, users can “pin” images they like to their virtual [bulletin] “boards.”  Users can see what their friends post and can “repin” something that a friend has already posted.  Users can also “tag” their followers in a post.  When I was off work over the summer, I used the application daily to look at fashion ideas and cookout recipes.  In June, I started following one of my favorite clothing brands – Old Navy.  Old Navy posts images of models wearing their latest trends, but the company also has a “board” dedicated to real people wearing their clothing called Wear Us Out.  Users can “tag” the company in an image, and it will show up on the “board.”  Old Navy representatives can also sort through tagged images, and then post the ones they like on the “board” too.  I think this is a brilliant idea to attract customers.  Of course, the models look good in Old Navy clothing.  However, their strategy makes me, as a customer, think that if these real people can put an outfit together with Old Navy clothing, I can too.  Old Navy is a great example of a company using social media to their benefit and letting customers do the work.

Technical Communicators, Prepare for the Future(!)

After several weeks of assigned readings, I think it is safe to say that technology changes and social media will continue to play an important role in pop culture, work life, and politics.  The internet and social media are here to stay and will continue to affect our lives, but, just like Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, I don’t think anyone knows exactly what impact they will have in the long run.  Although, how will technology changes and social media affect technical communicators, exactly?

  • Digital and print texts.  Due to increased digital literacy, technical communicators will continue to create texts designed especially for the internet.  Technical communicators must be able to design texts for print and hypertexts as long as the internet continues growing in use and accessibility.  In the future, technical communicators must master skills such as web design, in order to create effective documentation for users.
  • Different product, same user manual.  Technical communicators will need to be able to adapt their writings because “products being documented often differ from those that are mass produced” (Dicks, p. 58).  With the ability to custom order products to fit the customer’s lifestyle and needs, technical communicators must be willing to adapt the way in which they create user manuals or make them universal without being too vague.
  • Does this job come with benefits?  Many technical communicators will be “officially unemployed but constantly working. (p. 59).  Due to the changing needs of companies, technical communicators’ jobs will be contracted positions in the future.  To save money and office space, technical communicators will frequently work from home in the future, and employers will hire them on a temporary basis for special projects so that the company can avoid paying for an employee’s insurance and benefits.  Working from home can be a big benefit for employees.  According to a USA Today article, employees who work from home tend to be more productive and have a better work and life balance.

  • Social media.  I knew social media would be important for technical communicators after several of the assigned readings dealt with this topic, but I was still unsure of why so I needed to do some research.  Technical communicators will need to continue to embrace social media.  An article on InformationWeek explains that social media tears down the wall between the technical communicator and the user.  Furthermore, social media will encourage technical communicators to spend less time actually writing and more time curating the best wikis and videos to promote to users.  This change will somewhat devalue the role of the technical communicator, but will promote the role of community.

I hope these “tips” help you – I know that I will keep them in mind as I start looking for technical communicator positions!

My father, technical communication, hospitals, and my grandfather – What do they have in common?

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.

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GHX company logo from http://www.originbranding.com

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!

You’re not a real person unless you use social media

As a 24 year-old, I was in middle school and high school when social media became popular.  I was probably one of the first to use MySpace and Facebook.  However, now it seems like everyone uses some sort of social media anymore.  I hear (or read) comments such as these on a regular basis:

“Did you see latest my Facebook status?”

“What’s your Twitter name?  I want to tag you in a post!”

“Look at how many ‘likes’ I got on my Instagram photo!”

So my question is: can you be a real person in 2013 without using social media?  After consuming this week’s readings and finding an article about social media statistics, I am leaning towards no.  Below are some behavioral changes resulting from social media:

  • Keeping up with long distance family and friends has transformed from impossible to very possible.  When my boyfriend was on deployment with the U.S. Navy, we kept in touch through email and other social networking sites.  Now, I use Skype, Facebook, and [recently] Instagram to keep up with my very best friend who moved to South Korea in June.  She posts pictures of her sightseeing trips and travels; I “like” them and make comments regularly on Facebook and Instagram.  We try to communicate on Skype at least once every two weeks to keep each other up-to-date with our jobs and lives after college.  I am so grateful to have social media to stay in touch with such a dear friend.
  • Email is on its way out.  According to Chapter 2 in Qualman’s Socialnomics, “People are updating their status […] and it is much easier to read this and stay connected than to send a series of emails” (p. 46).  I agree with this completely.  In my personal experience, my friends and I used email before social media became popular.  Now, I think of email similar to how I think of snail mail.  Social media messaging functions and text messaging on cell phones is easy to manage and “acts like a real conversation among friends” (p. 46).  Besides, we are all checking our social media sites anyway.
  • As mention in the reading, “Would you like to go on a date?” is now “Do you have a Facebook page?”  As a “younger” woman, I am very aware of this practice.  Admittedly, I have engaged in this behavior.  I was in college between 2008 and 2012.  When I went to social gatherings, I would strike up conversations with guys who eventually asked for my social media contact information.  For example, after meeting someone at a Christmas party, he found me on Facebook through our mutual friend’s Facebook.  We communicated through the messaging function that way several weeks before we actually went on a date.

Social media has entered every realm of our lives and we can no longer hide from it.  Future employers use it to find incriminating information.  Current employers use it as grounds for firing their employees.  Long lost friends use it to reunite with their high school pals.  Companies use it to target prospective customers.  Now, it is impossible to be a person unless you use social media.  (Although I do not actually think people who do not use social media are not real people, the point I attempt to make is that nearly everyone uses some type of social media and it is changing our social patterns.)

References

Qualman, E.  (2009).  Socialnomics: How social media transforms the way we live and do business.  Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Testing, testing… What I’ve Learned from Blogging

Greetings, fellow bloggers.

ENGL-745 will be the third course I’ve taken requiring me to create regular blog posts.  As a result, I believe that I can share what I have learned in my experiences as a blogger  with confidence.  Feel free to read, reflect, and evaluate.

  • Blogging really put me “out there” in terms of who can see and read my posts.  On multiple occasions, I have had digital strangers bash on my ideas when I am simply trying to fulfill a post requirement for a course!  On the flip side, I have had friends call or text me to say “Hey! I was googling and found the blog you write for graduate school!”  Yes, this has happened to me!
  • Blogging can be very insightful and challenging.  Becoming a blogger is “taking control of your own learning, finding your own voice, and expressing your own opinions” (Walker, 2005, p. 2).  Although blogging is not considered academic writing, I have discovered that I learn more practical things from blog posts – I think it is important to have a mix of academic and practical.
  • Blogging requires me to engage in the rhetorical process much more than I had anticipated.  When I write my posts, I tend to take into consideration my fellow classmates and my professor (audience), decide the overall message I want to convey (purpose), and how the heck I am going to translate my ideas into to a fun blog post with a cool title (context).
  • Blogging is actually really difficult.   When I started blogging, I found it incredibly challenging to break away from formal writing and use “blog style.”  (When in doubt, use bullet points.)  I had to reassure myself multiple times that it was acceptable to use first person and less-than-academic language in my posts.
  • Blogging can create a sense of community.  I hope in this class, since we all belong to the same blog, we can grow and learn together.  We may not all always read the same texts or understand them in the same way, but I hope that over the course of the semester, we can put our digital heads together and create some insightful conversations!

I hope everyone is looking forward to getting started as much as I am!  Good luck fellow bloggers, and may the students of ENGL-745 Fall 2013 have the greatest blog posts yet!

References

Walker, J. (2005). Weblogs: Learning in public. On the horizon, 13(2), 112-118.