SCMLA: Technical Writing I

In live blogging this conference, I am following the conventions for conference blogging.

Brian Blackburne at Sam Houston State University
“An Xtra-Special Use of New Media in the Technical Writing Classroom”

We use it in our own lives: blogs, fb, Google Docs, YouTube, social media…
Students are using social media but not using it in a good way.

Industry follows popular trends:
Geico and Toyota used Xtra.
Toyota let them “make your own story.”
6-8 companies have asked Blackburne to spearhead their social media campaigns
relevant in field of tech comm

Employers seek “social media” experts:
1000+ jobs
83 looking for social media in marketing

Students need us to:
bridge gap
encourage them in how to practice rhetorical analysis
apply traditional rules to new media

overview of software:
What is Xtranormal?
all online
3-D modeling
100+ actors
socially integrated- can post to YouTube, Twitter, etc
Hundreds of characters. Can have one or two characters.

Can do your own cuts or let them do

Why use Xtranormal?
Serves as an icebreaker
Teaches students new skills
Remediates typical writing
Engages students as creators, testers, and editors (Software doesn’t cooperate with everything they do.)

Use it as:
Introductory assignments
rhetorical analysis and audience awareness
team development
in-class workshop early on (great way to get them excited about the class)

What are the goals?
Involve students in everyday business scenarios
Use “fun” tech in a meaningful way
Foster team work
Engage students as critics and evaluate

The assignment:
One assignment: Had them create the plagiarism policy for the university.
In a possible scenario
work for the university
teach a policy to incoming students
They choose the winner.

Challenges (& fun):
synthesizing information
professionalizing the tool: tone, idiom, and formality
managing roles: writer, editor, and evaluator

knowledge (define the policy)
comprehension (understand the meaning of the policy and be able to rephrase/reframe it)
application (translate writer/editor/manager into group work)
analysis (what parts of the plagiarism policy are most important, do the students not understand)
synthesis (putting the plagiarism policy into a coherent discussion between two characters in an interesting and informative way)
evaluation (how well was the video done)
Note: The parts in the parentheses are my additions.

New version launched Oct. 26th.
Just launched yesterday.
“The New Teacher’s Pet”
$10/mth and $.50 a student in each class
Allowing grading within the version
Use it focusing on teachers teaching students, but I use it the other way.
Learning can be hard (the studetns realize).

What’s next with the research?
working with students
collecting data: perceptions and performance
sharing research


Deb Williams at Abilene Christian University
“To Google Docs or Not: Making More Informed Choices with Technology”

Students leave classroom without an understanding of when to use what and exactly how to use it.
I am using business writing because tech writing is not being recognized by university.

Business Writing Issues:
thoughtful use of tech
application of course principles and theory
rhetorical issues

Our Issues:
knowledge of or willingness to learn the tech
appropriate assignments
appropriate pedagogies

A combination of pedagogies, especially service learning when used in learning teams frames the classroom with a “work-place” perspective, helps students to have a stronger sense of how to use what kinds of technology, how to generate documents, etc.

Part of the problem is the delivery system.
Apple-focused university.
Not everything they can do in their workplace.
WebX account- for distance education program, but can’t present work of English. Excellent, expensive.

Free trial sections. But they often use credit cards.

One of best sites is “the vyew” for team work. Free option. Don’t have to put in a credit card.
Students and teachers can work together, especially to work with teams. Can carve out time online for group meeting.
You can make different folks the main presenter, with uploading capabilities.
They can take this into the workplace.
helps write collaboratively
easier version of WebX
team running

Google Docs
Employers are saying students don’t write together well.
We have Gmail and Google Docs (PowerPoints, spreadsheets, documents). Share with a few a lot, give different levels of accessibility.

Google Docs is still clunky, doesn’t support a lot that their documents are going to have to do.
Spacing is set by Google Docs.

Or do you email around a Word document with reviewer toolbox?
That works very well within academics and workplace.

Students need to understand when to use the technology.
Students need to think about
audience (do they know, will they understand, can they access)
purpose: needs for the document

Why should students care?
Service learning
–prepares students to be responsible citizens
–offers a course-based service experience that produces the best outcomes
We want them to have sensitivity about constraints. They get that with service learning.

Problem with service learning:
If you send them to the client, they will often take lots of time the client doesn’t have and not create something that the client can use.

Quality control:
Learning Teams (Larry Michaelsen; Dee Fink)
Individual accountability for tehory (occurs outside class)
Individual accountability to the team
Teacher-observed application of theory/principles creates more learning opportunities

Go with an entire fiction in the classroom, creating a technical firm that is being hired by the various nonprofits. Present professor as senior writer and students as teams of other writers. This helps establish the pattern of approval and questions tend to go to the professor rather than the client (and thereby helping the client rather than overwhelming them with a rash of student requests for information).

Teams must be thoughtfully formed and managed.
Students must be made accountable.

The Keys
No technology for its own sake. There must be a reason for its implementation.

Offer rhetorical context(s) through pedagogy(ies) and assignments. Make these explicit.

Learn from/with students. Don’t isolate yourself from the learning experience your students are having. As you try new things, you can learn as well. Share that learning experience with the students.


Michael Charlton at Missouri Western University
“One Font, Two Fonts, Red Fonts, Blue Fonts: Teaching Design Software to Technical Communications”

1. Tech comm has long recognized doc design choices matter.
2. Tech comm students need to understand and apply basic principles of doc design as part of professionalization.
3. Students often don’t see design as important.
4. Sometimes they resist because of the design of the software itself.

Teaching Desktop Publishing
EPR 326 (English Public Relations)– required
BS in Speech Comm with a public relations concentration
also master’s in Public Relations
taught spring semester (20-25 students) All the computer labs can hold.
is a design class
Required software: Adobe Creative Suite, mostly teach in design

textbook: Robin Williams The Non-Designer’s Design

Learn professional grade design software:
applicaton of commonly accepted design choices
practice working for a “real world” client
making connections between the visual document and its overall meaning

Major assignments:
Business stationery (business card, letterhead, envelopes)
newspaper (later web-based)
postcard and brocuhere
newsletter (client project)
poster (ethics assignment: poster offering credit cards to freshmen)
final assignment:

tech comm students were struggling with the class–
particular signal error problem
Look of doc would be sloppy
Students had difficulty making initial choices in graphics, colors, etc
When asked to defend choices, would concentrate on words, the verbal text.

Pressed to use “white space” or “eye relief” in defense, didn’t do that. Contextually they use different words to explain their texts:
cohesive (visual) v. coherent (verbal)
arrangement (visual) v. paragraphing (verbal)
proximity (visual) v. sequence (verbal)

How important is the look of doc to the reader?
How do you think you did with the look of the document?
There is bias. I’m the “visual rhetoric nerd.”
Only 12 students.

All but one said:
doc design choices are unimportant
doc design choices are separate from the text

“I take care of the words”

“Everybody knows what really matters is what you have to say”
“I’m good at words, not pictures.”

Students enjoy the class but do not understand.

The only outlier
“I get the feeling that what it says and how it looks are kind of the same thing.”
An improvement on a simple form/content binary.

Tech comm students don’t connect at least partially because of the software.
Preconceptions and cultural bias toward text as more “meaningful.”
Problems with structure and instructure
Lack of scaffolding in the degree as a whole.
Need to serve multiple audiences and disciplines.
Problem with the software itself.

CS4 (In design’s menu)
Content choices separated from design choices.
Little attention paid to copy. Everything is about layout and design. That would be fine, except it is supposed to balance layout and composition.
Stressed (by menus) = spacing, font choice, color choice
5 color backgrounds, can create your own color
BUT very few ways to edit text.
A text box and that’s all.
Even in that, there are font selection, emphasis of font, weight of font. No spellcheck in the software.
–Adobe has completely ignored the textual component.
Something else: no review menu (no preview), no overall check.
Menus are all visual issues.
Software reinforces their idea that text and visuals are separate.

Software reinforces their idea that text and visuals are separate.

Everything in the program is about layout.

recognize the limitations of software and communicate the RHETORICAL effects of doc design
explain how the software exacerbates problems
ironic programs of bad design
Stress the software as something STUDENTS use.


Elizabeth Tebeaux from Texas A&M
“Technical Writing and Social Media: A Contradiction of Terms and Realities”

Honors: about half class cannot write a good squeaky clean sentence

In groups, bad habits get reinforced.
Classes are enormous so lots of collaborations are being done.
I’m trying to make sure they are ready for the workplace– mostly engineers.

Essentials of Technical Communication: Nobody Wants to Read What You Write
little book by Elizabeth Tebeaux and Sam Dragg
5×7, fits in backpack
less than $50 on Amazon (why we haven’t revised)

Students think people want to read what they write.
Teachers are the only people who read what they write.

One of my real concerns is security.
Social media is not safe and not secure.

A&M has a Homeland Security office.
I don’t have fb, don’t have YouTube.
Many financial and research organizations don’t use social media.
Using them lets criminals know you are alive. That you are there.

Collects news on security issues.
Talk about them in class.
Students don’t understand or get security rules.
They can get fired for fb over lunch.

A teacher in Texas gave the answers to the TAKS test and put that on fb.
She was out of a job within a week.
You never know who is looking at what you write.

Secure social media is a contradiction of terms.

Third world countries are looking at fb as much as US.
They are looking at and paying attention to stuff.

Out there and stays there:
No telling who is going to read what they upload.
Bright students, but they have never thought about this.
I tell them to stop spilling your guts on fb. Think about it: 20 years from now, do you want this out there?

Remind students that if they violate security protocols, that is a major crime.
The same rules that protect us (FERPA) protect everybody else.
Sometimes we are only 8 hours ahead of the hackers.
You know about the breeches the Chinese have done with our Dept of Defense computers.
“Anonymous” is the group of hackers that give things on the cloud to EVERYONE.
Students need to be careful.

Rhetoric of fear
Need to think about the audience…

HIPPA won’t let you fax or email your health information.
Because the information can get out if they are sent over the net or the phone.

The intellectual property of the firm IS the organization.
You cannot separate it.
“If somebody gets hold of this, what can they do with it?”
Don’t ever talk about your company online.
There will be rules about what you can do with telephones and computers.
If you have a company cell phone, your phone discussions.

Google: Detroit mayor and text messages
They are online.
Lurid text messages between mayor and his aide

Every text message you send can be used legally.

Use a separate credit card for online.
Only one card for online stuff.
W/ City Bank. (They are the best for hinky stuff.)

Our students have to use company browsers appropriately.
A&M fired a guy for his lunch-hour browsing of porn sites.

Spend a lot of time on the security and safety issues.

Pair in Mexico sent out tweets with false information about murders.
Some people died because of that false tweet.
30 years prison sentence for those tweeters.

More and more companies (police organizations and towns) are tracking what people are doing on facebook.

That’s a rhetorical situation.

We can take several papers and look at them.

What if we went on facebook and looked at someone’s information? What could we find out about them? What if we were someone who was looking to hire them? What if we were someone looking to smear them? The ad goes out to 15 companies, if you click on something 15 folks know what you are clicking on.

email sent about “not going to waste money on that little town”

Social media thing from town.

Read your paper… Or ask students to bring things to class about breaches. … We have 20 minutes between classes and several students bring things to class.

“Rhetoric of Fear”

Fb pages for employers. Brian gives out a list of questions that the students have to answer using their own social media.

FB: Student groups have been shut down, unfunded, or suspended for inappropriate actions.

One prof every semester: “How many of you would like to share your facebook page with us?”
No one has ever said yes.

The engineering firms have someone who checks the social media specifically.

Teach hardline graphics, because there is a need for this.
Work on basic, foundational correspondence.
Email etiquette.

Set up a case:
Students had to write a group of people and tell them they weren’t going to have jobs.
The president agreed to look at them.
The students don’t know how to be tactful.

FBI didn’t like fb because of security level.

When I teach tech writing, the students love the visual design things, but not on the words. I teach graphic designs students.

Having students do it on MSWord helps students focus on design and yet words are strong.

Newsletters are often taught in Word because that is common and available.

Service Learning: Must connect to course. So you could have them work in food bank, but then they write a reflection page about their experience.

How would someone who is teaching first year comp adopt the principles of writing for a client?
FYC students could write the inquiry letters.
Newsletters could be written by the first year students. Data is gathered, but a matter of arranging it. So perhaps they could take on the writing.
Fund-raising letters.
Gather and write info for grant writing, if nonprofits could articulate ideas.
One thing I had them do was to rewrite the materials for student orientation. (They worked with HR and it changed.)
Look at the work your university is doing and how to improve the docs.

Looked at websites as visual and verbal rhetoric. Websites had a huge impact on my applying there.
Need a rhetorically appropriate website. Otherwise people will be turned off.
Technical design and rhetoric websites specifically should have excellent websites.

Working in industry keeps you fresh and current.

Teach Humanities classes, so many future graphic artists and animators.
Have students who devote their lives to graphic design and a lot of times they are sad that it is already out there.

Look for the gap.

We are not developing technical writers at A&M but they know how to write so they end up writing it.

Troubled personally and professionally about my senior English majors who could not write a grammatically correct sentence.

Will pull the awful sentences out of the paper, put them online, and we edit them together.
The students’ sentences get better.
Part of the problem is that our colleagues lack abilities to mark.
People quit teaching grammar.

Contextualization of grammar.

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