Have you thanked your technical writer today?

The Mojo of technical communication and writing as mused by Dr. Lu Kondor

Friday, October 18, 2013

Harvard Business School Launching Online Learning Initiative

Confession, I do read Bloomberg when I get a chance (among the multitude of various blogs, magazines, e-zines etc. you get the picture). So I found the recent article on Harvard Business School Launching Online Learning Initiative very interesting since I teach online. OK - this is a bit off topic for technical communication but it applies to transferring of knowledge in a technical manner. I was excited to read schools like Wharton placing their course curriculum online. In my opinion the future of academics will definitely be in the realm of online education. I think it is essential for many students who can not commute on a daily basis for a variety of reasons to have options. As the article says it won't replace face-to-face education but I think it allows learning to continue for many of us where obligations prevent us from spending extra hours in a car or other form of transportation to get to a campus or those who have a spouse and/or children  need to be able to take care of those obligations.

 The most common negative element I have heard grumbled from colleagues in academia is the lack of communication among professors and students or students in a class room. That has not been my experience with online classes. More contact is made because there is an abundance of technologies and ways to connect with students and teachers. With all the latest technologies, I can't see communication taking a back seat. I should know, I went through a hybrid program for my doctorate and I have taught both online as well as in a classroom.

While some university professors look down on online education and feel it is inferior, I must disagree strongly. Education at any institution is what you make it to be as both a student and a teacher. Understanding the difficulties people have in leaving their comfort zone of the way education has been taught in the past, I struggle dealing with many who would rather bash new methods of teaching than research finer details first. The thing that is important is we must all keep an open mind. There was a point in time where women were not allowed in most Universities because of their gender and that change was hard fought and won, yet the university systems didn't fail because of change. Online education is here to stay as a change as well.  I hope that in the future technology can be embraced as just another learning tool in the tool box professors use to teach with.

Bloomberg article Harvard Business School Launching Online Learning Initiative

Friday, October 11, 2013

Writing Surveys to Collect Technical Information at Organizations

I have recently finished writing a number of surveys to acquire technical information from users. I actually love creating surveys because I learn a great deal about asking all the right questions for the information I need. They are also a collaborative effort sometimes involving quite a few individuals from subject matter experts to management.I thought I would write about it because I think this aspect of technical communication is rarely thought about. Here's what I have learned on creating surveys from my recent batch of them. I'm not getting technical like the type of instrument such using a Likert scale, but more in the area of basic ideas to keep in mind.
  1. Focus on writing a quality survey. Talk to your subject matter experts for research
  2. Do some usability testing - this step for me really counts. I find having a few people in your target audience try out the survey really helps.
  3. Change it as necessary - feel free to change or customize a survey for best results, especially if users test and you discover readability issues.
  4. Never assume users understand the questions. Make sure you rid yourself of a question if it isn't meeting the scope of the survey or standards you work by.
  5. Keep an open-minded attitude on the survey and the data collected. This is definitely something I learned getting my doctorate. Also watch for outliers and think about them. You may or may not want to discard them but don't ignore them.
  6. Focus on data and metrics that are actionable. Remember you need results to tell you something about what you are asking.
  7. Finally, get more involved feedback from users, subject matter experts etc. That way you can continuously modify if the survey is ongoing.
Now my approach for my current surveys  is slightly different from research I have conducted for academic data collection I have performed in so far as I am involved with far more individuals while designing the survey than I was in grad school. This means there will be far more compromises on the questions as far as rigid research standards go but I do find better data collection usually takes place because as everyone works together better questions are formed to retrieve the data organizational management wants. The one thing that doesn't differ however, is the grave attention to detail. That is a must for any survey.