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Online Student Again, Part 11: I passed! 

“Alright then, you’ve proven that you aren’t a total pudding brain. Now, I want you to learn geo-quantum astrophysics next,” says the Doctor.

After a delay due to server hacks at Rutgers University, I finally got my grades while I was vacationing in Ireland. My final grade was a B+ for my Digital Marketing class! While in recent years, I have had a reputation of having a straight A average with my grad school level classes, I was not disappointed in this grade. As I may have mentioned in a previous post, I got an 82% on my final exam. The test was one where it was one shot at 50 multiple choice questions. If I hadn’t studied the quizzes and taken the quizzes multiple times to practice (they weren’t graded), I wouldn’t have passed. Most of the questions on the test were the same as the quizzes! So there’s that. Some of the questions, as they were worded, were NOT easy. Even so, with the fact that I got an 82/100, I was greatly relieved.

As for my Capstone project which involved more work and thought towards the practical application of the information we learned, I got a 95/100, or an A. I was happy about this, as this is the part of the grade I actually fretted over more. I knew it would be difficult, because I didn’t have any clear cut projects from work or situations to base my digital marketing strategy on. So, in my mind, this was an educated shot in the dark. I decided that I would base my project on something that was real for me. I’ve mentioned that I had been thinking of starting my own consulting business, and so I based my project on the idea of my proposed reality–I needed to come up with a plan to promote my fledgling company to gain brand recognition and acquire customers. That’s fairly straightforward. As I’ve mentioned many times before, I understood how to approach the digital part of the strategy, but not as clear with the marketing. So, I did the best I could, and labored over this project. It paid off. The commentary of what was missing was minimal, mostly about re-evaluating after gaining clients and reassessing the stats taken based on that. That makes sense, but let me get some clients first!

So, once the exam was averaged with the Capstone, I got an 88.5% for the class, also known as a B+. Considering that this was not an easy subject for me to study, I still think I did well. I did not think much of giving equal weight to the test and Capstone then averaging the grades. The test, while it tested students on concepts, wasn’t well written and it was not really practical. Ultimately, the Capstone project was a practical use of the information and more of a projection of what I’d really have to do in “real life”, thus it should have been worth more, because these kinds of strategies are what need to be brought into the real world. So in my mind, while it’s not official, I still got an A for the class because that was what I got for the Capstone.

So there you have it. I got a B+.

Would I take this course again? Probably. The experience was very different from doing my online Masters at NJIT. My studies at NJIT were much more structured and directed than this course at Rutgers. This online digital marketing course was 10 modules of about 10 videos per module. The information in the modules was excellent, and the instructors were top notch. I wouldn’t trade that. When I was able to go to the “virtual office hours”, the instructors were approachable.  However, I had to stay super-disciplined in watching all the videos (3-4 hours’ worth of information that could be dry content at times) every week. I didn’t have the chance to interact with fellow students almost at all to exchange ideas. It wasn’t as rich of an experience as I had enjoyed with NJIT. Despite the lesser things about this course’s delivery, I know that I will definitely use this information going forward.

So, I will shortly receive my mini-MBA in Digital Marketing from Rutgers soon in the mail. I suppose the question will be–what will the next course I take be, and when? I don’t know yet. I’m the eternal learner, so I look forward to that answer, too.

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Plain language always wins. Always.

Businessman Midair in a Business MeetingI love it when I’m inspired to write a blog post due to something that I read through social media. In this case, this morning I saw a Facebook post written by Jack Molisani, author of Be The Captain of Your Career, executive director of the Lavacon Conference, and technical recruiter that intrigued me. His post is listed below with his permission. It stated:

Just read this in a resume:

“Sophisticated, results-driven Program Management professional with a demonstrated ability to successfully lead business or technical initiatives with demonstrated experience in IT Governance, cost and schedule management, leadership, cost estimating, and infrastructure management covering full life-cycle application development & integration, data management, strategy & IT architecture implementations/roll-outs.”

First thought: Sophisticated? He wears shirts with frilly cuffs and drinks tea with his pinky up?

Second thought: Run-on sentence. Can’t communicate well in writing.

Oh candidates, why must thou shootest thouselfs in thine own feet?**

I definitely agree with Jack’s assessment. The run-on sentence is particularly bad.

The thing that caught my eye even more was the language used. As Jack alluded, it initially implies some sort of sophistication or high-intelligence level.  But in the end, couldn’t this candidate have simply said, “I am a successful and reliable project manager with experience in X, Y and Z”?   I mentioned to Jack that I would not be surprised that the candidate wrote this way because many job descriptions for openings are written similarly.

One of my greatest frustrations when I did job searches in the past was getting through wordy job descriptions, as they were written in the same gobbledy-gook language used by this candidate. WHY? Is this done for the purpose of weeding out candidates from the get-go, as if to say, “If you can’t read this, then you must be too stupid for this job”? I’ve often gotten that feeling.  Or, I’ve read many job descriptions that sound much grander than they are–again, much like this candidate’s description of himself–only to find that it’s a basic job with several steps, and it’s not that hard to do. The job description was only made to sound like more than what it really is, which is what this candidate was trying to achieve, I’m sure.

This made me think about plain language use, and how it’s starting to take hold in technical communications. I’m really glad about this shift. Why? To be honest, I’m an idiot. While I have a solid education, and can speak and write fairly well, how often will you hear me using the $10 words? Rarely. The use of “fancy” language alienates people, and in my case, it overwhelms me. My brain can’t always process it sufficiently. I find that technical writing is similar to translating complicated English into simplified or plain-language English.  Since I’ve learned how to do that over many years, it’s become a little bit easier for me to process. But, most people don’t have that internal filter. They hear or read, “Blah, blah, blah,” as Jack implied in his reaction above.

A follow-up comment to Jack’s post by one individual pointed out that this is how business people are taught to write. That’s a good point. I would also point out that legal professionals have the same issue. Have you ever tried to read “legal-ese”? It’s just crazy. I remember an early assignment in grad school required us to look up the local legal codes in our towns, and “translate” the legal mumbo-jumbo into plain language. I remember mine clearly, as it directly related to my house. Put into plain English, the particular housing code from my town stated that if you have a pool in your backyard, you have to have a fence around it for legal and insurance purposes; if you didn’t, you’d be fined. Simple enough, right? Not if you read the original language.

Why are business and legal professionals still writing as they did a century ago? Who are they trying to impress? In our current digital age, it’s a pointless endeavour.  We are a society of instant gratification. We need people to get straight to the point. This is most evident with the proliferation of mobile devices. We need information to be short, fast, and quickly comprehensive.  Writing in the “sophisticated” language used by that the job candidate above isn’t going to help anyone anymore.  We need to be able to communicate with customers and citizens in a way that everyone can understand. This is not the dumbing down of language as we know it, necessarily. As I said earlier, using grandiose language alienates the reader, especially if the reader is trying to find out basic facts. All Jack wanted to know was whether this person qualified for the job.  Instead, he had to translate what the person was saying before he could determine that, and that act in itself turned Jack off to this candidate. It’s not a good reaction to have.

Plain language is not simplifying language for the less-educated. It’s a simplification of content at its best. Technical communicators and universities (and yes, I’ll even say it, all schools in general) have to start teaching their students to have a full understanding of rich vocabularies, yet choose words wisely to communicate the best message possible. Tech comm does that in aces. We need to get the business schools and law schools (among others) on board with this concept.

So, Candidate, if you want to get in Jack’s good graces (or anyone’s good graces for that matter), you’d be better off writing in plain language. If you pick up a copy of Jack’s book, too, you’ll get some other hints that will make you a more viable candidate. Get to work!

**Update: a few hours after I originally posted this, it appears the either Facebook is hiding the post, or Jack took it down. I know that some of the comments he got showed that people misinterpreted his intention and purpose of the post, and perhaps it got too heated to keep the post up, which is a shame. I definitely did get his permission first before I “reprinted” it here.  I support Jack’s intention in sharing the information, because I know that he didn’t publically humiliate a specific person by name or inference, and his purpose was to show how a recruiter really does react to a poorly written resume. Jack’s business, and by extension his recent book, are meant to be guides to helping anyone get a good job. Jack has continually pointed out that many of the steps needed are so basic. This is what he was trying to point out in the post he wrote above. I suppose I understand his position because I’ve been the candidate enough times that I actually know that the smallest things–like what Jack pointed out with this candidate–have made the difference as to whether I got an interview or not. The other perspective I understand is that as a recruiter. While I’m not a recruiter, my mother owned her own agency for years, so I learned a lot from her about what that business entails, and it’s not an easy job. So for that, I understand where Jack was coming from. He wasn’t being antagonistic, but rather it was a remark of frustration. –techcommgeekmom

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Video Killed the Radio Star – @TechCommGeekMom Style

I’m really excited about this! I’ve been waiting to tell y’all about this, and now I can!

A few months ago, the director of NJIT‘S Master’s of Science in Professional and Technical Communication
(MSPTC) program asked me if I would be willing to do a video about my experiences as an MSPTC student and graduate, and some of the opportunities the program has afforded me. Of course, I was honored that she asked me, and I said yes! So on several particularly hot days in late June and early July, a fellow graduate from the program who works for NJIT’s communications department came down to my hometown and filmed this video.

Yes, that’s really me in the flesh. Yes, those are my own words. I was just asked to talk about certain topics, and nothing is scripted at all (well, it’s scripted from my head, but nothing was memorized). I thought I was stiff during the filming, but my–I admit I’m rather animated! Just imagine what it’s like when I’m up doing a regular presentation! LOL

You can click on the image in this post (a still from the video) or you can click on this link:

Or, if you’d like me to speak in person–contact me! (See the “About TechCommGeekMom” tab above.) Hey, if I can get some more speaking gigs, that would be good, wouldn’t it?

Let me know how I did in the video! 🙂

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Back to School (as a TechCommGeekMom)


Someone mentioned to me recently that as “TechCommGeekMom” that I seem to concentrate on being the “TechCommGeek” than the “Mom” in my posts. I don’t think that’s necessarily true, since I do talk about my son often enough, but it’s true that I do mainly try to center my writings about tech comm and m-learning/e-learning geekery, but perhaps it’s time to think more about adding some more parent-centric postings.

And just as a warning–this is a true test of using mobility, as I’m typing this on my iPad while on vacation, so this will truly test how mobile *I* can be to do most of the things I like to do more than 600 miles from home.

Recently, the following article came to my attention:

Guest Post: Core Skills for Technical Writers Often Overlooked

In this article, the author talks about how many of the basic, fundamental functions of being a good technical communicator are lost. Writing cover letters, resumes and follow-up correspondence with well-written, grammatically correct technical aspects are now missing. He questions how that could be lost, and how that needs to be recovered.

I agree, not only as a technical communicator, but also as a parent. For me, while my technical communications skills are truly at the heart of my profession, being a parent is highly integrated into what I do as a technical communicator. As a parent, I am equally responsible to make sure that my child is getting at least an appropriate education, and being able to get the fundamentals of good writing is important.

One of the big things that seems to be a hot topic in the e-learning and tech comm worlds is the idea that conventional methods don’t seem to be working anymore, and the big DIY movement is starting to take hold slowly but surely. There was also a Forbes article that was out a day or two (sorry, don’t have it at my fingertips–will edit this and add later if I find it again) that was trying to dispel the myths of online learning. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I’m a big proponent of e-learning and m-learning. The Internet is FULL of resources that I wish I had as a kid, and now as a parent, I know my child can utilize instead.

And this is when mommy-mode comes into play when I’m thinking about my son’s education–or the education of any child as a mother. I guess I think about it more since I am trying to gain more footing in the m-learning world, but also because I am a mom, and I can see how he benefits from it. Because my son is high functioning Autistic/Asperger’s, his learning needs are more basic, meaning it’s not that he can’t learn the same information as everyone else, but one needs to get down more to the core of those topics on a very basic level and build up in order for him to understand and grab the concepts. Again, this is not a dumb child–far from it. In many respects, he’s brilliant. He loves science, especially physics-related topics, and can out talk some grown-ups on the topic. But math and writing and social studies and foreign languages…ugh, that’s another story. One also has to remember that just learning appropriate behavior does not happen inherently for him either. He gets easily frustrated, and resolution skills do not come instinctively to him. He is constantly being taught strategies on how to improve his behavior and resolution skills so he doesn’t have meltdowns as often. Social skills need to be taught to him like any other subject at his school, so as a parent and wannabe educator, I have to think about these things. Even for me, I had many of the same issues, but I think my parents were equally able to try to handle it as my father was a professional educator for over 40 years, so I benefitted from him, as well as my mother, who instilled strong communication foundations with me at a very early age.

As a parent myself now, I feel it is our duty to work with teachers to help our children as much as possible to learn the fundamental skills that will not only allow them to do well in school, but also do well in life. There was a recent argument as to whether people really need to learn algebra. I happen to be a proponent of algebra for everyone, but how advanced one gets with the subject is the question. I remember my father saying–and I agree with this– even when I was a small child that we are taught basic algebra when we are still in grammar school. After all, getting the equation of 5+5=___ is really the same as 5+5=X. Or 30/X=5, and X needs to be determined. So, sure, cranking up the challenge is inevitable. But calculus? I didn’t take it, and with the career I’ve had, I never used it. But I needed more on probabilities and statistics, for sure, now and then (I managed, thankfully). There are professions that do need higher algebra and calculus, and if kids think they are going into those careers, then they should take advanced mathematics.

At the same time, depending on the school, basic life skills aren’t taught anymore. There was a time when wood shop, metal shop, auto shop and home ec were necessary classes, as they were what drove the economy, and most people’s highest level of education was completing high school. I went to a prep school, so I learned none of those topics except through my dad making sure that I could check the oil, change a flat, add brake fluid and change the air filter and my mother teaching me a little bit of cooking (mostly self-taught). They still are, but other things like computing and basic business classes are needed. My own parents always would try to get me to take business courses. To take the marketing or business law courses that I was most interested in, I had to pass accounting, and I couldn’t pass accounting. So everything I’ve learned about sales and marketing I learned the hard way–through experience. I did take a computing class (remember, I graduated from college in 1990, when dot-matrix printers were the norm as well as having computer labs to use Notepad-like word processors to write our term papers. I credit my own instincts to take that computer class as the right move–that served me more than taking accounting.

Recently, one of my cousins mentioned that she was making the suggestion of taking business courses to her almost college-age daughter. I told her that unless her daughter wanted to go into a business career, it wasn’t a good idea, and that I felt that some sort of computing class would be better. There are two essential courses that I think EVERYONE on the planet who seeks an education should have a basic technical writing or business writing course, and at least one computing class under their belts. It doesn’t matter what country one comes from or what language one speaks, but clear communication in any language, and knowing how the technology that helps that communication–especially in business–is essential. Without being able to communicate effectively and not understanding the tools that will helps one communicate effectively, a person will not get as far as they could. The basics of business otherwise comes purely from doing and learning on the job, not from some book.

This brings up the concept of DIY education again. While there are still a lot of things that are right in instill our children with basic skills through a conventional education, something’s not working anymore to make sure that our children know more than we do. Yes, you read that correctly. Our children SHOULD know more than us. They should be know as much as parents, and then some whenever possible. They should be learning from our past mistakes as well as learning what has been discovered since the time we were children. There’s a term that’s thrown about with today’s generations about these kids being “digital natives”. This is a somewhat accurate statement, only because for the most part, they don’t remember telephones with cords, Atari 2600 video game systems being the revolutionary gaming system that everybody had to have, or a time when there weren’t computers to do everyday school research or type up a professional looking report with fancy fonts and pagination. But today’s Generation X–my generation– really were some of the earliest adopters of digital technology, and in some cases, we don’t have much to show for it as a whole. I don’t know how many of my friends will tell me how they don’t understand how such and such works with a computer, and it’s something rather simple. Today’s generation has to be prepared for the future better than we were. I did my best to keep up, and it was my ability to write well and having some computer knowledge that helped me along the way. But much of the computer knowledge I’ve gained over the years was more self-taught, or I made my own agenda to learn it. I created my own DIY education out of necessity. While there will be an argument that DIY education is really about meeting individual interests and individual needs, why isn’t there an interest in doing so in conventional education?

Many years ago, the “No Child Left Behind” act was put into place in this country (the USA). It sounded good on the surface, but then I found out that the award winning, top notch school district that we were sending our son to didn’t comply to those standards. I was initially shocked and upset about this, until I understood why. The district was not in compliance because it was accounting for special needs children that either could not or never could, comply with the standardized testing needed to prove that these new standards were being followed. Those children needed to be left behind due to their own personal necessities. Some would catch up or do the work at their own pace, and some might never comply, and my district doesn’t force these children to be something they’re not; they are treated like people, not numbers. And as it happens that my son eventually fell into a category where sometimes he was able to meet those standards, and sometimes he couldn’t–I understood what my district was doing. They were allowing kids to be individuals and did account for different learning abilities. The other part of that is that many of the parents in my district tend to be fairly well educated professionals as well, and a huge majority are newer immigrants that place a very high standard on education, so it’s clear that parental intervention is a big part of that. For my family, the involvement of both my husband and myself in my son’s education is very clear. Without us, my son would not be where he is today. I’m not saying that teachers weren’t essential in helping my son learn–quite the contrary. They fill in all the huge gaps that we miss. It is because we intervened at an early age, worked with him, sometimes using unconventional methods to get him to learn what he needed to learn, and it was due to our personal intervention and playing such a key role in his learning that his autism eluded us until he was 9 years old.

So, as kids of all ages start going back to school at this time of year, I feel that tug of academia pulling me in again. Sometimes it’s the student in me yearning to be back in school again myself, learning something new. But for now, it’s me knowing that I have a responsibility as a parent to ensure that my son gets the most out of his education, whether it’s through homework exercises done with me to learn a concept he didn’t understand at school, or helping a teacher reinforce a new learned social skill that he learned in school. I recently saw a cartoon in which it depicted that in the past, if a student didn’t do well, the parents blamed the student for not working hard enough, but in current times, the teacher would be blamed by the parents. While there are instances that both students and teachers today need to be accountable for a student’s success, the key missing piece that is equally accountable is the role of the parents.

Parents are a child’s first teachers, so by not setting higher standards for ourselves both personally and professionally, we, as parents, fail our children by setting a poor example. Parents need to set the tone and set the standards for their children. If it means finding unconventional ways to ensure that a child is learning in addition to what conventional education is already providing, then so be it. For me, using my experiences as a technical communicator/budding m-learning specialist are what help me be a better parent. I use my skills to help my son learn how to write in his voice, using various means that work for him in a way that can help him grow and progress in the future to a day when he will need to be able to use these skills on his own in the “real world.” I try to show him new technology as well, and sometimes he teaches it to me.

In the end, it it my job to help him grow up to be an effective communicator–no matter where his path leads him, and it is my job as a parent to ensure that whether it comes from me, a teacher, or some sort of digital learning experience, that he has the foundation he needs to get ahead.