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Adobe Day at LavaCon 2012 Roundup!

This post is just a quick summary of the Adobe Day at LavaCon 2012 series from this past week. As you see, there was so much information that it took six posts to try to summarize the event!

Being in Portland, Oregon was great. It was my first trip there, and being a native Easterner, my thoughts pushed me to that pioneer spirit of moving westward in this country. Once there, I saw a hip, young, modern city, continuing to look towards the future.  The information I gathered at Adobe Day was general information that was endorsement-free, and practical information that I can use going forward as a technical communicator, and that by sharing it, I hope that others in the field will equally take on that pioneering spirit to advance what technical communications is all about, and bring the field to the next level.

To roundup the series, please go to these posts to get the full story of this great event. I hope to go to more events like this in the future!

As I said, I really enjoyed the event, and learned so much, and enjoyed not only listening to all the speakers, but also enjoyed so many people who are renowned enthusiasts and specialists in the technical communications field and talking “shop”. I rarely get to do that at home (although it does help to have an e-learning developer in the house who understands me), so this was a chance for me to learn from those who have been doing this for a while and not only have seen the changes, but are part of the movement to make changes going forward.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of blog posts. I still have many more to come–at least one more that is inspired by my trip out to Portland, and I look forward to bringing more curated content and commentary to you!

The autograph from my copy of
Sarah O’Keefe’s book,
Content Strategy 101.
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Adobe Day Presentations: Part II – Sarah O’Keefe and Content Strategy

Sarah O’Keefe
of Scriptorium Publishing

After an energetic first presentation by Scott Abel, second presenter Sarah O’Keefe, author of Content Strategy 101 and founder of Scriptorium Publishing, talked about “Developing a Technical Communication Content Strategy.”

Sarah started by telling us that many companies don’t understand the value of technical communication, so technical communicators need to justify their approach. When writing up business cases for these justifications, technical communicators need to include what the current situation is, recommendations to improve the situation, costs associated with those recommendations, as well as the benefits and risks of taking the actions recommended.  If there are regulatory and legal requirements, then there is the need to build a case for more efficient compliance in order to avoid legal complications.

Sarah expounded on how technical communication departments should talk to management about how technical communications can control costs. She explained that there is a myth that cheap documentation can be done. She busted that myth by explaining that cheap documentation is actually more expensive, as it can be limited in availability making it useless, it can be hard to understand and out of date, and it may not be translatable into other languages. The cost of bad content is high customer service volume,  lost sales, content duplication, huge global costs, and it can contradict marketing communications.

The solution, she said, is efficient development involving the reuse of content, using single sourcing and cross-departmental reuse of content, only tweaking text that is already available. She stressed that formatting and production are important! Using templates and various structures are helpful. She encouraged using tools for creating the needed output.  Sarah also said that localization is important as well, that translations are needed component of communication documentation. All these can help bring costs down significantly! Sarah gave an example of how a common obstacle to efficient customer service or tech phone support is often a monster-sized PDF that the support representatives need to read before providing service while on the phone! The process of having to read the long document while online with a customer is time consuming and not cost efficient.

Sarah encouraged technical communicators to work on collaborating and creating better working relationships with other business departments such as tech support, training and marketing with technical content, as this will help to support those departments with pertinent information as well as help them to streamline information. Technical communication can be used to support sales–read documentation before you buy! Technical communication content also can help to increase visibility by creating searchable, findable and discoverable documentation,  especially for Google or SEO purposes. Sarah recommended building user communities with technical communication documentation, and making sure that technical communications aligns with business needs.

Sarah has further information which goes into greater detail both in her book, and on the book’s website, which is found at: .

Sarah’s presentation was really good, in my opinion, because coming from my own experiences, much of what she explained was true, and as she said, the biggest battle is making management understand the value of having solid content strategy. One of my biggest issues at my last consulting job was exactly the scenario that Sarah described; marketing was not taking proper advantage of the technical communication documentation available, nor was it sharing resources and creating reuseable content. As a result, in-house documentation was long and overly customized when much of the information was the same or very similar (needed few tweaks), and the sales advisors that needed the information rarely looked at it because it was too long. When I made the recommendations about reuse or editing from a technical communications standpoint, I was ignored. Of course, I was only a consultant, and I wasn’t privy to understanding the departmental costs, but it did not feel good to know that some of the issues could be fixed with the kind of collaboration that Sarah described. In this respect, I could associate with what she was saying.

An aside note is that Sarah is a self-confessed chocoholic, and a fun part of her presentation was that she incorporated chocolate production into her presentation. To verify her chocoholic status, I was out with Sarah after the event, and caught her in the act of buying more chocolate at one of Portland’s chocolate boutiques:

Sarah O’Keefe buying more chocolate for inspiration!

I do think Sarah’s message is very clear. Technical communications has a lot of value, especially with structured content and reusable content, and as technical communicators, we need to push that agenda to management so that we can provide a bigger service to our clients and companies that they currently realize.

(Sarah–feel free to correct any of my interpretations in the comments below!)

Next post: Adobe Day Presentations: Part III – Joe Welinske and Multi-screen Help Authoring

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What are you so afraid of?

It seems to me that lately there have been a lot of articles posted around the Web about higher education being afraid of using technology.  I suppose that since I received my recent Master’s degree entirely online from an accredited university, I’m somewhat oblivious to that fact, but I can see why that would be thought, based on the various arguments made.

Bringing technology into the classroom, let alone have distance learning via e-learning or even m-learning, is still a bit of a foreign thing even now, despite the fact that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were working on getting computers into classrooms as much as 30 years ago. (Time flies!).  Part of the problem is that there are many educators who are a little intimidated by technology. Yes, computers–as just mentioned–have been available in the classroom for decades in one form or another, but not everyone has learned to take advantage of that.  Why?

One of the obvious reasons is cost.  Computers–whether desktops, laptops, tablets, or even smart devices (like an iPod touch, NintendoDS, etc.), are not cheap. Trust me–we have at least one of each of those types of devices in my house, and I know how much we spent to have them.  Even with the movement to promote BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), not everyone can afford to have the latest and greatest gadget. Technology, these days, evolves very quickly, so it’s hard to keep up with the latest devices and tools. (This is why I’m always happy to hear of endeavors made to try to supply simple computing devices that are made cheaply to supply to children in far flung places in Africa, South America and Asia where such resources are scarce.)

Even so, I think the reason that many in higher ed and other educational levels don’t use more technology to teach is basically because they don’t know how.  I’ll give you an example.

My father was the first one to introduce me to computers a little bit more than 30 years ago when I was a kid. The Apple II had come around, and my father–a lifelong educator–found himself trying to support a family with four kids (me being the oldest of them) and having a very difficult time finding a job due to budget cuts happening left and right.  He found computers interesting, and realized that if computers were to become prolific, then maybe he could segueway his teaching skills into teaching adults how to use VisiCalc and basic word processing programs in business. In other words, he would move into the training and development business. But once he got a job back in the traditional educational field, while he did stay involved in computers, and even got to a point where he was not only a curriculum administrator but teaching night courses as well–he’d teach computing for a while, but it was never major advances. To this day, he’ll call up either me up or talk to my developer husband if he has computer issues. I don’t think other than teaching computing for a short time, that he really ever used technology in the classroom much. Sure, “Oregon Trail” was used, and maybe “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?“, but beyond that, even when he was officially retired and teaching history courses at the local community college, beyond the use of email, I don’t know that he necessarily used technology for those courses.  History classes can be very dry subjects (I ought to know, being a history major as an undergrad), but so much history is available online to make it come alive–with video and images alone.

Even in my own online grad courses, I could see where the staff knew things to a point, but then some would show their limitations of what they knew of the outside world and what tools were available to them, and this was a group that was generally more willing to use technology as well. One professor posted all the coursework on Moodle in one folder instead of using the features to the fullest to disseminate information. He may as well just have photocopied everything, stuck it in a manila folder, and handed the materials out willy-nilly instead. I see these as hugely missed opportunities for both my dad and this professor.

My taekwondo teacher taught me something years ago, which I know has been repeated elsewhere: the best way to learn is to teach.  From my own experience, this is not only true in taekwondo, but also for just about anything else in the rest of the world. Teachers–whether they be training specialists at a company, or preschool teachers, or anyone else in the educational field in between–need to continue to learn and grow themselves in order to be effective teachers, especially in this day and age. Technology is a lot less scary and more intuitive than it was 30 years ago, or even 10 years ago, and people forget that very quickly.  If teachers are expected to help turn out students who can contribute towards future growth, how can they do that if they don’t keep up? Yes, there are some older tried-and-true methods that still work and will always work.  But to create a future where everyone from the littlest preschooler to the adult learner contributes in a way that pulls us all forward–teachers need to keep up.

Mobile learning provides a fantastic and easy opportunity to do this, no matter what subject a teacher teaches, or what level. Tablets and smartphones are more prolific these days than even desktops or laptops, so whether a school district provides those tools, or a student brings it from home, it’s a portal to a world of opportunity. The use of whiteboards in the classroom make a huge difference–I know I remember hearing that my son enjoyed and seemed to respond better in classes if whiteboards were used.  As it’s been mentioned many times before, education is undergoing a bit of a revolution, because 19th century ways of teaching aren’t working well in the 21st century.  Life and business are conducted very differently and on a grander global scale than even 100 years ago, or even 10-15 years ago.  Social media and Web 2.0 tools are changing how we communicate and work with each other, especially in real-time.  And yet, having these tools can enable all of us as students of the worlds to learn more.  I guess I don’t know why some are so afraid of trying out the many technologies or applications out there that can work to advance our common knowledge.

You see, in my head, I can imagine how all these different subjects can use mobile technology or other e-learning tools.  You have a Social Studies class? How about asking students to find online newspapers to look at the world in other countries? Or using online libraries or resources to find information? What about doing a short project about looking up records on to learn about World history and how their families may have come to this country? Science–so many scientific journals out there to access. English language and grammar? Many blogs and websites covering those topics, as well as many works of literature have been converted into videos or movies. Math? Check out Khan Academy or similar sites, and see if a flipped classroom curriculum works more. Physical education? Plenty of websites about sports, health, fitness out there. Foreign languages? Watch Japanese TV, Mexican soap operas or Italian news on YouTube. Google, Bing and other search sites are your friend as well as your students’ friend.

There is one last resource for teachers of higher ed or other educational institutions to learn more, and it harkens back to my taekwondo instructor’s words. Learn from your students. They are usually more up to date on what’s going on with all the devices. Why not ask them for suggestions, or learn how to use tools from them? Recently, I remember showing a professor of mine how to use hashtags on Twitter to start getting more involved in topics that she was interested in researching and find other Twitter users that shared common interests on that outlet. While she understood the concepts behind Twitter, she didn’t know that one could search by hashtags within Twitter, and so she learned how to use a social media tool that she was familiar with in a different way. I was glad that I was able to show that to her, and I’m sure going forward that it’s something she may pass along to her other students and colleagues as well.

Also, don’t be afraid of asking colleagues who are tech savvy as well. If they are enthusiastic about using technology in the classroom, they are usually more willing to share those ideas with someone else who shares that enthusiasm.

In the end, we can all benefit from each other in helping each other learn technology, but educators need to take special attention because in helping themselves learn about technology and using technology, they will help their students as well.

So, what are you so afraid of? Start looking in the App Store, You Tube and Google, and see what you can find. You might be surprised. Every little bit of knowledge helps to advance you and your students.

Do you agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments below.

And if there are any teachers (on any level) that would like some extra help…let me know.