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Instant Mobile Apps? Not quite.

MP900441051Last week, I was in contact with one of my former professors at NJIT‘s MSPTC program. We talked about several things going on, and in the process of the email conversation, she mentioned that she is starting another semester of the PTC 601 (Advanced Professional and Technical Communications) classes, and she asked me a question about mobile, because she wanted to add a new component to an assignment.

I remember doing the assignment well just three years ago. Essentially, the student is given a manual for a fictitious coffeehouse franchise’s espresso machine, and the student has to rewrite the manual into a quick reference guide, preferable something that included visual images that could the learner/user can learn from it or refer to it as needed. Conceptually, it’s an easy enough assignment (or at least it was to me), but creating it with the tools I had at the time proved challenging, even if I did pull it off.

Adding a mobile component to this assignment makes a lot of sense to me. This is a perfect example of what m-learning is, what it looks like, and what it can be! Taking a simple how-to manual and creating a mobile app for it is highly logical, especially in this scenario. I mean, think about it…how often do people whip their smartphones out of their pockets to look up any kind of information, let alone have a how-to app on their phones? So having a special app that could be downloaded and instantly used as a reference guide for that newbie coffee barista would be ideal!

I was happy to hear about this addition to the assignment. The professor knows how enthusiastic I am about promoting mobile solutions, and I was thrilled to hear that she is making an effort to include mobile solutions in the MSPTC curriculum. So, she asked me if I knew any software programs that could convert text into some sort of mobile output. The first thing that came to mind was Adobe’s Technical Communications Suite 4, especially with Framemaker and Robohelp. But, the school doesn’t have a copy of that for students yet (they are working on it), and even with the short trial, there’s a big learning curve for an assignment that would be due fairly quickly.

So, I began to do a little research to help the professor out. There were a few things–a few parameters–that I had to keep in mind as I looked for a tool for her to use. It has to be easy to use for someone who didn’t have too much or negligible programming skills. It has to be free or at the barest minimum of cost. And it had to have an easy ramp-up to have a project done on it in a week or so. I knew, from experience, that people from all walks of life come into this program, with a true mix of web expertise. I remember helping some of my fellow classmates by providing a crash course in HTML, and the quest for the free or cheap web editing software or site where an e-portfolio could be created. So, I understood the parameters well.

The sad thing I discovered was that while there are dozens of places to set up and create free or cheap websites with web editing available that anyone could use to set up a good looking site, the same can’t be said yet for creating mobile sites. There are a few sites that do help a person create a mobile app easily, but it’s not cheap. Or, if it’s cheap, it requires some programming know-how. It was tough. the other thing to keep in mind was whether the mobile app being created was for a “native” app, a “web” app or “hybrid” app. The differences between these is that a native app is saved on the mobile device and can be used offline. The web app is one that is essentially a mini website and needs an internet connection to access the app. A hybrid is…well, you can figure that out. If you’ve ever tried to access an app on your phone, but couldn’t get it to function because you didn’t have wifi or 4G, then that’s a web app. If it only partially worked, but you still needed wifi/4G to connect for part of it, it’s a hybrid. You get the idea. In the end, I gave the professor a few suggestions that I found.

The first was something called Viziapps. I think I had heard of Viziapps because I believe (just off the top of my head) that this was the software being used in an STC class on how to build mobile apps. Viziapps allows individuals to create a mobile app without knowing any or little coding, but they would have to have some idea of information architecture (which is part of the project assignment–understanding what’s important, what’s not, what comes first, content structure, etc.). It’s mostly a visual editor that allows the user to build the apps online, then publish on the web for free, provided the creator has created a web app. If it’s a native or hybrid app, then that has a price. It seems like it might be a viable choice as a tool that would allow for a quicker ramp-up for someone seriously trying to create a mobile app.

Other more creative choices would be using their mobile devices to make something. For example, there is an app called SnapGuide, in which an individual can take photos or video to demonstrate how to do something. Mobile by Conduit might be another possibility, as it’s free, and supposedly has an interface style similar to WordPress.

But then I thought about WordPress,  and I realized that might be another option. TechCommGeekMom is a WordPress website, after all, and it can be read on mobile devices. Basic WordPress accounts are free and fairly easy to use. You can create a “blog” or website on WordPress, and then there’s a setting to create a mobile interface. Here’s a little bit of info about it:  It seemed to fit the criteria needed for a mobile app creator/editor, in that it’s free, it has a mobile output (as well as a regular web output), and it provides a primer for content management in the experience.  I thought that if I was still in the class, I’d create several pages on a single WordPress website for different parts of the Guide–similar to the pages and navigation I have here, and then promote the mobile access to the website. It’s not a perfect system, but for quick ramp-up purposes for a fairly small assignment, it seems like it would fit the bill.

I think my former professor appreciated the help, but we both discussed the dilemma that it posed. Why must someone have a programming degree and some cash in order to create a mobile app–whether it be a native, hybrid or web app? Depending on the app, all three formats have their positive and negative aspects to them.  But how does one learn how to use any of these mobile app writer/editor products quickly? There are some great tools out there, I’m not denying that, but for the true beginner or student on a budget who is trying to learn how to create mobile solutions skills as a technical communicator, it’s not that easy. I see a huge business opportunity here (not that I have the time, cash, or enough knowledge to start such a business), but creating a highly user-friendly software program that one’s grandma could create a mobile app for a very low cost would be a fantastic business. It would make even more information accessible to share with others.

It occurred to me later that for the average user, another possibility is another Adobe program that I’ve been using to create and maintain my e-portfolio, called Adobe Muse. It’s a cloud-based app that acts as a very easy UI interface to create websites and mobile apps. I’ve used the website editor, but I haven’t tried the mobile conversion yet there. I believe it’s about $14-15 per month, and you can set up an account at Adobe’s Business Catalyst and create your mobile site that way.  It allows those who have next to no programming skills create something that looks great, but it also allows more advanced users some nice shortcuts to create great sites without having to do all the coding–Muse does it for you.

Perhaps, as mobile solutions become more mature like editing software for desktop interface websites, this mobile app creator problem will go away, and there will be more affordable options. In the meantime, we have to wait or muddle through it all…

If you know of any easy-to-ramp-up mobile app editors, please mention it in the comments below! Share, everybody!

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WordPress Report:TechCommGeekMom’s Done Okay in 2012!

I think for the first 9 months of a niche blog, this isn’t too bad:

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 6,600 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 11 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Blast from the Past – Volume 2: International English?…Not here…

For today’s “Blast from the Past” from my graduate school blog, I point out something that should be fairly known– there is no such thing as International English. There just isn’t. Roger E. Axtell wrote a marvelous book titled, Do’s and Taboos of Using English Around the World  (1995, Castle Books) to prove the point. He gives a fantastic example taken from a Brigham Young University study posing the question,

What country is being described?

This country is about two hundred years old. It was colonized by England. The people are rugged individualists who value their independence in their large, not yet fully developed land. Their founders were strong pioneering men and women, and many of the modern inhabitants believe if they were faced with the same difficulties as today, they could overcome them as well as their forebears did. They love sports and the outdoor life and enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world. (64)

If you guess the US, then you’d also be partially right. South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Canada can also make that same claim. Additionally, there are lots of Commonwealth countries around the world that are also former English colonies that can speak a different version of the English language than these larger countries mentioned.

So, when I saw this reference below, while it’s all in good fun, I had to bring it up. It makes a big point that still holds now, more than a year after I’ve written it. Simplified English is still something that all technical communicators should try to achieve with any and all projects they do. It could literally make a world of difference in whether a concept is understood or not, especially in a world that’s communicating on a more global–and mobile–level every day.

Enjoy the good giggle.


Since last year, I’ve had an interest in the concept of “International English”, or, it might be argued, the lack thereof.  One of the things that I had read through the sources of my International English podcast I had done for my PTC 624 class (found here) was that there was a theory that given enough time, there would be no commonality between dialects of English, and that these different dialect would become new languages unto themselves.

My thinking is that despite the fact that there are some colloquial differences between British English, American English, Australian English, South African English, etc. that the base language is still the same. It’s no different in other languages, where different South American, Caribbean and Mexican Spanish dialects are still generally understood by someone living in Spain.

Well, I guess I was proved wrong when I saw this clip on SNL this past weekend.  It is a parody of many of the modern-day British gangster movies that have come out in the last decade or two.  Watch this, and tell me if that divergence of the English language hasn’t already happened:

SNL: A British Movie – ‎’Don’ You Go Rounin’ Roun to Re Ro’

(Again, if this copy of WordPress allowed me to embed the video player here, I would have. Enjoy!)

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Just let me set the record straight…

Right now, I’m working very hard to finish up the coursework for my Master’s degree in Technical and Professional Communications. I’ve worked for two and a half years on this, studying part-time, usually taking two classes at a time, while most of the time working full-time while also being a parent to a special needs kid. It’s a lot of work, and it’s incredibly draining, but hopefully the fruits of my labor will pay off soon enough.

Part of one of my last classes is to present my e-portfolio of my professional and academic work for prospective employers.  I fought with my professor about my e-portfolio, because while I knew I needed to take the emphasis off the academic and put it in a more professional light, I really liked how I formatted it–it reflected my personality to a “T.”  She hated it, and made me reformat the whole thing. It was an incredibly laborious process, as I had to take something that took me two years to get it to where I wanted and liked it, and totally scrap it in favor of having something else together in a fraction of the time. I still wanted it to reflect my personality as well.  So, in trying to use some new software (Adobe Muse) to help me build it, I came up with something that I thought was pretty good. Visually, it was slicker looking, and while it didn’t have all the flexibility that I had in the old one, to paraphrase Project Runway’s Tim Gunn, I made it work. Even now, there are some very minor tweaks that need to be made, but I feel like I created a really good e-portfolio that prospective employers will respect and like.

Well, some smarty pants suggested to the professor that we get outside critiques for our e-portfolios before we present them for our upcoming capstone presentations and make them “public”. Sounds like a good idea in theory, but I wasn’t too keen on it. (Mine is already public, as far as I’m concerned.) I submitted mine for review. Overall, the reviews I received back were good, although it was hard to tell from the notes what was going on with some of it. First it criticized my navigation and menu choices, and then the next moment it praised it.

The part that actually stung me the most was that one critique told me to remove my blog page from the site, as the blog was mostly repostings of other articles. Yep, you guessed it, it referred to this blog. (I had also listed my academic blog, which I plan to integrate it with this one at some point.) I was royally TICKED. Yes, I know I am reposting things from other sites in here, but there is some original information in here too. I recently read a review of another very public e-learning blog site, and it was actually PRAISED for sharing articles from other sites as it made that particular blog current and showed that the blogger was sharing current thoughts and information. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do here!

Look, I know that I’m still a beginner at this m-learning and e-learning thing. I’ve blogged for many years on different subjects. I know the blogging game, believe me.

So let me set the record straight:

While this is a blog that reflects my personal interpretations on all things m-learning, e-learning and tech comm, I also am still learning about these subjects. I can’t write about the benefits of using some Lectora trick if I’ve never used Lectora. I can’t talk about e-learning pedagogy if I’ve never taken an instructional design course. I’ve learned things about e-learning “on the streets,” so to speak. I learned through experience, not through theory. I still have SO much more to learn, and I know it. I’ve never been in denial about that. But at the same time, the purpose of this blog is not only to share MY thoughts, but to also open up the forum and share information. I want to learn more from those who read this blog, who have more experience. I want other newbie e-learning and m-learning specialists to come here and share experiences and questions through the comments. Please, voluteer to guest blog on here–I’d love it! I’m trying to build this up as an m-learning/e-learning/tech comm community, so sharing articles that I think are helpful and useful WILL be posted. And as it is, my site stats actually went up once I started sharing these articles, so I don’t think I’m going down the wrong path.

So to the person who gave me that critique, I think you need to see the bigger picture, and read more blogs. The only impression I’ve ever had of the e-learning/m-learning community is that we share. As my husband would put it–we’re sharers. I haven’t seen it in any other field I’ve been in as much as I see it in the e-learning/m-learning world, and I’m happy and glad that this community has taken me into the fold.

So the next time you see an article that is just a repost from my ScoopIt account, please know that I post it because I want to share something that I don’t know well, yet find interesting and informational that I think others would benefit too.

And I’m not taking this blog off of my e-portfolio. I’m proud of what I’ve done here, and what I continue to do here. I still have big plans for this site. I’m working offline on the Educational Resources and Links items listed in the navigation above, and I have ideas for articles I want to write but can’t get to right now. I just stopped to write this…again, just to set the record straight. Keep watching this site…it’s only a month old, and it’s just getting started…

Just bear with me in the next two weeks, as I have to finish up this semester, and term papers from hell are calling me. Please keep me in your thoughts, hoping that I can make it through these next couple of weeks with my sanity intact. 😉