Monday, March 21, 2011

Technical writing & Instructional Designing

Technical Writing
Technical writing is the presentation of information that helps the reader solve a particular problem. Technical communicators write, design, and/or edit proposals, manuals, web pages, lab reports, newsletters, and many other kinds of professional documents.

While technical writers need to have good computer skills, they do not necessarily have to write about computers all their lives. "Technical" comes from the Greek techne, which simply means "skill".

Every profession has its own special specialized forms of writing. Police officers, lawyers and social workers all write specialized reports -- and someone has to learn, perform, critique, and teach each one. Every major politician hires staff members to design, administer, and analyze surveys -- and to write the secret reports that get leaked to reporters. Somebody has to design tax forms and the accompanying instruction books, assembly instructions for toys, and scripts for product demonstrations or multimedia presentations.

For a large project, a technical writer may work with a graphic designer, an interface designer, several computer programmers, and a staff of freelance writers to design a huge web site. For a small project, or for a small company, the tech writer may be expected to do all of the above, all alone.

The first rule of technical writing is "know your audience." Writers who know their audiences well are in a position to suggest and implement solutions to problems that nobody else identifies. Whenever one group of people has specialized knowledge that another group does not share, the technical writer serves as a go-between. But technical writers are not just translators, accepting wisdom from experts and passing it on unquestioningly; they also are in the business of generating truth, by choosing what gets written, and for whom, with the full knowledge that later readers will depend on the accuracy of what has been written.

Technical editing may involve working with brilliant researchers and scientists, who may be world-class experts in fluid dynamics or swine reproduction, but who may not know a paragraph from a participle. Some of these will be eternally grateful for your help, and others may resent your interference.

Good technical writers are also good teachers. They excel at explaining difficult concepts for readers who will have no time to read twice. Technical writers have an excellent eye for detail. They know punctuation, syntax, and style, and they can explain these rules to authors who need to know why their drafts need to be changed.

Although they typically work on their own for much of the time, they also know how to coordinate the collaborative work of graphic artists, programmers, marketers, printers, webmasters, and the various "subject matter experts" (SMEs), who know all the answers but have never bothered to write them down anywhere

Instructional Design
Instructional Design is the systematic process of translating general principles of learning and instruction into plans for instructional materials and learning.
Instructional Design as a Process:
Instructional Design is the systematic development of instructional specifications using learning and instructional theory to ensure the quality of instruction. It is the entire process of analysis of learning needs and goals and the development of a delivery system to meet those needs. It includes development of instructional materials and activities; and tryout and evaluation of all instruction and learner activities.
Three Purposes of the Instructional Design Process
1. To identify the outcomes of the instruction
2. To guide the developing the instructional content (scope and sequence)
3. To establish how instructional effectiveness will be evaluated.
Stages of Instructional Design
Stage 1: Define instructional goals.
A goal may be defined as a general statement of desired accomplishment. It does not specify exactly all of the components or steps or how each step will be achieved on the road to accomplishing the goal. Example Goals: (1) Students will master the procedure of a generic history and physical. (2) Students will understand the biochemistry of diabetes.
Stage 2: Conduct an instructional analysis
Identify what learning steps will be involved in reaching the goal. This is done through a task analysis, which identifies each step and the skills needed in order to complete that step, and an information processing analysis, which identifies the mental operations the learner needs to employ in performing that skill. The task analysis is performed by asking "What are all of the things the student must know and/or be able to do to achieve the goal?"
Stage 3: Identify entry behaviors/learner characteristics
Having determined via the instructional analysis which steps and skills the learner must accomplish, it is now necessary to identify the knowledge and skill level that the learner possesses at the outset. Although there may be pronounced differences from learner to learner in in their knowledge and skill levels, the instruction must be targeted as much as possible to the level of the learners' needs.
Stage 4: Develop performance objectives.
At this stage, it is necessary to translate the needs and goals into objectives that are sufficiently specific to guide the instructor in teaching and the learner in studying. In addition, these objectives form the blueprint for testing as a means of evaluating both the instruction and the learning that has occurred. Example: The student will be able to explain the role of the Krebs cycle to thermogenesis.
Stage 5: Select an instructional method.
The purpose of selecting an instructional method is to identify and employ teaching strategies and techniques that most effectively achieve the performance objectives. Current educational theory and research support the use of instructional methods that make students active learners (e.g., lecture, lab, small group discussion, case-based study, simulations, independent study, etc.).
Stage 6: Assemble instructional material.
Once the instructional methodologies have been identified for each objective or unit of content, it is important to assemble the necessary instructional materials. The materials may be in various forms: print, computer, audio, audio-video, etc. Although the necessary instructional materials may already exist, they may need improvement or revision. For example, slides that have been used in the past but that have been problematic, need to be modified. The danger of settling on preexisting instructional materials is that some instructors may allow the materials to determine the direction of the instruction rather than vice versa. Currently, more instructors are using the Web as a way of making didactic information available to students, rather than using lectures or transcripts.
Stage 7: Plan and conduct formative evaluation.
Formative evaluation, evaluation that occurs from feedback while the instruction is in progress, provides data for revising and improving the instructional materials that were used and those that are yet to be used. It is important to remember that sometimes the plans that look so good on paper actually fail in practice. When possible, test instructional materials with one or a small group of students to determine how students use the materials, how much assistance they need, etc. Considering the teaching methods implemented and the course materials provided, are students learning what they should be?
Stage 8: Plan and conduct summative evaluation.
Summative evaluation, evaluation that occurs at the end of the instructional effort (unit, course, etc.), provides data on the effectiveness of the instructional effort as a whole. This is the evaluation that provides information on how the whole instructional unit enabled the learner to achieve the objectives that were established at the outset.
Instructional design models
Perhaps the most common model used for creating instructional materials is the ADDIE Model. This acronym stands for the 5 phases contained in the model:
• Analyze - analyze learner characteristics, task to be learned, etc.
• Design - develop learning objectives, choose an instructional approach
• Develop - create instructional or training materials
• Implement - deliver or distribute the instructional materials
• Evaluate - make sure the materials achieved the desired goals
Most of the current instructional design models are spin-offs or variations of the ADDIE model; other models include the Dick & Carey and Kemp ISD models. One commonly accepted improvement to this model is the use of rapid prototyping. This is the idea of receiving continual or formative feedback while instructional materials are being created. This model attempts to save time and money by catching problems while they are still easy to fix.
Instructional theories also play an important role in the design of instructional materials. Theories such as behaviorism, constructivism, social learning and cognitivism help shape and define the outcome of instructional materials.

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