Lockdowns during Covid would have turned technical writers with children in to very busy people. Recently, I’ve been reflecting on how home-schooling my son became like another occupation when schools were not open. I picked up many things from being exposed to my child’s e-Learning platform and also teaching in general.
The Seesaw e-Learning Platform
The school teachers used the Seesaw Learning platform to deliver content to the children. Seesaw made me think of the software tools that I use for technical authoring. Teachers can record video, create exercises, link to presentations, offer feedback, and enable students to interact with the content – all in a very simple package. The great thing about the content was that I could use it on a PC or on an iPad. This was important because, at the time, we were very constrained with computing resources at home. The laptops were used for work, which only left us with the iPad. It wasn’t easy as we were using version 3 of the iPad and contending with an unreliable internet connection.
The integrated features of Seesaw made me think of the limitations of the current tools we often use in the workplace as technical writers. In Seesaw, video is a key feature of the platform. In technical writing, it’s different as video tools are often separate from those we use for writing. When creating a video, we would often use a separate tool solely for that purpose, e.g., Camtasia. And then once we have video, there is the issue of where to include in the video in the documentation. Should the video be added alongside reference content or overview content? As videos are often an afterthought due to their complexity, it is not often easy just to slow a video in to the documentation. Adding a video is often an afterthought. With Seesaw, content is from the start “video-driven”. The daily activities include a video to start and the students are guided in to various activities for their learning.
Blending in of External Module Content
Seesaw is a package that lets the teach add different learning modules in addition to what they teach. My son’s learning on Seesaw was split between instruction from his teachers and from external presentations that came with the learning module. This enabled the teacher to present the basics while the presentations would provide more detail. Documentation systems very rarely link well with Powerpoint or Keynote presentations that are presented by “someone else”. There may be instances where the internal audience feel that the real nuggets of information are never presented. This is partly because we write purely on the features in development to meet tight sprint deadlines, and rarely create integrated content that may fall outside the timelines of Agile release cycles.
Interface Allowing Instant Feedback
My son was able to get prompt feedback whenever he submitted his work. Quick feedback is often difficult to receive in technical documentation. Part of the reason lies in the available interface widgets or our intention to use feedback forms to provide data that is tied to business and team objectives. For example, feedback forms on many documentation sites and portals ask the reader to give a score.
While this can work in some situations, there is the benefit of a simple design of a text box accompanied by a Like button. Several years ago, I worked at a company that used Confluence for both internal and external documentation. Using a very simple design that allowed the audience to make comments and/or put a Like on the page proved effective.
Writers should never have to wait a significant period for the response, particular if the content needs approval for the stakeholders or is to be used to help build a community.
Presenting Concepts Visually
Teaching mathematics to my son, who is in Year 1 in a UK primary school, was a great experience for me in communicating concepts. Teaching numerical concepts made me think how technical documentation can be better improved through visual communication.
The mathematics modules included number blocks and various concepts, e.g., the part whole model. Describing such concepts to my son became fun.
Visual communication when done well is very effective in technical documentation. Some readers learn better with text while others pick up knowledge quicker with images.
Realising the Power of e-Learning
Helping my son through remote learning made me realise the power of online content during lockdown. Given that it was an “emergency” situation, the teachers did a remarkable job in creating effective e-learning content based on the limited available resources. Technical documentation can be boosted from e-learning even though they are not the same.
As technical authors, we need to re-evaluate the documentation systems we already have to be able to reach out to our audiences. We need to constantly ask ourselves if the documentation fulfils the needs of the target audiences, and the impact of the pandemic in online content. While primary school students will continue to use the content, our audiences can go elsewhere if they are unhappy!