Course Review

Although I’m finished all my assignments (thank God), I’ve decided to do one last post to help anyone considering a course in “Technical Communication and E-Learning”. The job prospects are excellent and the covered theory and software are extremely practical. In general, I’ve learned how to:

  • Utilise different learning styles and theories
  • Apply design theory
  • Conduct interviews and usability studies
  • Develop courses
  • Create websites
  • Modify images and audio files
  • Make online quizzes
  • Design interactive online presentations

The University of Limerick is a particularly great place to study. Among other things it has:

  • Ireland’s largest indoor sports complex (includes weights room, sports tracks, courts, aerobics studio, 50m Swimming Pool and more)
  • An extensive library
  • A vast range of societies e.g. Literary, Parkour, Rugby, Skydiving, Krav Maga, Games, Frisbee, Chess, Chocolate Appreciation Society and more.
  • Plenty of computers with internet access
  • Multiple restaurants, pubs and shops
  • Plenty of quiet study areas
  • Beautiful walking areas along the river Shannon

I was also lucky with the lecturers I got. They consistently provided feedback on all our assignments and they were always approachable if anyone had any queries. My classmates were also fantastic people to work with. We had online forums (set up by our lecturers) and regularly gave each other advice and encouragement. All in all it was an extremely positive experience.

My graduation isn’t until January but I’ve already done some work helping people to design websites, logos and posters. I’ve even used my design skills to create fun birthday presents for friends e.g. fake magazines where some of my friends are the cover models of VOGUE or fake newspapers where my friends are celebrities (getting blank newsprint paper can be difficult). I really like this type of work but it’s always been my strong ambition to do a PhD and become a lecturer/researcher one day (hopefully I’ll get funding). I know for a fact that the MA I’ve done will help me to pursue these goals. It’s a lot of hard work but I highly recommend studying “Technical Communication and E-Learning” if you’ve an interest in writing, learning, software and/or design.

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Sound Choice: Creator Vs. User Taste

Music is magic. It can be an adrenaline that captures our interest and makes something stand out and be memorable. In particular, its role in films, games, podcasts and presentations can be vital. A dull tedious topic might be more bearable if accompanied by sound. Eerie noises keep us on edge during horror films. During an online adventure, a pulse can start to sprint the moment a rhythm begins. My heart still leaps whenever I hear “Hunter’s Chance” because it evokes nostalgic memories from my gaming childhood. However, personal taste can differ.

Developers will often do market research to determine what most users like. However, it’s impossible to please everyone. Not everyone may like the background music in a given piece of media. I think it would make a lot of sense if media developers made it easier for users to change certain default settings (like typography which I mention in a previous blog). In a world with YouTube and Facebook, more and more content is becoming shaped by users. This should also apply to the music in products we buy in shops. I would love to be able to transfer songs I bought on iTunes onto my favourite games. Some educational videos I’ve watched have been off-putting even though I’ve a strong interest in the subject matter. To really absorb information I may watch a video again but that means hearing the same music again. Music can become dull, or even irritating, if you have to listen to it repeatedly. In those instances, I think I would have had a better learning experience if I had had a choice. It’s rare but there are a few products out there which do give you choice. However, this choice is usually limited. The ‘Dissidia’ games series is one example of this. You can choose the background music from a list of possible options. Here are just a few examples:

Recently I made my first podcast. I used background music which I personally found to be pleasant. However, when I was presenting it to my lecturers I cannot be certain that they also liked the music. In an ideal world they should have been given a choiceI really hope that more media developers start giving users more options in the future. It would make for a better experience and better products mean better sales. It would be win win for everyone. . On the other hand, it might be a bad idea to overwhelm users with too much choice. It might be too time-consuming for users to pick and mix their favourite songs. What do you think?

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Creating Podcasts: Considerations for Success

Recently I created and presented my first podcast. The software I used (and strongly recommend) to record and edit audio was ‘Audacity’. It’s completely free to download so here’s the link if you’re interested: http://audacity.sourceforge.net/download/ When recording I made the mental note not to speak too quickly or too slowly. Speak too slowly and people will forget what you said at the sentence by the time you’re finished. Speak too quickly and listeners won’t be able to take notes if they want to do so.

To make my podcast more aesthetically pleasing I added calm background music. I also had a separate, somewhat more upbeat, piece of music for the introduction and ending of my podcast. For this piece of music I also added the words “A DTdriven production” which refers to my logo DTdriven. I gave these words an echo effect and I personally really liked how it sounded. Audacity was also great for adjusting volume so that the sound was always consistent. I also used it to delete excessive gaps between sentences or words.

As I’ve mentioned before in previous blogs I believe in edutainment (entertainment in education). My podcast covered the topic of creative writing so I included entertaining writing examples such as the epithalamium entitled “A Slice of Wedding Cake” by Robert Graves.

In the podcast I made sure to mention other sources of information in case listeners were interested in finding out more about the topic. I also made sure to provide warnings. In my case, I warned listeners of fake writing competitions and scams that exist on the internet. In my podcast I referred to a shape poem which as the name suggests is a poem that uses shape. An example is “Swan and Shadow” by John Hollander. Follow this link if you’d like to see this poem: http://www.naic.edu/~gibson/poems/hollander1.html As this was a visual issue I created an optional presentation hand-out to go along with my podcast. This allowed listeners to see what the podcast was referring to.

It wasn’t necessary in this particular podcast but other techniques that people could use are as follows:

  • Add sound effects to match your content e.g. if you’re talking about the ocean you could add the sound of waves crashing or running water.
  • Add clips of other people (preferably subject matter experts) speaking about the topic that’s being discussed.

Check out these links for more information about podcasting:

Can you think of any other important considerations for podcasts?

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The Peculiar Side of Typography

During my studies I’ve come across some rather bizarre things. I think these demonstrate just how influential typography can be.

Inconsistency promotes memory?

Normally it’s important to be consistent in documents and design projects. It helps readers navigate and process texts efficiently. However, being consistent can sometimes be counterproductive if the purpose of a document is to educate. Information is more likely to be remembered if it is presented in an unusual manner.

Made using randomly selected typefaces in Word

It seems difficulty makes you a better learner. Having to process a visual message more thoroughly means you’re more likely to remember the message. Check out the following links for more information about this phenomenon:

Typography as a Muse

Typography has inspired art, comedy, music and even films. The typeface ‘German Bold Italic’ inspired this music video:

The typeface ‘Helvetica’ inspired an entire movie:

Typography has inspired unusual art such as typography face portraits.

Click on the following links for more examples:

Typography have also inspired comedy

Typography and Attempted Tax Evasion

There have even been legal cases because of typography. People have tried to evade paying tax or refused to respond to legal documents because their name was not spelled in a preferred manner e.g. a person who refers to himself as John’Smith could argue that JOHN SMITH refers to a different person because of the use of capital letters and the omission of a comma. This excuse usually doesn’t work. Check out the following link for more information:

If my course has taught me anything it’s that typography is more influential and far more interesting than it may first appear. What do you think?

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Writing: A Focus on Pitfalls

Writing is everywhere. It’s in advertisements, research proposals, tax documents and even our soup. My current studies in Technical Communications have helped me to develop strategies to improve the quality of text. I’ve mentioned some of these in previous blogs but I did not give equal focus to the many pitfalls that can reduce the quality of text. The more aware people are of common pitfalls then the easier it is for them to avoid making mistakes. During my tutor and editing experience I’ve noticed that certain mistakes seem to occur more often than others. People are often inconsistent with their tenses. I’ve seen writers jump between the present and past tense without reason. Consistency is important. It is often wise to avoid asking the reader a direct question. This can imply that the writer doesn’t know something. The question may also appear to be redundant if the writer goes on to answer it themselves e.g. instead of asking “This leads us to a question. Can pigs fly?”, a person could write “This raises the issue of whether or not pigs can fly” OR “It is important to note that pigs might be able fly”. Punctuation is also important.

Academic writing is usually meant to be written in a formal manner. The writer should distance themselves from the writing. Usually, the writer should not usually refer to themself personally with terms such as “I” or “my”. A writer should not group themself with the reader. Terms such as “we” or “ours” should be avoided. Doing otherwise may imply:

  1. that the writer is part of a group that they do not belong to
  2. that something belongs to a group even though it belongs to a writer

From my own personal experience I’ve noticed that non-native speakers often use the word “the” incorrectly. It should be used to refer to something specific. e.g. instead of “I went to the shop to buy the apple” a writer should say “I went to the shop to buy an apple”. Another common issue I’ve noticed is that people often have their Microsoft Word set to the wrong type of English. There’s “English (US)”, “English (U.K)” and more. Spell check in Microsoft Word can give you different results depending on the software’s language settings. Writers should only use “English (US)” when writing for an American audience. If you notice that you tend to make certain mistakes I recommend that you do the following:

  1. Write a customised checklist of the mistakes you tend to make
  2. Use this checklist when proofreading your work

The following parody video highlights some common grammar errors that people can make. Can you think of any other common pitfalls?

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Job Hunting: The Importance of an Online Presence

I’m currently studying at the University of Limerick. The college has a number of career guidance services and events. One issue they often emphasise is the importance of an online presence. When looking for work it’s important to market yourself to potential employers and online profiles can help to do this. On the other hand, they also have the potential to make employers think twice about hiring you. According to some reports, over 90% of employers use social networking sites to screen job applicants (follow this link for more information: http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/social-media-job-screening_b15090). There have even been cases where people have been fired because of what they posted online (follow this link for examples: http://www.whas11.com/home/12-examples-of-people-getting-fired-over-Facebook-101977118.html).

On a more positive note, a good online profile can help to demonstrate your knowledge and skills. I may be stating the obvious but creating and maintaining a blog is one good way to advertise yourself. This blog (hopefully) shows that I’m knowledgeable about the topics I’m studying and expresses my genuine interest in the subject matter. In the ‘About’ section of this blog I refer to my LinkedIn account which details my credentials. I also refer to my personal website which has samples of my research and promotion work as well as a few testimonials from some of my previous clients. Even my YouTube account and the playlists I’ve created for Photoshop and Dreamweaver help to boost my online presence a little. If you’re looking for work then I recommend you try to do something similar. In general, my advice is to be careful what you post online. You never know who’s watching.

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Risk Management

I’ve touched on this before but it’s important not to underestimate the value of having contingency plans. If something goes wrong then contingency plans can facilitate quick responses, prevent panic and rectify problems. Most governments and companies develop contingency plans in case of emergencies. This is particularly important for major disasters such as earthquakes or nuclear meltdowns as a slow response could be the difference between life and death.

Contingency plans aren’t always fool proof so it’s important to be able to adapt. Drawing on my own experiences I can recall an event when my computer was infected with a virus. I was just about to submit an assignment that involved FrameMaker when my whole project got deleted :( Not only did the virus wipe my computer clean, it prevented me from accessing anti-virus software and blocked internet access. Eventually I was able to fix my computer by opening the computer in safe-mode and by using system restore. Luckily (or so I thought), I had rough work saved on my memory stick. I did some work on my project and went to get the rough work from my memory stick to fill in the gaps. Unfortunately, the virus must have infected my computer at an earlier date than I thought because the virus was also on my memory stick :O Again, everything I had done was gone and my deadline was uncomfortably close. Luckily I had aimed to do my assignment early so I had a small amount of time to start everything from scratch.

On a more positive note we can learn from our experiences. After I removed the virus a second time I made a mental note to update my anti-virus software more regularly. Also, I often save drafts of my work on Google Docs or a second memory stick. Can you think of any other situations where contingency plans are important?

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