Tuesday, November 23, 2010

thicker threads

I've long proposed that the relationship between technical communication and instructional design needs to be explored more deeply than it has been. In fact, it's an area of my yet-to-be-taken qualifying exams. As an extension of that relationship, I've recently started pulling on the thread that runs through online course design (as a generic practice) and technical communication.

We covered some of this ground in Krista's class last year -- specifically the relationships among information architecture, information design, and technical communication. In a current online course design project, I'm finding that understanding these relationships helps me better describe and illustrate to faculty what they have to do when creating an online course.

For example, technical communication is all about content. Online courses are all about the content. Structuring that content in a logical, meaningful, and usable way is sometimes difficult for faculty new to online course design. Technical communicators, on the other hand, intuitively understand how to do this. By introducing basic concepts of information architecture to faculty -- even rudimentary folder/item metaphors -- I've been able to show them the connection between instructional content and instructional sequence.

Similarly, technical communicators have long struggled with presenting content in usable, useful, and effective designs. On the successes and failures of these struggles, it's easy to introduce faculty to basic concepts of information design -- working with the options (and limitations) of the interfaces through which their course content will be served. After faculty understand the role of heuristics in the online course space, they are always less intimidated by multi-layered content and web-based instructional technologies.

About twelve years ago my little technical writing department was making a case to be positioned as the information hub within a software development company. It seemed a bit of a stretch at the time, but now I think we may have been on to something. The (rapidly changing) nature of technical communication places the TCer in a unique position to weave together threads of a wide range of disciplines, practices, and theories. Maybe this is what makes it so hard to define technical communication. Maybe it's what makes practicing technical communication so much fun.

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