The relationship between the subjects of this site, education technology and technical communication, may seem somewhat arbitrary, so I decided I should briefly explain why they fit together. Education technology, and education generally, involves translating content and processes (including writing essays, solving equations, analyzing complex problems, and conducting research) for the students placed under the direction of the instructor. The students themselves then supply direct and indirect feedback about the activities and discussions from the class via surveys, comments, and assessments, and the instructor adjusts his/her content based upon the results.
This negotiation between the expertise and objectives of the instructor and the priorities and preferences of his/her students matches the interaction between the producers and users of interfaces and products. I have always prioritized usability during my technical communication courses because its principles form the backbone of healthy interactions between “technicians” and “laypeople.” While teachers and technicians may have more content-knowledge and experience than students and the everyday users of commercial products, the short-term and long-term performance of end-users remains the best method of assessing the value of instructional and corporate designs.
Education and EdTech could learn from technical communication. Instead of asking how technology can make classes more “memorable” or “modern,” we should consider how technology might help students and the general public lead more meaningful and productive lives. How might technology improve civic participation and address current events (I nearly cried when I read the news from Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Dallas)? How might the principles of usability, recognizing the different contexts where educators and students live and work, improve how we evaluate our K-12 schools and universities (particularly when we account for increased student debt and the limited opportunities for recent graduates)? When might education technology help students not only practice but extend and apply the skills they learn from the classroom and their everyday lives? What demands will these imperatives place upon already overworked and underpaid instructors?
The world has rarely felt less usable, and technical communication and education seem like two significant paths towards relief. My condolences for the families of those who have lost their lives over the past few days, and hopefully tomorrow will have better news.