Are your students writing technical manuals?

If not, why not?

Technical manuals are such a challenge to read.  If you’re Scotty from Star Trek, you might read them from cover to cover.  But, how about the rest of us?  Most software applications or websites come with pretty comprehensive manuals that explain every nuance that goes with their product.  There are great jobs in that field writing those manuals but at times, they can miss the mark when it comes to the end user.

Recently, a good friend of mind and her husband were over for supper and we were reminiscing about an incredible group of students that she had and I had the good fortune to work with.  She was looking for an innovative way to work technology into her media literacy  and we had talked about a number of things to make it happen.  We had worked a great deal with Web 2.0 applications and so decided to create a class wiki and work many of these applications into what she was doing.

In one of my visits to the classroom, I noticed that one of the students had written instructions for one of her classmates about how to use a particular application.  It struck me that this was significant.  It was insightful – got from beginning to end efficiently – and got the other students up and running without teacher intervention.  And, they were all productively using the application.

I was so impressed that I wrote about it in one edition of my monthly newsletters.

The result was so cool.  Each student in the class took upon themselves the task of identifying a particular application and writing instructions about it for their classmates.  What was impressive was the building and sharing of knowledge.  By themselves, they had grown their collective abilities.

I had previously noted their efforts with posts about “Inspiration from kids” and “An amazing class“.  They also made a followup in my newsletter.

Over our supper as we were reminiscing, the conversation revealed a couple of other uses for this activity.  First, the instructions, which had been contributed to the wiki, allowed a quick and easy starting point for new students.  Secondly, the original students, who were now in attendance at secondary schools, were really flying with their abilities to learn and understand new things.

I think we all can acknowledge that you never really understand something until you’re required to explain it to someone else.  So, doesn’t it make sense that technical writing helps students become better technology users?

OTR Links 10/31/2011

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Do I now have a solution?

If you’ve been following me, you know that I’ve had problems with Mac OS X 10.7.# in revs 0, 1, and now 2.  In fairness, the lockups that I’ve been having have dramatically dropped since the update to 10.7.2.  But, there was one problem that persists quite regularly.  It was iTunes which was the latest bad actor on the computer.

When I would launch the application, it would appear to start but then nothing would happen or the screen would appear and the spinning beachball/pizza of death would just do its spinning thing.  Frustrated, I would bring up the Force Quit window where I was informed that iTunes was not responding.  Well, duh!  For a while, I would just quit the application but bizarrely, if I tried to launch it again, it would start (after a while) and work properly.  I did try once doing a cold start and waited for about 10 minutes and the application would function.  So, it appears that things were just working, albeit incredibly slowly.

With the iCloud services in 10.7.2, I thought that there might be synchronizing issues but I could turn it on and off and the problem persisted.  So, I had resigned myself to waiting for an update to 10.7.3 or more.

Then, I stumbled upon this article in my morning reads.

Fix a Lion file-opening hang in Mac OS X 10.7.2

I literally snapped to attention as I clicked over to the article.  Then, it was like lunch-bag let down as the article makes reference to an application that I don’t have installed – Acorn.  But, I go ahead and read the article anyway.

The circumstances sound precisely like what I’m experiencing except for a different application.  Hmmmm.

What the heck?  Let’s give it a try.  The instructions are pretty straight forward.  I’m just looking for a folder called Ubiquity located at:

~/Library/Application Support/

I find the folder and my logged in name did, in fact, have the proper permissions attached.  Rats.

So, I went to the next step and dragged the Ubiquity folder to my desktop and restarted the computer.  I took a peek and OS X recreated the folder where it was supposed to be and there were similar but not exact contents inside the folder.  

Now, for the acid test.  I start iTunes and it’s almost like “instant on” and it’s ready to rock.  The speed was almost blinding.  I couldn’t believe it but sure enough, the program was working well and playing my music like the good ol’ Snow Leopard days.

Now, I’m not ready to trash the original Ubiquity folder yet – I’ll tuck it away for a while (probably forever as I’ll forget) – but the whole process seems to make things work really nicely.  

My initial digging around seems to indicate that Ubiquity is related to iCloud so I’m wondering if I’ve just pushed a problem down the timeline or maybe I’ve been proactive and am preventing one. 

Who knows, but for this moment in time, I’m happy with the way things are working and I haven’t been since I upgraded to 10.7 in a hotel room in Toronto this summer.  So, why am I posting this here?  I like to share my learning and my success stories in case someone else is in the same boat.

p.s. Read about another user who experienced the same thing here.

OTR Links 10/30/2011

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Been there, done that, still like it…

So, I was reading in Zite and people mentioning this wonderful web application called Flipsnack.  I went to the website, read a little bit, and thought “This is way cool”.  I know what I could do with it.

  • I could export my blog (say the month of October) from WordPress as an XML file;
  • I could upload that file to Blogbooker to create a PDF file of my blog;
  • I could then upload that to Flipsnack and create a flippable version of my blog.

As I got to the third step, I got this strong deja vu feeling.  The process seems so familiar…

I flipped over to my blog management tool and did a search for Flipsnack.  Man….  I had done all of this before AND blogged about it.  It goes back to May and the title was “Wish We’d Blogged More“.  The concept was to create a flippable book of student blogs to close off the year.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.  The more that I think about it, the more I like the concept so let me recover from my Groundhog Day moment and say this should serve as inspiration to start blogging now and continue throughout the year so that you can create a great flippable blog book at the end of the year.  How’s that?

Oh, and just so that the work doesn’t go to waste … here’s the link to my October blog posts.