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?

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