Long weekends like the last two can be a blessing for a writer who always seems to be running very close to deadline. The holidays gave me a chance to work on each of the three columns I write on a regular basis.
- "Tech Proof" for the website Education World. Aimed at the mainstream classroom teacher, it appears monthly on very general educational technology issues.
- "Media Matters" for ISTE's Leading and Learning with Technology. The primary audience is tech-savvy library media specialists (but since the organization serves a wide-range of educators, may be read by them as well) and appears in four issues of the magazine each year.
- "Head for the Edge" that appears in Library Media Connection each month. Mainstream library media specialists are the readers. I've written this one since God's dog was still a puppy (or 1995, anyway.)
And even after all this writing, I still am not convinced I really know what I am doing.
Thinking about each column over the past couple weeks gave me a chance to reflect on the audience each venue serves. It's not unusual for me to deal with a single technology or library issue, but in very different ways depending on the group for whom I am writing. How do we connect with others on technology issues in ways that resonate? That create change? That illuminate rather than confuse?
One fear I have about technology writing is with what I call the "Alpha Wolf" syndrome. I've written about this in regard to instructors in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Technology Trainers:
6. Knowing what is essential and what is only confusing.
A good trainer will have a list of the skills the learners should have mastered by the end of the training. As instruction proceeds, that list will be the basis for frequent checks for understanding. As an often-random thinker, I find such a list keeps me as an instructor on track and provides a class roadmap for the learner. Now here’s the catch with this one: truly great technology teachers know what things beginning learners really need to know to make them productive and what things might be conveyed that only serve to impress a captive audience with the technologist’s superior intellect. (“The email address is comprised of the username, the domain name, the subdomain name, the computer name, all referenced in a lookup table at the NIC.” Like that.) It’s an alpha wolf thing, especially common with males. Be aware of it, and strive as an instructor to use charm and a caring demeanor with the pack to achieve dominance instead.
This applies to writers as well, knowing what's essential, what's helpful, and what's just showing your vast command of TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms).
But now I am thinking that some deep background in how technology works might in the long run be critical to a user's long-term success. What has me wondering is reading Michael Pollan's wonderful new book, The Ominvores's Dillema.
I am gaining, not just knowledge and facts about the food I eat, but an understanding of food and deeper appreciation of nutrition. Knowing how the Chicken McNugget got to McDonalds and its ingredients are a good deal more meaningful than a simple chart with calories and fat grams listed.
Applied to technology, might this mean that a tech user would be more adept at dealing with spam if s/he understood more about what spam actually is, why it is sent, and the logic behind spam filters rather than the simple "5 Steps You Can Take to Reduce Your Spam" approach. But how do we keep the person who has a healthy perspective on technology (thinks of it as little as possible) awake during the information session on "why filtering alogrithms work and why they don't"?
I very much appreciated Will Richardson's tribute to writing instructor Donald Murray on Weblogg-ed. I had never heard of the Mr. Murray, but Will's words made me wish I had. One quote from Murray opened a little window into some of my writing questions:
“The good writer is always forcing the reader to contribute to the text. What is published is only half–or less– of the text…”
Don'tcha love it when the view becomes a little clearer?