Thursday, October 13, 2005

Project Proposal

Project Goal:
For students to recognize the importance of audience groups in technical writing and how it affects the way documents are written. They will also learn techniques they can use to address four primary audience groups.

Student Profile:
The class is primarily made up of students from the College of Engineering and include a diverse group of sophomores, juniors and seniors. It is very common for students to dispute the value of the class for a number of reasons. First, many of them do not think they will be doing a lot of writing in the professional world. The expectation is that they will spend eight hours a day doing "engineering" and not writing, so the prospect of a writing course is frequently not very exciting.

Many of the students put off taking the class, which is a requirement for most of the engineering programs, for this reason. The consequence is that we get a number of juniors and seniors who ultimately feel that the information we cover is beneath them. It is not theoretically complex so it commonly gets dismissed as being simple common sense.

Other students put off taking the course because they lack confidence in their writing skills. They would much rather take an exam than write an essay. The engineering programs give them an opportunity to excel in the things that interest them (frequently mathematics) while TC 231 forces them to confront a known weakness. This can make them uncomfortable and also adversely affect their motivation to do well in the class.

Finally, the class usually has a group of students who are non-native English speakers. For these students, every act of writing can be a chore. Even small assignments end up taking them extraordinary amounts of time, and some even employ outside help through one of the many writing centers on campus. The effort required will often not match up well with the amount of time invested and their motivation will suffer because of it.

All of the students have experience in other writing courses, but most of them have not had any formal training in technical writing. They are most familiar with a style of writing that has one audience member: their professor. They do not have any experience tailoring their content, organization, style, or tone to the needs or expectations of variety of potential readers.

Proposed Strategy
This project will help students understand the characteristics of different audiences, their needs, and how they use written communication. This will be accomplished through an interactive program that will allow students o create personas for each of the four audience groups we study in TC 231. They will choose qualities from a prepared list of characteristics that would be expected for each audience group. The importance of these qualities will be reinforced through the use of animations, sound effects and video that reflect the environment that each audience member will be working in.

The act of creating individual personas will help the student feel more personally invested in the project. The presence of sound and video will help keep the student engaged in the exercise. The expected duration of the exercise, approximately 10-15 minutes, will make this a nice supplement to classroom instruction and can easily be completed as part of a homework assignment.


This site will be used to post updates on my EDC&I/TC 436 instructional design project. I will use this space for progress reports, resource aggregation, questions, testing, and a laundry list of other things that I have not considered yet.

My project will focus on one of the primary concepts that I try to communicate to my own students in TC 231, Intro to Technical Writing: the importance of audience analysis. My preliminary idea is to blend instruction with practice in an interactive setting. For example, they will learn the characteristics of the four audience groups we discuss in one portion while actively creating their own audience personas in another.

The use of video is being considered as well.