Archive for the ‘Usability’ Category

Though not yet finished my reading for this week, I wanted to blog about two of the articles I am reading. The first is by Jennifer Daryl Slack, David James Miller, and Jeffrey Doak. It’s called “Technical Communicator as Author: Meaning, Power, Authority.” The second is “Extreme Usability and Technical Communication” by Bradley Dilger. Both are within Critical Power Tools edited by J. Black Scott, Bernadette Longo, and Katherine V. Wills.

So, first Slack Miller and Doak. (more…)

I had a meeting on Friday where I described my thesis and my idea of discount peer response. At first, the person I was talking to thought it was a fine name, but when I started going through my ideas and hit Peer Response 2.0, she said that was perfect and that the idea was ‘newsworthy.’

She thinks that the real place to focus is the use of Google Docs with peer response, and to both address how the students use it and how the teachers use it. Showing that it makes revision an active part of the process is a great step. It’s very exciting, and now I have a myriad of sources to investigate before I turn two pages of my thesis into an article length paper.

In about 10 minutes, I’m going to a meeting to discuss my theory of discount peer response. In a few months, assuming I can still get a plane ticket, I’ll present it at CCCC (which was iffy for a bit, until I found I had departmental funding). Somewhere between now and the beginning of the fall semester, I’m going to try to rewrite my thesis into a solid article, and try to publish it in CCC. I’ve already been advised on three major issues: the tone (less as an experienced teacher, more as an exploring one), the references (need more cutting edge stuff), and the name.


The clock ticks

Posted: March 31, 2008 in meta, Pedagogy, Usability

About a week ago, my adviser asked me if I had started packing yet (I’m moving to another school for a PhD program next year). I responded “Not physically.” He laughed. I hadn’t meant it as a joke. At the time, I thought I meant just that while I had started planning how to pack things up (like my office), I hadn’t actually started yet.

Looking back, though, I see that I really did mean what he thought I meant. I’ve started packing up and leaving school. I have one foot out the door. Senioritis, if you prefer. And I really don’t like that. (more…)

Much as I would love this to flow out of me as a fully formed academic argument, complete with support and high enough quality to immediately merit publication (and, as long as I’m dreaming, wide spread accolade), that just isn’t going to happen. So, at best, I can call this a brainstorm that may eventually lead to part of an academic argument.


In all honesty, I wasn’t sure how much value I’d really get out of this book once I started reading it. It’s not that Nielsen isn’t saying good and important things. It’s just that this book has been so influential that I already knew most of the stuff he was talking about. The book was written at the end of 1999, and kind of a lot has happened since then. Many of the suggestions that at the time were probably revolutionary are now the standard operating procedures.

It is interesting to see where some of these ideas came from, though. I like reading about the importance of making sure that text sizes on a web page are relative, and how to deal with various accessibility issues for websites. I like his treatment of frames, where he says that his basic advice is “Frames: Just Say No” (85), which fits with what I’ve been taught (and, in fact, what I was taught was based on many of the ideas this book is presenting.

As I moved through the book, beginning to succumb to the desire to skim over content discussing actual web design, content that I read already in other books that were published after this one, I eventually hit a few things that really caught my interest. (more…)

The paper on discount peer response went, in my opinion, very well. I’m quite proud of it. There are issues that still need to be addressed, and there will be revisions that still need to be made, but for the most part, it’s pretty solid. In terms of my thesis, that word has come down that I can use that paper as the first 50% of it. So I need another 20 pager to round things out; one that focuses on theory and not on teaching. It’s a good point; I do need to examine other things. As much as I want to spend my life teaching, I know that part of the game is theory and publishing, and if I want to get the teaching gigs I want, I need to play the game. Besides, theory is fun. So I have the other 50% to get done.

(actually, doing the math, the first paper is 45%, the second is 45%, and a brief introduction tying the two together will comprise the other 10%)

So I need to figure out what I want to do for the second half. Which means heading back to my list of research interests. For the purpose of this brainstorm, I’m going to go down the list and see what I have immediately to say about each of the items that jump out at me.


The new semester has begun, and I am back to work. I’ve set a goal for myself of reading 500 pages a week, one that I imagine will take me a little while to get up to. But more importantly, I’ve decided that I will not write for my thesis at least until March, thus giving me a solid month and a half of just reading. I likely will continue reading into March in order to refine whatever I’ve figured out in this first run of reading, but for now, I’m just trying to broaden my knowledge base, so that I can approach problems from a place of better understanding.

To that end, today I finished reading Jakob Nielsen’s Usability Engineering, which I had started before the break. This book was somewhat revolutionary for me, as Nielsen has tended to be in recent experiences. What follows is a somewhat unorthodox review of the book. As with everything else here, this review is slanted towards my own research, and so not all of the book was relevant to me. (more…)

My paper is really coming together. I need to move a few things around, but the essence of it is pretty solid. As I worked through it last weekend, I found that discount peer response just makes sense. I’m kind of amazed no one has ever written about this before. Of course, probably someone has; I just haven’t found it.

There’s a bit of parallel I still need to finalize, but the two (user testing and peer response) map so well onto each other that I’m frankly somewhat amazed.

Today in class I did an informal survey that helped me feel more confident about my findings. All semester, I have allowed students to perform a discount peer response on their papers for extra credit. If they took the papers to someone else and had that someone respond to the paper, then created a new draft based on the response, they gained two extra points. They could do this up to three times per semester. As I intended, those who did this generally didn’t need the extra credit (as a paper written in five drafts will invariably get a better grade than one written in two).

What I asked them today was, of those who did the peer response outside of class, which was more effective? Was peer response more helpful in class or out of class? (more…)

I have finally gotten my hands on Nielsen’s Usability Engineering.  I’m very early on (about 40 pages in), but I have to say that my earlier ideas of mapping usability on to writing studies are feeling more and more dead on.

I almost feel as though I could write another book, modeled on Nielsen’s, that says everything he says, but about writing instead of usability.

I’m very excited about this.  The paper is still formulating, but I’m feeling gaps close and the cloud of ideas is beginning to coalesce.