tekom - Europe

Program

The EAC takes place on May 8, 2020 in Twente.
The program of the European Academic Colloquium is organized together with the Technical Communication Day, a yearly one-day conference primarily focused on practitioners. The topics of the presentations and workshops at the Technical Communication Day include ‘Conversational design and chatbots’ and ‘Innovative Video Instructions’.
The full program and the timetable will be published soon.

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Keynote - The shift from Internet to the Internet of things: a user skills and inequality perspective

Alexander van Deursen

Research around digital skills has exposed that large parts of the population struggle with efficient and effective use of the internet. This has major implications for the benefits that people derive from internet use.

What does this mean in light of current internet developments, characterized by large networks of smart devices that sense our environments and make autonomous decisions?

The potential benefits of these new technologies are even larger. Yet, the deceptive ease of use of these technologies does not mean that skills become less important and that more people will benefit

Dynamics of Design in Digital Domains: Approaches to Addressing the User Experience in Digital Contexts

Kirk St. Amant

Digital environments, from software screens to web pages to app interfaces, require individuals to orient themselves in and move through a variety of digital spaces.  In these environments, usability is connected to how quickly and easily users can locate key features, identify desired functions, and move from screen to screen or feature to feature.  All of these factors are connected to how the mind processes information in digital spaces and interacts with items in digital environments.  The better technical communicators understand such dynamics, the more effectively they can design different digital materials to meet user needs and facilitate the use of a product.

This proposed presentation would address these factors by reviewing how the mind processes information in digital space.  To do so, the presenter will focus on discussing how the mind searches for and locates digital features as well as what cognitive processes affect how persons interact with digital materials or use digital products.  

Specifically, the presenter would

  • Overview the ways in which the mind searches for items in digital spaces
  • Review how the mind identifies features, functions, and other digital design items
  • Examine the expectations that affect how users interact with (and use) digital media
  • Summarize how to use cognitive aspects to guide research in and testing of digital materials

The objective of this approach would be to provide attendees with the theoretical foundation and methodological application essential to developing usable digital products for different users.  To help attendees understand such concepts, the presenter will use examples of how different digital features have been developed by organizations in order to address the usability expectations of certain audiences.

The Value of Universal Visual Design in Technical Communication Education: A Theory-Driven, Client-Based Approach

Katalin Beck & Wendy Winn

Equipping technical communicators with proficiency in visual design is an objective shared between the TecCom framework developed for technical communication education in the EU and the desired competencies of technical communication in the US.

At the same time, it is imperative to cultivate strong intercultural competence in future technical communication professionals to meet the cultural challenges in visual communication. We argue that through authentic, client-based, active learning experiences, students in technical communication can develop a critical awareness about the cultural and accessibility considerations that should guide their choices in visual rhetoric.

Our presentation offers a model for solving communication problems by replacing words with images, using the theory of Gestalt and semiotics. Technical communication education can benefit from client-based projects as they give students hands-on experience solving a “real world” problem; in this case, they are applying Gestalt principles to the task; discovering how signs make meaning iconically, indexically and symbolically; and gaining a sensitivity toward other cultural perspectives.

The value of this approach is exigent since universal visual design is a less studied aspect of visual rhetoric, yet it is gaining ever-increasing relevance in local and global contexts as accessibility issues around information products continue to grow. Universal visual design promotes inclusion, where the goal is to reach the greatest number of users possible in a given situation. Accessibility issues arise in healthcare when patients who are non-native speakers and their native-speaking providers must overcome language barriers to effectively communicate.

One possible solution is to invest in expensive software translation programs, but not all service providers can afford them. To address this problem, in a client-based project, students were tasked with designing wordless instructions for a medical clinic using Gestalt principles and semiotics. As part of the product development cycle, the information products were usability-tested by applying the theory of least action, which measured the cognitive effort that users expended (based on a mathematical formula) to understand the visual instructions. The tested user group included patients with varied linguistic, cultural, and educational backgrounds. Through critical reflective writing, technical communication students examined their learning experiences, which ideally connect praxis to theory. Based on the assessment of these evaluations, we can draw conclusions about how the modeled pragmatic approach can instrumentalize a theoretical understanding.

This project is just one of the approaches that can help students achieve the visual and intercultural communication competencies that their global clients require. Extending these types of client-based learning opportunities across borders and industries can add further dimensions to our model, and continued research on their effectiveness can successfully promote the theory-to-practice feedback loop.

The Importance of Language in User Experience: The Case of User Interface Texts

Hans-Jörg Elsen & Birgitta Meex

In the digital economy, where everything is a service, users expect technology to work for them, whether they are shopping, banking, or using enterprise software. The quality of the user experience (UX) is affected by everything users interact with in digital environments. User interface (UI) texts in particular are an important asset in the UX, and they operate on multiple levels. They guide the user through the application and provide access to all the content that users see when they interact with a device. They range from icons, buttons and page titles to menus and help texts. Moreover, UI texts can be seen as the locus where user experience and technical communication intersect. To ensure an excellent and robust digital user experience, UX designers consider a variety of visual design methods, including unity, Gestalt properties, space, hierarchy, balance, contrast, scale, dominance, and similarity. While it is generally acknowledged that UI design is focused on visual creation principles, many product owners, developers and UX professionals do not appreciate the crucial importance of language in user experience. The aim of this proposed presentation is exactly to shed light on this fundamental, but surprisingly often overlooked aspect: language.

Drawing on real-world examples, the following questions are addressed:

  • Which principles are shared by technical communication and usability engineering?
  • How does language affect interactions with items in UI environments?
  • To which extent are text production guidelines and methods that are commonly used in technical communication to craft good content transferable to UI texts?
  • When are linguistic design principles preferable to visual design principles?

While discussing these questions, the audience will be given new impulses about the language principles that work well in UI environments and that may be directly integrated into daily practice or may be further developed for research purposes.

Defining Learning Objectives for Technical Communicators That Align with the Critical Thinking Requirement in the Digitalization Era: A Literature Study

Chaiping Chen & Menno de Jong & Joyce Karreman

Critical thinking became popular as a valuable thinking skill in the last century (Paul, 1992). Today, it is considered an essential part of 21st-century skills (Van Laar et al., 2017). The competency of critical thinking is also included in the competence framework for technical communicators at higher education levels (Cleary et al., 2017). Besides, the pervasive trend of digitalization asks for new competencies related to critical thinking that should be acquired by technical communicators. Therefore, developing students’ critical thinking skills is necessary in the education of technical communicators in today’s digitalized world.

Although critical thinking is important, few studies focus on the practice of critical thinking development in technical communication courses. One reason may be that technical communication is a new field compared to other disciplines of education (Cleary et al., 2017). Another reason may be that teachers focus more on conveying domain knowledge rather than training students’ thinking processes. But the improvement of thinking processes and acquiring domain knowledge do not have to be separated. On the contrary, the inclusion of thinking training can be helpful in conveying knowledge. The ultimate goal of our research project is to design an educational framework that includes the training of critical thinking skills in technical communication programs.

The first step in this project is to define learning objectives, which is also the focus of this paper. In order to be able to define learning objectives that combine critical thinking with technical communication education, three questions need to be answered.

First, how do we define critical thinking in the digitalization era? Critical thinking has been popular since 1980, but “What is critical thinking?” remains controversial (Ennis, 2018). And in today’s era of digitalization, the definition can be broader, in accordance with technology development.

Second, we need to define the scope of technical communication education. The TecCOMFrame project provides a comprehensive framework for education in technical communication, containing six dimensions and twenty-four subjects. It also mentions that there is no need to include every subject in every curriculum (Karreman et al., 2018). In this project, we concentrate on the core content belonging to the domain of technical communication.

Third, we need to investigate how to design effective learning objectives. There is no fixed standard for the design of learning objectives. Das et al. (2018) stated that learning objectives should be very specific and that they serve to describe learning outcomes. Rohloff et al. recommended personalized learning objectives (2019). We plan to design learning objectives appropriate for technical communication that are focused on critical thinking.

In order to answer the above questions, we have started to conduct a literature review. These three academic databases are used for finding related studies: Scopus, Web of Science and PsycINFO. The search will consider the definition of critical thinking, core subjects in the domain of technical communication, and designing learning objectives.

At the conference, we’d like to present the results of the study and shed more light on the topic of integrating critical thinking skills in technical communication education.

The Value of Universal Visual Design in Technical Communication Education

A Theory-Driven, Client-Based Approach

Equipping technical communicators with proficiency in visual design is an objective shared between the TecCom framework developed for technical communication education in the EU and the desired competencies of technical communication in the US. At the same time, it is imperative to cultivate strong intercultural competence in future technical communication professionals to meet the cultural challenges in visual communication. We argue that through authentic, client-based, active learning experiences, students in technical communication can develop a critical awareness about the cultural and accessibility considerations that should guide their choices in visual rhetoric. 

Our presentation offers a model for solving communication problems by replacing words with images, using the theory of Gestalt and semiotics. Technical communication education can benefit from client-based projects as they give students hands-on experience solving a “real world” problem; in this case, they are applying Gestalt principles to the task; discovering how signs make meaning iconically, indexically and symbolically; and gaining a sensitivity toward other cultural perspectives. The value of this approach is exigent since universal visual design is a less studied aspect of visual rhetoric, yet it is gaining ever-increasing relevance in local and global contexts as accessibility issues around information products continue to grow. Universal visual design promotes inclusion, where the goal is to reach the greatest number of users possible in a given situation. 

Accessibility issues arise in healthcare when patients who are non-native speakers and their native-speaking providers must overcome language barriers to effectively communicate. One possible solution is to invest in expensive software translation programs, but not all service providers can afford them. To address this problem, in a client-based project, students were tasked with designing wordless instructions for a medical clinic using Gestalt principles and semiotics. As part of the product development cycle, the information products were usability-tested by applying the theory of least action, which measured the cognitive effort that users expended (based on a mathematical formula) to understand the visual instructions. The tested user group included patients with varied linguistic, cultural, and educational backgrounds. Through critical reflective writing, technical communication students examined their learning experiences, which ideally connect praxis to theory. Based on the assessment of these evaluations, we can draw conclusions about how the modeled pragmatic approach can instrumentalize a theoretical understanding. 

This project is just one of the approaches that can help students achieve the visual and intercultural communication competencies that their global clients require. Extending these types of client-based learning opportunities across borders and industries can add further dimensions to our model, and continued research on their effectiveness can successfully promote the theory-to-practice feedback loop.  

Technical Communication Day 2019