The Masters is Complete: So Why Am I Confused?

After burning the midnight candle full time for months, the Master’s Degree left me exhausted. Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

Hello, y’all. It’s been a long time since I last posted a blog. I thought I would take a few weeks off blogging to finish up the last of the assignments in fulfilment of the requirements for my MA in Technical Communication and E-Learning.

But, two weeks became months. I misjudged the effort needed to put the final touches on my Master’s journey. One assignment led to another and then another and then, when I submitted the last of the assignments, I had the research project and that consumed the months of May and June.

I submitted the very last assignment at the end of June and the notification from my research supervisor acknowledging receipt of my submission read like a job offer. I was happy to have survived the full-time demands of academics. The weight was finally off my shoulders but, instead of feeling delighted, I felt like I was getting sick.

For over a week, I felt like I had a fever. I lost my motivation. I was feeling fatigued, and restless. My body ached in ways I cannot describe. My knees hurt. My back hurt. I feared I was getting seriously sick and considered going to the hospital.

Yet, I was not sick. I had no temperature, yet my skin seemed sensitive to touch. I had my appetite, I could smell food, and eat, sometimes more than normal. I was feeling very confused, very anxious. I blamed the changing weather even though it was getting warmer.

Little did I know that I was suffering the ‘Let Down Effect’. I had never heard about this condition. But scientists have documented it. You can read about the Let Down Effect in this brief article or this one which is more detailed.

Basically, “The Let Down Effect is a condition that leads to illness or symptoms (of illness in my case) following stressful events, such as conflict, time-pressured work projects, or school exams.”

Reading about the Let Down Effect made me feel better. I was lucky I did not need to visit the hospital, and I took solace in daily exercise (long walks and cycling).

I do not want to be prescriptive because I am aware that we all experience stress differently.  What worked for me might not work for anybody else. But if you suspect you could be suffering from a Let Down Effect episode. I suggest you make a call to your doctor.

Job hunting

Finishing my MA is the first step in my attempt at a career pivot. After working in the media for close to 20 years, I want a break. The media no longer inspires me and I wish to have a go at many other things.

The MA in Technical Communication and E-Learning prepares one to be many things. It is not like a law degree that prepares you to be a solicitor or a barrister. This MA prepares you to be a multidisciplinary field player.

And because I am job hunting, being multidisciplinary his can lead to some confusion. I am happy to be a technical writer because I love writing and the learning curve in such a role would not be so steep. But I also want to work in education because the idea of learning new things, like learning to use a new tool or a piece of software, very stimulating and exciting.

Career pivots can be exciting, but daunting at the same time. I love this line from this website and I hope it is true: “career changers jump an empty space onto a completely different path. This change creates new experiences and new requirements. While these may seem like career change obstacles, they are nearly identical to every other job search out there.”

What type of learner are you? 

Sticking with education, you have probably done an online survey to determine what kind of learner you are. The commonest is the VARK theory which stipulates that learners are either Visual, Auditory, Reading/writing, and or Kinesthetic.

Learning styles theories are varied, but each of these theories holds that people learn in different ways and that learning can be optimized for an individual by tailoring instruction to (their) style. For example, one theory has it that some people learn best by watching (visual learners), some by listening (auditory learners), and some by moving (kinesthetic learners). (Willingham et al. 2016)

I did one such survey which put me in the Visual/Kinesthetic category. But it turns out profiling learners according to learning style is not only unhelpful, it is unnecessary because there is no such a thing as a learning style. It is all a misconception.

Derek Muller debunks the learning style conception.

According to Derek Muller (Ph.D.), there are several “teaching methods that can improve learning and learning styles is not one of them.” Watch the video above and tell me what you think.

Till next time.

John

This is not the end. This is not the wrap-up blog

The sun is setting on my MA journey at UL. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” 

Winston Churchill, 1942.

This is not the final blog post. This blog is not going to ending here. I am not signing off. Not yet.

First, this MA program has not ended. We might be nearing April and closing in on the sunset and the home stretch but when I look at my schedule there are a couple of corners ahead.

If you visualise a marathon, there is enough distance to win it. If you imagine a sprint, there is a lot left to lose it all. 

However, the module that led to this blog has ended and after today, after this very posting, everything that is published here will no longer be subjected to a specific requirement leading to academic assessment. 

I enjoyed writing these weekly posts and I hope to continue with the blog. I just need to work out a suitable schedule. 

But to conclude the assignment, it is only fair that I look back and reflect on the journey I have covered so far.

  • Trepidation  

When I signed up for this MA program, I had no idea that it would be ending without me stepping into a lecture room or physically meeting with any of my classmates or lecturers. 

I had been out of school for close to 20 years and had a bias on what I thought studying online involved. I am kind of old school and for my undergraduate program lectures were often delivered in crowded rooms with poor or no public address systems. 

The pandemic hit us with such force; I did not have the time to fully research how online studying is conducted. Maybe that was a good thing because I started this MA with limited expectations. When you start with few expectations, it is very difficult to be disappointed. But when you do not fully know what to expect, it is also very easy to be overwhelmed. 

Initially, I thought doing a master’s degree would be a walk in the park. I imagined I would dedicate a few hours a day. I even contemplated taking a job despite choosing to do this course full time.

I worried about getting bored. I have been working every day for as long as I remember, and I thought I would get demotivated without the routine of work.

I had no idea how the lockdown would impact my life, my studies, and my young family in a new country without the ability to meet people and make friends. 

Starting out in September 2020, I had so many worries about so many unknowns. I am writing to you right now because most of those worries never came to pass. It has not been easy, but I am here.

  • Abstract Teachings

For a large part, the lectures on this program have been mainly theoretical as is expected in academia. I have worked in the media before, and I have a rough idea about some communication concepts but not technical communication and not to this level of detail. Reading about fellows like Benjamin Bloom, Robert Gagne illuminated some of the concepts that are cardinal in journalism. As someone who didn’t have formal journalism training but who worked in the industry for close to 20 years, so many things started making sense after reading about these theorists. 

I taught myself some bits of graphic design and EL6041 Instructional Design was a very helpful module in establishing the knowledge behind the concepts.

  • Peer Review Exercise

The program did not only dwell on theory. The assignments were majorly practical and emphasised putting into practice the theoretical concepts learned. The most interesting exercise was the peer collaboration on TW5211 Theory of Technical Communication. We had to write a research proposal (I had never written one) and post it on a class forum and classmates would advise us on how to improve it. Then we would improve it and submit the final document for assessment. It was the closest thing to face-to-face learning and yet it was 100% online and I must say that I learned a lot from reading comments about my draft work by classmates and reading their work. 

I believe my research proposal for RM6031 Research Methods was a better document because of this exercise. 

  • Learning From Others

Because of the physical absence of classmates and the lack of lab sessions, we have been forced to learn practical skills on our own. Working on the podcast assignment was like diving in at the deep end without knowing how to swim. David Deutsch the famous physicist once said that anything that is possible can be accomplished with the right understanding and for me that can be best exemplified by my learning from zero, how to use the audio editor and recording program Audacity. And not just learn how to use it but how to create a podcast on it. 

It is incredible how much instruction is available on platforms like YouTube. Some of the videos are complex but some are very good, easy, and very instructive. You just need a bit of patience and a lot of commitment and you will have the right understanding to accomplish anything.

  • Learning From Practitioners

The lecturers give us the knowledge base, but it is when you listen to someone working as a technical communicator, that you truly appreciate what it means to be one. I said last week that listening to someone on the job you are training to do helps you visualise your future role. We have had many former students, now working, coming to talk to us and their webinars have been very enriching. 

  • Working On a Resource

The assignment to develop an interactive resource on EL6072 pushed me out of the comfort zone I had managed to create for myself. That meant that I had to learn how to use another software tool. Last semester, I learned how to use Audacity now, the program that many seems to be talking about is Articulate 360 and its derivatives. To develop the resource, we could use any tool of our choice and classmates made numerous suggestions, but I determined that I would develop my resource using Articulate, just for the heck of it. The team at Articulate has an unbelievable collection of instructional videos on their online community website and on their YouTube channel and again, if you are patient and determined, every tool is learnable.

  • Regrets

Regrets are part of learning. And looking back, if I could do this all over again, I would do proper research about the program and what is required. I guess it was because I had been out of school for a long time, but it took me a couple of weeks to fully appreciate how hard I needed to pedal. 

  • A Better Me?

The program is not over yet, but I think I am a better version of myself. 

I have a clearer understanding of the role of a technical communicator.

I now appreciate podcasts better when I listen to them. 

I can tell a good graphic from a poor one. 

I can use tools like audacity and articulate which I had never used before. 

I understand why lessons at school are structured the way they are structured. 

I can now write a research proposal and literature review chapter. 

I could design but now I can design with confidence and support my design choices with theoretical evidence.

Learning never ends and there is still a lot to discover. I think Aristotle put it best when he said, “the more you know, the more you know (that) you don’t know.”

Till next time.

John

NOTE: I may not post a new blog for a few weeks as I work to reduce my assignment load, or I may pop in with a brief post. Am not making promises for now. 

But you can help review this blog. Tell me where I can improve in the form below.

Visualising the work of a technical communicator

Users are assisted to get the best from software updated with push notifications directly to their phones. Picture collage by John Mugumya

This week, I dedicated time to completing two related assignments. The first was a topic audit and the second was topic creation.

For the topic audit, the requirement was simple. We were required to identify any user assistance topic published online and identify characteristics that Mark Baker (2013) highlighted in his book Every Page is Page One (EPPO). The second assignment required us to write a topic that conforms to the same characteristics.

  • Topic audit 

Working on this assignment helped me start noticing things that are very evident in online topics but which I had never paid attention to. Recently I wanted to reset my phone to factory settings and naturally went online and accomplished the task with ease. Having done the topic audit, I now appreciate why some online instructions are so easy to carry out. There is an art to writing good instructions after all.

  • Topic creation

This was the harder of the two assignments. We selected the topics ourselves from a list provided by the lecturer and I have mused over the topic for several weeks. I thought it was going to be easy until I started writing. We were limited to 700 words and by the time I was done with the first draft, I was close to 2000 words. 

I immediately knew something was wrong. I recalled Mark Baker’s advice. Start afresh. And so, I did and again went through numerous versions and rewrites. This assignment teaches conciseness, unlike any other writing assignment I have done on this program. You must be specific and effective with your words.

  • Learning from practitioners

This week we got a flavour of what the real work of a technical communicator feels like. We listened to those in the practice first-hand. After learning a lot of theory and abstract concepts, listening to someone on the job you are training to do helps you visualise your future role in a more practical way. 

One lady said one of her roles is writing software release notes. 

Now, in the past, when you bought some software, it would arrive on a CD, and in the pack, you’d find a booklet with the release notes. 

I do not recall ever reading those notebooks cover to cover. They were either in small fonts and unreadable or too complicated to understand. Books are also very problematic to search. I would keep them in a drawer and completely forget about them. If issues arose with the software and I needed to troubleshoot, I’d talk to a colleague or ask someone from IT. I think only IT workers read those notebooks. 

These days, I don’t think a lot of software still ships on CDs, and the release notes aren’t printed out but are published online instead. And we read these notes by the way only that we might not be aware of that. We read them in small chunks called topics. Especially when our gadgets misbehave, and we need to troubleshoot. Or when there is a software update, and we want to know how to use a new feature that has been added. 

And some bits of the release notes are pushed directly to our phones. (see picture below) 

Instead of booklets, software release notes are topic based and availed to users as tips directly on their phones. Picture by John Mugumya

If I had not listened to this lady’s talk or did the two assignments (topic audit and topic creation) I would have had no idea that’s the role of a technical communicator. 

I have an old iPhone 7. It still works. But a few years ago, I started noticing that every time I updated the software version, I’d get notifications popping up on my screen as ‘Tips’. They’d be highlighting new features on my phone like how to Customise Siri Suggestions, or how to Mention Someone in a Group Message. 

These features are a product of software engineers who pack them onto our gadgets but, it is the technical writer who will normally get to highlight them for the user. Or help the user out them to real use. What would be the purpose of adding a good feature to phone software for instance if no one gets to use it simply because users don’t know that that feature exists?

  • Teaching yourself 

Previously students benefitted from lab sessions where the instructors would help them get started on using some of the tools used in the industry. This year, because of Covid19, students have been forced to figure out most of the stuff on their own. And freelance instructors on platforms like YouTube have played a crucial role in this instruction. For instance, I have been working with computers for over 20 years, but I had never bothered to learn how to generate a Table of Contents. I was competent at generating one after a five-minute video.

If this week’s learning highlighted anything, it is the fact that we need more technical communication skills.

Till next week

John

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References

Baker, M., 2013. Every Page is Page One. 1 ed. s.l.:XML Press.

What I have learned and unlearned so far

The Spring is here, the flowers are blooming, the and people are hopeful the gloom of the pandemic will soon be lifted.

I must warn you. You will find some truism here. We are past the halfway mark with this blog assignment, and the spring semester and I thought I needed to take a moment to reflect on what I have learned, and or unlearned so far.

  • Studying with kids.

When schools closed and children got restricted to the home using the same bandwidth for their schooling, I struggled to concentrate on my study work. Kids know how to call for attention. Deliberate or instinctive, kids will always find a way to get you off the computer to deal with a tantrum or pick up the toys. But over the last couple of months, I have learned to concentrate on my work, with kids making noise in the same room.

I used to marvel at people who could read a book on a crowded bus, now I know better.

Coping tip: If you are on a tight deadline, you probably need to either burn the midnight candle, wake up early or lock yourself in a room.

  • The unlimited mind.

I wrote here a few week ago about one assignment which requires me to develop an interactive learning resource. This was challenging, and I was to work on it alone. I didn’t know any of my classmates and I didn’t bother to ask around. So, I dived in at the deep end. A couple of weeks later despite feelings of isolation. I have submitted the proposal and I have been training by way of instructional videos and trial and error.

This tool (Articulate) is very generous with its trial period and every other day I try out a trick and I cannot describe to you the feeling when I manage to replicate something I have only watched on YouTube. It’s a very cool program and I love it. When John Amos Comenius (1592-1670) said “Aristotle compared the mind of man to a blank tablet on which all things could be engraved…” he was right because after starting from zero with Articulate, I can attest that the mind is indeed limitless.

  • End of online studying?

This week, schools resumed in-class instruction in many countries around the world. In Ireland, schools will admit children from other classes to their classrooms after having opened with infants and seniors two weeks ago.

That, the dropping numbers of coronavirus infections, the warming weather, and the fact that many countries are accelerating their vaccination drives has lifted people spirits and there is talk in some forums, that soon we shall say goodbye to studying online and return to the good old days with packed lecture rooms.

After the gloom of the past several months, there are positive vibes all around that the pandemic could be finally ending. Common sense, though, tells us to be cautious. We’ve been here before. Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) famously said: “If we winter this one out, we can summer anywhere.” It is not yet summer. Stay safe.

But I do not think that even when the pandemic ends, the impact that online study has had on education as a whole is something that will be easy to undo as easy as pressing Ctrl+Z.

Studying online is now part and parcel of education, it is no longer the ugly stepsister of the family.

  • Podcast therapy

Pursuing this Masters program full-time brings its stress, doing it in a pandemic, in a new country, in a lockdown without the ability to make and meet friends (classmates or neighbours) is enough to make anyone go bonkers.

When this story is finally told, I will make sure there is a whole chapter dedicated to what I call podcast therapy. I used to listen to podcasts, but not as much as I have over the last several months. Podcasts are my sanctuary, and it seems I am not the only one who is hooked. Will podcasts keep their place in our lives when the pandemic is over?

This week I discovered, and I recommend The Profile. A podcast by Polina Marinova Pompliano, that features stories about what she says are the most successful and interesting people.

What is your favourite podcast? Point me to your best podcasts by posting a comment in the form at the bottom of this blogpost.

  • 2021 is slipping away.

The year 2020 was bad. The year 2021 promises to be better. Anything that follows such a horrible thing as 2020 will always promise. But it is already mid-March and before long we shall be celebrating another Easter in the same rooms we live, work, study, and sleep, our homes. Can you imagine sustaining this kind of existence for another 12 months?

Till next week,

John

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The good things with studying online.

Ireland is a walker’s paradise. I suggest you listen to a lecture while out for a walk and it will speak to you in a different way. (Picture by John Mugumya)

Last week I wrote about the challenges of studying exclusively online. 

I got some feedback that I had left out many challenges, but I wish to remind readers that unless stated, what I write here are my reflections which are not backed by any kind of research study.

This week, as promised, I will flip the coin and write about the things I like about studying online.

  • Flexibility

The first thing I like about this mode of study as opposed to face-to-face is the flexibility this affords me. Last week I mentioned two news articles from Sweden where university enrolments went up 13% and, in the UK, where enrolments went up 3.5%. Reading those articles, you notice that many people chose to sign up to study this year because they believed they had more time to spare. Some were laid off; some were working less while others were working from home. Others maybe have decided to enrol because the pubs and nightclubs are closed. 

We sometimes do not know how much time we spend socialising until the pub is shut down and suddenly, you have four hours you can utilise every evening. 

When you put a professor and lecture materials online, you make it easy for many people to access them. Even if one has work to do for most of the day, they can access the lectures because almost all engagement with the professors is asynchronous and the synchronous activities are recorded for those who cannot attend the live events.

There is a timetable, you know when the lecture materials will be uploaded, but there is no pressure to access the materials immediately they are made available. 

All this contrasts with face-to-face in-person study where one must attend the lectures, or they miss out.

  • Cheaper

There have been grumblings amongst the student community at UL that the university should have reduced tuition after going all online for the academic year. That’s a story for another day. But the undeniable fact is that studying online is cheaper. It cuts out the cost of commuting to campus.

You don’t have to rent expensive student accommodation, you can study from home, the only costs are broadband and maybe computers. For me and I believe for many students, broadband and laptops are like taxes, so they’re not new costs.

  • Adoptable

I don’t know about you but, I used to find attending lectures in person an ordeal. The lecture halls used to be cramped and the public address system always had issues. Even when classes were smaller, somehow something used to go wrong.

Either the lecturer would be late, or too fast or boring. With online study, the UL lecturers provide us with several options for accessing lecture materials. You can review presentation slides, download audio files, or watch the whole thing as a video. I normally watch the Panopto videos but what I like the most are the downloadable audio files. I have realised that for the complicated topics, it’s always helpful listening to the lecturer while out on a walk. 

When your mind is focused on just what you are listening to, the spoken word, I have come to realise, always comes alive. There is always some magic when you listen to music while out on a walk, the same with podcasts and audiobooks. I have since realised that the same magic happens when you listen to your lecturer while getting lost on a trail in the woods. Try it.

  • Read, Review, Repeat

There will always be some complicated topics that need more than just one read-through and online study makes it very easy to read, review and repeat. As many times as you like.

I can make notes on the slides and I can pause, I can rewind and fast forward until I get it. 

You can play around with the lecture material in any way you want. You can airplay it to the TV, you can even go to sleep with it on replay. 

One student confessed that she found the delivery of one lecturer a bit slow-paced and on Panopto she increased the playback speed and liked it. 

The fact that you are in full control makes it very easy to interact with the material. 

With face-to-face in-person delivery, you either get it when the lecturer gives it to you, or it’s gone.

Till next week.

John

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The challenges of studying online

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels.com

When this pandemic is finally over one thing that will have become an indelible part of education is studying online.

I know many are clamouring for a quick return to the ‘good old days’ of face-to-face lectures but I think that after this crisis is over, the brand value of online study will have risen to a level that it will no longer be the less glamorous of the two options.

But that will come after the pioneers of this emergency induced study regime have told their stories.

This below is a little bit of what I have learned about returning to school after a school break of almost two decades, studying online and in a new country.

I applied for this MA in September 2019 before the first case of coronavirus was reported anywhere in the world and got my acceptance in February 2020 when the pandemic was raging in China and only starting out in Europe.

I had no idea I would be writing this blog in late February of 2021, a couple of months away from completing this program without ever stepping in a lecture theatre.

I had read about the University of Limerick and seen pictures of the beautiful campus, read blog posts of students and former students about the idyllic life in Limerick and that was partly the reason I wanted to come here. That’s a story for another blog.

Let me say, studying online, like many things in life, has both the good and the bad aspects.

This week I will write about the unique challenges.

  • The technology

The first challenge that I faced was getting to grips with the technology. When I did my bachelor’s 21 years ago, I didn’t know how to use a computer. It was not a requirement. We wrote by hand all our coursework and assignments. Looking back, it must have been quite a task for the lecturers assessing all those papers. Luckily, I worked in an industry that used computers a lot and I taught myself everything I know except how to code.

But like any new student returning to new school, I have had to get to grips with Sulis the online platform that has become our virtual classroom.

QUICK NOTE: One of the assignments I am working on is developing a web resource and at every stage I remember what I felt when accessing lecture materials for the very first time. I want my experience to help me make the resource better because I know somewhere in the world, there will be a student who will be starting out with online school, for the very first time.

As for Sulis, somehow you get used to using it without necessarily mastering it.

  • Feeling isolated

One thing that computers cannot do is recreate the feeling of community. Social media has already shown us that you can have a million online friends but still feel lonely.

These learning platforms are like smaller versions of social media boards. You know there are classmates, and an instructor but you never get to meet and know them. This year is unique because you cannot even meet your instructor at the office.

One thing I miss is the ability to make classmates my friends. This happens naturally with face-to-face lectures and proximity and shared tasks, but this time, every classmate feels like a Facebook friend, close, yet far away.

  • Losing motivation

With university education, there is no one who is going to push you to review your lecture notes and do the assignments. That has not changed. With face-to-face lectures, you get to make friends and depending on their character, they either make you a better student or they derail and make you a failure.

With online study, you are your own motivation and after several week working on tasks alone, the monotony can wear off the novelty making it very easy to lose your mojo. I have read news articles that last year, in a pandemic, university enrolments went up 13% in Sweden and 3.5% in the UK but it will be interesting to see the numbers of those students who actually stay motivated long enough to complete the programs.

  • Pressure cooker

The biggest challenge with online study is finding the study-life balance. With not so much going on in life because of lockdowns and working from home and school closures, it is very easy to over study. With face-to-face lectures, it is easy to switch off and recharge. With online study, the lecture materials are on your laptop, and you receive notifications on your phone. It is very easy to permanently be switched on with no time to decompress. And yet, for the good of your brain and mind, it is very important to be able to switch on and switch off. But it is not so simple when you are studying online, from home, in a lockdown, in a foreign country.

Next week, I will look on the sunny side of studying online.

Regards

John

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How to Avoid Assignment Overload.

Photo by Kate Graur on Pexels.com

This week presented an interesting challenge. At the start of this spring semester, I was given two assignments and I was already working on another one assignment from last semester which I submitted in week two.

We are now in week four and last week another assignment was added. Bringing the total number of assignments to three.

I am doing this master’s program full time and there are several assignments I must accomplish before the summer.

I have zero complaints about the workload because I signed up for it.

But what do you do when you think you are 60 to 70 percent into two tasks and then you receive another task?

I know many people face similar situations, especially in the workplace and I wanted to get an idea of how people would manage if they found themselves in a similar situation.

So, I posted a poll on Twitter with the question: “How do you cope when you are still handling two assignments and a third one is slotted into the mix? Do you:

1.  Ignore the new assignment (until you have submitted the other two).

2.  Add it to the ‘doing’ list? (as in start actively working on the assignment alongside the other two).

3. (or) Review (assignment brief) and ignore it (until after you have submitted the other assignments).

I knew fellow students were in a similar situation, but I wanted to see if their coping mechanism was like mine.

After a day’s voting, the results came back and 100 % voted that they’d add it to the ‘doing’ list meaning they would start actively working on the assignment alongside the other two assignments.

A note on Twitter polls

Twitter polls are anonymous and there is no way of knowing who voted for what. All you can see are the total numbers of votes cast for each question. In this case, I cannot tell if the accounts that voted on my poll belong to students like myself or if they are doing the MA program full time like me, or if they are some random people who found the poll and subconsciously took part.

Twitter polls, like tweets, are also restrictive, you cannot explain the questions because you cannot post beyond your word limit. For instance, I could not add a note that the latest assignment is not due until four weeks from now and that the other two assignments are due in two weeks.

What’s your multi-task strategy?

I had not given it serious thought, but student assignments, just like workplace tasks, require a strategy to ensure everything is given the attention and the time they deserve. There is no benefit in scoring an A in one assignment and failing to hand in the other assignment.

Good students, like good workers, must divide their time to equitably perform all assignments. Finding a balance is what brings sustained success.

My multi-tasking strategy

Whenever I am presented with several tasks to accomplish, the first thing I do is look at the deadlines.

It doesn’t matter if any of the tasks look easy or not. It is important to answer the question: how much time do I have to submit?

It wouldn’t be very helpful to drop work that is nearing completion to start working on an assignment you think is easy.

Sometimes, we think assignments are simple until we start working on them and we realize it’s a greased slide down the rabbit hole. 

Doing two assignments simultaneously is tough, adding third only increases the load and there is no guarantee of better returns.

Therefore, I think the best strategy, when faced with a similar situation, is OPTION 3, which is to review the assignment brief so that you have a rough idea of what is required and to take note of the deadline for submission.

It is the best option because these academic modules have a lot of linkages and what you are doing in one module most times helps you understand another module better.

OPTION 1 is not unhelpful, you just cannot ignore the assignment completely until you are done with the other two. OPTION 2 is equally problematic because the new assignment can slow your progress on the assignments, which you are almost accomplishing.

As you can see, we might be students but how we manage our assignment load can help up establish multi-tasking strategies that we can use at work.

Till next week.

John

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A Divided Brain? I Didn’t Know That Much!

Photo by David Cassolato on Pexels.com

This week, as I took my now daily long walk, the audiobook I was enjoying suddenly ended.  Normally, before going on any walks, I check how much is left in the book to determine if there is enough to last me through my workout or if I need to cue up something else in the playlist.

The book was ‘God Is Not Great’ by Christopher Hitchens and I was so engrossed in the narrative, I imagined the story would last forever.

The audiobook had ended about 20 minutes into my planned two-hour walk and I found myself having to slow my pace to scoop my phone from deep in my jacket to select whatever I had downloaded to listen to for the rest of my walk. 

I checked my phone and noticed I had downloaded Sam Harris’ latest Making Sense Podcast. I saw the podcast was a little over two hours and I quickly pressed play and slotted my phone back into my pocket and resumed my walk.

Harris was hosting with Iain McGilchrist the author of a book titled The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.

Now, Harris is a neuroscientist and McGilchrist is a psychiatrist and I am your very regular joe kind of guy with only the very basic understanding of biology, leave alone science. 

If my phone weren’t already back in my pocket, chances are, I would have put off the podcast and listened to something else. But I had picked up my pace again and slowing down was an inconvenience. 

Now, walking is a low-intensity steady-state (LISS) exercise and to stay warm in cold and windy Limerick calls for some sustained walking pace. Stopping mid-walk to cue up a podcast, is the kind of disruption that you do not want.

Let me put it this way. Switching from podcasts to music or audible doesn’t take even a minute but, if you know about exercising, it is not ideal and can be annoying especially when you are looking to break a sweat.

I know this sounds ridiculous, but I found myself listening to two scientists discussing matters to do with the brain a subject I know very little about.

I don’t know whether they made it interesting or if it was because they were discussing the brain, that substance between my two ears, but within a few minutes of listening, I was captivated. 

They were fascinating. I felt like I should be taking notes.

Briefly, this is what I deduced from their conversation, which at times would turn into an argument.

  • That the human brain is divided into two parts called hemispheres. One on the left and another on the right.
  • That previously, the scientific community believed the left side of the brain to be the most powerful and the most important and the master of the two halves.
  • That the right side of the brain was basically a place holder, almost semi-unconscious and not very useful to human cognitive ability. 
  • The scientist believed that the left brain was the rational and dependable judge of reality and the right-hand side? They thought it the emotional one.

Scientists were apparently seriously mistaken and that is the basis of McGilchrist’s book (released in 2009) a product of decades of strenuous research. 

McGilchrist discovered that contrary to scientific belief, both sides of the brain play very important roles and that for a fact, the right side of the brain is the master, and the left side is its emissary hence the title of the book.

I have not read the book and I doubt I have the competence to read it and fully comprehend it but McGilchrist says, the right side makes better judgment and has both social and emotional understanding.

He makes many revelations, but these also stood out for me. That for the left side of the brain: 

  • That beauty exists so that humans can choose the right mates.
  • That goodness exists so we can police morality.
  • That the concept of truth is a fiction that serves the dominant social class of the time in a kind of Marxist way.
  • That the idea of a divine being (an omnipotent god) is an invention of the hierarchical state to subdue the people. 

That if the left side of your brain is the dominant one, you will most likely share these same ideas listed above. But that if your right side is the dominant one then the ideals listed above are to the contrary. That beauty, the truth, and the idea of a god mean something.

Hitchens, in his book, which I referred to at the start of this blog, argues that religion (belief in the divine) is entirely manmade. Sam Harris the host of the podcast is an atheist in the same mold as Hitchens. Does this tell us which side of their brains is most dominant?

Now some questions: 

  • What part of the brain determines routines?
  • Is forgetting an act of the divine or a function of my left or right side of the brain? 
  • When I noticed that the podcast was about a subject I do not understand, why did I continue listening? Was it some divine power that let me listen to two great scientists discuss a topic that under normal circumstances, I would have avoided? 
  • Or was the decision down to the left side or right side of the brain?

Now some technical communication questions? 

  • What makes people listen to podcasts?
  • What makes some podcasts easy to listen to even when the topics are outside people’s comfort zones? 
  • Is there something in the structure of the podcast, some magic from the host and their style of interviewing, or is it the guests? 
  • Or can we attribute podcast success to divine power or pure luck?

Today’s post is long, but I hope it was worth your time. 

Please rate this blog post and give me some feedback if you don’t mind. Use this form below.

Creating a Digital Resource

Where do I start. Overwhelmed is a word that has been overused this past week. The lecturer said she doesn’t want to overwhelm with too much information and tasks but in the end that is exactly how I felt, overwhelmed.

I looked at the samples she shared with us, to inspire us and give us ideas and I knew then, this was going to be the trickiest assignment so far. Not because the task is insurmountable, but because, I felt like, to summit this mountain, I was going to starting from below zero.

The assignment requires us to developing a digital resource that takes into consideration all the theories and best practices of everything we have learnt and what we are learning.

But the more I read through the lecture materials, I started realizing that this was not rocket science. I guess that is the beauty of the human mind. If they dumped you in a deep, dark hole, you’d think yourself trapped, but then somehow, you’d get yourself out of that hole.

It is now week two and the proposal is due in another four weeks, but my initial worries have since cleared like the morning dew. I think I have a good enough idea what digital resource I am going to create and everyday something falls into place.

The latest piece fell into the jigsaw puzzle during a chat with my own kids at the dinner table. I reached for my phone and took down notes. When I reviewed the notes before bed, I made more notes, and I am happy with the progress so far.

Anyway, it is fair to say that I am still chewing on cud. The lecturer told us not to worry too much about the software side of the assignment but how can I not worry about the tools?

Yes, it is important to first know what you are going to create before worrying about how you are going to create it but I think I am tuned differently. I tend to worry about both things at the same time.

This week on the WhatsApp forum for the class many students many with hands on experience with Technical Writing and Instructional Design, have been suggesting tools that they believe can be helpful. Naturally, I took down the names of the programs they kindly suggested, and I did some research. All of them are way out of my budget so I know I will not be making a purchase.

Instead, I will have to do with trial versions like most students. The challenge with using a trial version is that you are working with two ticking bombs. The assignment deadline and the trial period deadline. I have never worked with a trial version of software before and this will be another learning curve. Who said, learning is linear?

To determine what software, I will most likely use, I have put down a few factors to consider.

  1. Length of trial period. I will need some lengthy trial period, probably a month and above. I tried out one program. It looked fancy, and interesting but they offer only a four-day trial. All functionality is availed to you but for four days only. They even stick countdown timer in a corner as a reminder, you are on borrowed time. But they do not take your credit card details. Only email which guarantees you will receive numerous nudges from their software evangelists.
  2. Ease of use. I have never used any e-learning authoring tools, so I am researching on YouTube and on blogs to see what looks easy to learn and what the industry experts are touting.
  3. What suits my topic. I think I am confident with my topic and I am now constantly thinking about the tool that will best bring my idea to life. This is the hardest part of this process.
  4. Helpful skill. I do not want to learn a tool that I will not be able to use when I start working. I have some design skills and I sure I can learn how to use any tool if I put my mind to it. But I do not want to learn something obsolete. So, industry reviews are critical.
  5. I talked about trial period, but I need to emphasize that some tools might be generous with trial periods, but you find many elements are locked out from trialists. Again, this I can only cure with reviews from experts.

As you can see, the process of creating a digital recourse is not as straight. I now can imagine what the teams in organizations go through to determine what tools are best suited for particular projects.

Of course, my dilemma would be lessened with some bit of collaboration. As a matter of fact, we were encouraged to collaborate. But the pandemic situation we are in this year, with everyone working remotely, and the classmates only meeting on the Big Blue Button, Teams and sometimes on WhatsApp, it is difficult to know someone enough, leave alone to trust them with a collaboration.

I know virtual teams are the future but most of the guys on the program have families and others have busy jobs and all these come with responsibilities at home and at work and now at school.

I am currently not working but I have caring responsibilities with my own children studying at home. It is very difficult to commit to work with someone you do not know very well, even when you know that it probably, is the best thing to do.

So, the easy option is to tussle it out alone, make your errors and resolve them, even when the best learning would have been with a partner.

Thank you. Please tell me what you think using the form below.

Kindest,

John

Saturday February 6th, 2021

My first blog

Sunrise in Ireland, morning lights, purple and azure blue hues
Took this picture one morning in December, 2020 in Castletroy in Limerick, Ireland. I used an iPhone7

First, a few house keeping guidelines.

Today is Wednesday February 3rd 2021 and I intend to post a blog every Saturday.

This blog is part of my academic journey. I am a Masters student (Technical Communication and E-Learning) at the University of Limerick in Ireland and maintaining this blog is a class assignment. Easy assignment, or so it seems but I have no idea where our tutor will require of us next. That quote comes to mind:

Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the mouth.

Mike Tyson made this line famous but he was actually referencing another boxer Joe Luis whose quote was: ‘Everyone’s got a plan until they get hit’.

I will be blogging about education, e-learning, technical writing, technical communication and the stuff we are trying out as a class. Some of this stuff is confusing, but most is very interesting at the same time.

I will also drop in a few reviews about the tools I encounter on this adventure, the blogs I read, the podcasts I like and the music I enjoy.

This Saturday I will write about creating a digital resource (the process, not the resource itself).

I do not know if I am allowed to blog about my new bike which I hope to take delivery of in about two weeks. I can’t wait to take it out for a spin. I wish I could do an unpack video, like the ones on YouTube.

Anyway, those are the few house rules. A blog every Saturday. A blog about e-learning, technical writing, technical communication and education as a whole. A blog about what the tutor asks of us.

So, if you are interested in the musings of a student, if academic chatter is your thing, then drop by every now and then and see what’s happening. And while you are here, please say hello, tell me what you think. It gets lonely, you know, typing into a laptop.

If you spot a typo, if you think there is a tool I can try out, some free software suggestions. Just drop me a line.

You can do so using this form here:

Thank you.

John

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