Tech Comm Students Earn Award for Website Redesign

A team of Seneca students who helped redesign The Regional Municipality of York’s website have won a Toronto Ovation Award of Merit.

The awards are presented annually by the International Association of Business Communicators to recognize communications excellence throughout the Greater Toronto Area.

Technical Communication students Meghan Graham, Hailey Thomson, Olivia Gajadhar and Nicholas Chin, along with Corporate Communication students Eric Sisti, Olena Babiy and Cinthia Guizar redeveloped the York.ca website as part of their four-month co-op placements with the municipality.

Their website work was acknowledged for its easy navigation, attractive design and clear writing.

A formal gala is being held on May 22 in Toronto to recognize all of the 2014 Ovation Awards recipients.

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Seneca Tech Comm Professors Honored

Two of our Seneca Tech Comm professors have received professional acknowledgement from the Society for Technical Communication (STC). Beth Agnew has been named an Associate Fellow, and Bernard Aschwanden has been elected Vice President of the Society; he will move into the role of STC President next year.

These honors represent endorsement by their peers of their skills and leadership in the profession of technical communication, a discipline where practitioners make technology easier to use and understand.

“We are delighted to see our faculty achieve these important professional milestones,” said Michael Maynard, Dean of the Faculty of Communication, Art and Design. “Both professors are generous in sharing their deep industry expertise with our students, and have further distinguished themselves by their commitment to our post-graduate Technical Communication program. Our graduates enter the field with confidence in their skills, having been mentored by such accomplished teachers.”

Advancement to the rank of Associate Fellow is predicated upon having accomplished important work in the field of technical communication, made significant contributions to the Society, held leadership positions, published papers, given presentations, and mentored those new to the field.

Beth Agnew, one of the first to achieve the Certified Professional Technical Communicator designation, has been the manager of the STC’s Marketing Communications Special Interest Group (SIG), assisted with the STC’s Military Transition to Tech Comm initiative, and is a popular speaker at society events and industry conferences. She is the coordinator of the Seneca Technical Communication program.

The position of STC Vice President involves promoting the profession worldwide, and guiding the future direction of the Society. The VP moves into the role of President, then serves as immediate Past-President, making it a 3-year commitment for the person elected.

Bernard Aschwanden is a certified Adobe expert and trainer, and specializes in single-sourced content, which he teaches in the Tech Comm program. He is an Associate Fellow, has been president of the Toronto Chapter of the STC, and served recently as a Director of the society.

Both professors will be acknowledged at an honors banquet at the STC International Summit in Phoenix, AZ in May.

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S@Y Program Spotlight

As a current Technical Communication student, I was delighted to be able to talk to prospective students at Seneca’s Program Spotlight on Tuesday, March 18, 2014. While I found it rewarding to be able to share my experiences at Seneca in terms of faculty involvement, material covered, and the value of co-op, I was amazed at the level of knowledge I have gained over the last six months. Looking back, there are many skills that are now part of my “tech comm toolbox” that I never knew were in me to develop. Skills nurtured in no small part by Beth Agnew and the rest of the tech comm faculty.

Beth Agnew, Coordinator of the Technical Communication program, delivered an engaging discourse at the Program Spotlight, providing a glimpse into the world of tech comm to a room full of corporate communications and government relations students. As she emphasized the need for technical communicators in today’s world and the limitless potential the field boasts, Beth drew the lion’s share of follow up questions from students. While many of those students will stay in their chosen programs, I think it is safe to say that we just might see one or two of them join the ranks of the technical communicator.

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Grads Go Back to School

This report from the Globe and Mail on students who go to college after university graduation highlights the advantages practical training and a co-operative work experience give you when you’re looking for a job.

A graduate certificate, like that awarded after completion of our 1-year Technical Communication program, gives new grads additional qualifications that differentiate them from other recent graduates in their field of interest. The co-op work placement provides that valuable real world experience that employers look for.

If you’re a new graduate, consider one of the graduate certificate programs at Seneca, or specifically our program in Technical Communication.

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Got Problems? Get Tech Comm!

Website problems of Healthcare.gov could have been greatly reduced with technical communicators on the job

Like most Chief Executives, President Barack Obama could have saved himself a  whole lot of trouble if he had hired a technical communicator. Healthcare.gov became a public relations nightmare for his administration due to problems with enrollment and numerous user errors as millions of people tried to sign up for government health care subsidies.

Those are precisely the kinds of problems technical communicators are trained to solve. Technical communicators are advocates for the user. They carry out extensive user testing of products and websites, and contribute to a better user experience on every project. Having such practitioners involved in development of the Healthcare.gov site would have greatly reduced the number of user errors, and made the entire process smoother.

David Auerbach writing on Slate.com notes that large scale projects with multiple contractors working in isolation are not only going to miss problems, they often create them. Remember the carbon dioxide scrubber mismatch on Apollo 13?

Technical communicators concern themselves as much with the big picture as the technical details, so they would have ensured those groups communicated with each other, or at least shared information. It’s a technical communicator’s role to think each project through from beginning to end, especially from the user’s perspective — and then ask the questions that need to be answered to enhance the user experience and support user performance.

Apart from the obvious problem of heavy load, which should have been anticipated by the server administrators, Healthcare.gov subjected users to confusing navigation, meaningless error messages, a broken sign-up process, and information privacy issues.

Executives from CGI Federal, which handled most of the project, claimed testing began too late and the website rollout was premature. Technical communicators, while handling the documentation tasks related to web content and product development, begin user testing as soon as they can get their hands on a stable working version. Consequently, errors are found during early stages of development, allowing bug fixes to be made quickly and inexpensively as the product is being worked on, instead of after delivery when errors are not only embarrassing but much more expensive to repair.

Further, Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J. pointed out that the government was sending out mixed messages, telling people they could keep their policies in one place, then elsewhere telling them they couldn’t. That’s another area where technical communicators add value to an organization: they ensure all communications are clear, consistent, correct, and appropriate for the target audience.

Of the myriad issues plaguing Healthcare.gov, technical communicators could have helped with most of them. Technical writers, now called technical communicators because they do so much more than just write, have always worked to make technology easier to use and understand. Technical communication is practical communication, intended to help someone perform a task, answer a question, or solve a problem. In institutions, government, corporations, and businesses large and small, technical communicators contribute to reducing customer support costs and improving user satisfaction.

For more information on the Society for Technical Communication and its professional members, see http://stc.org. To apply for the Seneca College Technical Communication post-graduate certificate program, see http://senecacollege.ca/fulltime/TECC.html

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Interested in Technical Communication?

If you’re looking for more information about technical communication, or as it is also known technical writing, you can search for related items or rely on an aggregator like Alltop.

Gathering information about the profession will lead you to a number of well-written blogs, the Society for Technical Communication itself, and a list of programs that provide degrees, diplomas or certificates in various aspects of the discipline.

If you think TechComm is right for you, we’d love to consider your application for our 1-year post-graduate certificate program. It includes a co-operative education component so you can try out the field while you are learning. TechComm is ideal for anyone who loves to write, explain, and play with technology. Contact us if you want more information.

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