Why Technical Comprehension Improves When You Add the A to STEAM

Room 42 is where practitioners and academics meet to share knowledge about breaking research. In this episode, Kylie Jacobsen explains how collaboration improves training and instruction materials and boosts comprehension. If you have a “How To” anywhere in your sphere then this chat is for you.

Airdate: September 2, 2020

Season 1 Episode 5 | 45 min

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Transcript (Expand to View)

[00:00:12.130] – Liz Fraley

Welcome to Room 42. In this episode, we’re talking about Why Technical Comprehension Improves When You Add The A to Steam. We’ve got Kylie Jacobsen, Assistant Professor of Writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. She’s focused on user experience, research methods in science, technology, engineering, arts and humanities, and math –that’s STEAM– and particularly she’s looking at how you analyze the emotional journey of learning.

[00:00:40.130] – Liz Fraley

Welcome, Kylie.

[00:00:40.640] – Janice Summers

Hi Kylie

[00:00:44.250] – Kylie Jacobsen

Hello, good morning.

[00:00:45.750] – Janice Summers

I’ve been looking forward to talking to you today. First question I have for you, just because I want to know a little bit more about you, what got you interested in the field of writing in the first place?

[00:00:59.100] – Kylie Jacobsen

That is a great question because I’ve been thinking about that a lot, too, is I’m talking about where my students are coming in for this semester. And I think it really started for me back in high school when I never had any particular class that I truly struggled through, other than chemistry, but when I had my journalism class, it was the first time that my teacher was like, you know, you really have a knack for this. You should really consider pursuing this, and I thought, that’s it then. That’s..I’m good at it, I enjoy it. I’m going to go full forward with it. So I was looking for programs in Minnesota where I’m originally from that would have a program like that. And I stumbled across SouthWest Minnesota State University. And at the time I don’t believe they had a journalism degree proper, but they had a professional writing degree.

[00:01:47.730] – Janice Summers


[00:01:47.790] – Kylie Jacobsen

I went through that program and I was introduced to technical communication through there and I was hooked ever since.

[00:01:54.460] – Janice Summers

Nice, see the importance of teachers they recognized and they promoted that in you and look at that and now you’re here.

[00:02:03.250] – Kylie Jacobsen

Oh, it’s really fun. I got to go back, you know, a few years later and I had seen my teacher around town. I said, hey, oh, thank you so much, by the way, you know. You were right.

[00:02:15.660] – Janice Summers

And what a great reward for a teacher right, to have such a positive thing come back to them. So now in writing, is it both technical and professional communication that you’re interested in? or is it mostly technical?

[00:02:35.120] – Kylie Jacobsen

Yeah, that’s a good question, because all of my degrees are in professional writing and except for the last one, which is in technical writing, but they kind of follow each other, it’s more of an umbrella term, I would think, or professional writing is kind of the umbrella term for different types of writing that you do in a workplace situation.

[00:02:55.910] – Janice Summers


[00:02:56.660] – Kylie Jacobsen

So I see technical writing as kind of an underneath that term. I don’t know whether there are clear lines that would absolutely say that yes, that is the distinction or not. But I have most of my background in professional writing with a good focus in technical writing.

[00:03:14.690] – Janice Summers

  1. Cool.

[00:03:17.880] – Liz Fraley

That was actually one of the questions from the audience. They want to know, how do they, like what is the difference? Great.

[00:03:26.000] – Janice Summers

That could be a new question we have started asking everybody.

[00:03:28.060] – Liz Fraley

I think so, too. Yeah.

[00:03:29.130] – Janice Summers

I think everyone has, like a little bit of a different definition, we will condense all of it into what everybody’s saying is the difference between technical and professional.

[00:03:38.840] – Liz Fraley

So if there’s anybody in the audience who want to add their thing in the chat window, we’ll add that at the end.

[00:03:44.300] – Janice Summers

So talking about your, you research methods of research. So you’re researching the researchers.

[00:03:54.320] – Kylie Jacobsen

Yeah, you could say that in some roundabout ways, absolutely. This particular study that I have been working on for the last couple of years is certainly an exercise in looking at how we are looking at things.

[00:04:06.700] – Janice Summers

Right, and you know, another thing you touched on was the emotional journey of learning. I love that. So tell me more about what is the emotional journey of learning?

[00:04:20.470] – Kylie Jacobsen

Well, as I was taking classes to learn how to teach technical communication, one of the classes that we had to take was a pedagogy class in the theories that underlie how we should be constructing our clauses or what type of things we’re going to encounter. And one of them that really stood out to me was user-centered learning, and I took a class in user-centered design and research and I thought, wow, this really make sense. And I wanted to take that with me into the classroom, but then also into some of the stuff that I was researching. So kind of… Oh I’m sorry.

[00:04:55.060] – Liz Fraley

No, I was going to say, what kind of things, if you remember, what kind of things would have stood out as the ones you wanted to take into the classroom and into your research?

[00:05:04.330] – Kylie Jacobsen

Participatory design specifically, like where you ask students to participate in whatever knowledge that they’re building and then share and build on that with other students. So that’s kind of where I started thinking about where students are in the classroom and where they make that turn between learning stuff or observing things and then switching that into actually using it or making meaning with what they have been talking about and that kind of wheedled its way into this math research that I’ve been doing where people have been talking a lot about how students are learning math and maybe where some of the pitfalls are in their experiences there, but nobody had really been tracking how students felt as they were going through the class. I think it’s safe to say that we know math anxiety exists outside of a math classroom, but certainly inside

[00:06:00.760] – Janice Summers

When I hear the word ‘math’ then I get anxious.

[00:06:04.570] – Kylie Jacobsen

It’s very stressful.

[00:06:07.120] – Janice Summers

Math can be.

[00:06:10.430] – Kylie Jacobsen

We were talking before, like, if you’re put on the spot to calculate the 20 percent tip and you’re like.

[00:06:15.610] – Janice Summers


[00:06:16.710] – Kylie Jacobsen

Hold on, I can do this.

[00:06:17.440] – Janice Summers

I’ve got to get a calculator.  Where’s the calculator, where’s that tip-chart I used to have one of those like tip-cards, so I don’t have to think.

[00:06:24.370] – Kylie Jacobsen

Pull it out. The thing it’s like that’s “easy math”, right, like that’s things that we would regularly. But when you’re in the moment that can be quite intimidating.

[00:06:34.100] – Janice Summers

Yes. On the spot, but I always get I’m like a deer in the headlights any time you catch me on the spot with things anyway.

[00:06:42.210] – Kylie Jacobsen

Try to write words on the board when people are watching you do it.

[00:06:45.400] – Janice Summers

Oh, no, I won’t do it, I won’t do it. I even when I have to drive the computer and people are watching me, I’m teaching like a class and they have to watch me. I still get, don’t take me off my course.

[00:07:00.990] – Liz Fraley

And all of a sudden, she doesn’t know where the stuff are, like it’s a weird thing.

[00:07:05.670] – Janice Summers

Yeah. Like, I know this stuff, but all of a sudden my mind goes blank and I’m in a panic and it’s like stage fright. So now let’s talk about this recent event, the results are coming out soon, right? It’s coming out in 2020 Procomm Proceedings, right, and that’s the IEEE conference. OK.

[00:07:27.890] – Kylie Jacobsen

So I presented the results at the conference this last summer.

[00:07:33.390] – Kylie Jacobsen

Not sure when it’s coming out, I think, in a few weeks here.

[00:07:36.450] – Janice Summers

Nice. OK, so let’s talk about this. So this was research that was going on. Give me a little bit more of the backstory about this.

[00:07:46.480] – Kylie Jacobsen

Yeah, this is about a 2 or 3 year-long project by this point, so it has quite the origin story. But as I understand it, a few years ago, there was a little shindig between a couple of faculty members and they are talking about where some of the struggles that they had in the classroom were especially with math students who are entering this advanced math course on reading and writing proofs, and that is the defining point in a math student’s major at the university he was at where if they pass that class, they probably will go on to complete their math degree successfully. And if they fail this class, they will not get their degree unless they take it again and pass. So it is a pivotal point.

[00:08:32.830] – Janice Summers

Everything relies on this.

[00:08:34.620] – Kylie Jacobsen


[00:08:35.600] – Janice Summers

Talk about pressure.

[00:08:37.650] – Kylie Jacobsen

And the numbers. They said only like 16 majors would graduate a year out of the hundreds that would declare a math major because of this particular math class is the difference between studying equations and formulas and then transferring mathematic logic and knowledge into some sort of a rigid grammar of logic.

[00:09:00.630] – Janice Summers


[00:09:00.670] – Kylie Jacobsen

So if you miss that switch, you’re not moving on.

[00:09:03.730] – Janice Summers

Right, right.

[00:09:06.960] – Liz Fraley

And it’s only 16.

[00:09:08.640] – Kylie Jacobsen

 Yeah. Very small group.

[00:09:12.730] – Janice Summers

OK, so they were having this discussion about it.

[00:09:15.500] – Kylie Jacobsen

Yeah, and actually Dr. Kristin Moore, I believe it was, who was at Texas Tech University at the time, said, you know, we can identify where that happens. We have the methods and the tools to identify where students are missing that reading and writing ability because we teach reading and writing. OK, we got to put some things together.

[00:09:40.500] – Janice Summers

Hey, we teach that. Go on.

[00:09:47.320] – Kylie Jacobsen

So they pulled together a grant and pulled in a couple of students who taught and studied in the classical languages, some of us who were from the English department, I kind of came from a technical communication background, we had some creative writers, and then we had the math students and their professors, got together and said, let’s do an eye-tracking study on students as they are reading and writing some proofs. Now, I didn’t have to…

[00:10:15.610] – Janice Summers

 You pulled in people that were not the usual suspects, right, you pulled in people from different background, completely different backgrounds.

[00:10:23.650] – Kylie Jacobsen

Yes, you put a poet and a mathematician in the room.

[00:10:26.710] – Janice Summers

A poet and a mathematician enter a room–it sounds like a bar joke.

[00:10:35.500] – Kylie Jacobsen

They both walk in and then what?

[00:10:40.300] – Liz Fraley

Math kids learn to write proofs, I don’t know… That might be the end of that joke. So… tell us about how the study works. Like what is an eye-tracking study?

[00:10:50.200] – Kylie Jacobsen

We were using the eye guide, eye tracker that Brian Still developed. He is the chair of the English department at Texas Tech University, and what we would do is take in students who had successfully passed the course and did well and then students who are just brand new to the course and had no proper formal instruction on it yet, they might have had it from other classes, or if they were computer science majors, they probably have seen it somewhere else beforehand, but for the most part, they were true novices to this classroom. And students who had done really well and were experts at this point wore an eye-tracking headset and looked at a screen while I observed them reading and writing out the proofs for whatever was delivered. No, I didn’t write the proofs, the math people wrote those so, I got nothing for you there. But we compared the results and the eye-tracking movements of the novices and the experts and we identified some pretty cool patterns and some very interesting approaches that we use ultimately to help redesign a curriculum that would address where some of those weaknesses or struggles were occurring.

[00:12:03.130] – Janice Summers

Can you share with us some of those interesting findings?

[00:12:07.030] – Kylie Jacobsen

Yes, I have pictures of it, I don’t know if you’ll be able to see it really well. When the novices were wearing their headsets, they would read very quickly, they would spend approximately three minutes per theorem with each project or excuse me, with each theorem. And what they ultimately ended up doing was reading in this very up and down kind of W-shaped movement.

[00:12:33.750] – Janice Summers

Oh, yeah.

[00:12:35.650] – Kylie Jacobsen

Is frantically searching for proof that whatever theorem was presented was true or false or whatever they needed to prove. So it was a very quick reading, there was not a lot of comprehension and they would often overlook very, I don’t want to say obvious, because that’s not the right word, but very telling signs of what would be true or wouldn’t be true based on the logic in that assessment or that theorem. On the other hand, expert students would spend about the exact same amount of time on each one, they would get twice as many correct. And that was because they were reading more or less of the Z-shape pattern where they would start on the top line of a theorem and work across it and then come back down to find the conclusion to it. And so they didn’t go down, look through the multiple-choice answers as much because they knew using logic–the beginning and the end–they knew exactly what they had to look for in the list of answers.

[00:13:35.840] – Janice Summers


[00:13:36.740] – Kylie Jacobsen

So the thinking was there, but they were doing a very much more mindful and centered approach to what they were going to find in the answers, in the multiple-choice answers.

[00:13:47.780] – Liz Fraley

Makes complete sense right, because we’ve seen this in like the movement in techcomm right, make it obvious, use bullets, use things that people can scan because I guess that’s what we do. Where a brand new don’t know something we scan and we look for the thing that’s important.

[00:14:06.380] – Janice Summers


[00:14:07.090] – Liz Fraley

Oh, that is, I was just doing that yesterday, like a complete fool. And it was, you know I was like, yeah, wow, that’s crazy. So if the behavior is different in the way that somebody approaches something, so that can help us design content and change what we write and how like maybe split things up a little so that we know that a novice reader somebody who’s new, needs to have information presented like this.

[00:14:38.280] – Kylie Jacobsen

Absolutely. What was, have you heard of the “See, Say, Do” triangle? which it’s kind of the main tenet of usability at Texas Tech University, as it’s taught to us, is that you want to have your participants or in this case students. You want to see them do something, you want to hear them say that they’re doing something, then you want to actually observe what they actually are doing.

[00:15:02.760] – Janice Summers


[00:15:03.900] – Kylie Jacobsen

And so what we found was students that were experts and we are getting the answers correct, we are going through and circling and underlining major terms or points of logic, and when we asked them, who has taught you to do that or where in your learning did you identify that that was something you need to do? They just did it. They said they were never taught to do that.

[00:15:27.400] – Janice Summers

They just naturally gravitated to it.

[00:15:29.540] – Kylie Jacobsen


[00:15:30.330] – Janice Summers

Because of their seasoning because they’re a little more experienced, and they’re more honed in on what’s important and how to eliminate the things that aren’t important.

[00:15:40.770] – Kylie Jacobsen

And could identify that.

[00:15:42.640] – Janice Summers

Right, whereas the novice thinks everything’s important and nothing’s important at the same time. And it is in a little bit more of a panic trying to find what do I need to do right?

[00:15:55.270] – Kylie Jacobsen

Yeah, exactly because they didn’t touch their paper at all with their pencil or pen

[00:16:03.290] – Liz Fraley

Interesting, so then you had experienced students who’d been through the class and you had some that hadn’t been through the class, was there an age difference as well?

[00:16:19.720] – Kylie Jacobsen

There was probably an age difference in that students who are just entering the class or likely just entering their junior year and people who have completed it are likely entering their senior year. Because that’s about where it falls

[00:16:35.490] – Janice Summers

not too far

[00:16:40.210] – Liz Fraley

Interesting question though.

[00:16:41.820] – Janice Summers

Just a little more weathered. And in a college, of course it is.

[00:16:50.410] – Kylie Jacobsen


[00:16:53.200] – Liz Fraley

So, I wanted to ask, like, how does the eye-tracker, what does the eye track? And I’m not sure I think maybe you answered that you’re looking at inexperienced people, you’re looking at keywords and able to identify keywords. Did you figure out with the W pattern, did you figure out what they were looking for or just they were just panicked and scanning?

[00:17:19.570] – Kylie Jacobsen

They were panicked and scanning. So I thought if I had the original, I could show you because I didn’t write the quiz itself.

[00:17:31.680] – Janice Summers

So is there a kind of also the emotions of somebody who’s new you and others, I mean, that ties to your whole thing about the emotions of learning is, and when we were talking earlier about how, you know, when something is new or something is just like math is notorious for people, whether you’re new or not, math usually causes a lot of anxiety, but when you’re new to something, there is a level of emotional anxiety because you’re not as confident in yourself. So that plays into how you try to research and learn. So when someone’s writing like online help, for example, a practitioner is writing online help and they’re writing to an audience. How would they take that into consideration when they’re lining that up for people?

[00:18:21.410] – Kylie Jacobsen

I think it comes a lot down to how you’re segmenting what are the basic things that you need to get across before you can move on to more complex things.

[00:18:31.960] – Janice Summers

So how they line it up is important?

[00:18:34.600] – Kylie Jacobsen

Yes, in considering where they are, in their understanding of whatever it is they’re trying to accomplish. So I’ll show you what this is that they were doing on their eye tracker test and then talk a little bit about how we tracked where they made movements in their career eventually. So this is a basic theorem that they were given here at the top. It was like prove this, you know, and then here are your options to select if they are true or not. So students that were novice were actively reading from the top where they were just trying to identify even what is happening in this theorem and then zooming down here to try to find an answer because they wanted to just prove it right away and come back and forth because you can’t just make this if a condition down here is opposite, you know.

[00:19:26.690] – Liz Fraley


[00:19:30.050] – Kylie Jacobsen

Obviously I’m not a math person, so I don’t know if that’s the most clear way to explain it, but what’s happening is that they are looking for answers before they have read the entire question.

[00:19:38.890] – Janice Summers


[00:19:39.130] – Liz Fraley

I’ve totally done that.

[00:19:40.690] – Janice Summers

Right, if you will do that in conversations right, where you’re trying to discuss the point with somebody that already have the answer, like I’m already coming up with an answer before you ask the question.

[00:19:54.880] – Kylie Jacobsen

Yeah, that’s actually a really good analogy to what they were doing.

[00:19:59.090] – Janice Summers


[00:20:00.230] – Kylie Jacobsen

Which led to that panic.

[00:20:01.560] – Janice Summers

Right, instead of being patient and listening to you fully ask the question before I answer. People are notorious as this, and I have actually stopped mid-question because I’ve noticed somebody started answering me and I shut up and I said, will you let me finish the question?

[00:20:21.920] – Liz Fraley

She’s talking about me.

[00:20:35.800] – Liz Fraley

So has this changed? There’s got to be research into writing quizzes right into, and like this is all coming out of education, learning and research anyway. Who wrote the quizzes and did they look at that too? or have you got conclusions for this? where does this research go maybe is the question I’m trying to ask.

[00:20:58.810] – Janice Summers


[00:20:59.010] – Kylie Jacobsen


[00:20:59.010] – Kylie Jacobsen

So while we tracked their emotional progress as they worked through all of these different types of theorems for these questions, we used the Geneva Emotion Wheel, which is a circle of emotions and then you can rate the intensity of each emotion that you feel on the circle. And what we found is that students who are experts and we’re doing really well on these were marking emotions in what we consider like a high control emotion, something that they feel like they have a lot of control over inside the positive quadrant of emotions that you could feel. So emotions like pride, amusement, joy, things that you can generally control, but that they also positively associated with their work. Whereas novice students who were in this craze or this panic as they’re trying to find the right answer, marked feelings like love and admiration, which are positive feelings, but they’re low control emotions. But they also swung towards the negative side of this wheel where emotions like frustration, disgust, fear, things like that start to bubble up and now it’s kind of teeter between things that you can control and things that you can’t control and so we yeah, we worked really hard over the next summer to develop a curriculum that would identify where students were not feeling in control and were feeling negatively in making that switch. I did not write any of these, these were provided by the math department. I could not write these if I wanted to. But they said these are the standard questions that the whole department would use or feel comfortable using, so we didn’t talk to them about how these questions are formed or necessarily if this is the best way to write those. I don’t have enough knowledge about what that should look like in that field, but what we took–

[00:23:00.840] – Janice Summers

The math department could take your results and apply it to how they write. OK.

[00:23:06.000] – Kylie Jacobsen

Yes. Yeah, they could use these different curriculum lessons that we came up with. So that’s where everybody comes into play here. Where we have the words people, the poets, the writers, the math. We all get together and over the summer took these results from this eye-tracking study and came up with a series of curriculum changes or lessons that they could implement in their classrooms that would help students take control of their learning in different ways that they had been and use participatory knowledge or close reading techniques, collaborative learning techniques, and actually engage in the material. So to improve their overall experience in the class, but then also their scores. So hopefully an actual understanding of the field. I have a whole packet of those that, that could be shared.

[00:24:01.950] – Janice Summers


[00:24:02.290] – Kylie Jacobsen

Ultimately, the results of watching these students use this new curriculum for the last year is what is coming out its being published this fall.

[00:24:14.320] – Janice Summers

So everyone got together and designed that curriculum, implemented the new curriculum, and then put a fresh batch of students through it.

[00:24:23.930] – Kylie Jacobsen


[00:24:24.200] – Liz Fraley

Based on this UX testing experience.

[00:24:28.100] – Janice Summers


[00:24:28.750] – Liz Fraley

 Very cool.

[00:24:30.040] – Janice Summers

And did the math department change the question at all or they just implemented some other things around it?

[00:24:37.840] – Kylie Jacobsen

I don’t believe these questions have changed at all. They have just changed on ways that they are presenting that information to students.

[00:24:45.350] – Janice Summers

OK, and then what happened?

[00:24:49.490] – Kylie Jacobsen

Well, it’s actually really, really cool because half of the professors who are in on this study decided to teach that new curriculum and went through that training with these new modules that we developed. And the other half stood with the original curriculum so that we could compare

[00:25:06.290] – Janice Summers

Oh nice, so you had a control group.

[00:25:09.610] – Kylie Jacobsen

It worked really well that way, but yeah, ultimately we found that statistically, we can prove that students are coming into the class with the same amount of knowledge, general knowledge, and we can prove that by the end of class, students do improve their knowledge so we know this class works in the first place. Then we identified the students who are using the new curriculum versus the older curriculum or the original one.

[00:25:36.900] – Janice Summers


[00:25:37.160] – Kylie Jacobsen

We found that students who started from a base of zero at the beginning, improved their scores significantly enough by the end of the semester for us to say that, yes, there is a significant improvement in understanding with students who are using your curriculum.

[00:25:54.170] – Liz Fraley

And this is a statistical significance, not just–

[00:26:00.050] – Janice Summers

Yeah, I assume statistical significance.

[00:26:02.320] – Liz Fraley


[00:26:03.080] – Janice Summers

 Yeah, but it’s a good question.

[00:26:04.400] – Liz Fraley

 We’ve had that discussion.

[00:26:05.690] – Janice Summers

Good question. I assumed and I shouldn’t have assumed, but yes. OK good, go on.

[00:26:11.720] – Liz Fraley

But compare math.

[00:26:15.380] – Janice Summers

But stats are fun the best stats–

[00:26:17.800] – Liz Fraley


[00:26:19.080] – Janice Summers

The best statistician teacher that I had taught it using ballroom dancing, but that’s another story, right? Talk about creative so go on.

[00:26:28.270] – Kylie Jacobsen

 I want to sign up for that.

[00:26:30.720] – Liz Fraley

We’d all sign up for that.

[00:26:33.600] – Kylie Jacobsen

That’s very cool actually.

[00:26:34.870] – Liz Fraley

Anyway, so but continue, sorry

[00:26:36.330] – Kylie Jacobsen

But on the other side of that, students who took the old curriculum while their scores improved, there was not a statistical significance in their improvement. Now, comparatively, between the old and the new, those end scores are not significant enough to say, but we do know that with more data, we could probably look at that a little bit closer and identify what’s really happening there. So we do see an improvement, and then we also took track of their emotional scores, whether they proceed to class and did find that students in this new curriculum participating in these collaborative techniques, these close readings, scored the class higher in terms of if they would recommend it to other students, enjoyed it more.

[00:27:25.410] – Janice Summers

So that significant?

[00:27:28.010] – Kylie Jacobsen


[00:27:29.130] – Liz Fraley

 For anybody writing, training or documentation or anything, trying to teach someone something, right?

[00:27:36.150] – Kylie Jacobsen

Yeah, students enjoyed themselves, they did better.

[00:27:40.770] – Janice Summers

So, even if they didn’t score significantly higher in the new group, they were significantly happier.

[00:27:51.690] – Liz Fraley

They believed they were.

[00:27:53.260] – Kylie Jacobsen


[00:27:53.970] – Janice Summers

They were significantly happier, which means a lot in long term, in life, in long term, it means significant and has a significance because you don’t have negative connotation.

[00:28:08.010] – Liz Fraley

Yeah, there will be no resistance to being more deeply involved in math or whatever it is that they’re trying to learn. That’s a huge thing.

[00:28:21.600] – Kylie Jacobsen

So, that’s a years’ worth of data. We don’t know exactly which of the modules that we implemented were the ones that really made a change in students. We can say that all nine of them that we created that needs more look.

[00:28:37.430] – Janice Summers

So are you now or are you going to go into like a second phase of this or–

[00:28:44.330] – Kylie Jacobsen

I would love to, I’m no longer at that university, so I don’t have access to this exact core structure. So I would hope I could maybe do something like that similarly here, after the pandemic has allowed us to conduct research again with people

[00:29:02.060] – Janice Summers

Yeah. It looks hard to do any like well, I mean, I guess you’d have the do a specific research into the situation that we’re all in right now, but it’s hard to do like a traditional type of research in that situation, yeah.

[00:29:19.230] – Liz Fraley

Oh, well, and the lessons from that, right?

[00:29:22.900] – Kylie Jacobsen


[00:29:23.440] – Liz Fraley

You can improve your teaching style too…Yeah?

[00:29:28.540] – Kylie Jacobsen

Absolutely, and we worked hard to make sure that there was an online component to each of these modules that we created, and now we know that classrooms will likely never look the same, or at least not for many years. And so maybe that part could be explored a little bit more as people are implementing more online instruction rather than face to face situations. That’s another avenue.

[00:29:51.200] – Janice Summers

That is, and that’s a good avenue, very timely.

[00:29:55.380] – Liz Fraley

So what kind of things, for example, were.. are there.. So, we’ve got a bunch of practitioners in the audience and we have people who are writing. We write instructional material all the time. We write explanatory things all the time, steps and tasks and procedures and people either want to learn what we’re teaching or they’ve been told they’re going to learn what we’re teaching right, somebody–

[00:30:19.900] – Janice Summers

Or they’re doing it voluntarily.

[00:30:21.430] – Liz Fraley

One or the other right, and if what you’re telling us reduces that resistance and helps them adopt and feel comfortable, what kinds of things do you remember or were notable that we can all implement and do?

[00:30:37.930] – Kylie Jacobsen

One of the favorites that instructors reported anyway is working really well in the classroom and this is classroom-based right now but I could imagine there are ways you could pull this out is inspired by some close reading techniques that we use … while teaching creative writing, where you in a normal creative writing classroom, you would take home a poem or some sort of piece of literature and you would be given a different prompt every day that would ask you to reread that piece of literature with a new frame or a new question or perspective to analyze it through.

[00:31:13.930] – Liz Fraley


[00:31:14.090] – Kylie Jacobsen

So you’re effectively reading the same poem five times a week, but you’re thinking about it in five different ways.

[00:31:21.400] – Liz Fraley

Being primed differently.

[00:31:23.090] – Kylie Jacobsen


[00:31:24.520] – Janice Summers

Through different lenses. Ok.

[00:31:26.590] – Kylie Jacobsen

And so we did that, but with theorems. And so students took one home every day and were asked to challenge something based on a different type of theory or challenge this logic based on this other rule or something like that. And so it was the constant everyday checking in and reframing so that by the end of the week you could properly articulate what is and isn’t logic because you’ve got to explore it from so many different angles.

[00:31:57.950] – Janice Summers

Right, so looking at all from all these different lenses, it’s like you’re taking that 3D view right, of that theorem, so you’re seeing it multidimensionally.

[00:32:11.340] – Kylie Jacobsen

Yeah. And you’re building that common sense logic. You’re not just being told this is true, this is false.

[00:32:18.730] – Liz Fraley

Now you’re learning how to identify that.

[00:32:20.980] – Kylie Jacobsen

Yes. And what’s fun about that or what’s participatory about that is the small group breakouts and sharing that knowledge with another person, and then you’re confirming that you have looked at it in a different way, I guess, by comparing with another person. And that’s just what I think you can really pull through into a professional body.

[00:32:46.870] – Janice Summers

You have a small group and breakouts

[00:32:49.050] – Kylie Jacobsen


[00:32:49.180] – Janice Summers

So you can have a voice and you can state your opinion, and, you know, you can pose an argument and you can discuss it in conclusion, because oftentimes it’s in the discussion that we learn so much more, having a discussion, you know, one person, two people, and I think that’s the premise that we did with this whole room was having this ‘we want to talk with people’ and ‘discuss with you’ because you learn so much more. You see a different dimension and you see it from all these angles right, and you can state something and all of a sudden things click.

[00:33:29.120] – Liz Fraley


[00:33:29.960] – Kylie Jacobsen

Technical writers are in a wonderful position to make that bridge between people who can compartmentalize building blocks of knowledge with people who are seeing big picture, their experts, and they’ve got the whole thing in their mind and that bridge, that connection, are those technical communicators who can make those participatory learning practices happen between all different types of individuals.

[00:33:57.930] – Liz Fraley


[00:33:58.740] – Janice Summers

 Yeah, you know, yeah, I mean, because really, they dissect the complex and make it approachable for people like me who don’t know anything.

[00:34:10.740] – Liz Fraley

Who says that.

[00:34:11.460] – Janice Summers

Assume I don’t know anything.

[00:34:15.970] – Liz Fraley

Awesome. Wow, I mean, so and we are all doing that at some level. I mean, we’re not all doing training, although Janice and I, that’s pretty much what we do all the time now. But anything.. when you’re writing a presentation or you’re trying to explain an idea coming at it from multiple ways is one of those ways. And you need that discussion with somebody else to have hey, here’s this idea. I mean, I cannot tell you the number of times I get an idea about how things work by reading something completely different right, I’ll read ACM Communications computer magazine like I’ll read some study about that and it’ll connect to something way over here for teaching DITA or something and it’s I wouldn’t get that idea if I didn’t have some other perspective coming at me from some other way. It’s really cool to have that confirmed.

[00:35:13.300] – Janice Summers

And that’s what happened isn’t it with you guys when you brought in the arts and humanities.

[00:35:17.570] – Liz Fraley


[00:35:18.280] – Janice Summers

You weren’t just having a bunch of scientists try to develop a curriculum. You brought in poets and people who were from language like teaching what was it, Spanish?

[00:35:31.460] – Kylie Jacobsen


[00:35:37.490] – Janice Summers

So they see things from a very different perspective, right?

[00:35:41.830] – Kylie Jacobsen

Yeah, they know that that dialogue is important to learning another language, that immersion into that different field and so they echoed some of that practice in talking about things like math. Or we might consider like expert knowledge in an unfamiliar area, not necessarily always math

[00:36:04.670] – Janice Summers


[00:36:05.620] – Kylie Jacobsen

Yes. you can generalize some of that, I think a little bit.

[00:36:08.960] – Janice Summers

Right, well, math is a language.

[00:36:13.290] – Liz Fraley


[00:36:13.480] – Kylie Jacobsen

Yes, a type of grammar.

[00:36:15.370] – Janice Summers

From the people who teach a language, I can see where it’s just a language.

[00:36:21.420] – Liz Fraley

It is.

[00:36:21.930] – Janice Summers

It’s like Engineering the specific type of engineering, there is a language in there, there’s acronyms that they use, there’s a way that they talk and communicate, is a language of their own. So translating language is important.

[00:36:36.620] – Liz Fraley

Yeah, I’d love to see this research with, in some ways it feels to me like the theorem thing works and particularly well because it’s structured writing that a theorem is very structured writing. It is a specific way of putting things together and using a lexicon that mathematicians all know.

[00:36:58.540] – Janice Summers


[00:36:59.110] – Liz Fraley

So it’s almost not surprising that it worked as well as it did.

[00:37:06.520] – Kylie Jacobsen

Thank you.

[00:37:07.060] – Liz Fraley

Yeah, you know, like I used to say to people, if you can write structured things well, you can write structured things well. It’s not any different if it’s math or computer program or, you know, your thesis, you’re writing that stuff together, you’re following a structure. I’d love to see this research happen in a bunch of different disciplines and have Education Revolution.

[00:37:34.780] – Janice Summers

Bring back the arts, bring back the arts it’s not just all–you have to have that balance, right? It’s about balance. And I like the fact that, you know, when you bring in arts and humanities, I mean, hello, the word humanities, you’re putting in the human factor, right. And people are learning, like when we’re writing, we’re actually writing for people who are reading. That’s people, not machines and we want them to comprehend something. So it’s putting the people back and we actually respond well to things that are not necessarily always that methodical, linear, like we respond in a three dimensional way and it’s adding that back in, which is important because I think a lot of times those humanities, they get forgotten, art gets cast aside.

[00:38:28.300] – Janice Summers

And that’s a shame because I think all of that adds to that richness, because you’re speaking to people ultimately, you’re trying to teach people

[00:38:39.760] – Kylie Jacobsen

And people who are coming in scared or hurt by this before or have some sort of anger shifting that, you know, you’re going up against a lot, even just trying to teach that in the first place.

[00:38:54.610] – Liz Fraley

So if you had one thing, it seems like part of your research can help technical writers convey their reasoning to be included in UX teams, in design teams, and definitely in anybody dealing with anything, talking to the customer, right. So what is one way you can … Something you can give to our audience about how to convey that feel to other people? Right. Because we’re tech pubs…Left off, whatever, you’re just the writers. How do they, take what you’ve learned and say, look, here’s why it’s important, I’m included.

[00:39:37.340] – Kylie Jacobsen

It’s important that we are included because we are taught and we learn how to teach reading and writing. We need to be included in these conversations because we understand how to engage the segmented pieces that ultimately combine into a larger understanding. But we have people that are taking care of that. We need to be involved so that we can ask the proper questions about where is the missing link between what is a tacit knowledge or what is an expert knowledge, and we can do that by participatory design or engaged design. So you’re not going to just come in and talk to somebody about what they should know. You’re going to show them how they can learn that skill on their own. I highly, highly, highly recommend the book “Collaborative Learning Techniques” by Barkley, Cross, and Major. They are coming up with new editions of that and they talk about how to transfer a lot of that stuff into remote settings. It’s an excellent book that would give you inspiration about how you can engage other people and make a case for why that particular technique is good for learning that particular content.

[00:40:51.680] – Janice Summers

Right, and I think, you know, from a commercial perspective of what you’ve done in the classroom, that classroom study, I would look at that from the outside. I would look at that and say, OK, you’ve got customers who are trying to learn your very complex products. And you want to make sure you’ve got two things comprehension is good so that they understand your product, you want to make sure that they’re happy with your product and you want to have them come back to your product. So even though this was kids learning math in college, all of this translates into customer satisfaction, retention and increase in sales, right?

[00:41:37.970] – Kylie Jacobsen


[00:41:38.350] – Janice Summers

Just understand that you just apply that because people are people that are just less experienced in the professional world. But they’re not going to change, they grow up and they’re still people right, out here in the professional world, we’re still people that didn’t change once we were academia. So that study definitely directly translates into improved customer satisfaction and a strong argument for getting outside of just engineering being important, right? The engineering is important. Oh, yes. You need to bring in that arts and humanities that that touch so that somebody will buy and understand and properly use your equipment or your product or service right?

[00:42:28.720] – Liz Fraley

And it improves, it improves accessibility to people who didn’t grow up with that right, it will improve the diversity of the entire workforce because more people have it accessible to them with better teaching methods.

[00:42:44.200] – Janice Summers

Yeah, that’s a really good point, accessibility. Yeah, especially as we go more and more global right, so it becomes even more and more important, which means that this becomes even more germane to a company’s success, in the overall company success.

[00:43:03.600] – Kylie Jacobsen

And I think that argument has been around for a little while that humanities are important, but we really wanted to apply some of the stuff that we know and bring it into a scenario like that. So I have the modules if anyone ever would like to see them, I’m happy to share them.

[00:43:20.150] – Janice Summers

So good. OK, and we’ve got ways that they can reach out to you. Yeah. So that they can request those.

[00:43:30.030] – Liz Fraley

Absolutely. Awesome. Wow, that was a great conversation. Thank you, Kylie, that was so great. We are out of time and a perfect way to end it, like hey, here is what you said. Awesome. Thanks for doing it. You are such an exciting, exciting teacher to come and do stuff. And I can’t wait to see what research is coming next.

[00:43:59.080] – Janice Summers

It was such a pleasure to talk to you. Was such a pleasure.

[00:44:03.350] – Liz Fraley

All right. Hopefully anybody last-minute questions. Here we go. I mean, it’s been a quite audience I think that we talked around a lot of stuff.

[00:44:14.660] – Janice Summers

Well, thank you again, and we hope to have you back for phase two of your research when you finally convinced them on what you want to research and carry this forward. I think it’d be really interesting.

[00:44:26.620] – Liz Fraley

I think so, too.

[00:44:27.320] – Janice Summers

And I’d like to know if it’s the other half of those professors at the university, if they just said, OK, we’ll adopt that new method, or if they just stick in the mud with their old ways, that would be interesting.

[00:44:38.290] – Kylie Jacobsen

I do believe it is standard now.

[00:44:41.560] – Janice Summers

OK, oh well but you lost your control group then.

[00:44:51.160] – Liz Fraley

Brand new control group and a whole other University. Awesome. All right. Thanks, everybody I hope you had a good time.

[00:45:02.170] – Janice Summers

Bye everyone

In this episode

Kylie M. Jacobsen is an Assistant Professor of Writing at Grand Valley State University. Her research focuses on user experience research methods in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Humanities, and Mathematics (STEAM) environments, specifically analyzing the emotional journey of learning.

Technical Communicators make the complex comprehendible. When it comes to creating training and instruction materials, addressing the learner’s ability to grasp advanced concepts is critical for instructional designers. A recent longitudinal study of students in reading and writing mathematical arguments suggests that input from Arts & Humanities professionals positively impacted performance.

This research can benefit practitioners in the field developing all forms of instruction. If you have a “How To” anywhere in your sphere then this chat is for you. In this episode of Room 42, we discuss how expanding the sphere of collaboration between STEAM professionals improves training and instruction materials and boosts comprehension of complex material.


Email: jacokyli@gvsu.edu 

LinkedIN: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kylie-m-jacobsen/

The results from this study will be published in the 2020 ProComm proceedings: https://procomm.ieee.org/procomm2020/

Collaborative Learning Techniques (Barkley, Major, & Cross) 

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