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Next Meeting: Thursday, November 20

Programming Presentations: Carl Haupt and Jennifer Bruns

We will be having biweekly meetings online from 5:45 to 6:45 pm CST on Thursdays. You are welcome to come in late and leave early depending on your schedule.

The online room will open at 5:15 pm, please check back for the link.

Chapter officers for 2008-2009

President: Kelcey Woods-Nord
Vice President: Karli Davis
Secretary: Lindsay Case
Communications: Katie Tormala

Faculty Advisors

Prof. Gretchen Haas
Prof. Lee Tesdell

Recent News and Events

STC Members participate in 2008 GPACW Conference at Iowa State

Paul Dobratz PresentingIowa State University hosted this year's Great Plains Alliance for Computers and Writing (GPACW) conference on November 7-8 in Ames, Iowa. The coneference theme was "Multimodal Composition Pedagogies." Dr. Lee Tesdell, Dr. Heather Camp, and Dr. Nancy McKenzie presented at the conference and had students from their graduate level courses have work presented, including STC participants Katie Tormala and Paul Dobratz.

Paul Dobratz, a graduate student in the technical communication program, presented research that he, Katie Tormala, and Paula Naumann conducted on laptop use in wireless classrooms. Paul commented, "The presentation went well, but it was the discussion afterward that was the most mentally stimulating. It was good to intelligently discuss pedagogy and the varie ways that insturctors are tackling the availability of new technology in the classroom."

The conference had various sessions from multi-modal communication accreditation to teaching advanced graphic design to textual analysis. "The conference helped me think more about how I might use technology to imporve the quality of my writing courses and to enhance my professional life. I learned about creating an online teaching portfolio, developing writing assignments that ask students to compose texts that include audio and video components, and using Internet resources to support student learning," Dr. Heather Camp continued, "The conference motivates me to experiment with new composing technologies in my teaching, to provide opportunities for first-year writing students to utilize and extend the already impressive repertoire of technological skills that they bring to their work."

Overall, it was a great learning experience for those involved. The participants were offered the opportunity to share knowledge and discussion on pedagogy, computers, and writing.

Carlson & Komarenko poster earns top award at 2008 STC Conference

J.J. Carlson and Oleksandr Komarenko received the top honor in their category for the poster they submitted to the 55th Annual STC Convention, which was held in Philadelphia from June 1–4. Dr. Gretchen Haas served as their faculty advisor for the project. Both J.J. and Oleksandr attended the conference and gave a short oral presentation to the panel of judges. They were awarded first place and they each received $100 as well as a copy of Technical Communication Suite software from Adobe. Their poster was placed directly facing the entrance to the registration booth, trade show, and keynote stage. "As a result, our poster recieved a lot of traffic, and the forty brochures we had printed prior to the conerference, went fast," J.J. stated.

Since both students were volunteers for the conference, they were responsible for handing out feedback surveys to session attendees. As a result, they attended various sessions. Some of the topics of the sessions J.J. attended included instructional design, web interface, usability, emerging technologies, distance education, and what not to do in technical communication. Two sessions in particular that J.J. enjoyed were "Writing as an Asynchronous Conversation" with Ginny Redish and an informative session about intuitive design and the evolution of technical writing with Jared Spool. J.J. recalled that "The most bizarre session I attended was a discussion on Second Life." Second life is a virtual world in which users create cyber identities. The speaker explained how Second Life is a place to advertise or start a business and is not only for social networking. Companies and colleges use it as a recruiting tool. Although he learned that individuals spend hours in the online community, J.J. commented, "Despite all that happens in the world of Second Life, I was not convinced to hop into it. I currently have no intention of hanging up my real wold identity for the one in the virtual community."

Overall, it was a positive experience for J.J. and Oleksandr. Social networking was a postive experience. Both met people from across the United States, as well as participants from China. The pair met another student from Boise State and were able to take a tour of the city of Philidelphia. Overall it was a good experience for both students. J.J. concluded, "The STC Summit was successful for me as I was able to network with a lot of bright people in our field and share what I've learned with them. I had the opportunty to attend sessions that covered important issues, and I will take what I have lerand and add it to the many skills I've obtained through my education at MInnesota State University, Mankato."

Students and Faculty Attend Uni-Systems Field Trip and Join University of Minnesota Students and Faculty for Lunch
April 16, 2008MSU and U of M students and faculty meet for lunch

On April 16, 2008, Minnesota State University, Mankato STC chapter members Lee Tesdell, J.J. Carlson, and Matthew Bichler made a trip to Minneapolis-based Uni-Systems Corp, an engineering firm, which specializes in transformative structures such as retractable stadium roofs. Beth Frampton, the technical communications manager, explained the areas of the engineering processes that her department is responsible for at Uni-Systems: content management, documentation, web development, etc. A discussion with one of the lead engineers reveled the need for a technical communicator during the prototyping process. He explained that without someone to document the changes and reasoning for the changes during the process that much of it gets forgotten before the engineering report is written. The Minnesota State STC chapter tries to take at least one trip like this each year to get its members exposure to real world business practices.

Following the field trip to Uni-Systems, Lee and J.J. headed over to the University of Minnesota campus for a lunch with faculty and students.  The visit was lively and educational as the attendees discussed advancements in technology and, of course, Technical Communication.  Among the lunch attendees was Jane Xiong, a student in the Minnesota State Mankato Technical Communication program who had yet to meet most of her fellow students and professors.  All who attended expressed interest in future communication, so it is our hope that this will not be a one-time visit.  The field trip and lunch have once again proven that communication with other professionals in our field is crucial to its continued growth and success.


Nicky Bleiel, technical communication expert, speaks at MSU Mankato
September 25, 2007

Nicky Bleiel—senior information developer for ComponentOne and Director at Large of STC—spoke twice at MSU Mankato on Tuesday, September 25, as a part of her current speaking tour. With more than 11 years of experience in the field of technical communication, Bleiel's presentation on wikis and Knowledge Management offered relevant information and real-life examples of how this up-and-coming technology can improve communication and collaboration in group situations.

Bleiel stated that every organizational process is dependent upon human communication to be successful. Knowledge management, which is the way an organization gathers, manages and uses both tactic and explicit knowledge, is no exception. She continued on to explain that in order to improve collaboration through knowledge management, the knowledge that is acquired must be communicated to all employees in a way that is useful to them.

This is where wikis come into play. According to Bleiel, wikis, which are a type of website that allows visitors to add, remove and edit the information available, are an effective tool for communication amongst today's employees because of the ease of operation and interaction. They provide employees with a way to write down and share their best practices, which can only better the company and in turn, lead to tangible benefits such as greater profits.

Not only can wikis be used to communicate within the company, but Bleiel also explained how they can provide an important connection between the company and the customer and between customers themselves. She explained that wiki's are a logical progression from discussion boards and forums and if incorporated and presented correctly, can only improve the collaboration of a company's stakeholders.

Bleiel spoke to Dr. Tesdell's English 271 class at 12 p.m. on Tuesday, September 25th. Directly after, at 1:30 p.m., she gave a short presentation, followed by a question and answer session, to members of the MNSU STC chapter. If you would like a PDF copy of the PowerPoint Bleiel presented, please contact Dr. Tesdell.

2007 STC Alumni Night: Carol Jones & Edell Fiedler
April 24, 2007

MSU tech comm alumnis speak to tech comm students

Two alumni of Minnesota State's technical communication program spoke to students on Tuesday, April 24. Both Carol Jones and Edell Fiedler graduated with their master's in 2004 and are now working successfully in the area.

Jones originally received her BA in Recreation, Parks, and Leisure Services. For a few years she worked in disability services but later decided she was ready for a change. During her MA program, Jones worked as a graduate assistant for Tech Trends magazine. Following graduation she performed many jobs including magazine editor, editorial services director in children's publishing, and freelance technical writer/editor/trainer. Currently Carol works with MSU and does some freelance work and other technical communication related jobs. If you would ask her about her career, Carol would tell you that she is "busier than I want to be, but that’s okay!"

Fiedler attended college for a year before she decided it wasn't the right time. After four years of work, she returned to school and received her BA in mass communications with an emphasis in news editorial and public relations. Based on her advisor's recommendation, Edell continued at Minnesota State and received her master’s degree in technical communication. She currently works as public information assistant for the City of Mankato. There she provides guidance and mentorship for assigned programs of the City of Mankato and Mankato Area Public Schools' public information programs.

MSU tech comm almni night

When discussing their education, both Jones and Fiedler agree that their time in the MA program has had great impact on their success. "I think my degrees were very valuable, and they helped set me apart from other candidates." said Fiedler. Not only were their technical communication courses helpful in building their skills, but their other experiences at MSU were just as relevant. Fiedler managed four part time jobs—including time with the Reporter and the Good Thunder Reading Series—while attending classes. Carol's assistantship gave her real world experience, and the core skills she learned at MSU were invaluable.

Experience was also a big part of the ladies’ advice to students. Carol encouraged everyone to "scramble around and find experience, even if you edit student papers." She said that volunteer work is experience, and it is worth noting. "Industry is the value of tech comm." Jones said, and experience for technical communication careers finds itself in all areas. Fiedler indicated that even the Reporter and her secretary work were valuable job experiences.

MSU alumni night attendees

Carol also likes to see evidence of leadership, independent work skills, and motivation. Getting involved with the STC and some form of leadership will easily help in getting a foot in the door. Fiedler encouraged students to "go where the people are," and to learn about their business. If you can bring your knowledge of the company to them, they may realize that they do need a technical communicator in the company.

Students had the opportunity to ask the alumni questions, and one discussion point focused on résumés. Jones and Fiedler both stressed that the length of a résumé is not as important as its content. If the skills and experiences listed cater to the company's ideals and goals, the candidate should not be concerned about the size of the document.

Other questions focused on specific careers in technical communication. The ladies explained that most technical communication skills are important for careers other than just technical communication careers. The important thing is to go where the people are, form a network, and bring all relevant skills and experiences.

Meet an Expert Night
April 10, 2007

Beth Frampton, technical communication expert, speaks at MSU, Mankato

Beth Frampton speaks about technical writing

Beth Frampton, award-winning technical writer from Uni-Systems in Robbinsdale, MN, spoke twice at MSU on Tuesday, April 10. Her company designs and builds retractable roofs for stadiums and other buildings. Beth’s title is technical communications manager.

Beth first spoke in Engl 271-07 (Technical Communication) at 1 p.m. explaining what she does at work. She showed some of her company’s more notable installations including the Uni-dock at the American Airlines hangar at DFW airport, Texas, the Starlight Theatre roof at Rockford, Illinois, and the University of Phoenix (formerly the Cardinal Stadium) stadium roof in Glendale, Arizona.

Beth writes operating manuals for paper and electronic delivery, media kits, and helps to maintain the company web site.

She explained that students who want to be technical communicators should practice some or all of the following skills: writing, software, graphic, design, and photography.

After lunch with faculty and students and a campus tour conducted by Joan Hertel, Beth spoke to a group of technical communication students and faculty at 4:30. She concentrated on her tasks in the workplace, the software she uses, and the wide variety of tasks that she does for Uni-Systems.

Student questions centered on getting jobs and internships: what they need to do to get hired, what software they need to know, and the skills they need to have in the workplace.

Beth explained that technical writers play a translating role in their places of employment but also to their clients. That is, they make technical topics understandable for the layperson.

Meet an Expert attendees

Beth ended by saying that students were welcome to get in touch with her with questions about the technical writing profession or possible internships at her company. The audience expressed their appreciation for Beth’s insights into the technical communication field.

STC Field Trip
Fall 2006

Prisma & UGS visits

Terry Thompsom speaking to MSU STC

Our STC field trip began with a drive up to Minneapolis in an MSU van. We left from the CSU a little after 10 AM and made it to the Cities by about noon. Before we went to the businesses on the schedule, we stopped for lunch at Falafel King, a Greek/Arabic restaurant. Looking at the menu full of unfamiliar foods, some of us could have used translation services to figure out what to eat.

After lunch we headed to Prisma, a company that provides translation and localization of documents for over 800 businesses worldwide. We sat down with Jim Romano, the CEO of Prisma. Jim started off with a story about how in 1999 the company came to its current location, an old brick building in the "warehouse" section of Minneapolis. He explained how awkward it was that the only major landmark to tell people how to find the company was Sexworld.

A question was asked about what the most common languages translated are, to which Jim replied with the acronym FIGS: French, Italian, German, and Spanish. Jim went on to discuss some of the issues inherent to his business, most notably the problem of maintaining quality standards vs. satisfying customers' time demands.

Once Jim got to speak for awhile, all of us students were given a chance to say a little bit about ourselves and our interest in the field of Technical Communication. After we finished speaking Jim would give his two cents in response based on his years of experience in the business. Jim offered suggestions and encouragement for us to pursue and complete our goals.

We were then treated to another speaker, Terry Thompson, president of Prisma. Terry talked of the importance of project management in a technical writer’s skill set. She distributed several handouts containing the key points of project management, budgeting, and selecting/maintaining project teams. Terry also stressed the fact that the world is becoming increasingly smaller due to the Internet, especially in relation to continual interaction with clients.

Jim Romano & MSU students

In the basement of the Prisma building we were able to witness the software behind the translation that the company performs. The main piece of software used by the translators is called SDL Trados. Jose Zonis, Localization Manager, ran a demonstration of how SDL Trados works. To over-simplify the process, it basically functions like the spell checker/track changes of Microsoft Word in addition to a "memory", wherein the document (database) has a custom dictionary of whole sentences that can be automatically inserted if the writer accepts them. Unfortunately we had to cut Jose short in order to get back on the road and off to our next destination, Unigraphics (UGS), in Shoreview.

We arrived at UGS a few minutes early for our 3:30 appointment. UGS is a company that focuses on PLM (product lifecycle management) software for other businesses. We met with 6 people in the documentation and technical writing department of the Teamcenter 2007 product. They all went around the table and introduced themselves, and we did the same again. There was a discussion of the goals of the technical writers, the audiences they write for, and some of the software they work with.

USG staff & MSU students

One major program, Arbortext, creates XML documents that feature special tags within the text. These tags enable the xml document to be “single-sourced” into a variety of other document formats such as PDF or HTML web pages. The writing team also uses programs that were actually designed in-house. At around 5 PM we left UGS, grabbed a bite to eat from a deli, and headed back to Mankato to conclude the trip.

Overall this was a very interesting and informative trip. It gave us students a chance to see what people can do in Tech Comm as well as the current trends in the field. Everyone we met at both companies were very personable and accommodating.

Special thanks goes to Jim Romano, Terry Thompson, and Jose Zonis at Prisma, and Katie Woolm, Rhonda, Norma, Greg, Valerie, and John at UGS.

Usability Day field trip
November 14, 2006

Minnesota State University, Mankato Society for Technical Communication student chapter field trip

Usability and the future of the technical communication workplace were the two themes of our STC field trip on Tuesday, November 14, 2006.

stc members at table Left to right: Andrew Robertson, Mike Nelson, Sasha Komarenko, Zach Pitts, Lee Tesdell

Four MSU technical communication students and two faculty members took a trip to World Usability Day events at the University of Minnesota’s Walter Library and then to the STC Twin Cities community evening meeting where we heard Neil Perlin of Hyper/Word Services, Tewksbury, MA, prognosticate about the future of the technical writing profession. We left Mankato shortly after 11 a.m. for the Twin Cities. We arrived at 402 Walters Library for the World Usability Day events shortly after 1 p.m. and we wrapped up events after the 3:30 presentation by Kastman-Breuch and Anderson with a visit to the Usability Lab in the basement of Walter Library.

University of Minnesota World Usability Day activities

1:00 p.m.– 2:00 p.m. 402 WalterPresentation: “How the University of Minnesota
Uses Eye-Tracking in Usability Evaluations ”
Alice de la Cova, Usability Services Manager, Office of Information Technology David Rosen, Usability Services Consultant, Office of Information Technology
2:15 p.m. – 3:15
402 Walter Panel Discussion: “The University of Minnesota’s Approach to Web Accessibility” Kari Branjord, Director of Open Source Initiatives and Strategic Partnerships, Office of Information Technology
Nicole Tollefson, Web Designer, Office of Information Technology
Phil Kragnes, Adaptive Technology Specialist, Computer Accommodations Program, Office of Information Technology
Michael Olesen, Associate Director, Digital Technology Center
Eric Schnell, Interim Director, Disability Services
3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. 402 Walter Presentation: "Preparing to Incorporate Usability into Design" Lee-Ann Kastman Breuch, Associate Professor, Department of Rhetoric
Janel Anderson, User Experience Engineering Manager, Thomson Legal & Regulatory

Zach Pitts, Sasha Komarenko, and Andrew Robertson reflect below on the day’s events.

Zach Pitts, undergraduate major in technical communication:
At the Usability Lab we watched a demonstration of calibration and a sample eye-tracking with David Rosen trying to find a review of an Italian restaurant in the New York Times. This demonstration was a follow up to the information provided in the “How the University of Minnesota Uses Eye-Tracking in Usability Evaluations” presentation. The eye-tracking equipment and software were able to detect the motion of David’s gaze including where and for how long he looked at different areas of his computer screen. In addition to being able to watch David’s eyes in real time, the deliverables of the data collected include “gaze plots” and “hotspot maps” that can show where attention is mainly focused while performing tasks. Data that results from eye-tracking sessions can be analyzed by usability technicians to determine whether users are looking where they are supposed to be, and if not, what must be changed so that they do. After this demonstration, we were off to the Society for Technical Communication meeting in Minneapolis.

Left to right: Sasha Komarenko, Zach Pitts, and Gretchen Haas (MSU faculty) enjoy after-dinner conversation at the STC Twin Cities community meeting stc members at table

The STC meeting began with an hour or so of networking time while we ate dinner. As we finished our pumpkin pie for dessert, Neil Perlin of Hyper/Word Services began his presentation entitled “What’s Up, EDoc?!” This presentation discussed past, current, and possible future trends in the creation of documentation. What Mr. Perlin indicated was that the future of documentation lies in single-sourcing with the use of XML and XHTML, specifically with software such as Madcap Flare. Perlin himself had difficulty defining single-sourcing, but what it basically comes down to is creating one document that can, with little or no content modification, be converted into several different types of media - print, online, mobile, etc. “

Sasha Komarenko, M.A. student in technical communication:
Although we came away from every event we attended on the Usability Day field trip with new insights, two points have stuck with me most. One of these was the continued need of technical communicators involved with usability to justify and, moreover, “evangelize” for a systematic approach to usability embedded within the product development cycle rather than tagged on to the final stages of development. As technical communicators we are taught early on that it is important, indeed, necessary to be prepared to actively educate those around us (including employers) about the need for clear, effective, and efficient communication. It is, however surprising to me that even on the level of product development the users’ needs, preferences, and habits are still often overlooked, and usability evaluations are conducted only in the final stages when significant changes are prohibitively cost-ineffective.

The other point that stuck with me had to do with eye-tracking: since the University of Minnesota usability lab equipped with such technology primarily carries out business- related usability testing serves business needs of the U and the community, few academic research studies have been carried out. Yet the potential for both qualitative and quantitative research involving eye-tracking are great. With strong basis in theory and combined with cognitive and brain studies eye-tracking could help us understand many aspects of information acquisition and processing, as well as test established theories

stc member STC keynote speaker Neil Perlin and MSU’s Andrew Robertson get acquainted after Perlin’s riveting presentation on the future of the technical writing profession.

Andrew Robertson, M.A. student in technical communication:
We arrived at the STC meeting and ate dinner; we then proceeded to network with other professionals. The presentation was titled, Trends in Technical Communication, Mr. Neil Perlin spoke about technology trends in the workplace. Topics ranged from XML, user interface design for handheld computing, and voice activated interfaces. Mr. Perlin emphasized that it’s important to stay current with technology because technical communicators use it, write about, and train others how to use it. He went on to discuss that technical communication field is in flux and professionals need to be ready to adapt the new technologies and new ways of thinking about the content we develop. The discussion kept the audience captivated and many of the attendees came away from the evening with something new.


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Last Updated: 11/17/2008