Hello, and goodbye. This week’s post may be my last one for a while. As I mentioned in week 1, this blog is part of my master’s (MA) coursework, and this is my last mandatory post before submission.
This week, I’m going to reflect on my time as a part-time student of the MA in Technical Communication at the University of Limerick (UL). If you stumbled onto this blog from Google, this is the right place to find out more about the course. And the answer is yes, you should! I swear I’m not just saying that to get my grade bumped.
I’ll graduate from the MA in Autumn of this year, from home, just as I started it from my childhood bedroom in late 2019. I would have studied this degree at undergraduate level if available. I’ve wanted to be a technical writer since secondary school. I did a career investigation and interviewed a technical writer, and everything about the role sounded like the perfect fit for me. My interviewee recommended the UL course, and it stuck in my brain all those years.
How is the coursework delivered?
Our coursework is delivered asynchronously. In my first year, I would download weekly podcasts and PowerPoint presentations for each module from Sulis, which is UL’s learning management system. This year, the course switched to Panopto recordings, which are basically slides with a voiceover. These recordings are usually around 45-70 minutes long. Occasionally, we have live speakers at scheduled times, but these are nearly always recorded.
This method of teaching is really freeing. You’re not tied to a computer at a specific time each week. You can work out your own study schedule, and if you want, you can listen to a lecture on your phone while walking the dog or doing the dishes!
As a renowned cheapskate, I managed to only use free digital learning materials such as e-books and journal articles throughout my studies, although some of my fellow students purchased the recommended readings. It all depends on your preference for print or pixel. UL’s Glucksman Library has an excellent e-book and academic journal offering, and our lecturers often provided excerpts if the materials we needed were unavailable online.
What’s on the curriculum
- First and foremost, you’ll become a better communicator. I’ve been given a solid foundation in writing for different audiences, using the active voice, using Plain English, avoiding common grammatical errors, using short sentences, visual communication, designing effective learning materials, and much more. I thought I was a decent writer when I started, but now, I express myself more clearly. As you can see, I still write WAY TOO MANY WORDS, but I’m a work-in-progress.
- You’ll get a chance to carry out research, such as literature reviews, learner needs assessments, and topic-based writing. Pre-Covid, I facilitated my own usability test, which involved chatting to users as they interacted with an application form and using the think-aloud protocol to uncover design strengths and flaws. I found this incredibly challenging, as it took me out of my comfort zone of “avoiding human interaction whenever possible”. It was a fantastic experience, though. I felt like a real professional tech dude after completing the assignment, and I’d love to do it again.
- You’ll gain new technical skills and learn how to use software such as the Adobe suite, Articulate Storyline, Audacity, and even good old Microsoft Office to produce multimedia content. At first, the idea of making my own graphics, podcasts, and e-learning materials frightened me, but I realised I was capable of producing some pretty professional-looking stuff with a bit of trial and error! You’ll also learn about XML coding, which is a great skill to have under your belt when you go off jobhunting.
- You’ll hear from professionals from the world of technical communication and instructional design. These talks are always inspiring, honest, and interesting, and many of the speakers are alumni of the MA. My tip is to take note of the speakers’ names and reach out to them afterwards through LinkedIn or through the university. These industries are very small, and who you know is often more fruitful than what you know.
- Your final project will involve either writing a dissertation on a subject related to technical communication or e-learning (or both!), or to make your own e-learning course. I’m doing a dissertation on collaboration between technical communicators and UX practitioners in the workplace. My research method will involve interviews, and I just received ethics approval a few days ago… yikes! Wish me luck!
What’s the online learning experience like?
The advantage of studying in a course run by people who research online pedagogy for a living is that MA is ahead of the curve for online learning. The enforced transition to a fully online course was smooth sailing compared to the sudden large-scale scramble that other students experienced. I’m sure it was stressful behind the scenes, and I know some of my classmates who had been attending the campus lectures found the transition jarring. Luckily, there was enough support available online from lecturers and classmates through our Sulis forums and social media chats to get us all through. You’ll never feel alone if you have a problem in this course, because ten other people are always having the same issue!
The great thing about this MA is how much the lecturers care about us and our wellbeing. It’s a course that welcomes students who may have been out of academia for a long time, who are holding down full-time jobs, who have families to look after, and so on. Our lecturers are always understanding if we need a little extra time to submit our assignments, and when the pandemic arrived, the lecturers extended deadlines for everyone.
I’ve heard woeful tales from other colleges in the past year where students paid thousands, only to be left with no sense of who their classmates were, absent lecturers, and unclear learning objectives. I can’t imagine that happening in our course. We always have a clear learning plan that outlines what we’ll learn in each week of a module. Lecture materials are always posted on time, and assignments are released early on. Everyone, from our lecturers to the other students, are incredibly friendly and present, even if I’ve only seen them via a tiny avatar.
Would I change anything about the course?
My main grievance with the course is that there aren’t many software licenses to go round. Since we can no longer access the university PC suites, we either have to pay for software such as Adobe Creative Cloud and Articulate 360, or use trial versions that expire quite quickly. (Adobe offered students free temporary licenses last March, but they haven’t been so generous to this year’s student body…) As a distance student, I wouldn’t have been able to access the PC suites anyway, so I think it’s an issue that needs addressing beyond the lockdown.
Additionally, as a part-time student, I find that this current semester is highly focused on e-learning. It was hard to come up with new reflective blog topics each week when my lessons were so fixated on this one area.
Nevertheless, these are minor issues, and they haven’t prevented me from making the most of the course.
I can’t believe I’ve been blogging here for the past two months. I’ve really enjoyed reading all my classmates’ posts – you are all such captivating writers, and I’ve learned so much from everyone. Your blogs have been particularly helpful for me, because I was exempt from the 2020 winter semester. A lot of the theory I learned in year one has wandered off to the dusty corners of my brain, so it’s great to get a refresher course in the various theories we’ve studied.
As for anyone else reading this, I hope you’ve benefitted from reading about my course from a student perspective. If you have any questions, you can reach me through the Contact page or leave a comment. Our agent is ready to take your call! (By that I mean I’m constantly refreshing my emails for no particular reason, so I’ll get back to you shamefully quickly.)