Scripts, Scripts, Scripts

I'm writing dozens of short, pithy "business tip" scripts for a new client in the field of Instructional Design.  These are being turned, rapidly, into videos for business managers and human resource professionals.  I have to say, it's an education for me: I can now glibly explain exactly how to implement a SWOT analysis, how to turn that into a TOWS analysis, and how to use the GROW Method to coach employees to put their Strategic Plan into action!

It's exciting to get this kind of experience, since it provides me with more tools for Instructional Design and educational writing, both of which are areas I'm building professionally.  I've always enjoyed writing scripts for planetariums, multimedia presentations, and public speaking; this is just one more way to use the same tool to create a unique product!

Science Writing for Healthcare Consumers

During the past two months, I've been busy at work on a project for a major cancer center.  My assignment: meet with doctors, surgeons, pathologists and patient care specialists to collect information, and then turn that information into comprehensible information that patients and caregivers can put to immediate use.

I've done quite a bit of health and life-science writing over the years, but this is the first time I've been asked to create information that has the potential to save a life.  I have to say that the opportunity is both exciting and daunting.  Perhaps my biggest challenge is to avoid answering every possible question, addressing every concern, and describing every treatment.  After all, I imagine, mightn't a patient want every scrap of information available?

In fact, of course, web writing should not and cannot be a series of dissertations.  Few readers will stick around to read thousands of words on the screen -- and every healthcare situation is unique.  Still, as I dive into a deeper understanding of what CAN be done to treat even major cancers, it's tough to keep from telling the whole story!

iBooks for Education: Not Quite Cutting Edge...

My newest client, a small digital publishing company in Massachusetts, has hired me to recommend changes to a web-based Personal Finance curriculum to make the interactivity compatible with the iBook authoring system.  Naturally, much of the animation and some of the interactivity is Flash-based, and iPads don't play well with Flash - which means almost everything written for the Web must now be reconceived.

The multi-touch table is now standard museum fare
I'd be a lot happier about the iPad revolution if I saw real creativity in the authoring widgets.  Perhaps I'm jaded, coming as I do from a museum background.  In the science museum world, touchscreen interactivity has been a standard fixture for nearly 20 years.  Interactive, video based teaching games have been around for even longer.  So the "opportunity" to create picture galleries, multiple choice quizzes and drag and drop interactives doesn't really wow me. Nor do "tap to see the video" screens.

I do understand that iBooks and iPads are here to stay... and that touchscreens, once "future tech," are fast becoming standard classroom and business equipment.  But with so much wonderful potential for interactivity, it seems a shame to stick to the oldest, most well-worn options.

Maybe Apple could take a peek at some of the apps that are available to educators who USE the iPad, and rediscover some awesome opportunities for creativity...  Apps that encourage participation in learning... apps that combine audio recording with video, images, animated drawing and text...  apps that truly make full use of the amazing potential of the iPad tool!

Universal Design for Learning

I'm heading off, on Monday of this week, to a conference at the Museum of Science in Boston which will focus on the development of a universally designed science museum exhibit. 

Cool isn't always inclusive!
My role will start with a presentation about autism and education -- a complex and poorly researched topic indeed!  I've put together a PowerPoint presentation to describe the autism spectrum and planned changes to the diagnostic criteria; describe some of what's known about how people with autism learn and engage with the environment; present some of the technology now in use for people with autism, and provide some samples of what's working in the museum environment (not too many examples so far!).

I'm excited to be part of a group that includes some of the top people in the fields of museum education and technology...  Universal design is a new concept for many of us, and technology should allow us, at this point in history, to create experiences that are flexible, engaging, and capable of teaching a huge range of people.  Can't wait to see what emerges!

What's Old Is New Again: High Quality Leveled Readers

I was delighted, a little over a month ago, to get a call from a company called Curriculum Concepts International. I had never heard of CCI, but it turns out that they were a part of an ongoing project at Time for Kids (part of Time Inc.) in which I was involved many years ago.  Harcourt, creator of K-12 textbooks, had contracted with Time to create sets of "mini-books" as secondary sources to support social studies texts for grades K-6.  I had had the pleasure of researching and writing quite a few of these mini-books on fascinating topics such as --

One of my early trades

The Kennedy Space Center
 The Silk Road
 Climate Change
The Elements
Norfolk and the Navy
The Chesapeake Bay
  Discovering New Species
 The Ancient Phoenicians

When the recession hit, the market for these small, high quality books with fabulous illustrations from the Time-Life photo library appeared to dry up.  But it seems that the business merely took a detour.  Now, CCI is managing the development of new leveled readers at the same high quality, and they thought of me.

Last month, I took on a really exciting CCI/Harcourt project: a 4th/5th grade book called Life on a Lunar Colony.  No, it's not fiction -- but it did give me a chance to explore what NASA and private businesses are thinking about relative to our next steps in space.  Wonderful stuff, including gorgeous artists' conceptions of domed habitats, mining facilities and moon rovers.
This month, I've started work on a new CCI/Harcourt mini-book called Measuring Matter.  I'm looking forward to getting back into the world of physics! It's wonderful to be able to mix print and digital education, using the "appropriate technology" for different kinds of learners.

Interactive Education and E-Learning

As an educational writer for both formal and informal educational clients, I've always been involved with multisensory and hands-on instructional techniques. As a 21st century educational writer, without thinking much about it, I've collected a diverse set of skills for creating digital teaching tools.  As clients have turned to technology, I've followed suit.

Thought I've always thought of myself as a "writer," I now realized that I've morphed a bit.  Over the past decade, I've become an eLearning specialist with significant knowledge of and experience in the tools, philosophy and techniques of the field.  While I'm not a programmer (and don't plan to be one), I've jumped into the eLearning field without plannig it.

I've worked with PowerPoint and Camtasia, storyboards and smartboards, interactive kiosk scripting and blogs.  I've learned to build teaching and assessments tools based on Flash, Java and HTML "interactives" such as drag and drop modules, puzzles, quizzes, and -- of course -- good old fashioned multiple choice.  With all these tools, I've had the opportunity to develop some really exciting products:
  • two distance learning courses for Drexel University's Goodwin College
  • three interactive web-based classes for
  • interactive lectures for college students for Pearson Publishing
  • 21st Century Skills video scripts for Pearson (for elementary students)
  • interactive tools for exploring personal finance for Apex Learning
...and that's just the start.

To celebrate the discovery that I've successfully navigated the bridge between print and digital educational writing, I've created two new tabs for this site.  One focuses entirely on elearning and Instruction Design; the other on printed books and other publications.  Need a writer?  I'm up for either one!

February "Leaps" Ahead

The mid-winter doldrums have arrived, and with very little fanfare.  Here on Cape Cod we've had just one significant snow...  the cranberry bogs have not yet frozen over...  and while it's chilly, we have yet to have more than a day or two of serious cold.  I can't really complain, of course: the terrific weather has made it easy to travel, and kept cabin fever at bay!

Winter on the Cape
January included the completion of an NEH grant for the New England Whaling Museum, and the establishment of an ongoing relationship with that organization.  They are digging deeply into topics such as American expansion, ethnic diversity, and the complex issues of assimilation for populations that came to the US from Cape Verde and Africa as a result of the whaling industry.  As one member of the staff said, "imagine the impact on visitors of an image of a black first mate, holding a harpoon aboard a Yankee whaler!"

As we work out the details of our next shared project, however, I find that much of my attention has turned back to writing, consulting, and speaking on the topic of community inclusion for children, families and adults with developmental differences and challenges.

Coming up later this month, my IMLS-funded consulting project with the Children's Museum of Boston has begun -- with a pair of focus group sessions to include both afterschool educators and parents of children with autism.  Once the focus groups are complete, I'll be putting together a guide for afterschool program directors and educators on inclusion, activity selection, accommodation and related topics.

What's on the horizon?

I'll be heading to New Hampshire in March for a two-day program at the Children's Museum in Portsmouth, where I will be meeting a whole new group of informal educators with a special interest in inclusion.  Also in March, I'll be delivering a "virtual lecture" to high school guidance counselors on the topic of "helping students with autism apply to college."

In April, I head to Philadelphia to be part of a committee of three advising a master's thesis at the University of the Arts.  The young woman working toward her degree is planning an exhibit specifically for kids with autism; I've never been a thesis advisor before, and the process is turning out to be more of a creative collaboration than I'd imagined!

I've also heard from the Boston Museum of Science: I'll be participating in a five-day, grant-funded workshop in May focused on the concept of universally designed museum technology.  I'm starting to do some research into the subject, but the reality is that we are all breaking exciting new ground.

Of course all these projects and programs, while potentially exciting and fulfilling, aren't enough to make a full time business perk along.  Fortunately, my client A-Pass Education, along with several other educational entities, are overflowing with opportunities for educational writing. I'm now diving head first into some SAT-related projects, assessment, and interactive educational projects...  Hoping to be coming up for air as spring arrives!

A New Year and New Opportunities

As 2012 begins, I'm delighted to be involved in several brand new projects and working with new clients as well.  At the same time, I'm completing several projects that were in the works in December.

Top of the list for the beginning of this month (with an imminent deadline!) is a major National Endowment for the Humanities grant I'm spearheading for the New Bedford Whaling Museum.  This is a terrific opportunity for me to work with a major local museum and to spend time on site at meetings and exploring galleries with staff - something I've missed as I've worked almost exclusively with clients located at a distance from Cape Cod.

Pico Island in the Azores, from "A Whaling Voyage Around the World"
Meanwhile, I continue to work on a variety of educational projects.  Right now, I'm continuing to work with Michigan-based A-Pass Educational Group on a project for a major publisher.  My job: to turn print textbooks into interactive lectures and assessments using a presentation software called Articulate. This is a long-term project which will run through March.

A new client, The World Scholar's Cup, is an international educational organization that challenges youth to engage with, debate and conduct research surrounding a variety of academic topics.  My challenge is update and enhance a resource guide on the topic of biotechnology - making it accessible for kids in grades 6-12 from around the world!

As before, I am continuing to work with the online magazine Autism After 16, researching and writing articles on autism-related topics such as IEP's and transition planning; community inclusion; and much more.  In addition, I continue my consulting work with the Boston Children's Museum and Boston Museum of Science, all of which focuses on best practices and training for inclusion of kids and families living with autism.