By Bailey Herring
In TECM 1700 (Introduction to Professional, Science, and Technical Writing), students can get their first taste of working for a client with the iFixit project. This tasks students with creating device repair guides for iFixit.com, a wiki-based website designed to teach users how to fix anything from their cell phone to their toaster.
Created as a way to give freshmen real-world experience with technical writing, UNT's TECM 1700 has been redesigned to incorporate iFixit's Technical Writing Project. The project allows students an opportunity to correspond with and complete work for real, experienced technical writers.
Students are divided into teams and asked to choose from a list of devices provided by iFixit. The photo shows all of the devices and materials iFixit shipped to the Technical Communication Department last fall. These devices lack documentation at iFixit.com, so students are asked to create troubleshooting guides and write repair guides, complete with photos, and then publish their work on iFixit's site.
Along with UNT's instructors, a team of iFixit's technical communicators are standing by via email to answer any questions students may have, and to ensure the product of each team's work is up to the company's standards through an approval process.
For Seth Thompson, an instructor for TECM 1700, iFixit's tech writers set an example for his students. He cites the quality of iFixit's communication with students as a goal for his students to work towards.
"iFixit's team shows students a model of what professional communication looks like. They're very supportive," Seth said.
Meesha Thomas, another tech comm instructor at UNT, was the driving force behind TECM 1700's recent redesign. For her, 1700 was recreated both to serve as a better foundation for TECM 2700 (the class that follows TECM 1700) and to expose students to the expectations and guidelines of real clients.
"The old curriculum just wasn't helping students as they moved forward with tech comm," Thomas said.
Like TECM 2700, students begin 1700 with a grammar diagnostic. This test measures each student's mastery over various parts of English grammar and informs the next part of the course: grammar lessons.
With these lessons and the assignments that come with them, Thomas and other 1700 instructors are building a framework for client work within each student. The iFixit project serves as a way to show students the benefits of technical communication skills, and how to apply them.
"Having an outside party like iFixit reinforce what we're teaching is good for the students," Thomas said.
Reinforcing the lessons is one of TECM 1700's major goals. Seth Thompson taught 1700 before the course's redesign, and says that iFixit's integration is effective in showing students the fruits of their labor. One of his former students checked their device's iFixit page after the semester had ended and found questions and comments from people all over the world.
"Before, 1700 was missing a real-world connection. But now students are really seeing what tech comm can do for them," Thompson said.
One such student is Alora Saxton, a freshman who completed TECM 1700 and has moved on to TECM 2700. After her time in 1700, one of her friends purchased a toolkit from iFixit and has taken to repairing damaged cell phones.
Alora enjoyed the iFixit project's group work and found herself working harder than usual on anything that would be posted to iFixit.
"What if I needed to fix something and had to use iFixit for instructions?
I wanted to make sure someone who needed help with the device we worked on would be able to find it," Saxton said.
iFixit was created to promote repair and combat the effects of overproduction across the globe. An estimated one million devices have been kept out of landfills because of the repair guides available at iFixit.com. Since 2009, the company has partnered with over 13,000 students from more than 65 universities to create more than 18,000 guides that have helped over 40 million people looking for repair documentation.
UNT's TECM 1700 students are contributing to those efforts while they learn valuable skills.