Forbidden words in Instructional Technology

Expanded title might read, Why I forbid students to use certain words when they describe a design, and the list itself

This week a student asked me to explain the differences among discussion boards, discussion forums, and blogs. I paused because I knew my answer was actually a blog post, and not really what a student wants to hear. I wondered if my answer held value for her the same as I felt it holds for me. I am someone who appreciates an accurate description of a design, but not a lot of people do. Maybe that’s because design communication is one of those things that really only get appreciated when it breaks down. So I paused, and thought about it, then I gave her and the whole class the whole long-winded lecture (via the Blackboard asynchronous message feature) about why it’s important to describe designs well. Here’s what I said.

picture of forbidden words

Editor Hugo Lindgren’s list of forbidden words at the NY Times Magazine. His list is far longer than mine, and thus suggests to me that after all, I am not such a bad guy. Check out his fill list at the link provided at the end of this entry.

The hard and fast difference among discussion boards, discussion forums, and blogs is nothing. They are all slang words for asynchronous configurations, and at this point in time, have generally become so varied in specific manifestations, that the terms are slightly more valuable than total gibberish. So to me, they all signify the same thing– asynchronous communication that needs to be described more accurately to be understood. Blogs are supposedly reverse chronological journals of substantial length. But of course there’s Twitter, the quintessential micro-blog with a character lengthy of what, 150? Obviously not very blog-like. Then you have discussion forums that have traditionally been open-access, threaded asynchronous messages that are persistent—meant to be knowledge development venues that stay available pretty much as long as those who contributed to them might ever want to retrieve them or look something up. Our limited access Blackboard forums erase themselves two weeks after the end of the course, so they are really not forum-like either.  The varied asynchronous communication configurations on Blackboard are given a bunch of these random titles simply for the purpose of selling the LMS to faculty who have better things to worry about than what is really a blog, and what is really a forum. (Incidentally, there is nothing done on Blackboard that can’t be done on WordPress for free, and Blackboard costs 20,000$ a year, just to run the platform. These sales tactics work really well.) The inaccuracy of these words in relation to their less than uniform manifestations is exactly WHY I give my students a list of forbidden words. “Blog, forum, discussion board, etc…” are all terms that are way too inaccurate for an instructional designer to use on the job without long explanations of what they mean in a given case. These are sales-language terms and inaccurate tech-slang, not design terms. I tell my students that clients may use them in talking to you, but you should not use them when talking to your clients. As an instructional designer, you need to know more than these vague words to talk about online learning, technology enhanced learning, or technology integration. While it may sound like a very small point I am making here, we are actually talking about a lot of money when it comes to the job itself. Imagine a design needs to be amended or reconfigured because of a communication error between client and designer. You’re likely imagining serious lost time, like entire weekends spent recreating a design to fix the miscommunication. If you’re billing by the hour, you might save your client (20 hours X 50) 1000$. If you’re doing this once a month, you’re 12,000$ more valuable as an instructional designer than your peers, simply because you use the right words when you sit down and talk about a design, not to mention the fact that your clients are happier and giving you more work. I say call a spade a spade, don’t use forbidden words, use accurate design terms, or, in this case, call your high-tech spade with embedded communication for learning a “persistent, asynchronous skeuomorph, affording multiple channel, limited access, converged CMC.”

The forbidden words

  • Web 2.0 (as if this ever actually meant anything anyway)
  • MOOC
  • Blog (Some Blogs are reverse chronological, some are chronological, and some are not even weblogs thus making them not blogs at all. The term is so misused it is no longer meaningful when talking about design. It’s ok if you say “this is my blog” because you have identified a specific Blog. However, if you say “It is designed like a Blog” the listener could be thinking one of one hundred different things.)
  • Wiki (“openly editable webpage” is far more accurate for some platforms commonly called “wikis”, otherwise wikis have so many versions it is hard to imagine what you mean, exactly)
  • Homepage, webpage
  • Social Bookmarks / Bookmarking
  • All proprietary words are forbidden except as archetype comparisons (e.g. Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, etc…)
  • Podcasts & Vlog (these are slang terms for uploaded video, but actually are aligned with not design, but content genre. Avoid these terms unless you’re analyzing content)
  • Chat room
  • All proprietary words are forbidden (e.g. Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, etc…)
  • Cell phone (no one knows what a cell phone is anymore because the concept of “phone” is gone when we text on a phone but make calls on computers, aka via VoIP, “Skype.” Avoid saying “phone” because everyone seems to suddenly get confused.)
  • Good, bad, best, better, worst, great, nice, ok, interesting, and information. These are all vague and confusing.
  • Computer ( I add this because different types  abound and unless you’re talking about a new one, such as wearable computing, you’re probably using the term in a way that could be much more precise with another word.)
  • Utilize* (From Brians, a linguist: he defines it as “to make use of” but really it only works when you mean to use for a purpose other than for which is was designed.

The recommended terms

I preface this list of preferred terms with, “Here are words that are typically employed by professionals and demonstrate an understanding of emerging technology for instructional design: (You should use all applicable terms here instead of the ones above.) If you do not know any of these words, look them up.”

  • Synchronous/Asynchronous
  • Afford / Affordance
  • Open access, single access, limited access, password protected
  • Persistent
  • Reservoir of goodwill
  • Vertical / horizontal array
  • Handheld device
  • Computer-mediated communication (CMC)
  • Converged media, converged media CMC (or CMCMC)
  • Social Network /  collaborative access
  • Character allowance
  • Editable
  • Website (Webpage is limited to one html file)
  • Images, Image-texts, imagetext
  • One-to-many / one-to-one / many-to-one / user-to-interface-  communication types
  • Multi-user
  • Multimodal
  • Password protected /  access protected
  • Responsive / unresponsive or “fixed” design (means the display does not adapt to the device)
  • Design tensions (I cannot stress learning this term enough. All designers use this word, and if you don’t recognize design tensions, you’re not analyzing very well. They are there in every design.)
  • Customizable
  • Learner experience
  • Video sharing site
  • Annotatable
  • Presence indicator
  • Cloud storage
  • Democratized asynchronous communication- affording those various proficiency in communicative competence equal access to discursive participation (Duren Thomson, Lisa Shipley in IT566 2014)
  • Option Fatigue- the inability to make a design decision due to an over abundance of design choices* (credit: Afnan, Libby and Courtney in IT 521 Fall2019)

BONUS TERM: skeuomorph

The picture is graciously stolen from a New York Times Magazine article about their forbidden words list, linked here.

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