Students Gain Hands-On Experience as Technical Writers


By Aleksandra Simeonova '17

During the Spring semester of 2015, Dr. Angela Laflen’s Technical Writing class tackled an unusual
project: writing manuals with instructions on how to fix electronics, while working with the devices
hands-on. The class collaborated with iFixit – a company devoted to reducing electronic waste by
providing free online instructions that users from around the world can access to fix their old devices
instead of throwing them away. iFixit has a Technical Writing program through which they currently work
with more than 20 universities around the US to create guides for the website.

eng  What makes this project so distinctive is that iFixit provides
  devices and tools for students to use to actually take the devices
  apart, photograph them, and create repair guides. For Marist's
  course, iFixit sent 2 cameras, 2 video recorders, 1 laptop, and
  1 alarm clock. The project provided a fun, hands-on way to learn
  how to write and how to fix electronics, showcasing that at Marist,
  English classes develop a wide range of student skills.

 Students’ capacities as writers greatly benefit from this project. As 
 Dr. Laflen points out, “Instructions and documentation are two of the
 most difficult kinds of technical writing projects to work on because
 they really require writers to translate between a product’s designers
 and its users.” Brittany McCrigler, Director of Education Services and
 Senior Technical Writer at iFixit, elaborates on the value of the project:
“Students get hands-on experience with technical writing and a great
resume piece. We get content to help users world-wide repair their stuff, keeping it out of landfills. We also
raise awareness of the many socio-political and environmental issues surrounding electronics.”

The collaboration between Marist and iFixit began when Dr. Laflen learned about the company through the
Association for Teachers of Technical Writing. In Spring 2013, she attended a symposium in California where
the project was introduced to a group of 12 technical writing instructors who actually completed the project, led
by employees of iFixit. Substantial support and feedback is provided by iFixit, who keep in touch with the instructor
and students, guiding them through the project and ultimately giving them an online platform to publish their guides.

As a part of learning more about e-waste in preparation for the iFixit project, Dr. Laflen’s Technical Writing class
also read the book Junkyard Planet by Adam Minter and created persuasive infographics about reducing e-waste
on campus. “Reduce, reuse, recycle” is a phrase we hear often, but we seem to ignore the first, and arguably most
important, step: “reduce.” Brittany McCrigler clarifies iFixit’s goal for this project: “We hope that this project encourages
students (and people in their lives) to keep their devices working longer, to think about repairing something before
throwing it away, and to feel confident that they can fix just about anything.”