Support Documentation with Screen Steps Part 2
Bluemango.com learning has a good mini site that can help guide the development of good support documentation. They have a site titled How to Create Killer Documentation. I won’t go into great detail about this site. You can visit their mini site [here]. Instead I want to talk about some of the things I learned, and how they are affecting our support site for the district.
When developing e-books for teachers and campus technologists I was thinking of a one, two or three week project. This project would detail all the steps necessary for a teacher to get up and running with a product or software. When the project was complete I hoped it would answer all their questions. Like the oracle at Delphi.
Since then I have come to realize that it does answer a lot of questions, but the e-book addressed many more items that were not crucial for teachers. I was spending a great deal of my time creating instructions that were not always important for teachers. The important information teachers needed was often buried somewhere deep in the cavernous pages of my book. This is not to say that e-books have no place in support, but that e-books are not for everyone or for every situation. I believe there needs to be a tipping point where a book is more advantageous than targeted instructions. Support is not the place for a book. Maybe professional development?
Support needs to be targeted, up to date, and easily accessible. This is where Screen Steps and WordPress help make our support easy, accessible and convenient for teachers. This ease, accessibility and convenience extends to those of us that provide documentation to support technology and instruction.
Our focus is changing. We are targeting common questions and issues with specific support documentation. This documentation is available online where one can search and browse by category or tag. We can easily refer someone to a support document over the phone, and even send the link through email. We still provide phone support when asked, and send the link for future reference.
Much of our support documentation is based on questions or issues that arise, but not all. I like to anticipate questions. There is nothing like having the right answer when you need it. My goal is to anticipate teacher needs, and address those needs with quick support documentation. This has arisen from the many times in which I received a support question to one I knew was going to need addressing. Having the support document available at those times would have saved the teacher and myself a lot of time.
It can be a little difficult anticipating teacher questions. This is where our experience as teachers is paramount, and so is the continuous communication with teachers. We have all taught in the classroom before taking this position, and this experience allows us to understand the specific needs of teachers. One common theme runs through supporting any user and teacher. Time and relevance. Teachers are always pressed for time and the documentation we provide needs to be relevant to their needs.
An additional feature we have added to online support documentation is downloadable PDF versions of each lesson. We find that many teachers like to download and print our instructions for easy offline access. I have walked into a campus technologist classroom to see binders full of my instructions. I can’t help but be flattered. We are also addressing the need to be environmentally friendly. In addition to a PDF version, we also provide an EPUB version for e-book readers.
The reason for this alternate version goes beyond the convenience of print or e-book readers. Instructions usually refer to an online source or software, and it is difficult to have a browser open for reading instructions at the same time. PDF and e-book versions allow teaches to have the instructions sit next to them for easy reference while following instructions. Teachers often add notes to PDF versions that help them remember something or understand a concept. This concept of adding notes also applies to e-book versions.
Creating PDF versions is one of the features available in Screen Steps. I use a separate piece of software to create e-book versions. I will talk about this process in a future posting.
We try to provide detailed instructions with lots of images. Images are important and do a lot of the heavy work when it comes to creating support documents. The process we take for creating these documents is the subject of my next posting.