Analyzing Scope Creep

Coping with change is the most important single problem that project managers face during projects (Portny, 2014). Lots of factors can influence a project such as new technologies and materials, new requirements and needs, or “the natural tendency of the client, as well as project team members, to try to improve the project’s output as the project progresses” (Portny, 2014, p. 346). That phenomenon called scope creep can impact the project schedule.

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A while ago, I won a contest at a local shopping mall by submitting my dream for the island. My dream was to provide more education for the local community on how to treat animals. Unfortunately, we have many stray cats and dogs, and many pets that do have owners are treated badly. I believed (and still do) that more education might lead to improvement.

The shopping mall’s marketing manager contacted me, the client, one month before the planned event, and he suggested that we would organize an adoption day for stray cats and dogs. He took the lead and came up with some suggestions on how to organize the day. He wanted to have some dogs outside so people could adopt them immediately.

However, my idea of an adoption day was different and after our first meeting, where we planned a few things, I started thinking: I also wanted to include cats, and I wanted to organize it inside, as the temperatures outside would be too high for cats and dogs. Also, the shopping audience would be mostly inside. Also, I believed that only organizing an adoption day was not going to solve the key issue: a lack of knowledge. That is why I came up with the idea of involving all the animal rescue organizations on the island. I wanted to invite as many volunteers as possible so that they could pass out flyers and talk to people in person. I wanted to create an educational video that would be displayed in the food court to pass on an educational message to a broad audience. I wanted to invite a veterinarian who could answer people’s questions regarding medical issues. I wanted fun activities for kids (e.g. animal face painting, animal photo booth, animal balloons) to attract a broad audience. In summary, I wanted MORE than just an adoption day. Because I wanted more, the organization took more time. We planned on organizing the event on World Animal Day (October 4th), which meant that we only had one month to organize everything.

Because the marketing manager did not know much about the world of animal rescues, I took over the organizational part so instead of being the client, I also became the project manager. I contacted all stakeholders, I organized meetings, I sent them the necessary information by email, and I created a plan.

There was no official project schedule, so I quickly created one. It was impossible to extend the project as it was already planned for October 4th, so we had to work overtime to complete everything. There was no specific budget, but I knew that the mall would support my dream, as that was the prize for winning the contest. I was stressed because we had so little time but I managed to organize everything except the balloon man, who canceled last minute. Unfortunately, the marketing manager, who promised me that there would be advertisements in the local newspapers and an interview on the local TV station, did not manage to provide the promotion for the event. We did have a lot of visitors, but I think we could have had more if the promotion would have been better. Also, on the day of the event, the marketing manager decided to show a soccer game in the food court instead of the educational video. That was very disappointing.

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If I had to do another project like this, I would meet with all stakeholders at an earlier time and write down all ideas. I would document all decisions made, and share them with all stakeholders. I did that for this project as well, but unfortunately, the marketing manager did not come through with all his promises. Having someone from upper management sign it might prevent such issues. Also, I would make a clear schedule that would be available for all stakeholders with the exact tasks and responsibilities. The project schedule would include milestones, which would function as checkpoints. Last, I would create a contingency plan that would make it easier to deal with unexpected events.

“Avoiding scope creep is not possible. However, monitoring it, controlling it, and thereby reducing some of the pain is possible” (Portny, 2014, p. 347). For example, a project manager can include a change control system, and require a detailed introduction and approval of every change.

References

Portney, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., & Sutton, M. M. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

This entry was posted on February 12, 2016. 3 Comments

Estimating Costs and Allocating Resources

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“Estimating the effort, time, and resources needed to complete project activities is one of the most challenging tasks that project managers must face” (Project Management Guru, 2012, para. 1). Because each project is unique, Project Managers (PMs) are always challenged with many uncertainties.

For each project, PMs should plan all activities strategically, and decide what resources are needed for those activities. Once they know which resources are needed, they can allocate them appropriately and attach a price to each of them. Knowing how to properly allocate resources and estimate the cost associated with them is an essential skill for ensuring your project is successful.

Luckily, there are many software tools available online to help PMs. One example is http://www.projectinsight.net. Project Insight is a 100% web-based, fully customizable tool that offers free training for everyone. Its layout looks attractive and professional, and it offers many links to useful training videos.

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Project Insight has many features that specifically focus on time and expenses tracking (e.g. ‘Enter estimated remaining work on tasks’, ‘Customizable time/expense worksheets budgeting’), and budgeting (e.g. ‘Plan and forecast project budget and revenue’, ‘Monitor plan versus actuals in real-time’, ‘Account for labor and expenses’).

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Another useful web based tool that I came across is Project Manager. Project Manager is a complete online project management system that offers a free trial but costs a little less than $30 a month. If offers tutorials, webinars, and blogs to help PMs get started.

Project Manager has many specific features , such as Time Tracking Software that always keeps you up-to-date, and Expense Tracking Software, which allows you to track any expense such as people, materials, equipment and office expenses. “As you enter each expense, the Project Dashboard tells you whether you’re still under budget” Stevens, 2015, para. 7).

References

Project Management Guru – Product & Process Innovation, Inc. (2012). Project management estimating tools & techniques. Retrieved from http://www.projectmanagementguru.com/estimating.html

Stevens, P. (2015, Oct. 28). Top ten reviews. Project Insight. Retrieved from http://online-project-management-review.toptenreviews.com/project-insight-review.html

Stevens, P. (2015, Oct. 28). Top ten reviews. Project Manager. Retrieved from http://online-project-management-review.toptenreviews.com/projectmanager.com-review.html

Websites:

http://www.projectinsight.net

https://www.projectmanager.com

This entry was posted on February 6, 2016. 4 Comments

Communicating Effectively

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Keeping your stakeholders involved during the entire life cycle of a project is crucial to a project’s success. Effective communication is, therefore, essential. The content of the communication is important; it should be efficient and effective. However, that is not the only thing that is important in the communication process. How you communicate is just as important. If you communicate in the right way, it can help you get the message across even clearer. But, if you choose to communicate the wrong way, the message might not come across, or even worse, the message can be interpreted in an entirely wrong way.

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E-mail, text, voice, face-to-face?

“Communication is evolving quickly, offering us more options than ever before” (Demers, J., 2015, para. 1). All the different communication tools allow us to transfer information, however, not all of them are appropriate at all times. Often, people tend to choose the medium that is most convenient for them at a particular time. “It’s all too easy to get lost in our own preferences, and forget how much impact our choice of medium can have on the interpretation of our messages (Demers, J., 2015, para. 2).

For this week’s assignment we had to listen to the same message in three different ways; email, voicemail, and face-to-face.

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Communication via email

The message is clear; Jane needs Mark’s data to complete her part of the work. It seems to be an informal, friendly email. However, because it is written, it is impossible to decide the exact urgency of the writer of the message because you cannot hear the tone of her voice or expression on her face.

Communication by phone

In this message, you hear Jane, who kindly requests Mark to send his data as soon as possible. Because you do not see the expression on her face, it is impossible to know for sure, but Jane seems worried that she is not going to meet her deadline. The receiver cannot know her exact feeling so just has to make an assumption.

Face-to-face communication

When Jane talks to Mark face-to-face, she seems to have a friendly and relaxed attitude, which contradicts the worried impression that I got during the phone call. The message is still clear, but Jane’s body language and tone of voice make the message seem friendlier.

I believe that the face-to-face communication best conveyed the true meaning and intent of this message.

Effective communication with team members

This assignment has shown us that the same message can be interpreted in many different ways when transferred by a different medium. Communication strategies are never ‘one-size-fits-all’.

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That is why Project Managers (PMs) need to be well informed about the preferences of communications of all stakeholders, instead of choosing what is most convenient for them. Some stakeholders like to be informed about every single detail of the project, where others might only want to be updated about the most significant developments. Some stakeholders might prefer to have everything in writing, and others might appreciate the face-to-face contact, with short follow-ups via email. With time, the PM will learn what the different stakeholders’ preferences are, and he will adjust his strategies to keep them involved during the entire project.

Because “the selection of a medium can have a drastic impact on both the efficiency of your communication and the interpretation of your message” (Demers, J., 2015, para. 4), it is important that a PM understand the advantages and disadvantages of the different communication tools to decide which medium is appropriate at what time.

References

Demers, J. (Jan. 29, 2015). Communication in 2015: Text, Voice, Video or In-Person? Retrieved from http://www.inc.com/jayson-demers/communication-in-2015-text-voice-video-or-in-person.html

Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). Practitioner voices: Strategies for working with stakeholders [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). Project management concerns: Communication strategies and organizational culture [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

The art of effective communication. Retrieved from http://mym.cdn.laureate-media.com/2dett4d/Walden/EDUC/6145/03/mm/aoc/index.html

This entry was posted on January 21, 2016. 2 Comments

Learning from a Project

For this week’s blog post assignment, we had to recall a project that was not successful or did not result in the desired outcomes.

The first project that came to mind was one that I am currently still working on at my school, where I work as a second-grade teacher. A few months ago (October 2015), a few teachers of our school were sent to Miami to attend a Mobile Learning Event (Miami Device). The idea was to learn as much as possible about using mobile devices for educational purposes, and share this knowledge without our colleagues when we got back.

The conference was fascinating, and many teachers tried to attend different sessions than their colleagues so we could learn about as many different subjects as possible. Most of us took notes that we could use later on for the development of the workshops and materials for our colleagues back home.

A few weeks after we got back (November 2015), the administration called us, the teachers and staff members who attended the conference, in a meeting, so we could brainstorm about what the staff development sessions at our school would look like. It was decided that we would have two staff development sessions on two different days in December (2015). We split up into smaller groups of two or three teachers, and chose five different topics that would be addressed during the sessions. Teachers would be able to sign up for those sessions, and that was it. There was no more communication after that until we received an email, a few days before the staff development sessions would take place, that the sessions were canceled.

When the date of the staff development sessions came closer, the administration realized that most teachers were overwhelmed with other work (mid-term exams, report cards, holiday celebration, etc.), so they decided to postpone the project until the beginning of January. The first week we got back from our holiday break, we received another email saying that most teachers were now busy getting things in place for the second semester, so the staff development sessions would now take place the end of January and beginning of February. That means that I am currently still waiting for it to happen. My motivation level went down and the great ideas I had in mind kind of faded away with time.

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What contributed to the success of the project?

Because the project is still in progress, it is impossible to determine if the project will be successful in the end. A few things went well so far.

The administration selected a high-quality conference and organized the trip to Miami well. It was successful as we acquired a lot of meaningful knowledge and ideas that we can apply to our school. The teachers and administrators who are participating in the project all seem very excited at the beginning of the project.

The administration made good choices while selecting the members of the project team. Our team exists of a combination of elementary, middle, and high school teachers, some are homeroom teachers, and others are specialists (e.g. Science, Spanish). The level of knowledge about technology integration various as well. Also, a few principals and members of the IT department are part of the team. Because of the different expertise of all members, it seems as if we have a multidisciplinary team who can all contribute something to the staff development sessions.

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What might have made the project more successful?

All communication before the conference went via email. We were informed about the hotel and flight, and we received a schedule of all the different workshops we could choose from. All teachers were free to sign up for any session that was interesting to them, and no clear expectations or details were discussed.

I believed that it would have been good to meet as a team, face-to-face, to talk about what we would like to achieve. The administration should have a clear vision of why this project takes place as ‘learning more about technology’ is a quite vague and broad goal. If the school, for example, would be interested in implementing ‘the flipped classroom’ approach, they could send certain teachers to specific workshops about that topic. By narrowing down the goal, the learning about one or a few different topics might have been deeper. Now, many teachers learned a little bit about many different subjects. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but because the staff development sessions are limited to only five sessions it might have been good to select more carefully during the Miami Device conference. Planning the staff development session more ahead of time could have increased the quality.

Also, it would have been good to have clear expectations about what teachers should bring back from each workshop. An online template for note taking so teachers can organize and share the newly learned information in one place would have been an excellent tool for this. A simple Google Doc could hold resources, ideas, and possible applications for each workshop. Now, everyone took their own notes, in their own way but actual sharing did not take place. With time, lots of ideas got lost.

The meeting that took place after the event took an hour and was a bit chaotic. It seems as if there was no clear agenda and many people were talking at the same time. Also, this could have been prevented by having a clear plan ahead of time, and one person leading the meeting instead of several administrators. Throughout the project, it was not clear who the role of the project manager (PM) had. Instead, the three administrators all had a little role, but those were not explicitly described to the rest of the team.

The fact that the date of the staff development sessions has been moved two times, shows that there was no exact plan and calendar from the beginning. The mid-term exams and holiday break have been on the school calendar for over a year, so the administrators should have prevented that issue. It would have been better if we had met a few days after the conference so all the information would still be fresh. Also, the sessions should have taken place sooner (maybe in November or the beginning of December).

Last, I think that it would have been good if the teachers, who will be presenters during the staff development sessions, would have received some guidelines of how to organize their presentation. The assignment was to teach their colleagues about what they learned in Miami in a one-hour session. It would have been helpful if an Instructional Designer would help the teachers design and develop their lessons, so the content is delivered in an adequate manner. Yes, they are teachers, and they know how to teach their students, but teaching adults requires different skills. Giving them extra time to develop these lessons would also be helpful as the teachers were expected to this next to all their usual tasks.

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The need for a project plan and a project manager

Even though this project has not been completed yet, I know for sure that it could have been more successful if a project manager with a detailed project plan would haven been present. All five phases described by Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, and Sutton (2008, p. 76), should have been planned out in detail from the beginning instead of working step-by-step without looking ahead. “The success of a plan depends on how clear and accurate the plan is…” (Portny et al., 2008, p. 79). As a team member, I have never seen an actual plan so that either means that there was no plan, or the plan has not been communicated to the team members. Both are reasons why a project can fail.

References

Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/bbcswebdav/institution/USW1/201640_02/MS_INDT/EDUC_6145/Week%202/Resources/Week%202%20Resources/embedded/pm-minimalist-ver-3-laureate.pdf

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

This entry was posted on January 16, 2016. 2 Comments

Perceptions of Distance Learning

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I have reached the end of the sixth course of my Instructional Design journey. This course, titled ‘Distance Learning,’ was a very authentic learning experience because I am currently a distance learner myself. I am glad that I got to see distance learning from two perspectives; The one of a distance learner and that of an instructional designer.

Distance learning exists already many years, but especially during the past years it has entered the mainstream (Simonson, Smaldino, & Zvacek, 2015). ‘Recent hardware and software innovations are making telecommunications distance education systems more available, easier to use, and less costly” (Simonson et al., 2015, p. 4). Students who want to earn a degree choose distance learning more often because of its flexibility and convenience (Gambescia & Paolucci, 2009). Depending on their preferences, they choose a fully online course, a blended/hybrid course, or a web-facilitated course (Simonson et al., 2015)

“Research clearly shows that distance education is an effective method for teaching and learning” (Simonson, Schlosser, & Orellana, 2011, p. 139), and it is as effective as face-to-face learning (Dean, Stahl, Sylwester, & Peat, 2001). So do people value the online degree the same way as they value a degree earned from a traditional, face-to-face university? And will their opinions change over the next ten or twenty years?

I believe that people who have experienced distance learning, as a learner or educator, will definitely agree that the value of their degree is compatible with a brick-and-mortar university degree. If you had asked me that question a couple of years ago, before my distance learning experience, I might have given a different answer. Understanding the key elements of good education, recognizing the needs of 21st century learners, possessing the knowledge of the different learning theories, participating in a valuable learning experience at my current university, and recognizing the importance of technology in the 21st century are all factors that contributed to my point of view. I believe that the quality of online institutions, thus also its reputation and people perceptions, will get better in time. However, it is crucial that distance education is not associated anymore with diploma mills (Simonson et al., 2015). To keep a good reputation, or create an ever better one, faculty needs to be trained, administrators need to be qualified, and programs need to be of good quality. That means that they have to be designed by professionals. Accrediting and recognizing institutes that meet the distance learning requirements, and educating people about distance learning and its qualities are important in this matter.

As instructional designers, we can contribute and improve societal perceptions of distance learning. As mentioned before, the quality of distance education needs to be as good as, or even better than, that of the brick-and-mortar universities. “One key to effective distance education is correct instructional design, a systematic process that applies research-based principles to educational practice” (Simonson et al., 2015, p. 146). It is our task to design and develop effective programs that will show society that distance education is an excellent way of learning. By creating a meaningful learning experience we are not only educating people but also creating a very effective marketing tool. When people have good experiences with distance education they will share that experience with the people around them. “According to Nielsen, 92% of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising. In a recent study, 64% of marketing executives indicated that they believe word of mouth is the most effective form of marketing” (Whitler, 2014, para. 5).

Currently, I already promote distance learning while talking to friends and colleagues. I have noticed that there is still a lot of ignorance. Many people have never participated in distance learning and do not know how distance learning actually works. Some might think that distance learning is easier than face-to-face learning. Some might believe that distance learning does not meet their needs. And some might think that online degrees are less valuable than ones earned face-to-face. In many of those cases, opinions about distance learning are not based on facts, but on a lack of experience and knowledge. By educating the society and providing people with the attributes needed in a distance learning environment, starting at a young age, I hope to be a positive force for continuous improvement in the field of distance education.

References

Dean, P., Stahl., M. Sylwester, D., & Peat, J. (2001). Effectiveness of combined delivery modalities for distance learning and resident learning. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 2(3), 247-254.

Gambescia, S., & Paolucci, R. (2009). Academic fidelity and integrity as attributes of university online degree program offerings. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 12(1). Retrieved from http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/spring121/gambescia121.html

Simonson, M., Schlosser, C., & Orellana, A. (2011). Distance education research; A review of the literature. Journal of Computing in Higher Education 23(2), 124-142

Whitler, K. (July 17, 2014). Why word of mouth marketing is the most important social media [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/kimberlywhitler/2014/07/17/why-word-of-mouth-marketing-is-the-most-important-social-media

This entry was posted on August 22, 2015. 2 Comments

Converting to a Distance Learning Format

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Sometimes, a course might not be effective. That can be very frustrating for the learners and the trainers. If that happens, the trainer needs to come up with a plan. It could be that the existing course needs to be modified, but it is also possible that a course has to undergo a complete transition. A face-to-face course might become a distance course, or a distance course might become a face-to-face course. This week’s assignment was focused on the former: How to convert a face-to-face course to a distance learning format. I created a best practices guide for trainers who are considering transforming their course(s) because making that transition is not as simple as copy and paste.

Before a trainer decides to convert a traditional, face-to-face learning setting to a distance learning format, it is important that he understand the principles of distance learning.

Distance learning and face-to-face learning have a lot in common. The goal of both systems is to enhance students learning. Both systems are based on learning theories. Both formats should use high-quality resources, methods, and strategies to guide learners in their learning process. And most important, both systems are equally effective (Simonson, Smaldino, & Zvacek, 2015).

Besides those similarities, there are also many differences. The main difference is the separation of learners and instructors (Simonson et al., 20125). That requires a different approach from the instructor and different attributes from a learner.

It is possible to convert a traditional course to an online course, but it is not as easy as one would think. A face-to-face course can never be identical to a distance learning course, so simply transferring the content from a face-to-face course to an online environment is ineffective. Instead, courses need to be effectively redesigned so that the learning experience is equivalent (Simonson et al., 2015). That means that learners in both settings can reach the same objectives.

The best of practices guide that I created will provide the basics for converting a face-to-face classroom. The guide will assist trainers in facilitating communication and learning among his students. The guide will cover the following considerations:

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Please click the following link to access the guide:

Converting to a Distance Learning Format- A Best Practices Guide for Trainers

 

References

Morrison, G. R., Ross, S. M., Kalman, H. K., & Kemp, J. E. (2013). Designing effective instruction (7th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2015). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (6th ed.) Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

 

 

FutureLearn: an Open Course Learning Experience

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Open Course websites offer thousands of distance courses to anyone with access to the Internet. It allows people from all over the world to acquire knowledge and engage in unique learning experiences, and the best part is that the courses are entirely free!

Some courses are developed by well-known universities while others are created by individuals who want to share their knowledge and expertise with other. Because distance learning is different than the traditional learning system, as the instructor is separated from the learner, the course designer needs to develop an environment that contains specific elements that contribute to a successful learning experience. For example, the expectations and responsibilities of the learners need to be clearly communicated, the learner needs to know how to access resources independently, understand how to navigate through the system, and know how to contact the instructors.

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I selected an Open Course website called FutureLearn, so I could review one of their courses and reflect on the important elements of designing distance learning instruction and Internet-based learning. FutureLearn, a company, owned by the Open University, offers a diverse selection of courses created by international universities and institutions.

This course appears to be carefully pre-planned and designed for a distance learning environment. They have dedicated an entire page to explain how taking a course with FutureLearn works. The course designers created a video and a ‘quick start guide’ that explains step by step what the learner needs to know and what he needs to do to be successful. The layout is very well structured; headings divide the information into chunks, so everything is clearly visible to the learners. They describe all the elements of the program (e.g. discussions, activities, quizzes), and besides explaining how they work, they also write why they are useful.

I selected one particular FutureLearn course, called ‘Childhood in the Digital Age’ to look at the individual features of a course. This course started with a detailed description and video trailer that clearly communicates the content of the course. This page also provides information about the requirements and the duration of the course. Each week starts with a short overview of the content of that week. After the overview, the design of the course allows the learner to proceed easily to the next step and navigate through the resources. Something that I did miss was an overview of the objectives. “Instructional goals and objectives should always be shared with students” (Simonson, Smaldino, & Zvacek 2015, p. 134). Also, I could not find any information about the theory that this course is based upon. While creating an online course, it is important that the course designer knows his audience and selects a theory or combination of theories that addresses the needs of that audience. The audience for this course is anyone with a general interest in childhood studies, early childhood, education studies and child psychology (FutureLearn, 2015),  so the course designer should have selected a theory and based all his designing decisions on the characteristics of that theory.

Simonson et al. (2015) recommend that in distance learning “the focus of the instruction shifts to visual presentations, engaged learners, and careful timing of presentations of information” (p. 130). The course designers succeeded in that aspect as they used a lot of videos to transfer the content of the course, the activities are engaging to the learners, and the information is divided into smaller chunks that are introduced to the learner week by week. The entire course exists of four weeks but also those weeks are split up into smaller sections so that the learner does not get overwhelmed, and he can combine the course activities easier with other responsibilities (e.g. work, family). Even tough, the course is designed to be completed in order, the learner is free to jump around and look forward to coming topics, or look back at past subjects and resources. That allows the learner freedom to learn at this own pace.

The course designer kept the different needs of the audience in mind while providing a variety of resources (e.g. articles, videos). That enhances the learning of people with various learning needs and preferences. For example, providing the transcripts with the videos can increase the learning of a learner with hearing impairments or students who prefer reading the text instead of listening to a video. Because anyone can access the course, the course designer had to keep in mind that the abilities of the learners can vary tremendously. Therefore, the technology tools and knowledge required for this course are kept to a minimum.

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It is obvious that the course designer understands that learning is a social event. Using discussion forums, and providing the learner with the opportunity to comment to the resources, ‘like’ other people’s replies, and provide feedback to other learners stimulates collaboration, are great examples of that.

As motivation is also an important aspect of distance learning, the course designer chose to offer students the chance of receiving a certificate after completion of the course. Also, the program measures the students’ progress, which shows the learner that they are progressing towards the end of the course.

The course designer implemented several activities that enhance active learning for the students. All lessons contain a combination of written and spoken resources. The articles and videos used seemed to be selected in a critical way and match the topic perfectly. Under some articles, there is a link to optional readings which allows the learners to continue their learning outside the course. That is another great way to meet the needs of the different learners.

Underneath each article and video, there is an option to comment. That enables the learner to reflect on the content and respond with an initial post or comment on previous post of others.

In between the readings and videos, the course designer uses exercises, such as polls, to have learners think about the content of the course. Also, in the resources, the designer constantly explains how the content is relevant to the learner. Understanding the relevance of the content is extremely important and contributes to the learners’ satisfaction (Simonson et al.,2015).

Every other week, there is a discussion assignment where the learners can respond to specific questions. However, because of the number of learners, often hundreds of them, the discussions become pages and pages of text that is not inviting to learners at all. In one discussion thread, there were for example 355 comments. The discussion started weeks ago, and still people were commenting. In that case, the discussion forum loses its power as the learners are often not reading each other’s posts and not learning from their comments.

Discussion forums are intended to stimulate interaction, and not to collect hundreds of isolated comments. Smaller groups discussion would probably be more effective. Also, there are no clear guidelines for the discussion forums on what is expected. Therefore, some people did not comment at all, some wrote only one sentence, and some went on and on. For a discussion forum to be productive, discussions should not take longer than two weeks, and an instructor should be moderating and advancing the discussion. “Online discussions do not flow seamlessly all by themselves” (Persico & Pozzi, 2011, p. 303).

Overall, I found the FutureLearn experience very pleasant, and I definitely would recommend it to other learners. Also, the layout and the design principles gave me a lot of inspiration for my future work as an instructional designer.

References

Persico & Pozzi. (2011). Techniques for Fostering Collaboration in Online Learning Communities: Theoretical and Practical Perspectives. Retrieved from https://www.ceid.upatras.gr/webpages/faculty/kordaki/books/B9.pdf

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2015). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (6th ed.) Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

https://www.futurelearn.com

A Virtual Field Trip with Hangouts On Air

 

hangoutsonair

For this week’s application, I was provided with three real-world examples describing a distance learning technology challenge. From the three examples, I chose the scenario where a high school history teacher wants to showcase new exhibits being held in museums in New York. Obviously, as I am currently enrolled in a course called ‘Distance Learning,’ the teacher and her students do not live anywhere near New York. As an instructional designer, I should be able to come up with a solution for such a problem, and that solution requires me to select the appropriate technology tools needed to create an effective learning experience.

While coming up with a solution, I considered the needs and requirements of the learning context. First of all, this teacher needs a videoconference tool that brings the museum to the classroom, as she is unable to bring the classroom to the museum. Second, she wants her students to be able to interact with the museum curators, so there has to be some tool that allows them to communicate efficiently and effectively. Third, the teacher wants her students to participate in a group critique of two pieces of artwork. That means that there needs to be a place where students can ‘get together’ online, synchronously or asynchronously, to share their thought and opinions.

Another consideration for my solution is the skills and knowledge of the target group. It is important that instruction and the tools used for that instruction is “designed in a way that capitalizes on what learners already know and what they have already experienced” (Simonson, Smaldino, Zvacek, 2015, p. 79). The audience is a group of high school students. Even though, I do not have any further information about this audience chances are quite big that they are familiar with a fair amount of technology.

Also, the teacher has asked for help because she is not an expert with technology tools. Therefore, the solution to her problem should be the use of a tool that is user-friendly and does not require a lot of technical savvy. Also, for her it would probably be easier to stick with one basic tool instead of a combination of many tools.

As an instructional designer, I would suggest the teacher to use Google Hangouts On Air as a primary tool to establish a virtual field trip to the New York museums. “There are a multitude of ways that Google Hangouts can make learning more engaging and personalized for students, teachers and administrators. “This free web conferencing tool can make a big difference for classrooms by connecting students to people outside of the classroom, and it can make regular communication and collaboration much easier for teachers and administrators” (Hertz, 2013, para. 9) With this tool, the teacher will be able to address all the needs and requirements of the learning context and more;

  • Hangouts On Air has the advantage compared to other video conferencing tools that it broadcasts on YouTube and Google+ stream. Because it gets recorded, students can always refer to the initial field trip, or students who are absent can still experience the trip.
  • Besides asking questions verbally, Hangouts On Air also offers Question and Answer section (Q & A) where the audience can type the questions they have for the hosts (the museum’s curators). If the students have their own mobile devices, the can ask questions from their own tablets that will keep them engaged and stimulates collaboration. If a student asks a question, and other students share that question, there is an option to +1 that question, which is similar to saying that you have the same question, so the host will see which questions need to be addressed first. Students can always look back at the questions after the field trip, and when clicking on them, they will see the part of the video that refers to their question.
  • The host is in control of the Q & A section and can delete inappropriate comments or questions to make sure that there is no distraction caused by unmotivated, teenage students.
  • Google Hangouts On Air allows the viewer to take screenshots, which is a great way to keep the students engaged. The photos will be saved automatically on Google+ Photos and can be used, for example, to develop assignments linked to the field trip.
  • Google also has an app, which is also integrated with Hangouts, called Google Art Project. That app allows people to see the content of over 150 museums, including a few in New York. The teacher can used this app to give students more resources to find out more about the artwork, the artists, etc. Students can compare pieces of art, share them with their peers on Hangouts or save them in their own gallery.
  • “Web discussion technologies provide yet another method to actively engage students in learning” (The Technology of Distance Learning, n.d.). Discussions can be started with Google Hangouts as well. However, if the teacher does not have an existing discussion forum in another learning management system yet, I would advise her teacher to use Google Groups instead. The discussion area in Hangouts is more like a group chat and does not serve well for qualitative, asynchronous discussions. “Although discussion technologies help students collaborate and engage with peers and the instructor, it can be quite challenging to schedule real-time events through certain technologies, such as chat and Web conferencing” (The Technology of Distance Learning, n.d.). In contrary, in Google Groups, the teacher can start a discussion topic, insert photos or videos from the artwork she would like to discuss, and invite all students to participate and share their critique at any convenient time. The teacher has a certain amount of control as a manager of the forum, which is recommendable when working with teenagers. In chats, it is more difficult to manage students’ responses.
  • In Google Hangout, the teachers and students can share links to websites and Google Drive files that stimulated collaboration between student and teacher and among students.

To organize this field trip, the teacher will need to plan a date for the virtual trip with the hosts, who will then create an event on Google+. When using mobile devices, all students should have a Gmail account that allows them access to the Hangout. The students can then participate on their own device, and the teacher can project the screen on a whiteboard as well.

Before planning the virtual field trip, the teacher can also use another resource called ‘Connected Classrooms’. Connected Classrooms is a program that is committed to organizing such virtual field trips for students all around the world. According to authors of the blog ‘Educational Technology and Mobile Learning’, “the learning experience these virtual field trips provide are amazing” (para. 1). They have a wide variety of trips from the past that you can find in their archive but also you can receive notifications for upcoming events. I would advise the teacher to also look at this program to see if there is already a connection with the museums of her choice before reinventing the wheel.

With all of this information and sufficient guidance from an instructional designer, the teacher should be able to create an effective learning experience for her students. We do have to remember that, even though, it is important to be selective and critical when choosing technology tools, technology is merely a tool and not a solution. The teaching skills and the execution of the technical plan by the teacher are crucial as well. “The key to success in an online classroom is not which technologies are used, but how they are used and what information is communicated using the technology” (Simonson et al., 2015, p. 98).

References

EdTech Team (2014, September 18). Connected Classrooms provide wonderful virtual fieldtrips for your students [Web log comment]. Retrieved from

http://www.educatorstechnology.com/2014/09/connected-classroom-provides-wonderful.html

Hertz, M. (2013, February 1). How educators and schools can make the most of Google Hangouts [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/educators-schools-google-hangouts-mary-beth-hertz

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2015). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education

Websites:

https://plus.google.com/hangouts

https://plus.google.com/events/c3kaq1b0pjjcn45t33hn6o771n4

http://connectedclassrooms.withgoogle.com/#

https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/project/art-project

https://groups.google.com/forum/#!overview

Videos:

https://plus.google.com/hangouts/onair/watch?hid=AP36tYcQb4ddAI3vLqSXBDOhr6Dex3ZJtY7T18o3hsY5Kd5eUUJe&ytl=qAa4vYB7DqQ&hl=en&t=720.943

https://www.youtube.com/user/GoogleArtProject

Multimedia Program:

“The Technology of Distance Education”

 

 

 

 

 

Distance Learning

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The definition of distance learning is constantly changing because of several reasons. First of all, ”much of the research in distance learning since 1990 has serious, methodological flaws” (Drivere-Richmond, Young, & King, n.d., p. 3). Second, as new knowledge is discovered over the years, the definition of things also changes. Third, the technology has developed rapidly and influences the definition of distances learning as well.

Before I started this course, I knew that distance learning was a way of learning where the teacher and the learners are separated in time and location, a method that is in contrast to the situation in a traditional, face-to-face classroom. I understood that technology tools play a crucial role in distance learning as they connect the instructor with his learners and vice versa. As I have been enrolled in online courses for almost a year now, I have experienced the pleasure of being able to study in my own time and environment. I have been able to learn from, and with peers who come from all over the world. The instructors have been my mentors and support me in a different way than my previous teachers in face-to-face classrooms. Instead of providing direct instruction, they create an environment with authentic learning situations that help me construct my own knowledge.

This week, I have learned that distance learning is a quite complicated phenomenon that has been around for decades but is still developing and will continue to develop in the future. Apparently, there is still a discussing going on about the definition of well-designed distance learning is. Many institutions offer distance learning because it relatively cheap and can reach thousands of learners. However, these institutions do not always understand that the development of high-quality distance learning programs requires the help of professionals with sufficient knowledge about learning theories, methodologies, and models. Before developing such programs, one has to understand the needs of the institute and the learners, and the long-term (financial) impact of the program on the institute and the society.

Also, this week I became more familiar with the related terms such as e-learning, virtual education, and online learning. Before, I used these terms interchangeably without actually understanding the difference between them but now I understand that distance learning is the overall term (Simonson, Smaldino, & Zvacek, 2015) and the other three are more specific terms as they describe distance learning in different settings (e.g. private sector, K-12 or higher education). Even though, the target audience is different in each one of them, it is clear to me that both the benefits and challenges apply to all of them. If designed and developed well, distance learning is an amazing way of learning where learners and instructors have a two-way communication system that is enabled by technology. Students can develop their skills and construct knowledge by interacting with peers, the instructor, and the provided resources. On the other hand, if money or time is more important than the quality of the program, and the design and development have not been performed by professionals, the program is likely to fail. For example, if a so called ‘craft approach’ (Moller, Foshay, & Huett, 2008) is used and teachers create the online courses themselves, even though they have no experience or knowledge of instructional design, and if teachers are not prepared for new pedagogical issues in online learning environment the quality of the program will be poor and influence the image of distance learning.

With all of that in mind, I would still hold on to my previous definition but I would add that distance learning is institutionally based and should be designed and developed with the help of instructional designers. There should be a distinction between well-developed distance learning, where distance teaching takes place as well, and poor-developed distance learning where resources are provided, but there is no opportunity to interact, collaborate, and apply the new knowledge in meaningful situations. In the past, I took some online course that provided me with resources but no instruction or guidance, and no collaboration and interaction with peers or instructors. Such programs should not be called distance learning programs but self-study programs. In the future, it might be possible to develop different terms for courses like the one I just mentioned so that learners know what to expect from an institution before they enroll in a program

I envision that a lot is going to happen in the future of distance learning. The number of distance learners is increasing rapidly and to maintain the quality of education, it is important that there is a clear understanding of what quality actually is. However, that is a complicated issue as people’s opinions vary tremendously. In any case, learning theories should be the foundation of distance learning; How do people learn and how can teachers create the right learning environment? Then it is up to the instructional designers to develop a clear framework that outlines the goals, delivery, and structure (Moller et al., 2008).

As the need for distance learning is increasing, the profession of us, as instructional designers, should become more known and valued in the field so that institutes are aware collaboration with instructional designers is imperative for success. We “should lead the effort to shape institutional policies on distance education quality standards and accreditation and should actively engaged in consultation and development” (Moller et al., 2008, p. 70).

References

Drivere-Richmond, Young, & King. (n.d.). Defining distance learning and distance education. Retrieved from www.editlib.org/p/17786/article_17786.pdf

Huett, J., Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Coleman, C. (2008). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 3: K12). TechTrends, 52(5), 63–67.

Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 1: Training and development). TechTrends, 52(3), 70–75.

Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 2: Higher education). TechTrends, 52(4), 66-70.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2015). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education

Reflection on Learning Theories and Instruction

 

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It is hard to imagine that I am already at the end of the first course. I started this course quite anxious as I did not know whether I was able to keep up with the speed and level. I was afraid that I was going to be a dummy in the area of instructional design. In the past eight weeks, I have learned a lot, and it is time to reflect on my learning.

We need to make an effort to reform the way we think about teaching, beginning with a process of self-reflection. As we learn more about our own tendencies, and how they have limited us in the past, and come to understand the needs of our students, especially those who are different from us, we naturally discover more tools to meet the challenges of teaching. (Schindler, n.d., para. 5)

While researching many topics during this course, I learned a lot. The fact, that people possess all (eight) multiple intelligences, was probably most surprising to me (Armstrong, 2009). I always assumed that people possess a few, maybe two or three.  It was also striking to me that certain theorists believe that learning styles do not exist (Willingham, n.d.). Hopefully more experience and research will help me form an opinion about this topic. For now, I do know that students learn better when they receive information in two different forms (e.g. visual and auditory), and thus store it in two different ways (Ormrod, 2009).

The aspects of Behaviorism and Cognitivism were quite familiar to me and seemed to be the basis for my own learning. However, during this course, I discovered that the other learning theories, such as (Social) Constructivism and Connectivism, have actually contributed more to my current knowledge. Making meaningful connections (Siemens, 2004), learning by observing (Ormrod, 2008), and creating your own meaning by building personal interpretations of the world (Ertmer & Newby, 1993) have helped me store new knowledge in my long term memory.

This course was all about learning theories, learning styles, educational technology, motivation and their connection. Both learning theories and learning styles distinguish many types. There are many different learning theories (e.g. Behaviorism, Constructivism) and  styles (e.g. visual, auditory). To create a successful learning process, instructors and instructional designers need to expose students to all these different theories and styles and allow students to develop all areas. Educational technology can be used to enhance that learning process, as technology facilitates differentiation and creates opportunities that stimulate social learning in meaningful contexts (Ermer & Newby, 1993). Such well-designed learning environments improve the motivation of most students.

My learning in this course will help me to recognize instructional problems in learning environments quicker. I understand the students’ needs better now, and that will help me to design learning that contains all requisites. Also, I am now more familiar with more learning theories and styles which will help me come out of my current comfort zone. Instead of only developing learning activities and materials that are closely related to my own learning preference, I am now more confident to explore new ideas and design materials related to other theories and styles.

This course has only been the beginning of my journey to become an instructional designer, but I am very satisfied with the outcomes.  I believe that it has been a great preparation for my following courses. I foresee a promising continuation of my journey to become an instructional designer.

References

Armstrong, T. (2009). Multiple intelligences in the classroom (3rd ed.). Alexandria, VA:

Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.Available in the Walden

Library databases.

Conlan, J., Grabowski, S., & Smith, K. (2003). Adult learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging

perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved

from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/index.php?title=Adult_Learning

Davis, C., Edmunds, E., & Kelly-Bateman, V. (2008). Connectivism. In M. Orey

(Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved

from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/index.php?title=Connectivism

Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (1993).

Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspectivePerformance Improvement Quarterly, 6(4),50-71.

Foley, G. (Ed.). (2004). Dimensions of adult learning: Adult education and training in a global

era. McGraw-Hill Education.

Gardner, H. (2003, April 21). Multiple intelligences after 20 years. Paper presented to the

American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL. Retrieved

from http://www.consorzionettuno.it/materiali/B/697/773/16/Testi/Gardner/Gardner_multiple_intelligent.pdf

Gilbert, J., & Swanier, C. (2008). Learning styles: How do they fluctuate? Institute for Learning

Styles Journal [Vol. l]. Retrieved

from http://www.auburn.edu/~witteje/ilsrj/Journal%20Volumes/

Fall%202008%20Volume%201%20PDFs/Learning%20Styles%20How%20do%20They%20Fluctuate.pdf

Keller, J. M. (1999). Using the ARCS motivational process in computer-based instruction and

distance education. New Directions for Teaching and Learning (78).

Kim, B. (2001). Social constructivism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning,

teaching, and technology. Retrieved

from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/index.php?title=Social_Constructivism

Lim, C. P. (2004). Engaging learners in online learning environments. TechTrends: Linking

Research and Practice to Improve Learning, 48(4), 16–23.

Ormrod, J., Schunk, D., & Gredler, M. (2009). Learning theories and instruction (Laureate

custom edition). New York: Pearson.

Professional Learning Board. (n.d.). Why is it Important for Teachers to Understand their own

Learning Style? Retrieved from https://k12teacherstaffdevelopment.com/tlb/

why-is-it-important-for-teachers-to-understand-their-own-learning-style/

Standridge, M. (2001). Behaviorism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning,

teaching, and technology. Retrieved

fromhttp://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/index.php?title=Behaviorism

Willingham, D. (2008, August 31). Learning Styles Don’t Exist. Podcast retrieved from

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIv9rz2NTUk