Communicating Effectively

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Communicating is something we are involved in all the time. The question is; what are we communicating? If we look at the Business Dictionary online we can read that communication is a “two-way process of reaching mutual understanding […] in business, it is a key function of management” (BusinessDictionary.com, 2013). Communication is not only words (written or oral), but also influenced by tone, body language, timing, and the personality of the recipient (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d). I might say something as a joke, but the recipient does not get the joke, and we have a misunderstanding that can become a conflict.

A message could be received and understood in different ways depending on the way it is communicated. In this task for this blog, we received the same message as an email, a voice message over the phone, and a face-to-face message in a video. The message itself was informal, from one co-worker to another asking for help with a report. I did miss some information in the message, but that might be implicit, like what report is missing and what data does the sender want.

The written email made me read it several times to get the meaning. This since it were written as if the sender were talking. I understood it was urgent with the report. When I heard the message spoken it became easier to understand the urgency, but this time it felt more as a formal request. The last version was a video where the person spoke and this time I did not feel the urgency with the report. It gave me more the feeling of “how can we solve this together” or asking for advice.

Dr. Stolovitch (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d) talked about written communication when he said it has to begin with a clear purpose, state the situation and include possible solutions. I would state that this can also be applied to oral communication. Even though misunderstanding in an oral communication can be resolved quicker and easier when you talk to someone (voice-to-voice or face-to-face).

Which form of communication that is the best when we communicating with a project team depends on the content. Sometime informal one-to-one meetings are the best. Especially when it is about “interactively exploring and clarifying special issues of interest to a small number of people” (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer & Sutton, 2008). Also, formal meeting face-to-face could be efficient, if they are planned and prepared. Face-to-face meeting makes it possible to discuss and make sure information is not misunderstood. Any oral communication should be documented (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d).

References

Communication. In Business Dictionary, Retrieved November 13, 2013, from http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/communication.html

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.). Communicating with Stakeholders [DVD]. In Series Title. Baltimore, MD: Author.

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.

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Learning from a Project “Post-mortem”

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This blog post is about past projects that I have worked on that did not succeed. What we have learned so far in the course is that a project is “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service” (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer & Sutton, 2008). “A project has a distinct beginning and end” (Russell, 2000); otherwise it probably is a process.

Looking in my personal life I have worked on various projects; wallpapering a room, creating a couple of websites (for church and for line dance group), and planning several parties (birthday, wedding). Those projects were successful, mostly because I am a structured person that even if I do not write project plans, creating a budget and keeping track of time; I will do does things in my head.

Looking at my professional life I have not been involved in any project, besides the one we did when I was a student. That was in a course of project work, and there we did make project plans, risk analysis and developed a software application to an external client. Since we learned how to work in a project we of course had some issues on the way, but the result was a success.

Russell (2000) also write “whether it is developing a new course, adapting an existing course, finding the right self-paced solution, rolling out the right training administration program, or hiring the right external supplier, you are constantly working on projects”. I have never considered those tasks as project since that is my everyday work. Mostly because I am both the Subject Matter Expert (SME), the Instructional Designer (ID) and instructor at the same time. As a teacher in a Swedish University, you are all these roles. There is no ID to go to with your request of developing a new course or adapting an existing; it is my job as the teacher. Problem is that, if I look at my work right today, I handling past, present and future courses at the same time. I have to correct and give feedback and grades to students in the course that ended Sunday. I also am handling the students in the new course that started Monday (I will soon have exercise time with them). As soon as I find time I also have to plan for the course I am assigned to that starts in January, which is totally new to me, and I have to learn the subject to be able to teach it. Where is the time to actually do planning, organizing and controlling the work? You just find time here and there, and do it as well as you can, hoping for the best.

 

References

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.

Russell, L. (2000). Project management for trainers. Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press.

New course – new assignments

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This week I started a new course; Project Management in education and training. I have done a similar course before, but for software development. I have even been teaching this subject. It will be interesting to compare the different approaches, but also to find out what is special when it comes to manage a project in developing education in different ways.

What will happen with distance learning in the future?

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To try to answer that question is of course very difficult since distance education look different in different countries. There are different perceptions of distance learning, and hence, distance learning will look different in different countries. A generalization, of course, is to say that distance learning is here to stay, given the developments we have seen so far. We have distance learning courses in all sorts of areas and disciplines, in many different countries, and they are open to anyone who wants to apply.

One reason the distance learning will stay and be developed is, according to George Siemens, the fact that online communication has increased, and people are more used to be online and use different tools (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d). We also have corporations that have offices in many places that understand that they can save money by using online communication instead of face-to-face meeting, but also that it saves time to make courses for employees online.

If I take a look at my country, Sweden, and distance education, things look more pessimistic. It has long been a debate whether to keep distance at a higher level since it is perceived as being of poor quality. That perception comes from the low attrition rate in distance courses. A survey were done to investigate the perception of distance education among the people in the Government, and it showed that, in December 2012, it was only 41% who believed that distance learning is of high quality (DN, December 27, 2012). This is interesting since, during the year of 2010, a survey of distance learning in higher education in Sweden was done by the Department of Higher Education, commissioned by the Government of Sweden.

According to the report, distance education is an important part of the lifelong learning. Most of the students are older, have a family life and work that makes it difficult to move to study. The report suggests different reason for the high attrition rate in distance learning. Some students are not interested in the degree, but just want the knowledge, and another reason could have to do with that online courses are not prioritized. More reasons could have to do with technology being a problem, distance course required presence at campus, lack of socialization with other students, or that pedagogic was not as flexible as the student needed. The survey points out what is missing are a good distance pedagogy (Högskoleverket, 2011).

I believe that if distance education in Sweden to have a chance, it needs to have resources invested in several areas, but mostly about pedagogy. The government and universities must recognize the need for people who have knowledge of what is required to make distance learning to work. Universities that have distance learning also need to ensure that you have an organization to take care of support and training, with people who have specialized training for it, as an instructional designer. I can definitely see myself as a person at my university, to help teachers develop their courses for distance and get high quality on them.

References
DN.se (December 27, 2012). Nätstudier på frammarsch. Retrived from http://www.dn.se/ekonomi/natstudier-pa-frammarsch/

Högskoleverket (2011). Kartläggning av distansverksamhetne vid universitet och högskolor. Högskoleverkets rapportserie 2011:2 R. ISSN 1400-948X.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.). The Future of Distance Education [DVD]. In Series Title. Baltimore, MD: Author.

Let Us Blend!

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You are teaching a course in a face-to-face environment and have now decided to convert the course to a blended learning environment. What do you do? What steps must you take? What is the best practice to complete the transition?

This post is an attempt to answer those questions, and my starting point is this scenario:

A training manager is planning to convert all the training modules from the face-to-face training into a blended learning format. His supervisor has given him permission to do this. Reason for the transition is the frustration of the poor quality of communication among trainees. He believes that providing the trainees the opportunity to interact with each other and learn the material in both face-to-face and online will enhance the quality. He also plans to put all the training materials online for trainees to access at all times.

You might think it is easy to transfer a training module online.  “For an instructor getting ready to teach his first blended course, the temptation may be to look at his traditional course syllabus, pick which classes can be moved online and then leave the rest of the syllabus as it has always been” (Bart, 2011). Truth is it demands planning and a lot of work. Dr. Piskurich claim “for online learning the planning process is really critical, and it is something that many instructional designer do not worry about” (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.). Let us take a look at the planning that needs to be done.

Planning steps

#1 – Objective

What do the learners need to learn? Think that over and write good objectives for each piece that the learners need to learn. Also think over how you are going to evaluate each objective (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.).

#2 – Activities

Ask yourself, or another subject expert, the question ‘how would you teach this’. From the answers build activities. Remember, activities should provide ample opportunities for online learners to explore them on their own (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.).

#3 – Technologies

Think over each activity and question yourself what is the best way of deliver that activity to meet the object. You have to consider constraints that might be on the course (number of students, if you have the technology, can students use them etc.). (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.). Since you planning to do a blended course some of the activities will work better in the face-to-face environment, and other activities will work better in the online environment. You also have to consider the online environment, will it be a CMS, Wiki, or some other tool.

#4 – Storyboard and Site Map

Now it is time to create a storyboard and a site map. A storyboard is the content of the course divided into weeks or days. The each section in the story board is divided into segment containing assignment, assessment, resources, etc. The site map is about the various pages you have on you online classroom, which of them are connected. You write down the flow between the pages and how the navigation works (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.).

#5 Collect course assets

When the storyboard is done it is time to collect the assets for the course (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.). You probably have most of it since you have had the course on site, but you might need to look it over to make sure it will be useful online.

#6 – Create the course

You already decided the online environment so now it is time to create the course. That means to structure the pages and the content according to your storyboard and site map (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.).

#7 – Testing

Do you want to make sure the course will work the way you planned? Then test it. Use staff for an internal test to make sure all links and other resources function, but also test with students taking the course. Everything these people find of errors needs to be corrected (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.).

#8 – Deployment

Now it is time to deploy the course and run it for real. That does not mean that your job is over as an instructor. The way you conduct the course now when it is blended will be somewhat different from when you taught it in class.

Change of instructor’s role

When you have made face-to-face instruction, you have probably made a lot of lecturing. The classes have been centered around you. When you now move the course online the learning will shift to student-centered learning. You are no longer lecturing the learners to transfer knowledge to students. You should be coaching them, elicit the learner to discover and construct knowledge. The student-centered learning “strongly promotes active learning, collaboration, mastery of course material, and student control over the learning process” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012, p.123).

What you have to do:

  • You have to communicate the structure of the course, expectations and assignments and the assessment process. A well written syllabus will give learners that information, as well as contact information to the instructor and how you will communicate with the learners.
  • You need to be comfortable with the different delivery methods and technologies. If there are technological issues you need to be able to guide them to a solution, or to contact the IT support.
  • You are essential when it comes to create the learning community. Everyone must of course take an active role, but you are the one to guide them into that role.
  • You are the facilitator of knowledge. You should be online and present in the course to encourage active participation of the learners, to answer questions, to listen and be prepared to make changes.
  • You need to communicate regularly about what are going on in the course, so learners now what to expect for each week or unit.
  • You have to give feedback on assignments

(Simonson et.al., 2012, chapter 6)

Communication and Interaction

As you probably noticed communication is the most important in the role of the instructor. Communication between the learners is also vital since that creates the sense of community. Having a blended course will enhance the communication online if you take the opportunity to have different type of collaboration work when the learners meet face-to-face.

Some suggestions of what you can do in face-to-face environment.

  • Discussion in pairs and smaller groups
  • Group work in pairs and smaller groups
  • Start a discussion or group work that should be finalized online
  • Use online tools already in class

In an online environment, use different tools. The list below is only some suggestions. You have to find out how they work and how they would fit into your course and its objectiv.

Content creation Discussions
  • Blogging
  • Wikis
  • Padlet
  • YouTube
  • Podcast
  • Social Bookmarking
  • Chat
  • Forum
  • VoiceThread
  • Twitter
  • Audacity
  • Twiddla

There are many lists online with tools to use. The Top 100 Tools for Learning 2013, can be found at http://c4lpt.co.uk/top100tools/.

Summary

Some people think that changing delivery method of a course will solve any problems existing in the course. That is not the case. A good course has to be properly planned and designed in a professional way. The course objectives and the learners analysis are what matters when creating activities and choosing technology. There is no “super-technology” that will save the day; each has its weaknesses and strengths, so choose wisely. Remember, “Successful teaching can be achieved with any technology”, and “how and what we want the learners to learn is the issue and technology is a tool” (Simonson et.al, 2012, p. 172).

References

Bart, M. (November 21, 2011). Getting Started with Blended Learning Course Design. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/instructional-design/getting-started-with-blended-learning-course-design/

Hart, J. (September 30, 2013). Top 100 Tools for Learning 2013. Retrieved from http://c4lpt.co.uk/top100tools/

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.). Developing Online Courses [DVD]. In Series Title. Baltimore, MD: Author.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.). Planning and Designing Online Courses [DVD]. In Series Title. Baltimore, MD: Author.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

A Look at Open Course

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Why study at a University when you can take an open course for free at anytime, anywhere? Hundreds of Universities claim they have open courses, but are that true? A quick look at some of the websites shows that what are offered are lectures that are recorded with video and/or audio, not complete courses. Or is it that we have a different understanding of what a course is?

As an instructional designer, we learn that when we design a course, it is certain criteria that are required to create a high quality course. We have to consider the components of a successful learning system. “These components are the learners, the content, the method and materials, and the environment, including the technology. The interaction of these components creates the type of learning experience necessary for student learning” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012, p.152).

There are several issues to consider when thinking of the learners. Who are they, what are their needs, where do they come from, and what are their prior experience? These and other questions will give us the answer on how to create a valuable learning environment (Simonson et.al. 2012, p.155)

“The scope of the content for a course needs to be sufficient to ensure the entire learning experience will lead to the desired outcomes” (Simonson et.al. 2012, p.157). We have to consider those outcomes to know the content, but also how it should be sequenced to make sense for the students. We also need to match the content with the needs of the learners (p.158).

It is not until we reached this part of the planning that we can consider the delivery method. Dr. Piskurich talks about instructor-led or learner-led courses that are asynchronous or synchronous (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d). That decision will lead us to the environment where the course will take place, but also the technology to use to present the content.

With these criteria in mind, I looked at two courses, one from Stanford University and one from MIT. To be able to compare them I choose two similar courses. Underactuated Robotics from MIT and Introduction to Robotics from Stanford.

Underactuated Robotics from MIT can be found at http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/electrical-engineering-and-computer-science/6-832-underactuated-robotics-spring-2009/. It was taught in spring 2009 and looking at the Syllabus give us the objective of the course. There is a complete calendar of the pace of the course, readings with a list of relevant textbooks and what to read for each week. There are assignments, exams and projects to be done. There are also video lectures. This course can be done online, or you can download the course materials except for the videos that have to be downloaded from ITunes U. Video lectures are long, around 1-1½ hour each.

Introduction to Robotics can be found at http://see.stanford.edu/see/courseInfo.aspx?coll=86cc8662-f6e4-43c3-a1be-b30d1d179743. It was taught winter 2008. There is a link to syllabus, but it does not include learning outcomes for the course. It does include a lecture and reading schedule. There are power point handouts and assignments with solutions. Video lectures to watch online or at ITunes U, with transcripts. This course can be done online or you can download the course materials except for the videos.  Each lecture is about 1 hour long.  It is a good thing that they have handouts to the lectures since the quality of the videos is not so good. Images that are shown are not readable.

Both of these courses are designed for face-to-face teaching (instructor-led synchronous teaching). They are planned with a purpose even though MIT have clearer course goals. According to the Syllabus it looks like MIT is more clearly over whom the students are (or should be). The content seems to be sufficient for the goals. To add all the material online is not the same as teaching an online course. They are making the material available, but it is then up to me as a user of the material what I do with it. Will I follow the whole course, listen to the lectures, and make the assignments, or will I just watch a lecture here and there that seems interesting?

The best part with all of the course material that have been made available for anyone, is that I can use lectures held by professors at well-known Universities in my own course at my small University.

References

Introduction to Robotics (n.d). Retrieved Oct 3, 2013, from http://see.stanford.edu/see/courseinfo.aspx?coll=86cc8662-f6e4-43c3-a1be-b30d1d179743

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.). Planning and Designing Online Courses [DVD]. In Series Title. Baltimore, MD: Author.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Underactuated Robotics (2013). Retrieved Oct 3, 2013, from http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/electrical-engineering-and-computer-science/6-832-underactuated-robotics-spring-2009/index.htm

Selecting Distance Education Technologies

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Talking about distance education is talking about communication. All teaching is about the teacher communicating knowledge to the learners, and they in their return communicating their questions to be able to learn more. How that communication take place, depends on the content of the course, where the course take place and the teacher’s knowledge about all the different ways of communication.

In the early days of distance education, the communication was through the written word being sent back and forth with the post delivery system between instructor and learner (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012, p.37). Today we use the Internet and suddenly we have a vast variety to choose from to be able to communicate.  We can choose one-way communication or two-way communication. We can choose between asynchronous or synchronous communication. The best part is we can use all of it in the same course. As Simonson et al (2012, p.115) puts it; “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 technologies”.

In this assignment, we could choose between three different scenarios and then we are going to suggest what technologies the scenario could use. I choose a scenario about collaborative training environment. The scenario is about an implementation of training workshops for an automated staff information system, and since the staff is located in different offices they cannot meet at the same time and in the same location. However, the staff members should still share information (screen captures and documents) and participate in ongoing collaboration.

Reading this scenario made me directly think of Wikis. A wiki is a webpage (or several) where anyone can contribute with content. Therefore, it is an “excellent tool for collaborative online writing assignments and group activity” (Simonson et.al. 2012, p.129). In many CMS, you can find this feature included. If it is not included there are wiki applications that can be installed in a server at the company or education institution.  Most Wikis are free to download, like MediaWiki or TikiWiki (“Top Ten Wiki Engines”, 2013), but if you want to you can pay to be part of someone else solutions. Like, for example, Zoho (“Zoho”, 2013) that I found when searching the Internet.  Using a Wiki could be difficult in the beginning, especially for completely new users. Make sure there are good help pages that explain in easy ways how to add content.

I am using a wiki in my course about Web design where I let the students add links to good web sites about HTML, CSS, accessibility, design, and tools to use. Many of my students have added a lot of good examples. So for the scenario mentioned above, a wiki could easily be a place to share information and even documents and in that way they are collaborating.

Another tool that might be so obvious that we do not need to mention it is a discussion forum. Forum could be used in so many different ways, for Q & A, to discuss particular problems, to discuss anything, and to collaborate around various subjects. This is an asynchronous way of communicating (as is a wiki), but considering that the staff in the scenario could not meet at the same time asynchronous communication is the only answer.

 

References

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Top Ten Wiki Engines. (2013). Retrieved from http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?TopTenWikiEngines

Zoho. (2013). Retrieved from https://www.zoho.com/

 

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