Jeepers Creepers…

Curriculum writing seems to be a never-ending process in education, whether it be writing curriculum for new courses or adjusting curriculum for existing courses. A few years ago, the Assistant Superintendent of the school district where I work decided that a new curriculum revision project was to be started, and the department in which I teach would be the first to go through the process. The entire department curriculum needed to be adjusted to meet the requirements of yet another state-mandated test. And so we began the initial meetings to plan a new scope and sequence for K-12 science in the district followed by the actual preparation of the adjusted curriculum documents. The revisions were moving along well, and were nearly complete when the Assistant Superintendent was fired and ultimately replaced.

The new Assistant Superintendent had a different vision for the end product of this project. He decided that having the curriculum documents link to all of the activities that would be done in each lesson of each unit would be beneficial. In addition, all of the documents needed to be put in a new template so that they could be posted on the district website. So even though the majority of the work was complete, we now have to go back and change the formatting on all of the documents to fit the new template and link all of the resources we have available for our lessons. This change in the scope of the project has caused significant stress in our department. It was expected that this project would be completed by the end of this June, which is impossible now. And because the district needs to compensate us for our work, the cost of the project will increase as well.

The additional expectations added to this project are a classic example of scope creep, which is defined as “the natural tendency…to try to improve the project’s output as the project progresses” (Portny et al., 2008, p. 346). Specifically, this type of scope creep is known as “Feature creep – requirements changing during development” (Crabtree, 2000, para. 1). As with the curriculum project described here, feature creep is likely to cause problems with schedule, with budget, or with both. However, if a project manager monitors the project and protects against significant changes, it can be controlled. Clearly identifying how the suggested changes would affect budget and schedule are key when deciding how to make the adjustments to the scope (Crabtree, 2000).

The curriculum project we are working on has become much more complex than was originally anticipated. Unfortunately, in this case the project manager instigated the feature creep. His priority is not the schedule or the budget, but the added features he has decided are necessary to have in the curriculum. If I were the project manager, I would want to determine if these changes are really necessary and then communicate a new schedule for the completion of the project, both of which are important steps in dealing with scope creep (Portny et al., 2008). I’m not sure that the time and effort we are going to put in to link all of the activities to the curriculum is worth it. There is nothing to indicate that parents/students need this service, and the teachers who will be using these documents already have access to the activities through other means. And as things stand, the teachers working on this project have not been given any idea when the work will be done or when it is expected to be completed. Finishing the curriculum without the feature creep would have been enough, and then taking the time to determine if the added features were necessary could have been the start of a new project.

References

Crabtree, S. (2000). Killing feature creep without ever saying no. Retrieved from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/131534/killing_feature_creep_without_ever_.php

Portny, S., Mantel, Jr., S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. (2008). Project management. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Advertisements

To Email or Not to Email

Welcome back to my blog! I’m so happy you are here and I can’t wait to share with you what I’ve learned!!

Did you feel my excitement? Or maybe it was sarcasm? We all know it is very difficult to “read” tone when receiving a message electronically. This week’s assignment had us “receiving” a message in three ways; first through email, then voicemail, and finally face-to-face. When I read the email, I really didn’t have much of an impression at all. The voicemail, using the same words, didn’t really impact me much either. While voice inflection was there for nonverbal cue, it still was an impersonal message. There was a definite change, however, when receiving the message face-to-face. I actually felt guilty – and I’m not the one missing my deadline! I believe I would have been much more motivated to complete the missing report, or at least get the data to the colleague requesting it, if approached face-to-face. It’s too easy to ignore the pleas received electronically and by voicemail, and too difficult for me to brush off a person standing in front of me with what sounded like a very reasonable request.

The implications of this little exercise are far reaching when applied to project management. How the project manager communicates with stakeholders, whether they are the team members or others not on the team but affected by the outcomes of the project, can have an impact on the success of a project. Communication is a key part of a project manager’s responsibilities, and the “ability to communicate well, both orally and in writing, is critical” (Portny et al., 2008, p. 357). “Relationship skills complement the effectiveness of hard (technical) skills because project outcomes are achieved through people” (Pant & Baroudi, 2008, p. 125). So knowing and understanding when to use the various forms of communication is important.

Email is used extensively today probably because of the “advantages, such as flexibility and asynchrony, it has over other communication media” (Byron, 2008, p. 309). But Byron asserts that email is often interpreted to have more negative or neutral emotions than the sender intended. This is a problem. “Because emotions provide information to guide behavior, employees who inaccurately interpret others’ emotions are not making adequately informed decisions regarding their behavioral response” (Byron, 2008, p. 310).

This misinterpretation of the emotion in email is a result of several things. The limited nonverbal cues available in email, and in voicemail as well, makes it difficult for the recipient to determine the level of emotion intended by the sender. But just as important is the delay in feedback that is inherent in email communication that can also lead to problems. The inability to immediately check for understanding or respond with feedback can lead to miscommunication of emotion as well (Byron, 2008). The conclusions reached by Byron indicate that if we are “cognizant of the fact that others may be perceiving emotional content from the email they send” then this “increased awareness will help make email communication more effective by increasing its accuracy” (Byron, 2008, p. 323).

Choosing the right form of communication is important. A useful list of “when not to use email” can be found here. In the exercise from class, two of the items on this list would have indicated email, or voicemail, may not have been the right choice. First, the people are in close proximity and able to talk face-to-face. And second, the sender needed a response quickly due to looming deadlines (“When Not To Use Email,” n.d.). In this case, face-to-face was definitely the way to go.

References:

Byron, K. (2008). Carrying too heavy a load? Communication and miscommunication of emotion my email. Academy of Management Review, 33, 309-327. http://dx.doi.org/10.5465/AMR.2008.31193163

Pant, I., & Baroudi, B. (2008). Project management education: The human skills imperative. International Journal of Project Management, 26, 124-128. Retrieved from http://www.elsevier.com/locate/ijproman

Portny, S., Mantel, Jr., S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. (2008). Project management. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons

When not to use email. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.maximumadvantage.com/when-not-to-use-email.html

Why I Do Not Volunteer for Committees. Like, Never.

A few years ago a group of teachers who were frustrated with the level of student discipline in the building where I teach met with the administration to voice their concerns. Of course this meeting prompted the principal to form a committee, aptly named the Discipline Committee, to re-work the school discipline policy. The abject failure and accompanying waste of time that resulted from this committee is the focus of this post. I’ve struggled a little in this course finding ways to apply some of the processes outlined in the readings/videos to the work I do in public education. We don’t really use the same terminology in education that the business world uses for projects. We don’t have project teams, we have committees, and we don’t have project managers, we have committee chairpersons. Different terms, but they have similar responsibilities, I think.

The committee chair for this endeavor was a well-respected social studies teacher with a little less than 20 years of experience in the district. He had no training in project management, but due to his strong knowledge of the district and innate organizational skills, was able to do an excellent job for the most part. He held a kick-off meeting with the people who volunteered for the committee, he guided the group to set good objectives, broke the work into manageable parts, assigned roles to the committee members, and set a schedule for when the work was to be completed. While a formal Statement of Work was not completed as described by the course text, meeting minutes were kept and everyone on the committee received copies for their records (Portny et al., 2008). It was agreed that the committee was going to draft a new discipline policy that would be implemented in the following school year. The principal, although not a part of the committee, would be the final approval needed before implementation of the new policy.

After three months of work, multiple meetings through the end of the school year and into the beginning of the summer, the committee produced a written discipline policy. The policy included specific rules and expectations as well as consequences for students who did not follow the rules. It was completed on time, and was presented to the principal for his approval and subsequent inclusion in the student handbook.

And that’s when the problems started. The principal, after reading through the revised policy, informed the committee that he did not have the authority to make the changes outlined in the document. He told us that it would require school board approval. This information was contrary to what the committee chair was told when he first suggested the project. Although asked about the process that would be needed to make the changes, not once did the principal tell anyone these changes would require school board approval. The board approval was not really the problem, it was the affect this had on getting the new policy into the student handbook. The new handbook needed to be sent to the printer by the end of July, and the next school board meeting was not going to happen until mid-August.

Because there was no way to get this included in the handbook, the principal decided that we could not implement the requested changes to the discipline policy. Although we suggested making more minor changes than what we had initially proposed as a way to make some of the work we had done worthwhile, the principal refused to adjust the current policies at all. In the end, the work of the committee was filed away, and not a single change was made to the school discipline policy.

Looking back, this project was doomed to fail. The person whose approval was required, the principal, had decided from the beginning that no changes would be made. He did not share this with the committee, and it was only after significant time and work that the committee realized that nothing was going to change. Even without any project management training, I think the committee did most of what we should have done – we followed the process outlined in the course text. There was the conception of an idea, planning out a process, working as a team to complete the plan, and closing out the project (Portny et al., 2008). The text says that there are two questions to answer before starting the project, “Can the project be done?” and “Should the project be done?” (Portny et al., 2008, p. 77) We thought the answer to both of those was “yes,” but it wasn’t. The project couldn’t be done, because the person responsible for its ultimate approval didn’t want any changes to be made. It didn’t matter what we came up with or how hard we worked, it was not going to be approved. Lesson learned.

References

Portny, S., Mantel, Jr., S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. (2008). Project management. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Welcome Back!

As you can see if you skim through my blog posts, I haven’t been very diligent about keeping up with this endeavor once my last courses ended. Blogging just isn’t for me! I barely have time to keep up with the real life I have, never mind a virtual one as well. I do plenty of reading blogs, I just am not convinced that my life is so interesting that I am compelled to share it, or my ideas and opinions, online.

That said, I am looking forward to sharing with and following those of you who made it here from my current class, Project Management. In this context, I think blogging can be both interesting and beneficial. I have learned so much from the courses I have completed in the program so far, and I especially enjoy the opportunity to interact and learn from my classmates outside of public education. Those other perspectives are most interesting to me. Let me know if you plan to follow my blog so I can follow back!

A Future for Distance Education

When I began the Distance Education course almost eight weeks ago, I didn’t realize the impact that it would have on me, or how timely the topic would be for me. A major change in my career has made the theories and practices I have learned in this course necessary for me to remain an effective teacher and to improve as an instructional designer. Over the course of the next year, I will be updating the AP and Honors Chemistry courses at the high school where I teach, incorporating technology and distance learning opportunities for the students enrolled in those courses. This movement toward implementing courses that offer some or all of the content online is not new, but is in fact growing rapidly across the US.

In recent years, distance education opportunities for students have increased dramatically. The Sloan Consortium has released its annual report on the state of online education in US higher education, the tenth in a series. They found that 69.1% of the leaders of the universities surveyed felt that “online learning is critical to their long-term strategy” and there are currently almost 7 million students taking at least one online course (Allen & Seaman, 2013). K-12 education has taken a more cautious approach, and the growth has been much slower (Picciano & Seaman, 2009). However, there is still significant growth. There was a 47% increase in the number of K-12 students taking at least one online course in the two-year period from 2006-2008 (Picciano & Seaman, 2009). As students and teachers have more positive experiences with distance education, it is my opinion that perceptions will become more positive, and distance education will become more common in the future.

The role of the instructional designer is critical to ensure a positive future for distance education. Courses should be designed and developed according to research-based theories, such as those developed by Moore, Holmberg, and Keegan (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012). Best practices, again determined through research, should be used to guarantee that when online courses are implemented, learners have the greatest chance for success. “Instructional designers must stay on top of the current research…and promote designs that have the capability to serve the targeted student population” (Huett, Moller, Foshay, & Coleman, 2008, p. 64). As courses that have been taught in traditional face-to-face formats are more frequently being changed to an online format, instructional designers must use their knowledge to adapt those elements that are not the same in distance education to maintain a quality educational experience (Gambescia & Paolucci, 2009). If this is done with consistency, then the instructional designer will be a proponent for distance education and it’s growth and improvement in the future.

In a summary of the chapter on the future of distance education in a text, the following quote is used: “A mass of under-educated people, an expanding population, major global crises and an expanding knowledge economy all combine to sustain a massive demand for basic, further, higher, continuing, and lifelong education” (Evans & Pauling, 2010). In my opinion, this single statement details why distance education will continue to provide learning opportunities to increasing numbers of students in the future. Whether the focus is on K-12 learning, higher education, or corporate training, distance education will become more popular and more accessible. As a high school teacher for nearly two decades, I have seen changes come and go. But the most significant change to impact K-12 education I have seen is the inclusion of technology and the ability for students to learn at any time and in any place, the beginning of distance education. The theories, concepts, and practices I have learned from this course will enable me to remain an effective teacher, and designer of the instruction I deliver, as the changes happening now, and those that will come in the future, reshape K-12 education as we know it.

References

Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2013). Changing course: Ten years of tracking online education in the United States. Retrieved from Sloan Consortium website: http://www.onlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/changingcourse.pdf

Evans, T., & Pauling, B. (2010). The future of distance education: Reformed, scrapped, or recycled. An introduction to distance education: Understanding teaching and learning in a new era, 198-223. Abstract retrieved from http://dro.deakin.edu.au/view/DU:30029170

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.wesga.edu/~distance/ojdla/spring121/gambescia121.html

Huett, J., Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Coleman, C. (2008, September/October). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web. Tech Trends, 52(5), 63-67. Retrieved from http://waldenu.edu

Picciano, A. G., & Seaman, J. (2009). K-12 online learning:  2008 follow-up of the survey of U.S. school district administrators. Retrieved from http://www.sloanconsortium.org

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

So You Want To Blend?

A training manager in a large company is frustrated by the lack of quality discussion in his course. It has traditionally been presented in a face-to-face format, but the trainer has decided to try something new, blended learning, which he hopes will help to improve the discussions. In addition, he wants his trainees to have access to the materials associated with the course at any time, and so has decided to place those materials on the server. But where to start? It may sound simple at first, because blended learning by definition has only a portion of the course online, the remainder is still conducted face-to-face (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012). However, like any course adjustments, planning and preparation are key to a successful product.

The planning process for this transition should focus on the four parts that are necessary in any type of online learning, the learners, the trainer, the content, and the technology (Simonson et al., 2012). Here are some suggestions for what to consider when making this transition:

1. The Learners – When preparing learners for online courses, there are many considerations. Do they have access to the technology? Do they know how to use the software? How much time can the trainer reasonably expect them to work online? This is in addition to all of the learner characteristics that must be considered for any course, things like background knowledge, ability level, and interests. Understanding the learners allows the trainer to design a course that will meet their needs (Morrison, Ross, Kalman, & Kemp, 2011). In addition, there are learner responsibilities that must be clearly articulated, so that the learners know how to proceed (Simonson et al., 2012). When will the learners participate online – are the discussions going to be synchronous or asynchronous? How will they communicate with the trainer and/or other learners? How will these considerations be communicated with the learners?

2.  The Trainer – The most important job of the trainer is creating a positive learning environment. “To encourage high student interactivity in an online setting, the learning environment must be supportive, open, and respectful” (Durrington, Berryhill, & Swafford, 2006, para. 4). The trainer can do this by getting to know the learners (see #1 above!), by offering structured opportunities for the learners to get to know each other, and by interacting frequently with the learners.  If the goal is to improve discussion quality, then the trainer must be part of the discussions, modeling the expected responses, explaining what he/she expects in terms of working with the content, and generally showing that they value the process (Swan, 2002). In addition, the trainer making this change needs to understand and be proficient at using the technology before trying to implement a blended course. I’ll address technology in more detail below, but it is important that whatever tools are chosen, the trainer needs to know how they work and what the students will be doing with them before the course begins.

3.  The Content – The content does not necessarily need to change, although time constraints and specific needs may require adjustments to the content. The most obvious consideration is what parts of the content will be delivered face to face, and what parts will be online? The content may need to be reorganized so that the content is presented in a logical sequence (Simonson et al., 2012). Discussions are obviously a concern in the example, and discussions can be a very effective way for learners to work with the content. The instructor can pose questions about the content, give example or case studies that apply to the content, and the learners post comments. It is important that discussion prompts be well written so that the generate student responses that consider the content at deeper levels of understanding (Simonson et al., 2012).

4. The Technology – When moving part of a course online, there are obviously going to need to be decisions made regarding technology. The first is probably where the course will be housed. Will it by on the company server? Will a course management system (CMS) be utilized? The tools that will be used need to be selected on the basis of what will work for the specific needs and available resources (Simonson et al., 2012). How will discussions take place – through the CMS? A wiki? A blog? Will the technology be available on the job? What training might be necessary to ensure that the trainer and the learners are able to access and use the technology? The layout of the materials is important; learners must be able to locate the materials in order to use them. In addition, using different forms of media technology, video, audio, graphics, illustrations, will make the material accessible to more learners.

It has been stated, “teaching at a distance, whether synchronous or asynchronous, requires greater emphasis be placed on the initial planning phase” (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 151). There are many considerations when making the switch; the suggestions above are just the beginning. Here are two links to help gather more information on making the switch to a blended format:

The Sloan Consortium – http://sloanconsortium.org  “The Sloan Consortium (Sloan-C) is the leading professional online learning society devoted to advancing quality e-Education learning into the mainstream of education through its community.” There are numerous resources about blended learning programs and  best-practices.

The Blended Learning Toolkit – http://blended.online.ucf.edu/ – “The Blended Learning Toolkit is a free, open repository of information, resources, models, and research related to blended learning.” The toolkit contains suggestions and hints for designing and implementing a blended learning program.

References

Durrington, V. A., Berryhill, A., & Swafford, J. (2006). Strategies for enhancing student interactivity in an online environment. Retrieved from http://www.redorbit.com/news/technology/433631/strategies_for_enhancing_student_interactivity_in_an_online_environment/

Morrison, G. R., Ross, S. M., Kalman, H. K., & Kemp, J. E. (2011). Designing effective instruction (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

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

Swan, K. (2002). Building learning communities in online courses: The importance of interaction . Education, Communication, & Information, 2(1), 23-49.

The Gift of Knowledge

I just found out last week that it is likely I am going to be teaching AP Chemistry this coming school year. While I am excited about the challenge, the reality is that I have not taught chemistry at that level in 12 years. How was I going to brush up on my chemistry content in the three weeks before school starts? I was beginning to panic a little, until I started investigating open courses for this week’s blog post. With just a few clicks into the first link I tried, I had my answer! I am going to use MIT’s OpenCourseWare Principles of Chemical Science course as a refresher for my chemistry content.

MIT’s OpenCourseWare (OCW) is self-described as “a web-based publication of virtually all MIT content” (http://ocw.mit.edu/about/). The website also indicates some of the uses they see for this project, including the ability of educators to improve their courses, encourage student success by providing additional resources, and helping independent learners to gain knowledge on various topics. The course I selected, Principles of Chemical Science, is an introduction to chemistry concepts and principles, using appropriate examples from the biological sciences to show connections to the real world. The online course includes video taped lectures, lecture notes, three exams with accompanying handouts and a separate solutions page to check your work. The one thing it doesn’t have that would be helpful is the problem sets that those students enrolled in the actual course at MIT would have to do.

 This course definitely falls into the category of “shovelware” – the instructor was videotaped, the resources were put online, and poof! We have an online course anyone can take. Many of the principles of good instructional design for online courses were obviously ignored. There is not variety in methods, no interaction between the students and the instructor, and no teamwork between students (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012). However, on the positive side, the course provides videos and handouts to present the content and includes assessments to check for understanding. It meets the goals listed above that MIT has set for undertaking this project – it provides a resource for learning, and it gives access to just about anyone.

If you take the time to look more closely at what is available and to whom – the importance of this type of project becomes immediately clear. Will this replace going to MIT (or any college or university) to learn chemistry? Never. Does it give access to college-level chemistry to people who don’t have the time, money, travel-ability, etc.? Most definitely. Most of Wedemeyer’s Theory of Independent Study is modeled in this type of course – separation of the learning parties, learning is student controlled in terms of when, where, and what to learn, and the normal process of teaching happens through some other medium, in this case online videos (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012). The missing piece in the design of this type of course, however, is the connection between the learner and the instructor. It doesn’t exist. I felt like a fly on the wall as I watched the first lecture – there was no connection to or interaction with what was happening in that classroom. There couldn’t possibly be, as it happened in 2008.

Even with the lack of interaction, this resource feels like a gift to me – and I’m sure to many others as well. I need to re-learn my college-level chemistry content fast, and I will be able to do that now. Those of us who would otherwise be unable to have access to this content due to lack of resources now only need an internet connection and a computer to learn chemistry, or most any other subject taught at MIT.  They are giving away knowledge, and what a gift that is!

 

 

References

MIT OpenCourseWare Website – http://ocw.mit.edu

MIT OCW Principles of Chemical Sciences Course Website – http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/chemistry/5-111-principles-of-chemical-science-fall-2008/index.htm

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