Scope Creep

According to L. Russell (2000), “project management consists of planning, organizing, and controlling work.  The person responsible for project management plans for the needs of the project, then organizes and controls project resources as the project progresses.  This person has one foot in the future (creating a plan), one foot in the past (learning from mistakes), and the rest of the body in the present (reacting to surprises)” (p. 3).  If a project manager does not handle these three things well, scope creep can occur.

I have to admit that I had a really hard time trying to think of a time when I experienced issues with scope creep.  I really don’t work on many projects at all in my career, at least not the kind where I have ever had a problem with scope creep.  To be honest, I was on the verge of completely making up a fake example when I remembered my wedding.  I definitely had issues with scope creep when planning for my wedding!

The budget was controlled by my mother, and my husband-to-be and I had definite plans on how we wanted things to go.  After much research, we had most of the plans down pat, and were within budget and time.  The problems began when my future mother-in-law kept coming up with more and more people to invite to the wedding.  We originally told her how many people she could invite, but before we knew it she was going rogue and inviting even more than she was supposed to, causing our wedding to go over budget.  Despite the fact that we kept telling her that, no, she couldn’t invite more people, she was still sending invitations out.  To manage this, we actually had to go over the budget with her and show her that we simply didn’t have the money; we had to show her exactly how much extra money she was costing us already by inviting people beyond what she had been told she could.  We also made the suggestion that she was welcome to invite more people, but only if she paid for them.  It was only after this approach that she finally stopped inviting more people.  Our begging and pleading had made no difference, but when faced with cold, hard facts about the budget, she was able to understand our position and our reasons for not increasing the guest list.

As a stakeholder, my mother-in-law had other ideas on how she wanted the wedding and reception to go as well.  There were several times that we had to put our feet down and simply tell her no.  We learned that it was better to be firm and clear when it came to dealing with her.

I think probably one of the reasons why I can’t think of examples of scope creep is that I have definitely learned that saying ‘no’ and giving reasons for saying it will usually prevent some types of scope creep from occurring.  As a teacher, I’m involved in project management all the time, but my job also involves having very well-defined plans and being able to stick to them.  I’ve learned that success in preventing scope creep often occurs when you are willing to take the time to really listen to the person who has ideas that may cause scope creep, and then give them good and rational reasons why you can’t go along with the additions or changes that they want to make.  They feel that they’ve been heard, which is very important, but they can also usually see reason.

Reference:

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

Communicating Effectively

Communication goes far beyond just the words that are spoken.  Body language, eye contact, facial expressions, and intonations can all have an affect on the message that is being communicated.  In fact, according to Kruger, Epley and Ng (2005), “it is not uncommon for paralinguistic information to more than merely supplement linguistic information, but to alter it completely” (p. 933).  This is very easy to see when viewing the same message given in three different formats: e-mail, voicemail, and in person.

When I viewed an e-mail example regarding a missing report, the sender, Jane, came across to me as a bit irritated.  She starts by saying, “I know you have been busy…but I really need…”  As I read the message, I hear my own voice in my head and I put my own intonations into the words.  It’s possible that if I am having a bad day, or am stressed out, I might read the e-mail to myself in a stressed out tone (in my head).  It is completely up to me to interpret the message.  Kruger et al. (2005) point out that “when people try to anticipate the perspective of their e-mail audience, they focus excessively on their own phenomenology or experience and insufficiently consider the audience’s perspective” (p. 933).  As you write an e-mail, you do the same thing that I did as I was reading it: you hear your voice saying the words.  But is the way you hear it going to be the same as the person who receives it hears it?  No.  One example of this is the speed in which you read it; even speed can affect a message.  When I read it, I read it fast, and I think this made Jane sound more irritated, like she was rushed.  But what if I had read it slowly, and paused between sentences.  Then it wouldn’t sound like she was rushed. And so it is really important to keep in mind, as you are writing, what the perspective of the reader might be.  What voice will he hear in his head?  What factors might influence how he reads that message?  What if he just got off the phone with his manager who was reprimanding him because he hasn’t been keeping up with his work?  What voice might he hear in his head if he really wasn’t that busy and hadn’t been at that meeting, and wasn’t even stressed, and simply never sent over the report because he had just forgotten it?

On the other hand, a message leaves a bit less room for interpretation when it is delivered verbally.  Even with just a voicemail, you have the sender’s inflections to help you interpret the message.  When I listened to the same message that had been presented via e-mail in a voicemail, it sounded a bit different than how I heard it in my head when I was reading it.  In the voicemail, Mary sounded much more professional than she sounded in the e-mail.  She does not sound irritated at all; just matter-of-fact.  She also sounds a bit more appreciative at the end because her voice stresses the phrase “I really appreciate your help”.  She says everything a lot more slowly that I had read it in the voicemail, and so she does not sound as busy.  She, does, however, sound a bit worried.

In a face-to-face conversation, there is even less room for interpretation, because you have the benefit of body language and facial expressions to help deliver the message.  In the example I viewed – same message as was in the e-mail and voicemail – the message being delivered comes out different than it did in the voicemail and e-mail.  Mary is smiling a bit in the beginning, which indicated to me that at first she doesn’t seem very concerned or irritated. But as she continues talking, she smiles less and less.  She mentions that she might miss her deadline if she doesn’t get the report, but the way she says it (her intonation) does not sound very worried.  When she asks that he let her know when he can send it, she tilts her head to the side, and closes her eyes a bit, almost as if she is hoping that he’ll send it, but not confident that he will do so.  All of those little factors – the turn of the head, closing of the eyes, furrowed eyebrows, smile, leaning forward or back – sends a message to the listener of the message just as much as the words coming out of her mouth do. The problem here is: what if her facial expressions and body language interfere with the message being sent?  What if she is uncomfortable about asking him about the report, and this discomfort is shown in the body language, and is interpreted as a lack of worry?  It’s kind of like if I was having a conversation with a friend, and I was really concerned about what she was saying, but I was leaning back (and therefore away from her) and my arms were crossed.  Although I might feel concerned, that body language usually indicates a lack of interest.  I could say all the right things to her to express my concern, but it would be contradicted by my body language, leaving her with mixed messages.

So, I think the message here is to keep in mind that sending written messages can leave a lot open for interpretation, and therefore the message can get misinterpreted, but the same thing can happen if you are in a face-to-face conversation and don’t use the correct body language.  A voice message can be clear and understandable to the listener and leave little room for misinterpretation as long as appropriate intonation is used.  Therefore, when working on a project team, it is very important to consider how others may interpret your message, and how factors other than the words themselves can affect how the message gets interpreted.

References:

Kruger, J., Epley, N., Parker, J., & Ng, Z. W. (2005). Egocentrism over e-mail: Can we communicate as well as we think?. Journal of personality and social psychology, 89(6), 925.

Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). Communicating with stakeholders [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

Project Problems?

Several years ago I decided to make some major changes to a 12’X12’ deck that I have at the back of my house.  Even though the deck is very low (only about a foot and a half off the ground), it was surrounded by railings and had one small staircase off the side.  We had built a patio all around it, so I decided that it would look much better if I removed all the railings, put long steps running down one entire side of it and build two big wooden plant holders on the far side of it with a bench running from plant holder to plant holder.

IMG_0051

I really don’t have much woodworking expertise, so I did a lot of research ahead of time to develop plans for the changes that I wanted to make and to figure out how to do it.  I did this research simply by doing a lot of reading on the computer and from books that I got from the library.  I found plans of similar projects that people had done and adapted them to my specifications.  I think that this planning definitely helped when it came time to build because, for the most part, I knew what I was doing when it came to design.

However, I would have been much more successful if I had made better uses of the resources that I had available to me, and if I had paid more attention to the quality of what I was creating.  One of my shortfalls is that I have a tendency to be overly independent; I always want to do things by myself, my own way.  In this case, even though I had family members who had much more woodworking expertise than I had, I did not use their help, even though they would have been thrilled to have been asked and to be a part of the project.  In addition, while I did a great job at planning out the design, I did not do enough research on quality of materials.  Due to my neglect of those two areas, the changes to my deck do not look as nice as they could have.  Some of the wood has warped over the years and some of the design could be much better looking if I had used my relatives’ expertise in different ways to cut wood and make designs using wood.

When it comes to instructional design, Lin (2006) says that “regardless of what medium of instruction is used in implementation, quality should be a central concern for instructional design and training programs. Ultimately, the end users of the programs will judge the value of the programs on the quality of the design and training materials” (p. 4).  I think that this can be said for almost any project.  When it comes to making changes to my deck, if I sell my house, the quality of the work that was done on the deck will be judged by potential homebuyers, who just may decide not to buy the house if they feel that the deck is not as high quality as what they were looking for.  They could judge the quality of the rest of the house simply by looking at my deck.  Just like the quality of the instructional designer will be judged by the quality of the materials that he or she is a part of designing.  If you are a part of designing low-quality materials, it will reflect badly upon your abilities.

During the 1990s, organizations began to recognize that “everyone in the firm is a problem solver and an enhancer of systems.  Everyone is a potential creative force to be developed and nurtured, and the firm is a fluid entity allowing for personal growth to be combined with organisational effectiveness and competitive success.  Most importantly, the firm itself should be focused on a wide range of stakeholder interests and needs” (Wheeler, 1998, p. 202).  I think that the same could be said about families – most families have people who can be “problem solvers” and “enhancers of systems”, if you are willing to tap into their knowledge and expertise.  However, when I worked on my deck project, the only way I involved my family was to show my plans to my husband to see if he had any problems or concerns with them.  That is it.  I didn’t ask him to help; I didn’t ask him for suggestions; and I certainly didn’t reach out to anyone else.  In “The Project Management Minimalist: Just Enough PM to Rock Your Projects”, it is recommended that the project manager “Find all the people who will care about (and use) the project outcomes or who can help you create the project outcomes” (Greer, 2010, p. 10), and then organize these people as a team.  One of the first recommended steps is to sit down with these people and have a bunch of brainstorming sessions about the project.  If I had done this, there are several family members that I could have called on to help, even if all that help consisted of was just brainstorming ideas.  If I had done this, it is possible that I would have come up with a much better design for my deck.  And the people that I had involved in the project would have felt valued, which is important. Truthfully, this totally did not occur to me at the time, but looking back I can see it’s importance.

So, in the end, while my deck changes did improve my deck a bit, they could have been even better if I had known more about project management at the time and done more to make use of those around me who had the interest and the expertise to help out.  This is something I will definitely keep in mind for the future.

References:

Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc.

Lin, H. (2006). Instructional project management: An emerging professional practice for design and training programs. Workforce Education Forum, 33(2).

Wheeler, D. (1998). Including the stakeholders: the business case. Long Range Planning, 31(2), 201-210.

Perceptions of Distance Learning, and My Role in Those Perceptions

I remember, when I was younger, that distance learning meant a correspondence course where materials would be mailed out to the students, who would do the work and then mail it back.  Presently, due to technology, we can now access course materials online, but are the courses any better?  Maybe a little, but not much.  The biggest difference that I have noticed between the old-fashioned correspondence courses and the distance learning courses of today is that today’s technology allows for more frequent and more immediate opportunities for communication between students, their classmates, and their teachers.  However, based on the ten or so online courses that I have taken and many others that I have viewed, I really do not feel that distance learning has evolved as far as it could have and as far as it should have from the old-fashioned correspondence courses.  On the other hand, I do feel that distance learning is on the brink of great change, and that, while perceptions may not change much over the next five years to ten years, if we look fifteen to twenty years down the line, it is highly possible that perceptions of distance learning will be completely different.

Most of the distance learning courses that I have experienced so far have involved lots of assigned readings and a whole bunch of writing assignments, and, truthfully, this is not much different from what I faced in a traditional classroom as I was growing up.  Moller, Foshay and Huett (2008b) agree that is is commonplace for professors to simply take what they are doing in face-to-face classroom and put that material online, but that what works well in a classroom does not always work well online.  This occurs frequently due to the high demand for distance learning courses and a lack of qualified people to create the courses (Moller et al., 2008a).  As such, most courses that people encounter in distance learning are poorly made and therefore create a negative impression of distance learning (Moller et al., 2008a).  I do not believe that we will be able to change this perception within the next five years, and possibly not even within ten years.

However, if distance learning opportunities improve, and I do believe that, given time, they will, and as more and more people participate in them, it is possible that in ten to fifteen years, people will perceive distance learning more positively.  I agree with Moller, Foshay and Huett (2008a), who state, “We believe that the dominant approach [of online distance learning] now realizes very little, if any, of e-learning’s transformational potential” (p. 70).  There is so much more we can be doing with e-learning than simply taking face-to-face course materials and dumping on the Internet, such as by making better use of simulations, creating learning communities that extend beyond the classroom walls, and focusing more on project-based learning that have real-world implications, as just a few examples.  I also agree with Moller, Foshay and Huett’s (208a) claim that “Web-based instruction has the potential for never-before-seen levels of personal customization” (p. 75).  As such, I believe that in order for me to be a proponent for improving societal perceptions of distance learning, I need to make sure that any courses I design do take advantage of “e-learning’s transformational potential” and “personal customization”.  In addition, it is my responsibility to make sure that the courses and learning opportunities that I am a part of creating make the best use of everything that we know about the nature of distance learners, distance learning theories, and good pedagogy/andragogy as it applies to the audience that I am designing courses for.  Most importantly, as an instructional designer, some of the perceptions that I will need to help change are the perceptions of the people that I am working for and working with as I design the courses and learning experiences.  I may, at times, need to help them change their perceptions of the needs of the learners, uses of technology, and options in learning experiences (Campbell, Schwier, & Kenny, 2009).  It is absolutely imperative for me to be able to change the perceptions of the stakeholders as to how online learning can be transformative and individualized in order to advocate for and be able to create learning experiences that truly are both of those things.

I can be a positive force for continuous improvement in the field of distance education by staying knowledgeable about any and all changes taking place, and sharing my knowledge with others.  Simonson, Smaldino, Albright and Zvacek (2012) point out that “The changing and diverse environment in which distance education is practiced has inhibited the development of a single theory on which to base practice and research” (p. 59), and I believe that this will continue to be the case into the future.  Therefore, it is imperative that I, and all instructional designers, continue learning about and staying up-to-date with changes in technology, educational theory, knowledge of the brain, as well as the changes that are happening in the public, private, and alternative educational arenas.  Schwier, Campbell and Kenny (2004) state, “We believe that instructional designers are actually engaging in a process of professional and personal transformation that has the potential to transform the institution….The instructional design process, in which designers and others develop new ideas and understandings through conversation, may be a form of cultural learning or collaborative learning. These collaborations, however formed, may express themselves as communities of practice” (para 16).  I have been involved in communities of practice centered around my teaching career for many years now, via Twitter, Facebook, Ning, EdWeb, and other social networking sites, and have found them to be tremendously educational and helpful in my career as a teacher.  I have recently, via LinkedIn, joined communities that are centered around instructional design and e-learning.  There are many other varieties of communities of practice as well that instructional designers should be a part of, from professional organizations to more casual ones. I have found that communities such as these definitely serve as positive forces for continuous improvement because it is through them that we share ideas, discuss and challenge what is presently happening, and come to new understandings about ourselves and our field.

There is a lot of work to be done to change society’s perceptions of distance learning, and it is not something that is going to happen quickly.  However, there are a lot of forces at work trying to change the nature of how we educate our K-12 learners altogether (Natriello, 2005), and I think that this will eventually cause distance learning to change as well, and once those changes happen, people’s perceptions of distance learning will change.  Instructional designers stand at the forefront of those changes, and play an imperative role.

References:

Campbell, K., Schwier, R., & Kenny, R. (2009). The critical, relational practice of instructional design in higher education: an emerging model of change agency. Educational Technology Research & Development, 57(5), 645-663. doi:10.1007/s11423-007-9061-6

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

Natriello, G. (2005). Modest changes, revolutionary possibilities: Distance learning and the future of education. The Teachers College Record, 107(8), 1885-1904.

Schwier, R. A., Campbell, K., & Kenny, R. (2004). Instructional designers’ observations about identity, communities of practice and change agency.Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 20(1), 69-100.

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

Best Practices for Blended Learning

When planning for a blended learning scenario, there are several best practices to keep in mind.  Click here for an infographic of the following information (I have to admit that if I were to make the infographic again, instead of bubbles I would have gears that are working together, since I think all the practices that I describe must work together)

  1. Planning:  Consider how you can reinvent the training modules to promote active learning and collaboration. Paul Creasman (2012), from Arizona Christian University, points out that “The best online instruction…allows for students’ learning to be forged more through interaction with each other and less through instructor lecture” (p. 3).  Identify what the learning experiences are going to be before deciding on the technology to be used, as good learning experiences are what should drive the course, rather than the technology (Simonson et al., 2012).
  2. Structure:  According to researchers Shea, Fredericksen, Pickett, Pelz and Swan, “The greater the consistency among course modules, the more satisfaction students had with the course, the more they thought they learned, and the more interaction they thought they had with their instructor” (Grandzol, 2006).  Therefore, it is important to make sure that there is a clear structure to the training modules that makes sense to both the instructors and the students.  Dr. George Piskurich points out that technology simply adds another layer of complexity to learning and the more we can do to ease that complexity for students, the more they will be able to concentrate on learning the necessary concepts (Laureate Education).
  3. Materials: Transform course materials to meet the different learning styles and needs of the trainees by adding diagrams, pictures, videos, audio and other multimedia.  Materials should be designed in a way that they “direct students in their exploration of content and …actively engage them in the learning activities” (Simonson et al., p. 201).  Short bits of information are frequently better than long pieces of information. At the same time, be very aware of copyright law.  As Simonson et al. (2012) point out, “With copyright law, ignorance of the law is not sufficient” (p. 213).  You cannot simply take materials that you own on paper and stick them onto the Internet without obtaining permissions from the publisher first.
  4. Preparing the Trainees: Provide students with a syllabus or other documentation that outlines for the students the way they should proceed through the modules, the methods of assessment and evaluation, expectations for their participation, how they should be using the tools and how to find help when needed (Simonson et al., 2012). According to Simonson et al. (2012), “the syllabus helps students to understand their role in the distant setting” (p. 199).  Make sure students have access to all the technology that will be used in the course and provide technology training in the beginning if they need it.  Many students participating in online learning are not technologically literate, and therefore training is necessary to prevent students from becoming frustrated and to make sure that the technology does not get in the way of the learning (Fish & Wickersham, 2009).
  5. Preparing the Trainers: Try to get the trainers involved early in the creation process of the course, even as early as making the objectives.  Dr. George Piskurich, in the video “Facilitating Online Learning”, suggests that if you get stuck on a particular part of creating the course, ask the trainers for suggestions – it helps to make them a part of the program (Laureate Education).  After the modules are developed, make sure that anyone who is going to be facilitating a course understands the lesson plans and is capable of carrying them out.  In addition, trainers need to be able to anticipate the ways things may go wrong with the instruction and have ideas on how to fix any problems that may occur.
  6. Feedback: Feedback to trainees is an integral part of distance education. Research has found that “students who received consistent personalized instructor feedback exhibited higher satisfaction levels and academic gains compared to those students who received strictly collective feedback (Fish & Wickersham, 2009, p. 282).  Instructors need to make it clear to students exactly what their expectations are for student performance, and to provide models of both high-quality and low-quality work. Students need to know how they are doing in order to fix any mistakes that they are making, and they also need to know that the instructor is there and wants to help them learn.  It is important for trainers to reach out to struggling trainees privately to offer further assistance (Durrington et al., 2006).
  7. Community: Community is very important in distance learning and it is up to the trainer and instructional designer to help create a sense of community among the trainees.  Researcher Alexander Astin “found that the quality and quantity of interactions with peers and faculty in both academic and social activities were the most important factors fostering student engagement, a powerful predictor of student success” (Grandzol, 2006).   A sense of community among participants in a course is often fostered using discussion boards and collaboration, and as such, the trainer needs to choose texts and/or original questions that will lead to discussion (if this has not already been done so by the instructional designer). However, once students get going in a discussion, the trainer must walk a fine line.  One research study found that “the more instructors posted to discussion forums, the shorter were the discussion threads on average” and that students typically made better responses to questions that were posed by other students (Mazzolini & Maddison, 2003, p. 252).  So, the goal is to encourage a sense of community among trainees without interfering in it too much with the presence of the trainer.
  8. Assessment: Both trainees and the course itself needs to be assessed.  According to Simonson et al. (2012), “Possibly the most important purpose for assessing learning gains is to provide feedback to learners and instructors” (p. 263).  Trainees need to know how well they are doing, and trainers need to know how well the trainees are doing in order to offer assistance or to make adjustments to the course. In addition, the training modules themselves need to be assessed throughout the course to determine how well they are working and if any changes need to be made to them to make them more effective.


References:

Creasman, P. (2012). Considerations in online course design. The Idea Center. Retrieved from http://ideaedu.org/sites/default/files/idea_paper_52.pdf

Durrington, V., Berryhill, A., & Swafford, J. (2006). Strategies for enhancing student interactivity in an online environment. College Teaching, 54(1), 190–193. Retrieved from http://www.redorbit.com/news/technology/433631/strategies_for_enhancing_student_interactivity_in_an_online_environment/

Fish, W. W., & Wickersham, L. E. (2009). Best practices for online instructors: Reminders. The quarterly review of distance education, 10(3), 279-284.

Grandzol, C. J. (2006). Best practices for online business education. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 7(1).

Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). Facilitating online learning [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

Mazzolini, M., & Maddison, S. (2003). Sage, guide or ghost? The effect of instructor intervention on student participation in online discussion forums. Computers & Education, 40(3), 237-253.

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

My Mindset on MOOCs

There has been quite a bit of hype in the media over the past few years about MOOCs, so I decided to check one out to see how good they really are.  I took a look at MIT’s OpenCourseware site and browsed through a few courses, such as “Introduction to Design Computing”, “Writing and Rhetoric: Writing About Sports”, and “How to Learn (Almost) Anything”.  I liked that the layout of the page for each of the courses are fairly uniform; each course provides a description of the course, names of the professors who teach it, and links for the syllabus, calendar, readings, projects and a link to download the course materials.  It is easy to figure out exactly what you need to do for the course.  However, what I don’t like is that the course seems “dead” to me.  All three courses had readings for students to do, projects for students to complete and student-created examples of the projects, but that was about it.  The site itself says that the courses consist only of the teacher’s class materials that have been gathered together after the class was taught and put on the Internet.

When considering this MOOC with distance education theories in mind, threads of Otto Peter’s “Theory of the Industrialization of Teaching” and Charles Wedemeyer’s “Theory of Independent Study” can be seen in its design.  The organization of the site fits with Peter’s idea that “methodical measures” are used “to reduce the required amount of input of power, time, and money” (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 45).  What is more methodical and frugal than to create a template page for each course and simply insert the professor’s materials after the course is taught in person?  In addition, MIT’s OpenCourseware site is mass-producing courses, with a total of two thousand, one hundred and fifty courses presently available on the site.  Organization, formalization and objectification – three aspects of Peter’s theory – can also be seen in the courses in the design, layout and and presentation of materials.  All of the parts of the course also fit with Wedemeyer’s idea that there is a “greater responsibility for learning on the student” (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 43).  In fact, since there is no involvement from professors at all, the responsibility for learning is entirely on the student.  All of the learning from these courses takes place as a result of the activity of the students, which is another aspect of Wedemeyer’s theory – students have to access the materials, read them, and do the projects, completely on their own.  As a result, the learner has to be a very self-directed, and motivated learner (Sounds like this fits with Knowles’s “Theory of Andragogy” as well!) who can take responsibility for the pace of the course and the progress he or she is making.  One benefit of these courses which fits with Wedemeyer’s theory is that the “Learning is made convenient for the student in his or her own environment” (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 44).  So, given all of this, while I was not thrilled with the design of the courses that are available on MIT’s OpenCourseware site, it does fit within certain aspects of distance education theories and will be beneficial for certain audiences, such as those people who are highly motivated to learn the material completely on their own.

So, here is what I don’t like about the courses on this site: aside from having reading to do and projects to complete (which, by the way, unless you will be showing off your completed projects to friends and family, you will have no opportunity to show them off to anyone or receive any feedback on them), the courses are relatively inactive and very impersonal.  As I was browsing through a few different MOOC sites, I took a look at a site called OpenCulture, and a course within it called “Edible Education 101”, which I found to be more engaging and personal than the courses I viewed on MIT’s OpenCourseware site simply because it consisted of videos of lecturers (who happened to be engaging).  Somehow, that gave the course a much more personal touch.  However, that was all the course consisted of; there was no syllabus, no readings, no assignments, and no projects.  Personally, I think that there is a time and a place and a subject and a student for each type of course.  The “Edible Education 101” course worked very well as a lecture-based course because it brought in, for each video, different people to either present the lecture, be interviewed, or be a part of a panel discussion; as a result, the students are able to hear a bunch of different viewpoints on the matters being discussed.  For the subject matter being taught, because it was all concept-based, this approach works very well.  It also appeals to me, personally, as a student because I found the lectures to be very engaging.  On the other hand, the three courses that I looked at on the MIT OpenCourseware site worked well for the subject matter being taught  because they were all skill-based courses and the projects were a necessary component of those courses.

All the courses that I looked at followed some good design practices for distance learning courses.  Simonson, Smaldino, Albright and Zvacek (2012) recommend that distance learning courses have “the topic be the fundamental buildiing block for instruction” (p. 180) and this was clearly the organization of all four of the courses that I looked at on the two MOOC sites.  The MIT OpenCourseware courses all had a definite pace laid out in the syllabus that seemed very manageable and easy to understand, and students could work at their own pace on any of the four courses.  On the other hand, one recommended best practice for the design of a distance learning course is that “They are based on a variety of teaching and learning strategies and methods that are activity based” (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 173).  Due to the uniform nature of all of these course, I felt that they did not use a variety of teaching and learning strategies and lacked a variety of “activity based” methods.  It occurred to me, as I viewed the courses, that maybe having a forum attached to each course to allow students to engage in dialogue about course materials, concepts, and projects would make the courses a bit more engaging and active for the students.  Research has shown that students who work with other students score better in their courses than students who are working entirely alone (Hew & Cheung, p. 51, 2014).  In addition, having a means for students to communicate with one another can “help broaden students’ own individual understanding and perspective of a particular topic” (Hew & Cheung, p. 52, 2014).  While I’m sure some organizations simply don’t want to have to deal with moderating message boards, I do feel that it is something that would really be very beneficial to the students and would create a more personal touch in the courses.  Or, maybe because MOOCs are still relatively new, there simply aren’t enough people taking the courses yet to warrant a discussion board.

In the end, there are many MOOC sites available that provide courses that comply with a variety of different distance-learning methodologies.  The beauty of this is that there is most likely a course out there for every type of learner who is interested in participating in a MOOC.

 

References:

Hew, K. F., & Cheung, W. S. (2014). Students’ and Instructors’ Use of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Motivations and Challenges. Educational Research Review.

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

Helping a Teacher

Scenario: A high school history teacher, located on the west coast of the United States, wants to showcase to her students new exhibits being held at two prominent New York City museums. The teacher wants her students to take a “tour” of the museums and be able to interact with the museum curators, as well as see the art work on display. Afterward, the teacher would like to choose two pieces of artwork from each exhibit and have the students participate in a group critique of the individual work of art. As a novice of distance learning and distance learning technologies, the teacher turned to the school district’s instructional designer for assistance. In the role of the instructional designer, what distance learning technologies would you suggest the teacher use to provide the best learning experience for her students?

There are a few different approaches that can be taken when it comes to what would provide the best learning experience in this situation.  A growing number of museums are creating their own virtual tours, some of which can be quite good.  Unfortunately, the two museums that the teacher has in mind in New York City may not offer this feature.  If she is willing to be flexible and use other museums, I would help her find some good options, and then see if there is a way to schedule a GoogleHangout or Skype conference with the curators after the students have the chance to partake in the virtual tour.  This method would probably be the easiest and smoothest option for making this work.

Another option would be too see if the curators of the exam would be interested in becoming “Tour Guides” with Connected Classrooms, which is a tool created by Google to help schools and museums connect for virtual field trips through Google Hangouts.  However, this could be very time-consuming to plan and would not work if the curators were not willing to cooperate.

The third option would be to see how good the museum’s website is regarding providing information about the exhibits that the teacher is interested in, and if the site is pretty thorough, helping the teacher to create a webquest of the website.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, for example, has extensive information on their website about past, present and future exhibitions, including close-ups of and historical information about a large variety of their pieces.  While the museum does not have it’s own virtual field trip, a webquest would be a way of helping the students to explore all of the artwork and resources that the museum has to offer online. And, just like as suggested above with the virtual field trip, I would help the teacher to see if it would be possible to schedule a Hangout or Skype call with the museum curators.

Finally, when it comes to having the students participate in a group critique, there are a couple of methods that I would suggest.  I would be interested in finding out if the teacher wants the group critique to take place entirely online or in person and if the students will have guidance in the critique, such as questions that they will be asked to respond to.  One method, if done entirely online, would be a discussion via a chatroom, such as Today’s Meet.  The benefit to this type of a discussion, even if everyone is sitting in the same room, is that it tends to work very well for those students who don’t do well in face-to-face discussions.  It gives students more time to think about the questions being posed to them, other people’s responses, and how they themselves want to respond and can result in a deeper discussion (Blankson & Kyei-Blankson, 2008; Simonson et al., 2012).  Another option for having a group critique would be to select some students to participate in a face-to-face discussion, while other students in the classroom pose comments and questions via a backchannel chat that is projected onto a screen in the front of the room.  This method works well as a way of extending the face-to-face discussion, and providing an opportunity for those students who are slower auditory processors to keep up with the discussion while the quieter students who would get overrun in the face-to-face discussion still have an outlet for their comments (Holland, 2014).

Another option for the critique that I would suggest would be to use a web tool called Stormboard, which is a brainstorming and collaboration tool that uses virtual sticky notes to gather ideas.  When discussing a piece of artwork, students can post their observations on sticky notes on Stormboard, comment on each other’s observations, vote on the observations they like the most, and organize their observations into different categories.  The organizational aspect of Stormboard is one of the things that makes it so appealing.  Unlike a chat room or discussion board, the use of Stormboard to gather ideas is much more of a visual process, which takes a discussion to a whole new level (Ghidiu, 2014).

I think that it is best, when making suggestions to a teacher who has asked for help, to offer a few different choices.  The teacher will have a much better understanding of the students and their needs than I would, and providing him or her with several options would allow the teacher to make the best choice to fit the needs of the students.

References:

Blankson, J., & Kyei-Blankson, L. (2008). Nontraditional Students’ Perception of a Blended Course: Integrating Synchronous Online Discussion and Face-to-Face Instruction. Journal Of Interactive Learning Research, 19(3), 421-438.

Ghidiu, D. (2014, March 12). There’s a Stormboard a-brewin’. Fringe Educational Technology. Retrieved from http://www.fringeedtech.com/2014/03/theres-stormboard-brewin.html

Holland, B. (2014, June 10). The Backchannel: Giving Every Student a Voice in the Blended Mobile Classroom. Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/backchannel-student-voice-blended-classroom-beth-holland

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