Hello from the other side

Week 5

eiffeltowerI won’t be breaking out the champagne just yet, but we delivered our document to our French colleagues on time last Monday, 20 February. Part one of the assignment, tick. The French team acknowledged receipt of the document and all has been quiet since then. This week’s EL6052 lecture on virtual teams was timely. Having now experienced working in a virtual team, it was informative and reassuring to have my opinions about the challenges of working in these types of teams confirmed.

What were those challenges?

Communication

Our team has never really became a well-functioning unit. Although The UL group were quick to initiate a conversation and to suggest methods of communication, there was never a full complement of people collaborating. Getting everyone to engage was a struggle and as our lecturer, Dr Darina Slattery, pointed out, text communication can be ambiguous. There can be delays in response times which might be attributed to certain team members being uninterested, but it may also be caused by time zone issues. In an online technology medium, it is difficult to make the distinction. This delay, coupled with lacklustre or abrupt feedback, can cause annoyance. This was my experience during parts of this collaboration. Constantly checking various media, in case others had responded to queries was also time-consuming.

Technology

Not having used Facebook as a collaborative tool before, I was a little suspicious about its effectiveness. However, it served our purpose well enough. In hindsight, I think I should have pushed more to get the group to use Sulis. There were a couple of issues with different versions of our Word document being uploaded and amended. On one occasion, an old version of our document was updated in error. Again, this came down to the poor communication within the group. This brings me to:-

Management

Because I didn’t particularly want to assume a managerial role, I waited to let the group get to know each other and let a leader emerge. This went completely out the window by week two, when myself and Nicola had to take control. I found that taking action was more empowering than passively waiting for the whole group to come together and make decisions. Once we had chosen the topic, Nicola assigned roles and I was quite comfortable with being given certain tasks. Each team needs a project manager:-

  • Who can take the initiative.
  • Who can bring the team together.
  • Who can communicate effectively.
  • Who can command the respect of the group.

worldphone

Also, in this week’s EL6052 lecture, Dr Slattery referred to socio-emotional communication, or the ability to develop a relationship, within a virtual team. We still have not really established a good working relationship within our team. Our communication on Facebook is perfunctory. We simply pass on information about the stage our project is at currently. Perhaps if the group had been in more frequent contact, especially at the beginning of this project, we may have established better social interactions. However, because contact was minimal, and non-existent in some cases, I think there was a feeling that the main message (getting the document finished) was the most important one to drive home. This is consistent with the findings of Flammia et al., whose 2010 study of virtual teams found that in teams where there was a lack of socio-emotional communication team members:

  • Felt less satisfied with the overall project.
  • Were disappointed that there hadn’t been more interaction.

This study also found that where teams had good socio-emotional communication, team members shared a sense of trust and belonging. However, they also noted that it was important that socio-emotional communication develop at the beginning of any project, or else it was unlikely to develop at all.

There are still a few weeks of collaboration left and perhaps, armed with this information, I can try to forge better communication for the remainder of the project.

References:

Flammia, Madelyn, Cleary, Yvonne & Slattery, Darina M, 2010. Leadership roles, socioemotional communication strategies, and technology use of Irish and US students in virtual teams.

Advertisements

“I won’t send roses…”

Week 4

roseandpersonValentine’s Day has been and gone and it is almost time to deliver our instructional document to our French student team members. Without Nicola’s resolve, I don’t think our team would have made as much progress as has been achieved this week. In the absence of contact from most other team members, myself and Nicola took the decision to keep working through the document, as we were concerned about delivering the first part of this assignment on time. Meanwhile, we have been posting document status updates on Facebook each day.

We now have a rough document, and are in the process of editing it. In spite of Nicola’s delegation of tasks among the whole group over two weeks ago, some students who began to contribute this week, seemed surprised that tasks assigned to them had already been completed. Were we right to keep the momentum going and in not waiting for the others? We made every effort to engage the whole team and keep them up to date. Personally, I couldn’t have waited. I loathe not being on time for anything (blame it on a sojourn in Zurich back in the mists of time).

Our document has moved from Google docs into Microsoft Word for ease of editing. Nicola notified all team members that this was happening. However, the document has been updated anonymously on a couple of occasions without any accompanying commentary. It has been interesting trying to decipher what is implied by the changes. I wonder if some team members are unfamiliar with Word?

It has been a while since I used ‘track changes’ on Word but it was very useful this week. Although this project has not been without its challenges, it has definitely been a boon for learning to use collaboration tools effectively (Google Slides, Google Docs), and for refreshing some skills (Word) which had become a little rusty. Use it or lose it!

What nuggets of wisdom have I gleaned from our collaboration project this week?

  • It’s vital to keep up communication when working in a virtual environment.
  • It’s incredibly frustrating when there is a lack of response from other team members.
  • Not every team member is going to pull their weight. Alas, I haven’t learned how to motivate reluctant team members to participate. Perhaps by the end of this semester I will have the answer to that.
  • It is necessary to remember that some team members may have other competing issues they need to deal with, such as family or work commitments.
  • And finally, it’s always good to keep things in perspective.

A stranger in a strange land

help-shipwreck

Can a blog every truly be your own voice?

Isn’t it just projecting an image of yourself that you would like others to see?

If I wrote a diary on paper, then my thoughts would be mine alone. If a blog is a digital diary, then shouldn’t I also be free to say what I like? However, that is not how I perceive blogging. I dither over what to commit to the blogosphere, leaving a digital footprint that may not reflect who I am, but which will outlive me nevertheless. Knowing that other classmates (and possibly lost WordPress searchers) will read my blog, I find myself self-censuring. My blog contains a voice, but it is a voice specifically for my readers.

This MA obliges us to communicate via social media and collaboration tools. Being a digital immigrant, I have not always found it comfortable engaging with these media because of privacy issues. The idea behind keeping a reflective blog is sound. I am marketing myself for the future. The blog is a way of keeping a record of what I am doing for this module and can be used later as an aide memoire.

However, a blog is yet another way of announcing that you have an online presence and it makes you easier to be found. I’m not a conspiracy theorist but some of the time I honestly do not understand why the contemporary need to be seen and heard is so endemic (eye rolls from digital natives). Why is there this clamour for external validation?

Tick-Tock

Week 3

Silver Round Coins

We have exactly 10 days now to complete the writing section of this assignment and this has been a frustrating week. It seems strange to write this in a post about virtual team collaboration, but I think face-to-face communication is much better than virtual communication. Even though I am an online student and Nicola is (almost) full-time on campus, we are both studying the same MA and have already communicated with one another on discussion boards for other modules. Therefore, we have a common goal. Frustrating as this week has been, knowing that Nicola was experiencing the same difficulties was quite reassuring. We are in constant communication. Feelings of isolation during collaborations must be a problem for virtual teams. Having a colleague in the same location must provide reassurance when working on a project such as this.

Unfortunately, we have had minimal contact with some students. Nicola and myself have emailed, Facebook messaged and posted on Sulis on a daily basis, without success. The exceptions are our French colleagues, who have participated in Facebook messaging, and contributed suggestions for topics and how we might compile the document.

With no further communication from the US students, Nicola and I have decided to choose a topic. We are drawing up an instruction document which explains the basics of using Google Slides. Having never used Google Slides before, I was a little apprehensive, but I needn’t have worried. It is very easy to use and is also a great collaboration tool, as long as there is internet access. Another collaborative tool mastered and it’s only week three!

We continue to send updates about all our decisions to all team members. As it is just the two of us trying to progress the project during the writing phase, we have become the defacto team leaders. This is not causing any difficulties, as both of us are quite focussed and motivated to submit a good document and get it completed on time.

Revision time

Last weekend I decided to revisit Lee & Owens, Gagne and Dick & Carey to refresh my memory on Performance, Target and Lesson Objectives. The worry of trying to choose the right capability verb for e-tivity 6.2 came flooding back. Lee & Owens book was my saviour in December 2015, as their explanations seemed simple, in contrast to Gagne and Dick & Carey who I found challenging to decipher. However, reading Gagne over the past few days, I’ve had a change of heart. Perhaps it’s the immersion in Instructional Design over the past 18 months, but I’m finding The Principles of Instructional Design much more approachable now.

Having done some task analysis and front analysis work, I’m feeling more confident about what my course should contain. Looking back over my learning object from last year, I am struck by how much work it involved, but also by how much I enjoyed working with HTML5 and CSS. I had a real sense of achievement at having accomplished something.

I’ve been exploring different development tools for my Summer project but I haven’t yet made a decision on what to use. Familiarity with Articulate is mentioned frequently in job advertisements so I am inclined to choose this tool as it may help my employment prospects.

And, Action!…

Week 1/2

Free stock photo of business

A recent job advertisement for an Instructional designer listed the following required qualification:

“Able to manage multiple projects simultaneously and work under ambitious
time frames in a fast paced, high-pressure environment”.

Judging by our assignments for this final taught semester, we will certainly be prepared for working in such environments. There are several modules underway, each with its own challenging assignments, and each one requiring a different skill-set.

This week saw the start of our virtual team collaboration. We have been charged with creating an instruction document in both English and French and will be working with students from the University of Central Florida and Université Paris Diderot.

While doing some research into virtual teams, I came across an interesting article this week in the UIE Brain Sparks blog. Misconceptions about Collaboration, written by Dan Brown, discusses people’s misunderstandings around collaboration. My takeaway from his article was that collaboration is about establishing a framework for making decisions and ensuring that each team member is doing the work for which they are best suited. This advice is particularly true when working in a virtual team. Having made initial contact with my counterparts in France and the US to introduce myself and to suggest possible topics, it is a case of playing a waiting game.

I am concerned about how a group of 8 individuals is going to collaborate across different time zones, languages, learning styles, organisational styles, personalities and communication styles. The uncertainty inherent in this project goes against my natural need for order. I take a systematic approach to assignments and this project is not under my control. Rationally, I know that the project is worth 20% of the final grade and shouldn’t demand a great deal of my time, but by the same token, I would rather commit to it fully and do it well. It’s an odd situation where you find yourself rationalising a less than satisfactory situation by telling yourself that the result doesn’t really matter anyway.

Apparently communication barriers, feelings of isolation, and a lack of rapport are all common in virtual teams. I hope that our team can avoid these problems, but as we have not yet received responses from some team members, I guess we will have to just wait and see how this project evolves. In order to progress the project, myself , Nicola (the other UL team member) and our French team members have been exploring various topics. However, there is a reluctance to commit to a particular topic until there is consensus among the entire group – something that can’t be achieved yet as we have not heard from everyone in the group. We are also communicating via Facebook, WhatsApp and email. By next week I hope we will have decided on one form of communication, as checking different social media may slow and muddle everything. Hopefully these initial teething problems will be resolved soon.

Another consideration for this assignment is that this is an artificial scenario. Yes, we do have deliverables and deadlines, but in a real-world scenario it is unlikely that team members would not make contact immediately. Our team is most likely composed of collaboration novices. Therefore this project is ideal for highlighting situations which may occur in ‘real life’. Better to confront the challenges of working like this on a low stakes project than in paid employment where your job is on the line.