Planes, trains, and barges

Week 9

It all sounded like a good idea back in February. I booked a short break, secure in the knowledge that the deadline for my development proposal was 20 March. I couldn’t have foreseen that we would receive an extension. Thus, this time last week, I was desperately trying to stick to my original submission deadline and ‘reward’ myself with a trip to Amsterdam.

Thankfully, it all worked out in the end. The proposal has been submitted and I can move on to my other assignments.

ePortfolio

Now that I have submitted my Summer development proposal, I can concentrate more on my ePortfolio assignment for EL6052. Having researched several tools for creating an ePortfolio, I have decided to work with Weebly. Having looked at several YouTube clips, Weebly looks quite manageable. While the look of my ePortfolio is important, I am more concerned about writing the personal reflections that will accompany each digital artefact. I am only sorry that I didn’t take the opportunity to write a reflective blog last year, or at least document the process of creating each artefact, from inception to completion. Once some time passes, remembering the minutiae of each assignment becomes more difficult. I have found myself still dithering over what artefacts to include. Even though I am still focused on creating an Instructional Design ePortfolio, I am reluctant to omit an example of a Technical Communications assignment. I will make a decision this week and live with the consequences!

MadCap Flare or Podcast?

Our final assignment for EL6082 was posted last week. We may choose to create a 10 minute podcast on a topic of interest or create a digital artefact, using MadCap Flare or an alternative software tool. Because my Summer development project will necessitate creating many audio files, I’ve decided to create a podcast. This assignment will give me the opportunity to practice recording and editing with Audacity. I haven’t used Audacity since this time last year, and need to re-familiarise myself with this software. However, the greater challenge will be in listening to myself speaking. My singing students regularly record our lessons, so I am familiar with how my speaking voice sounds.

What I am not comfortable with is how dissimilar the recorded sound is to how I perceive my voice sounds in reality. Of course, everyone says this, so I hope that repeated listening to my voice recordings will reduce my sensitivities on that score.

What is a podcast?

A podcast, (a conflation of ‘iPod’ and ‘broadcast’) is an audio or video file which can be downloaded onto a desktop computer or mobile device and played back at a time of the listener’s choosing. Listeners can access podcasts via a podcatcher such as iTunes.  The beauty of the podcast is that the user can subscribe to a feed so that their favourite podcasts are automatically downloaded to a mobile device, or other specified location, as they appear. Podcasting may be perceived as a low threshold application, i.e. they are deemed a more accessible technology than other digital media and are a relatively simple tool for users.

Users have a degree of comfort in using podcasts, as they are akin to listening to the radio. However, podcasts come with an added bonus: they may be listened to multiple times, and at a time of the user’s convenience. Over the course of this MA, I have found this feature of podcasts invaluable. It has enabled me to listen to lectures while driving or walking. It has allowed me to get a ‘sense’ of the topic on an initial hearing, and then to listen a second time while viewing the PowerPoint slides to gain a more detailed picture of the topic being discussed. I have accessed great content via this medium, mainly for entertainment, but also for informal learning. Podcasts are a great way to engage in micro-learning. They have also made me aware that I need to create short audio clips for my Summer development project. My target audience will be accessing this e-learning resource while on the move and therefore key information needs to be conveyed quickly.

Images: www.pixabay.com

Auf wiedersehen, adieu

Week 8

This week has been busy. I decided that I had received the requisite number of respondents and began to correlate the data. As my topic (musical theatre exam preparation) is quite niche, I didn’t expect to receive a great number of responses. However, notwithstanding the small number of people I sent it to, I have had a response rate of 60%, which is well above the average rate of response of 10 -15%.

When deciding whether to opt for the development or the dissertation option for my Summer project I must admit that I was a little intimidated by the sheer volume of tasks that needed to be completed for the development route. It does feel as though there are several more steps that need to be completed for development than for dissertation. However, I can appreciate that putting in this work now, will (hopefully) pay off once I begin to develop my e-learning resource. This process has made me realise the range of skills an instructional designer must bring to a job. The key is to be organised and be able to multitask. In addition to drawing up a proposed work schedule, I drew up a proposal schedule.

Here’s a flavour of what I included on my list, in no particular order:

  • Learner analysis
  • Survey questions
  • Collate survey data
  • Interviews with SMEs
  • Task analysis
  • Objective analysis
  • Design screens
  • Interface design
  • References

The key is to be organised. When interviewing one SME, she informed me that their surveys found that teachers were big devotees of checklists. This comes as no surprise to me, as I got great satisfaction from placing a ‘completed’ tick beside each task. I’ve always had a penchant for lists, but this has gone into overdrive with this project. My takeaway from the process of compiling the data for this proposal is that you need to be focused and have a keen eye for detail. I hope I have managed to achieve that in my proposal report.

Au revoir mes amis

Tomorrow is submission day for our collaboration project. Our French colleagues have sent us their final version and we will be submitting our English version tomorrow. We needed to make an adjustment to our document, as the French students found one set of instructions ambiguous. They contacted us early this week and we managed to amend the document to everyone’s satisfaction. In retrospect, I would have preferred more communication with other members of our virtual team. Certain team members were uncommunicative, in spite of several overtures from the UL students. It seems that ours was not an isolated case, although other groups seemed to have well-functioning teams. As an exercise, I found it useful to experience the challenges that virtual teams come across. I am now forearmed about possible future difficulties and have learned a few strategies for avoiding similar problems in the future.

Images: www.pixabay.com

 

Champing at the bit (metaphorically)

There is a plethora of subjects I could blog about this week, but which one to begin with?

Ethics approval

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I finally got my Ethics approval. It was an anxious wait, as I wasn’t sure I would get approval, and this was coupled with a delay in receiving an answer from the ethics committee. All’s well that ends well though, and it feels good to be proactive again.

I have sent my survey to everyone I know who has an involvement with musical theatre (my proposed subject of study for the Summer development project), and they have promised me they will pass it on to their contacts. The replies are slowly trickling in and I hope to have the required quota by the weekend. An initial reading of the survey results suggests that I may need to refocus my online resource towards musical theatre teachers instead of students.

SMEs

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In a stroke of luck, I managed to interview two SMEs in one day this week. I had confirmed a meeting with a senior examiner for one of the Irish music exam boards, and at the last minute received word that a second teacher was examining in the building that same day, and was happy for me to interview her that day also. So I’m busy typing up my transcripts and making sense of the data. Although I was quite confident that the results would vindicate my theory that a need exists for a resource on musical theatre, it feels good to be vindicated through the feedback from both the SMEs answers and the survey results.

Getting ethics approval and being able to actively achieve something this week has really energised me. Amassing all the different data needed for my proposal, (thankfully given an extended deadline), is quite a scrappy business. Now, in one stroke, I have all the data I need and must get down to the serious business of writing up the proposal. Looking back over my report for module EL6041, I can see that although the report was detailed and accurate, my writing style wasn’t quite good enough. In fact, I don’t think I fully grasped what academic writing was until the end of year one. If I intend to use my report for EL6041 as one of my artefacts for my ePortfolio, I will definitely need to do some serious redrafting.

ePortfolio

What artefacts should I use? At the moment I consider my instructional design assignments to be my strong suit. My preference would be to include:

  • My draft report for module EL6041- Instructional Design
  • My learning object for module EL6072 – Interactive Courseware Workshop
  • My proposal and storyboards for module EL6072 – Interactive Courseware Workshop
  • My research report for TW5221 – Technical Communication 2 – Theory

That I really enjoy the whole creative process involved with instructional design has been a revelation to me, especially as my initial decision to study for this MA revolved around its technical communication modules. However, right now it is difficult to choose between instructional design and research. I absolutely loved last semester’s mini dissertation. Of course, that’s not what I said at the time, when I couldn’t stop researching articles and kept second guessing myself as to what the focus of my report should be. The whole digging up information aspect to research really appealed to me.

Harry Potter and reflection?

Yes, I did write that! A work colleague recommended I search for writings by Dr. Jenny Moon, associate professor at Bournemouth University. Moon describes reflection in learning as cognitive housekeeping, which I think is a marvellous way to think about how we process our learning. But where does Harry Potter feature in all this? In her guidance notes for students, 2001, Moon quotes from J.K. Rowling’s scene where Harry Potter is standing over the pensieve with Dumbledore in ‘The Goblet of Fire’, as an excellent example of reflective thinking.

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“At these times” said Dumbledore, indicating the stone basin, “I use the Pensieve. One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them into a basin, and examines them at one’s leisure. It becomes easier to spot patterns and links, you understand, when they are in this form” (Rowling 2000).

Moon is absolutely right. Sometimes, when encountering something for the first time, it can be difficult to decipher. However, if you let it ‘marinate’ for a while, you can begin to analyse and then synthesise your ideas.

It’s oh so quiet…

Week 7

Sleeping angel
Pixabay CCO

Not having heard a peep from across the channel or the Atlantic, I messaged our team mates early this week to investigate how the work is progressing. Didier has replied with some queries regarding the placement of instructions. I hope that these are small issues and can be easily resolved.

It’s safe to say that since we relinquished the document to the French students, I have given it very little thought. We had done our best to produce an elegant document, and I think that largely we succeeded. I’ve also rationalised that this is a low-stakes project which shouldn’t be taking up my time; time that is better devoted to working on my Summer development project proposal, and on my ePortfolio. Although I have mellowed my stance on the reflective blog, this is a time for action. I’ll add a soupçon of reflection in another post about needs analysis.

A Smorgasbord of Digital Literacies

smorgasbordWhat is the collective noun for a group of digital literacies?

Our e-tivity assignment for EL6052, due this week, consisted of evaluating our digital skills and competencies (contentious wording, this). The JISC website has helpful resources for assessing digital literacies, including a link to the University of Exeter’s iTest. This short quiz gives a personalised profile with your level of competency in each digital skill genre. I was pleasantly surprised and pleased with my results. I guess this is down to the constant practice with various media via this MA over the past 18 months.

I also found the All Aboard project website very useful for identifying different categories of digital literacies, and I especially liked their interactive digital skills metro map. Choosing which skill I would like to improve on was a challenge, as there are so many skills I’d like to get better at, or learn, but I made a pragmatic decision to choose those skills which might help me secure employment in the near term.

Editing multimedia.  While developing my learning resource last year, I had to create video and audio content. With more skill, I could have been quicker to produce these multimedia and produced more professional quality media.

Improving my social media skills. As a social media newbie, I still have a lot to learn about which media is best for each forum. This term has seen me join Twitter, create a blog, communicate with a virtual team on Facebook, collaborate using Google Drive, as well as design an instructional document in Google Slides. There are so many communication tools to choose from. From a starting point of asking what the point of social media is, I am fully converted to the idea that social and digital media can be exploited to engage learners and to encourage critical thinking, as well as promote myself and my skillset, and make connections.

I’m afraid I’ve also become addicted to constantly checking my news feeds. As a news junkie, this was already a problem for me even before joining Twitter and Facebook. Now, I have so much extra to look at, I have fallen prey to the siren song of social media. rat-in-labI am the embodiment of Skinner’s operant conditioning! The more I am deprived of a ‘stimulus’ i.e. the less frequently I see something interesting in my news stream, the more motivated I become to keep checking until I find another significant piece of information. I look back fondly now at the good old days when I had to read the financial sections of the English and US papers, Reuters and Bloomberg before markets opened so I had something to tell clients when they rang. Those were simpler times!

Collating and curating information. Since I began studying for this MA, I have been bookmarking and creating folders for relevant content. The amount of data at my disposal can be overwhelming and I need to put a better system in place. I have spent this week reading around the topic of digital media and have discovered several great blogs. These include Helen Beetham‘s, excellent blog post entitled ‘Digital Wellbeing’ (2016). Here she describes how we should manage our digital stress, workload and distraction, as well as look after our personal health, safety, relationships and work-life balance in digital settings. I do think it is important to remember that just because we are always connected, doesn’t mean we must be connected. Sometimes I need to force myself to switch off, as the information overload is suffocating.

 My background reading also led me to Harold Jarche’s Learning Network Model where he explains how work and learning need to be connected. He extends Weigel’s argument that communities need to integrate learning and working in the digital/network era.

He explains the basic tenets of social learning on this YouTube video.

Far from dismissing social learning, he contends that it is how we learn naturally. The more we connect with our peers or lecturers or supervisors, the more we can understand what is going on in our work. This really resonated with me. There exists now a genuine willingness to help others through sharing resources and offering suggestions on social media and discussion forums. Having experienced situations in the past where people were reluctant to offer information for fear of giving others a professional advantage, I find it refreshing that there is such camaraderie at present. Social media has definitely been a positive for fostering this collegiality.

 

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.

“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.