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

 

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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.

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.

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.