Project Management- Skills for Many Disciplines

Like teachers, instructional designers do more than design instruction.  Just as it is helpful for teachers to have knowledge about other fields including technology, psychology, communications, statistics, etc, it is important for teachers and instructional designers to have knowledge of project management.  While this is not likely the main focus of the job, instructional designers likely spend a portion of their time on tasks that would fall into project management (Rooij, 2010).  Even if an instructional designer is not expected to perform project management duties, knowledge of the project management process is helpful for communication with team members. This knowledge can help enhance conversations with teams and stakeholders, allows instructional designers to see were instruction fits into the larger organization or institution, and allow an ID professional to shift perspectives between that of a project manager and instructional designer (Turner, et. al., 2010, p.5).

Project managers and instructional designers must both complete task analysis.  While this is a more focused process for instructional designers who are looking at the needs of the learners, in both cases, gaps must be determined in order to determine focus and scope.  These, in turn, make the process of task differentiation and sequencing easier.   Once gaps between actual and expected knowledge and skills have been established, primary tasks to fills these gaps can be defined.  Task differentiation and sequencing makes training repeatable and can increase buy-in from learners.  If training is disorganized, learners may become frustrated and are less likely to change their attitudes, beliefs or behaviors. Offering a clear step-by-step plan is more likely to result in lasting change (Freifield, n.d.).

When using project-based learning in the classroom, a stronger understanding of project management will allow me to better define primary tasks and help my students to stay focused by including specific deadlines.  Task differentiation and sequencing would help to manage the chaos that is inherent in project-based learning.

I think that more specific task differentiation and sequencing would have been helpful when I lead a professional development session last winter on learning objects.  Although I had a firm grasp of the content I was presenting, I found that I had not thought enough about the sequencing of learning ahead of time and therefore needed to jump around a bit more than I would have liked.  Had I thought about each primary task as independent, I may have been able to present in a more organized fashion and may have had a more satisfying outcome.

Too narrow a focus in any field is not beneficial.  Just as doctor training in the past did not include how to relate to patients and how to communicate the cost of treatment to patients, so too must instructional designers broaden their scope of knowledge.  This openness to different perspectives is what has long made a liberal arts education so valuable.  Learning should be life-long and broad in order to make each professional the best they can be.

 

References:

Freifield, L. (n.d.).  Fostering behavior change: What are the best practices for creating and delivering training that results in lasting skill and knowledge uptake and permanent behavior change?  Retrieved September 11, 2015, from http://www.trainingmag.com/content/fostering-behavior-change

Turner, B. and Croy, M. (2010). Waltzing with Da Vinci: The role of design thinking in project leadership. Project Management Institute.  Retrieved from http://www.pmi.org

van Rooij, S.W. (2010).  Project management in instructional design: ADDIE is not enough.  British Journal of Educational Technology,41(5), 852-856.  doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2009.00982.x

 

Project Management- a whole new world

This week, I was introduced to project management.  My educational background is heavy with math and science with no coursework in business whatsoever.   That being said, I can say that before this week I did not know what “project mangers” (including my own brother) did for a living.  I am hopeful that by the end of this course, I will no longer have a vacant look in my eye when someone tells me his or her title is “project manager”.

I began my journey this week by learning the definition of a project.  A project is temporary; it has a beginning and an ending. (Cox, 2009, p. 6).   Projects also create a unique product or service (Cos, 2009, p.3).  In this way, I think that some things called projects in school are not truly projects.  If the product created is not unique in some way then it should not be called a project.  Cox says that a project can have a unique learning content, unique delivery of content or unique circumstances (2009, p.3).

According to Cox, the third and final component of a project is incrementally developed details and information (2009, p.3).  If you already know everything about designing and developing the project then you are clearly not creating a unique product or service and, therefore, do not have a project.   I also learned that the basic steps of instructional design (ADDIE: analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation) align nicely with those of project management (1.initiating, 2.planning, 3.executing, monitoring and controlling, and 4.closing) where the “DI” in ADDIE fall under executing, monitoring and controlling (Cox, 2009, p. 11).  The steps of project management differ depending on the source.  For example, Duncan Haughey describes project management in six phases: 1. Project definition, 2. initiation, 3. planning, 4. execution, 5. monitoring & control and 6. closure (Haughey, “Introduction to Project Management”).

In reflecting on my experience with project management (as an outsider), I think that the design/planning phase is extremely important, particularly the risk-management piece of planning.  I think that when problems that should be anticipated are not adequately addressed in the design/planning phase, mediation required later can have a negative effect on the success of a project or at least the amount of time required to achieve the predetermined measure of success.

What is Project Management?

Project Management Skills Map for Educators

Citations:

Cox, Dorcas. Project Management Skills for Instructional Designers: A Practical Guide. Bloomington: iUniverse, 2009.

Haughey, D. (n.d.). Introduction to Project Management.  Retrieved August 29, 2015, from https://www.projectsmart.co.uk/introduction-to-project-management.php

Keeping the Learning at the Center: The Role of eLearning in Secondary Education

At the center of all learning is the student.  Although eLearning is a relatively new field, it is still learning.  Therefore, aspects that have always been important in education continue to be so.  Learning, no matter where or how it occurs, must consider the mind of the learner.  Educational materials should consider cognitive load, the construction of knowledge by the learner through connecting their experiences present and past, and the role of reflection in this construction.  In order to optimize learning, educators have long used objectives to focus learners’ attention.  This continues to be the case with eLearning.  What is different about eLearning is that this learning, inside and outside the classroom, is no longer isolated to the printed word.

Things to consider when designing eLearning.

ELearning can incorporate various media to enhance, and even replace, the written word.  When designing eLearning many questions, some of which are unique to learning through technology,  need to be addressed.  Among these questions is how and where technology can be accessed and whether the use of technology is feasible and, if so, to what degree?  Instructional designers must also consider how technology can motivate students and limit or remove barriers to understanding content.   Designers must ask whether or not technology by itself is enough to allow students to reach their goals or do they need or require additional face-to-face instruction and/or collaboration?   The answer to each of these questions will help to shape the design of instruction.

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eLearning Types and Accessibility

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Any application that can be accessed via the Internet for the purpose of learning may be considered eLearning (Presenting content digitally, n.d.).  These applications, which may or may not have been designed with an educational purpose, take many forms.  Videos, modules, even games, might be considered eLearning applications if they are used to support a learning objective.

ELearning can be categorized from different perspectives such as its dependence on the Internet, time synchronicity and format. ELearning can have varying dependence on the Internet.  Online-only eLearning relies entirely on communications via the Internet.  Blended learning, on the other hand, has an online component but also relies on face-to-face interactions between instructor and students and among peers.  ELearning is categorized by the timing of communications, either synchronous or asynchronous.  Synchronous eLearning occurs when content is delivered or shared at the time of learning, i.e. webinars. Asynchronous learning can occurs at different times, without the instructor being present at the time of learning, i.e. modules and videos.  Finally, eLearning is categorized according to format, either formal or informal.  An online university course is an example of formal eLearning.  Watching a YouTube car repair video is an example of informal eLearning.

The US National Research Council, organized by the National Academy of Science, recommends a classroom design that is learner centered and community centered (Huffaker, 2003).  ELearning makes classrooms more learner centered by improving teachers’ ability to monitor student progress and students’ ability to self monitor.  ELearning also helps, “…foster collaborative learning efforts that teach students the value of working together toward similar intellectual or project goals (which) occurs when students ask each other questions, help each other solve problems, and build on each other’s knowledge” (Hufaker, 2003).  Various eLearning tools such as Wikis, blogs, and discussion boards help teachers make collaboration and information sharing a more central part of students’ education.  The active engagement provided by eLearning applications, allows students to improve their metacognition, by allowing them to monitor their progress and self-assess.  Web applications are then used to ask students to reflect on their understanding in a way that is visible to their teacher and others (Hufaker, 2003).  Although studies focusing on K-12 education are few (Lips, D., 2010 and Means, et.al., 2009), research done primarily with adult learners suggests that blended learning, especially when self assessment and reflection are incorporated, more successful than solely face-to-face instruction (Means, et. al., 2009).

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Learning the Game of Teaching

One concept that seems to be essential to the game of teaching is that the teacher is a learner.  Something that Perkins writes seems to sum up how I feel about my own professional learning. Perkins writes that a good learner, “…persist(s) to relish incremental progress rather than expecting everything to fall into place all at once” (Perkins, 2009, p. 194).  In my fourteenth year of teaching I’m still striving to figure it all out, at the same time knowing that it will never happen.  At the same time, I relish each little success.  Recently, inspired by reading Perkins’ book Making Learning Whole, I began an attempt to have students take center stage in learning about the atom.  While walking around encouraging and coaching various groups, one student had a revelation about the relationship between the number of protons and electrons.   She emphatically said, “Knowledge!”. I think I felt just as excited as she. It is important for me to remember as a teacher that students are definitely dynamic. They are more than the sum of their parts, more than sponges to soak up knowledge, more than empty jars to be filled.  It is their physical and biological makeup along with their interactions with their environment that will determine what and how they learn.  Teachers cannot control a student’s many mesosystems but can strive to set the stage for an effective social situation.  Perkins writes that for learning by wholes to work, teachers can make their classroom a, “…natural  (environment) for encouraging students to take charge of themselves as learners (2009, p. 208).  In order to do this, students cannot be “passengers”.  Part of being in the driver’s seat for a learner is knowing how to seek out help.  As a teacher, I need to encourage students to use one another as sources of learning.  As I was putting students into groups for their atom project, some students were commenting, “we want Lucas, we want Lucas” and although I could not put Lucas on every team, why shouldn’t he be used as the classroom expert?  If student’s want to learn from him, why shouldn’t they?  When I need computer help, I ask my husband, when I need parenting help, I ask my mom and my friends in addition to reading or doing research.  This is not to say that I expect my husband to take care of all things technical in order for me to do my schoolwork or job and I don’t expect my mother or friends to raise my children nor should my students expect Lucas to do their project or individual assessments but is there any harm or shame in them learning from him in order to complete their own project or test?  In the same vane, I think that Perkins’ assertion that students need to become “proactive learners” is especially relevant to me.  In an age where teachers are urged to connect every lesson to the “real-world”, Perkins seems to take a much more realistic approach to the idea.  He writes that, “…proactive learners work to make the game worth playing for themselves, not depending so much on hit-or-miss inspiration from others nor on coercion with rewards and punishments” (2009, p. 203).  I think that students will fail to make these connections if they are not put in charge of this.  If they are spoon fed the supposed “reason” for learning everything.  First of all, as Perkins points out, since every student is different, it is impossible to define why each and every student should learn anything.  We have no crystal ball to see what or when a student will use the knowledge from any experience nor should that be the goal of learning. Students should, however, be encouraged to make these connections for themselves.  Perkins writes that students should be asked, “…to explore and articulate individual connections, ways they might put (a particular study) to work or to play” (2009, p. 210).   Putting someone in the drivers seat is the only way to know what they can do.  This holds true not only in classroom learning but in life in general.  Parents would never consider feeding, bathing and washing their children past infancy and toddler-age.   Why then do we as a society expect children to be taught how to play the game of learning without missing or messing up before finally figuring it all out?   A newly wed person may drive themselves crazy thinking that they alone must be in charge of managing all the household responsibilities.  One has to give up control in order to realize that others are or can become capable.  With an emphasis on students earning particular grades rather than improving or being able to show what they have learned, teachers are cajoled into teaching in order to project an image of learning.  Teachers need to be coached on being a coach and given the freedom to allow learning to happen without being judged for the messiness of learning by wholes. Teaching students to be able to solve real-world problems is, “… first and foremost a shift in the way we expect our teachers to teach and our students to learn” (Holt, 2013). I am hoping to transform my own teaching by giving up a large amount of control and using punctuated instruction (Perkins, 2009).  I am prepared to mess up along the way! The Ultimate Education Reform: Messy Learning and Problem Solving by Tim Holt, April 19, 2013 I think that one of the most important things to remember is that learning attitudes are not “indelible characteristics”, that teachers can foster change and improvement in attitudes toward learning (Perkins, 2009, p.198).  I feel that in order for teachers to embrace learning by wholes, they need to be allowed to be in the drivers seat themselves.  Standardized testing has taken away much of the autonomy of teachers due to a lack of trust.  For teachers to be able to encourage broad questioners in their classroom, they can not be limited as to what can be investigated.  Teachers are given many mixed messages, “use formative assessment” but “make sure there are an ample number of grades in the grade book”, “use collaborative learning” but “give individual grades for individual work”, “allow students to investigate” but “cover all the material by the end of the semester”.  Only the bravest of teachers in the bravest of school systems will be able to become the teacher they want to be.  I hope that I am one of the brave ones.  By reading and reflecting, I am figuring out what the hard parts are for me and intend to inch my forward toward becoming the teacher of my dreams. Holt, T.  (2013). The ultimate education reform: Messy learning and problem solving.  Retrieved from http://plpnetwork.com/2013/04/19/ultimate-education-reform-messy-learning-problem-solving/ Perkins, D. (2009).  Learning by Wholes: How seven principles of teaching can transform education.  San Francisco, CA. Jossey-Bass.

Emotion and Attention as the Filters of the Memory and Transfer of Experience

In preparing to write this, I reflected on my understanding of the topics of emotion, attention, memory and transfer by creating my own concept map.  This is something I do often in my own learning process.  It is usually a bit more straight forward since I typically study biological classification or systems which are usually less up for interpretation (that is not to say that complex biological systems are not readily available for study!).  For example, the classification system for types of tissues in the human body are easily broken into several types that can then be further divided based upon things like shape, location or presence of certain cellular features.  My concept map in this case is less easily evaluated. It takes into account multiple interpretations of the same concept and attempts to link them together where I think they should be placed.  In the end, I had a diagram that is most likely useless to others and something I myself would likely skip over while reading if it appeared in a text book.  It is the act of making the concept map that further increased my understanding of how the things I have read fit together.  A classic example of reflection.  Here is a summary of what I learned.

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Implications of Cognitive Science for High School Science Teachers

Human thinking is a complex process that cannot be observed directly.  Some scientists choose to look at stimuli and responses (behaviorists), while others look at computer imaging of brain processes (such as MRIs or EEGs).  Others choose a more philosophical approach, pondering and hypothesizing about the mental processes that may have occurred and influences that may have affected a person’s actions or decisions. All of these approaches to understanding human thinking help to refine our understanding of the human brain and “thought”.  Emotion, a quality that separates us from machines may be the root of all learning.  Despite this difference artificially intelligent machines can be very beneficial to the learning process.    

The mental representations of concepts, logic, and rules can help to understand the way students think about what they are attempting to learn.

Concepts are the way people organize their world into more manageable chunks.  Concepts are a way of thinking about something.  They are, “… used to discriminate between objects, events, relationships, or other states of affairs” (Goodman et. al., 2008, p. 108).  In teaching, it is important to help students form their own concepts or mental picture to organize information.  For example, bacteria are a concrete object but can be thought of in different ways.  There is the concept of bacteria as a member of the living portion of the environment and the concept of bacteria as an agent of infectious disease.  The bacteria do not change, but how we think about them (and therefore how we discuss them) can change.  Concepts can be influenced by our experience.  It is important to consider this when teaching because it can take some convincing to change a concept that was developed as a result of personal, if anecdotal, experience.  Using the former example, it may be difficult to alter a student’s perception of bacteria as something that is the cause of pain or suffering if they have suffered illness or infection.  They may believe that bacteria are “all bad” if they have not had experience to the contrary (i.e. they are unaware of their importance in health, making of various foods and medicines, etc).  We must be aware that the concepts formed by experience are difficult to alter without giving students  experiences  that can alter this concept to be more inclusive.  Yao writes that, “Human knowledge is organized in a tower or a partial ordering…higher level concepts depend on lower-level concepts” (n.d, p. 3).  Therefore, it is important that we address the validity of student’s base concepts before attempting to develop higher level concepts.  For example, if students have not developed an appropriate concept of atoms, it may be difficult for them to develop a concept of chemical bonding.

Artificial intelligence systems may be useful to help show how students could develop a concept (correct or not) based on the known information by creating a map.  Another way artificial intelligence systems may be useful would be to create maps of various concepts and how they overlap or intertwine in order to help pinpoint where a student’s concept formation is lacking.

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Open Education: An Uncertain Future

Open education is a term commonly used to refer to educational institutions that remove barriers to access (Wikipedia).  These courses are typically distance learning programs that can include thousands of students in a single course.  Topics range from listening to world music and songwriting to nanotechnology and medical.  It’s enough to make any lifelong learner squeal with excitement but as with any new technology it cannot promise to solve all our education woes.

One well known open course source is corsera, which includes thousands of courses from well know colleges and universities such as Berklee College of Music, Duke University, Stamford University, and Rutgers University. Very impressive indeed!  In addition some universities, such as MIT, have made much of their educational material free to the public.  These syllabi, lecture notes and videos, quizzes and video demonstrations are called open educational resources (OERs). These materials are available from MIT Open Couseware (OCW).  Other OER sources include KHANAcademy, Creative Commons, Tufts Open Courseware, and Open Yale Courses among others.

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Face2Face, Online and Hybrid Teaching and Learning

Teaching and learning in a face to face, or traditional, classroom presents different benefits and challenges than hybrid and online teaching and learning.

 Face to face learning allows teachers and students the opportunity to get to know one another and allows teachers to “read” students to determine if they are comfortable with content.  Students have the opportunity to ask questions during or after the teacher conducts a lesson. Teachers have the ability to quickly determine if students understand by asking questions and can use the art of questioning to help students discover answers to problems.  This face-to-face time is very beneficial in most circumstances.  The challenge of this method of teaching is that it can be very difficult to get all students, depending on class size among other factors, to participate.  Therefore the teacher may incorrectly gauge the level of understanding in a class.  In addition, depending on the age or maturity of the students, learning can be hampered by classmates, sometimes to a great extent.  Face-to-face teaching requires a huge amount of time, effort and skill to manage behaviors that can arise no matter how engaging the lesson design. The teaching technique from the web site Merlot Pedagogy that seems well suited to face to face learning is active learning.  The web site defines active learning as, “…anything that students do in a classroom other than merely passively listening to an instructor’s lecture” (2013).  With students together in a classroom, it is easy for student to work on activities with one another and to interact with the instructor.  These activities can help to clarify a student’s understanding of a topic both for themselves and for the teacher so that he or she can make adjustments to their lesson in a timely manner. This requires a great amount of flexibility on the part of the teacher, which can also be challenging.  
Online teaching and learning is what most people would consider the opposite of face to face learning.  Because students likely never see one another, nor their teacher, in person, very different benefits and challenges arise.  Teachers must put in extra effort if they are to get to know their students by emailing, tweeting, using traditional or video enhanced chat programs that must be scheduled at a time when learners, who may be in completely different parts of the world, can “meet”.  Instructors may, “…require students to create Student Webpages in which they describe themselves and post pictures…After doing these exercises, online students may actually know more about their classmates than face to face students” (Bates and Watson, 2008, p. 43).  While all of this can go a long way toward developing a report with and between students, it is not the same as meeting face to face where more natural conversation can occur and body language can also be “read” (video chats tend to focus on a person’s face and the person can usually see their own face on the screen.  Not a very natural interaction). One benefit of online learning is that the learner has time to compose his or her response or contribution to a class discussion and may therefore be able to contribute more effectively than if that student were distracted by the comments of his or her classmates or too anxious to contribute in a public forum.  Another challenge that teaching online poses is that teachers cannot “read” a class to determine if a lesson or instruction is “sticking”.   Teachers cannot intervene as quickly when students are headed in the wrong direction. The teaching technique from Merlot Pedagogy that seems best suited to teaching and learning online is discussion.  The web site says that, “Engaging students in discussion deepens their learning and motivation by propelling them to develop their own views and hear their own voices.  A good environment for interaction is the first step in encouraging students to talk” (2013).  

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CoPs and PLCs…an obvious choice

Communities of Practice (CoPs) and Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are groups of people that have a similar interest, such as those that share the same or related jobs, and discuss best practices, either in person or virtually (Bouchard, 2012).  The two terms are very similar but are often used in different places; CoPs in business and PLCs in education, typically (Bouchard, 2012).  PLCs can support learning by bringing people together to share information about a particular topic who have varied knowledge and experiences.   The varied backgrounds, experiences, and knowledge of the members of a PLC enables them to contribute to each other’s understanding a topic, material or situation and allows for more efficient problem solving.   PLCs seems to be a new spin on a very old concept.  The old adage, “two heads are better than one” comes to mind.  As powerful as CoPs and PLCs can be, we should not neglect the importance of studying and reflecting individually or in isolation as part of the learning process.  Many great ideas are born upon individual reflection (think of those moments when you figure something out in the shower or on your commute).  However, it could be argued that at least some of these ideas are a result of our reflections about interactions with peers.

The following is a short video about the stages of implementing a PLC in an educational setting.  Alma Harris- Building Professional Learning Communities

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