This Sounds Familiar …

Have you ever done a Google search on a topic and clicked on a variety of links that take you to various blog posts – all with the same article – virtually word for word? I’ve encountered this situation many times. As a former copy writer, I’m always a little stymied that businesses are willing to be so unoriginal. Don’t they know that they lose integrity with the public?

Now imagine this scenario in an online classroom. Students have a huge resource for information. Sometimes that resource must seem tempting. Why give thought or credit to someone else’s ideas when you can just as easily steal them. Again, it’s all about integrity.

Fortunately, there are some tools that assist with the prevention or detection of plagiarism. Three tools that will assist with detecting and preventing plagiarism are:

  1. Plagium. Copy and paste the questionable text into a search box. This is a great free of charge service, although participants must register to use it. The only downside, each search is limited to 250 characters.
  2. Turnitin. This is one of the cornerstones of online academic integrity. Turnitin will compare the student’s work to a vast collection of information – 24+ billion web pages, 300+ million student papers, and over 110,000 publications.
  3. Dupli Checker. Another great checker. Dupli Checker also operates in the “copy and paste” mode, but also displays the website with copied content and delivers an analysis report upon conclusion.

If you are interested in finding more resources to battle against plagiarism, check out this article at Educational Technology and Mobile Learning (http://www.educatorstechnology.com/2013/06/top-8-plagiarism-detector-tools-for.html).

At this point, I believe it’s essential that instructors rely on plagiarism detectors for written communications within an online course. The ability to access information readily, combined with the perceived “distance” in distance education makes it much easier to cheat. Some students simply don’t feel accountable to an instructor they’ve never met or seen.

Assessments are one method of testing students on their skills or knowledge gained in the classroom. Of course, an online assessment can easily become an open-book test. It’s almost impossible to keep students from relying on other resources when completing assessments. But maybe the student gains knowledge from looking up the materials for the assessment.

Ultimately, the internet is once again that great tool that continues to spin out of control. Unfortunately, there’s only so much we can do as instructors or instructional designers to combat it.

 

 

Old School vs. New School

(Week 5 application, part 2)

Okay, I admit it. I’m a little bit old. I remember when multimedia in the classroom meant showing a film (using a projector) or showing slides, with an accompanying CD or tape playing music in the background.

Now it’s possible to create a truly multimedia experience – to create a presentation that actually incorporates audio, video, presentation slides all in one file. But guess what? That’s old school too.

Technology and multimedia provides a new face to the old training model. Suddenly we can reach more students across the globe, students can engage when it works best for them, we can encourage students to share their real-life experiences, and to grow and learn from one another. As stated by Cairncross et al, the learning process can be enhanced through the integration of multimedia. It allows users to have control over the delivery of information and interactivity (Cairncross et al, 2001).

Caincross et al also states that multimedia allows for multiple representations of information in a variety of formats. This repetition creates what they describe as an Authentic Learning Environment (Cairncross et al, 2001). One example of an authentic learning environment in online instruction is a course that combines:

  1. An interactive learning module based on course curriculum.
  2. Implementation of the content of the module in online course.
  3. Use of blogs or wikis to document learner’s process and engagement within the course.

At my work, we often use two of the above components – an interactive learning module (in Captivate), and implementation of the course in an online environment, such as a class Webex. What we seem to be missing is the important element of learner engagement.

Why stop without fully engaging all students? Part of it is the twin demons of usability and accessibility. After all, we are engaging learners all over the globe. Many without the benefits of consistent internet connectivity. There’s also a huge cultural process to address. Many of our learners are simply more comfortable in a traditional face-to-face classroom environment.

I’m excited about the rapidly changing face of technology and multimedia and what it means for our learners. Sometimes it takes a while for organizations to catch up to technology, sometimes it takes a while for learners to catch up. Eventually, I believe we will all be working together in an online learning environment that is truly an authentic learning environment, with students engaged and actively participating. Of course, by then technology will have made another huge leap, and we will once again be playing catch up!

Resources:

Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Cairncross, S. and Mannon, M. (2001). Interactive Multimedia and Learning: Realizing the Benefits.

Innovations in Education & Teaching International, 38(2), 156-164(9).

Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction (Updated ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Behind the Curtain of Online Learning

Week 3 Application Post

 

A few months ago, I set up a mock class to meet the requirements for one of my Walden University courses. I’d been using Blackboard Learn for over a year, and assumed I had a failry good understanding of the features and uses of the software application. It seemed only logical to use Blackboard Learn to set up a course site for my mock class.

There’s a big difference between setting up a class and particpating in a class. I soon disocvered that while I had an understanding of how to navigate within the Blackboard course site, I was clueless when it come to setting up class files, linking documents, making sure all the class links worked, putting announcements in the right place, etc.

In our course text, The Online Teaching Survival Guide, Boettcher states “part of the instructor’s responsibilities it to take action to ensure that all learners are engage, present and participating” (Boettcher et al, 2011, p. 52). While this sounds like a straight-forward task, without an understanding of the technology, it’s almost impossible to create an environment that will engage the learners. As I was preparing for this mock class, I kept feeling a bit like the Wizard of Oz – I didn’t want learners to look behind the curtain, or discover all I didn’t know.

I think a well constructed site, with an easy to use interface, may not merit any comments from students. But when students encounter difficulties, or find links that won’t work, their frustration level understandably rises. Given that one of the goals within the online community is to establish a presence – social, cognitive, teaching and community (Boettcher et al, 2011), these kinds of errors present a road block for the class.

It’s essential to have a well thought out plan for developing a course online. However, just as important to developing the course content is an understanding of the technology tools used for the online course.  The next time I set up a class, I’ll spend much more time understanding the behind the scenes (or curtain) environment. I think it makes all the difference for the learners.

Resources:

Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

 Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction (Updated ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

 

Welcome back to the Blogosphere!

I’m once again blogging as part of my course assignments for my Master’s program at Walden University.  This term my course is Online Instructional Strategies.

This week we look at one of the more fascinating elements of online instruction – the development of an online community. To be perfectly honest, I really hadn’t given this component of online instruction a great deal of thought.  I’m very impressed by the course materials that have helped to illustrate the importance of the learning community.

Much of my focus has been on the content of the educational experience. As Weigel states “Content is the clay of knowledge construction; learning takes place when it is fashioned into something meaningful.” (Weigel, 2002).

Learning communities allow for critical analysis, personal interpretation of knowledge, an opportunity to construct knowledge from experience.

Learning communities are composed of three elements:

  • People – The learners, facilitators or instructors, and administrators
  • Purpose – The reason for the community, as an example a discussion group to offers an opportunity to discuss course content.
  • Process – How do the learners and instructors interact within the learning community?

Learning communities allow learners to engage in a collaborative learning process by sharing multiple perspectives. Learners that participate within a learning community demonstrate and increased self-directedness and successful learning.

As stated earlier, the responsibility within the learning community is evenly distributed among the learners, instructors and administrators. The instructor and administrators help build an environment for a learning community. The instructor engages the learners to create a community where there is an expectation of participation, and ensures that participation is encouraged and valued.

I’m really looking forward to learning more about building online communities. I’m intrigued by the difference an online community can make to the learning process.

Resources:

Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction (Updated ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Saba, F. (n.d.) Evaluation Distance Learning Theory. Lecture presented for Laureate Education, Inc. Retrieved from class.waldenu.edu

Stead, D., Kelly, L. (2013) Enhancing Primary Science: Developing Effective Cross-Curricular Links. New York: Open University Press. Retrieved from: learn.moodle.net

 

Creepy Scope Creep

Scope Creep: The natural tendency of the client, as well as project team members, to try to improve the project’s output as the project progresses. Portny et al, 2008, p. 346.

It’s hard to imagine a project that hasn’t fallen under the spell of scope creep. It always starts out as an easy process, define the project, create a statement of work, and get to it. The reality is that the client or stakeholders keep coming back with additions, changes, deletions – you name it.

I’ve experienced scope creep on almost every project I’ve worked with. The project I’m currently working on, an expense management software implementation, is certainly no exception. This project is already daunting. We are rolling out a new software process and have to train thousands of employees on the new system. This project already has a very aggressive schedule – just a few months before rolling out the software to the pilot groups, then additional training for the rest of the employees.

A few months ago, several managers decided that we needed to add a new pilot group to our process. And, best of all, we had to push up the pilot for this group by four months and accomplish the pilot over the summer. Not only did this effect the training schedule, but also the configuration of the software, the implementation of the software, etc. Of course, this wasn’t included in the initial budget process, so there are no funds for additional training.

Our team went into both panic and production mode. We made several requests to rethink the addition of this pilot group, but to no avail. Eventually, we had to redirect resources to develop training and production for this pilot.

While it was an incredibly challenging and stressful experience, there were some positives. We were able to produce some quality training, and that training provided a foundation that we hadn’t considered using in the initial project. We also learned a great deal about managing our people resources, and the stresses placed upon them. While this phase of the project was especially stressful, it provided valuable information for the next phase, which will be equally challenging and fast-paced. We learned how to better establish expectations for training in a global environment.

There are always positive and negatives with any project, but I think the most important lesson to learn from this process is to respect the staffing resources. In retrospect, I believe it’s important to be willing to discuss the original project scope and the deliverables and make an effort to eliminate the dreaded scope creep. While I think it’s great to have a “can-do” attitude, a project manager sometimes has to be the one person to negotiate or enforce the original scope. It’s not easy to be the enforcer, but sometimes that’s what the project manager needs to do.

 

Resources:

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008).Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc

Budgets and Estimates — The sticking point in Instructional Design

This week, our Project Management course focuses on budgeting and allocating resources throughout a project cycle. As part of this process, we are looking at the specifics of allocating resources for the instructional design process.

I find this to be an interesting process. There are so many different components of instructional design and because there are so many different opinions about how to budget for the process.  A few months, I was researching the average cost to develop an eLearning module. In performing a routine search I found lots of discussion among Instructional Designers, with wildly varying opinions of the costs of eLearning development.

In researching this week’s assignments, I found a couple of great resources which are listed below.

The first is an article about estimating costs and time in instructional design. I like this article because it examines a lot of different factors in creation of instructional design materials, and also gives some figures on estimating budget for these processes. Best of all, information in included on how these figures were gathered – such as how the hourly rate for instructional design is calculated.

Please check out the following link:

http://sas.byu.edu/training/documents/EstimatingCostsandTimeinInstructionalDesign.pdf

In researching estimating time, I found another article/blog that refers specifically to calculating the time to develop eLearning. This article contains several links to other articles on estimating the time it takes to develop and produce eLearning. It’s really interesting to be able to compare and contrast different methods for estimating the same process. I think ultimately, we end up taking all the information and creating a method that works best for our individual organizations.

For information on budgeting for eLearning and the development cycle, please refer to this link:

http://theelearningcoach.com/elearning_design/isd/time-to-develop-online-learning/

Finally, I found another great resource on project allocation and estimations. There really is a science to estimation. This article illustrates some of the methods for developing better project estimates with greater accuracy. I think it’s valuable to review the process. For more information, check out this link:

http://www.learncentrix.com/estimating-instructional-design

Resources – time and money – are valuable. It’s hard to find a way to accurately estimate the use of these resources, especially when a project is large. The above resources offer a good starting point for analyzing and budgeting.

Ring, Ring — It’s your turn.

Remember the game of telephone? You pass along a message to the person next to you, each person relays the message to their nearest neighbor and when the message meets the last person, you compare the end message to the starting message. Generally, the message has become convoluted through the various interpretations.

This week, my blog assignment is all about communication and interpretation of messages through the use of different communication modalities – email, voicemail, and face-to-face communication. As Portny et al state “..project manager should plan and prepare so their messages are received and correctly interpreted by the project audiences” (Portny et al, 2008, p. 367). This week, we focus on the responsibility of communicating effectively.

Email

As one would expect, we rely on auditory and facial cues to interpret messages. When relying solely on an email message, the reader assigns emotion, urgency and intent to the message based simply on the written words. I found some of the email confusing in regards to deadlines. Because I was focusing on how the message could be interpreted, I was reading the email with a somewhat jaundiced eye, looking for possible sarcasm or confusion.

Voicemail

Hearing the same message clarified some of the points substantially. The use of voice inflection and natural pauses in speech helped to clarify the message. Many of question I had, or the perceptions changed by hearing the neutral tone of voice.

Face-to-face

As I watched the video simulation of the face-to-face communication, my perception of the message changed very little. The facial expressions of the person speaking certainly helped clarify the message, or at least the intent of the speaker.

While each level of communication helped clarify the message by adding inflection, emotion, and intent, I think that most people are accustomed to using a variety of communication methods for relaying a message. While it’s easy to misinterpret an email message, I think many people have trained themselves to take a moment and pause, to reflect on what the message actually says, rather than our possible interpretations. Of course, I’ve had many instances of misinterpreting an email, but it’s essential to ask for clarification.

In a perfect world, there would be no misinterpretation of messages. We’d all take the time to make sure we deliver face-to-face communication, so that our messages are clear. But the reality is that part of the responsibility of a project manager is to keep the project on focus, meeting deadlines – and that requires adapting communication methods for expediency.

A good project manager is also responsible for keeping the project moving forward – which may mean translating or clarifying communication among team members. There are numerous methods for delivering messages, but the most important aspect in project management is to communicate to the stakeholders and project participants. Lack of communication is far more dangerous to a project than having to review a message and seek clarification. It can make drive a project to failure.

Resources:

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008).Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.