Lessons Learned: Lesson 2

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This is the second post in my Lessons Learned series based on my most recent project, a module on alcohol for college students. The second lesson that I learned was more subtle that the first lesson, but more important on a personal level. 

Lesson 2- Maintain a personal firewall

Maintaining a firewall between you and your work is important to maintaining your sanity while working on projects. Let me preface this by saying that I am still not totally convinced that I wasn't already doing this, but it was a good lesson and good reminder to check your ego at the door nonetheless.  I will say, however, that there's a difference between defending your ego and defending the theoretical foundations of making decisions based on solid Instructional Design concepts and principles.  Even with that said, I took that advice to heart and did some reflection on it and on myself. 

I believe that anyone who is dedicated and believes in what she does at some point may end up looking as if she is being defensive when someone challenges or dislikes what she has done.  All anyone can do sometimes is state the case and ask the person with the most authority to make the final decision if the two sides can't come to an agreement.  Sometimes things go your way and sometimes, you just have agree to disagree. Any good Instructional Designer knows that everything comes out in the assessment, right? Sometimes you are vindicated and sometimes you find that everything worked out just fine. Time will tell what shakes out of this project.

Applying What I Learned

Since the day I had that conversation, I have really tried hard to pick my "battles" and think about what is motivating my decisions. Are they informed by theory or just personal preference? Is my ego getting in the way? If I find that it is more preference than theory, I have started letting a lot of things go. I only defend the ideas that may negatively impact student learning in some way.

I also make sure that I find theories or research to back-up my decisions.  In a way, every decision I make is an informed decision because of my educational background and experience, but a lot of my decisions are based on an eclectic mix of various theories and practices that are sometimes hard to pin down.  It can make defending a decision more difficult.  You end in almost a "because I said so" situation, which is never good. I've noticed that the line between preference and theory is becoming more blurred as I have gained experience in the field. I think that's pretty common in Learning Design as well as other fields of study.  This is one reason why professional development, keeping up-to-date with new research and refreshing my knowledge of the foundations, is so very important to me. Without it, defending sound decisions becomes more difficult and modules may become less theoretically sound as a result.

Lessons Learned Series: Lesson 1

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I can't believe it has been 6 months since I last blogged! I've been a little busy developing the new alcohol awareness module which monopolized (in a good way) my time. In my 10 years as an instructional designer, I have never only worked on one project all day every day for any length of time. Multitasking is kind of my thing.  The whole idea of focusing on one project was exciting, but at the same time a bit overwhelming in a weird way. I am happy to say that the module is rolling out tomorrow to incoming summer students.  I think that the entire team is holding their collective breath until that happens. With something this size (over 15,000 students hitting it between Friday and the end of the first week of fall classes), you just never know what might happen that is out of your control.  We've tested and tested, so we are confident (cautiously) that the students won't experience any problems in the coming months. 

On a personal level, I learned a lot in the last 6 months working on this project.  I will be writing a series of blog posts over the next several weeks outlining what I learned and what I intend to do about it. Lessons aren't worth learning if you don't do anything with them, right?  

Lesson 1-The BIG One

One of the most important lessons that I learned was that a more formal process for instructional design in my division is needed.  The biggest part of this is the need to more clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the individuals involved in developing the module.  I started developing the module thinking that these were fairly well defined.  After all, this wasn't the first module that I developed in the Division. It was, however, the first very high profile module that I developed.  I believe that difference between the two types of modules caused a lot of issues along the way.  We managed to come up with a solution, but unfortunately not before both time and effort were lost. I'm sure other IDs and multimedia folks can relate.   

Applying What I Learned

Since the development of the module ended, I started working on a new ID model and Memo of Understanding to help guide how the Division will develop modules in the future. I'm optimistic that the new documents will help inform everyone involved about the processes, roles, and responsibilities of developing modules to make the process a much more enjoyable and less stress provoking experience for everyone involved. Once they are done, I'll share what I came up with if anyone is interested.
     

Is It Just Us, Or Are Kids Getting Really Stupid?

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A friend posted the following article to Twitter earlier today http://www.phillymag.com/articles/feature_is_it_just_us_or_are_kids_getting_really_stupid/page1. I was feeling burned out on what I was working on and needed a break, so I decided to give it a read. I don't think that there's anything necessarily ground breaking in the article, but the author did a great job of pulling a lot of ideas together that learning designers have come to understand at least in anecdotal ways for many years. In general, the article points out that today's kids are just different than kids of days gone by. Say what you will about the brain's physical structure and the synapses not changing (as some do), but something is different. Some broad ideas that I gleaned from the article about " today's kids" are:

  • They are wired differently.
  • They expect more faster.
  • They get bored easily.
  • They get distracted easily.
  • Not every kid fits the same mold.   
As I read the article an example from my work came to mind. I believe I wrote about on my blog before. I piloted a new learning module on Basic Nutrition earlier this year. The feedback I received from some random students (18-24 years old) was that there were too many words to read, they wanted bullet points and they wanted more video and other animated visuals. Based on the ideas presented in this article, it makes sense why this is the feedback that I got. The information provided in the article and feedback like this will help inform my decisions on developing new learning modules in the future.

The following are a few things I changed based on that feedback. Some I am currently doing, others I am looking into how to do them.

  • Keep the modules a succinct as possible (add links to additional info for the curious)
  • Use short video segments for certain ideas
  • Use more visuals to convey ideas instead of words (most likely will require audio)  
  • Segment the modules into much smaller chunks
  • Add module bookmarking
  • Reinforce ideas with activities more frequently versus Q&A at the end
  • Provide a text only option for the outliers 
As 2010 ends, I must say that I learned a lot about learning design this year from my peers at Penn State and abroad through many different channels. Thank you everyone. I also learned from working with some great students on various project this year. From that experience, I'd have to say that our kids are not "getting really stupid." They just interact with the world and learn in much different ways than anyone before them and probably anyone after them too.

See you in the New Year!
April



A Definition of ID that I Like...Revisited

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I made the post because I finally found a definition of ID that I liked. You can read the original post here: A Definition of ID that I Like. Since then, I have revised that definition. The revised definition is provided below:

Instructional Design (ID) is part creative arts and part science which utilizes  theoretical as well as practical research in the areas of cognition, educational psychology, information technology, graphic and Web design, and problem solving. ID aims to create the best instructional environment and learning materials to bring a learner from the state of not  knowing, not feeling or not being able to accomplish certain tasks to the state of knowing, feeling and being able to accomplish those tasks in a given subject area through carefully organized interactions with information, activities and assessments.

So what do you think? Does it do the job? If you have a definition that you prefer, I'd love to read it. Please leave a comment.

A girl can hope

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We have been trying to get individuals to blog and or comment on a couple of different community hubs for over a year for one and just a few months for another. I never understood why it is so difficult to get some momentum, so I started asking. What I found was that there were mainly two reasons. The first is that blogging is just not on peoples radar. They haven't done it, so they really don't think to do it unless they are reminded and half the time not even then.

Those of use at a certain age can remember that the same was true years ago when email was introduced, people didn't think to email something, they continued to hold meetings or write and mail memos or to just pick up the phone a call. That has changed over the years as email has become easier and easier to use and more and more people came to rely on it. The same change might be true of blogging, if it wasn't for the second reason--having to remember the URL for the dashboard to create and the url for the blog itself to read. As of this week, that barrier has been lifted! Why email something that you are sending to lots of people and need to have a conversation about unless it's confidential of course?

I am waiting patiently to see if blogging on these two hubs increases after the change is made and announced which will happen on Monday. This could be the tipping point that we've been waiting for than might change an existing habit and build a community. I don't think it ever will be a ubiquitous as email, especially in a high-touch organization like Student Affairs, but a girl can hope for some progress. 

Reflections on Learning Design Summer Camp

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This morning, I talked to a colleague who attended the Summer Camp. She'd not a learning designer, but does support what I do with graphics, web design, and her positive outlook and friendship. The one thing that she said that stood out was that she was thrilled to see people really excited about what they do and I couldn't agree more. So many people take their jobs for granted or see it as a paycheck, a means to an end. At times, I'll admit that I have felt that way too and feel really guilty even admitting it because I am generally a positive person. But problems collecting content, issues finding support for programs, blockades to implementing programs, etc. can really get a girl down some days! The energy and support from the TLT Symposium and the LDSC somehow always rejuvenate and refocuses me. It is so refreshing to see what faculty are doing, hearing about the risks they take to benefit their students, hearing the feedback from the students that they like it, sympathizing over war stories with other IDs, making partnerships happen, learning what's next, and being reminded that there's hope that things do progress even if it is at a slower pace than some of us like. We are lucky to be at Penn State to partake in these event. I feel blessed to be reminded of that every now and then. 
     

I'm not the expert. I just know how to get things done.

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I'm not the expert. I just know how to get things done. I was in a meeting yesterday with a bunch of people at the Green Teams luncheon and was asked to talk about the group blog that I set up for our Sustainability Team in Student Affairs. I am pretty proud of it because I believe that it will be useful some day, but I had help to go get to that point. After I gave a run down on the blog, the person running the meeting said something like "So if you have any questions about setting  up a group blog, ask April, she's the expert." Philip, my boss, was sitting next to me looked at me and said with raised eyebrows, "That's new." I just nodded wide-eyed back at him and said "Yes, it is." I hadn't agreed to help the 10-12 Green Teams from all across the University nor do I have the authority to speak for ETS which is the organization that actually has the experts and would need to do some "Blog Magic" to make it happen. Before I could say anything, the leader of the meeting moved on and I sat a little stunned. Chances are that none of the folks in the room will ask for my help, so it's probably a moot point. If they do, however, I will most likely have to give them some information, point them to the resources that I used, and pass them off to the real experts.

Having knowledge about how to do something successfully and being an expert are very different things to me. How about to you?     

Group Blog, adding blog posts to a page in MT

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Recently, I was asked to create a group blog for the Student Affair's Green Team. I decided to use the Penn State blog system. The team consists of teams from each of our 6 buildings, so I wanted to create a page for each team to keep the information organized. The problem I had was that I really wanted to have each team's blog post displayed on their page as well as on the actual blog. I contacted Brad Kozlek for help because  I couldn't figure out a way to do it on my own. He was able to help me and I thought some other people might find what we did interesting. 

Below is a link to a sample of what I did. It's not the actual blog, just me playing around.
http://www.personal.psu.edu/azs2/blogs/green/university-health-services-green-team.html

If you'd like to do something like this to or just bring in posts to a page on your own blog, follow the instructions below. There are a couple of ways to do it, but the easier of the two ways (for a non programmer) involves Google Reader and Tag RSS Feeds. It looks like a lot of steps, but it is really easy and doesn't take much time at all. 

First you need to get the URL for the RSS Feed for the tags you want to be displayed on the page. To do this, go to http://blogs.psu.edu/search/ enter the tag and click Search Tags. 
  • For Windows, right click Subscribe to Feed and select Copy Link Location.
  • For a Mac, click the the Control key and select Copy.

Next, you need to use Google Reader. If you don't already use it, go to http://www.google.com/reader and log in with your Google ID. Sign up if you need to, it's worth it!

  • After opening Google Reader, click Add a Subscription. 
  • Paste the URL into the text box and click Add as you would add any other Feed to Google Reader. You will need to create a folder to make this happen. 
  • Look under Subscriptions towards the bottom on the right side for the feed you just added. 
  • Highlight the feed and use the drop-down menu to create a New Folder, by selecting New Folder and typing a name into the text box. 
  • Click the Subscriptions drop-down and select Manage Subscriptions. 
  • Next, select Folders and Tags. 
  • Make the Folder Public by clicking on the RSS icon. 
  • Click Add a Clip to Your Site. Adjust the Title, Color Scheme and Number of Items to what you want and then check Show Item Notes. 
  • Once you are happy with your selections, copy the Javascript.
  • Go back to your blog and select the page that you would like to add the feed to. 
  • Select the <A> to paste the script into the HTML of your blog. 
  • Save the changes and publish.       
  • Don't be alarmed if when you tag items in your blog to be displayed on the page blog too  they don't immediately show up in the list. Be patient (unlike me). They will show up in about 30 minutes or so.

TLT Symposium 2010

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I realized on Saturday that I have been to all of the TLT Symposiums throughout the years, at least I think so. Over the years the program and the conference itself have both changed for the better each year. One of the main changes that I've noticed is the increased number of faculty that are coming from not only University Park campus, but other campuses as well. For many of us who have been with the University for a long time, it's a sort of homecoming. We get to see peers we haven't seen in a few years to catch up, make new connections and see how different areas in the University have changed. The feeling of community is just amazing to me. Smiles and hugs all around.

Michael Wesch's presentation was as informative as it was entertaining. I took a lot away from the talk he gave as far as what students expect and what students know and what as educators we expect them to know that they might or might not know. The project that he had his class work on together was fantastic. It goes to show how a sense of community can makes students feel and work to a higher level even with distractions. His talk was streamed and recorded. If you get a chance to watch it, it's worth the 45 minutes of you day.   

The lunchtime faculty panel was very interesting. The four panel members discussed how they used various Web 2.0 technologies within their teaching. I think that any other faculty member that was in the audience would certainly benefit from hearing all of their advice.   

I thought the program this year was very good. I image that selecting the sessions was a very difficult task this year. I've been on that committee in years past and it was difficult to evaluate one project over another because they are all worth hearing more about. It was difficult to select just one for each slot. I am hoping to catch some of the others that were recorded later.

I attended two sessions on Digital Story Telling (one by Kira Baker-Doye, a Berks faculty member and one by Ellysa Cahoy and Chris Millet) mainly because a few of the new modules that I am develop could benefit from it and because story telling interests me personally. Both sessions were interesting and packed with nuggets of information that will be valuable as I begin to develop modules on Ethics and Leadership.

Sam Richards session on large enrollment classes was entertaining and eye opening. Some of the statistics he shared were not at all what I suspected as far as what student think of large enrollment classes versus small enrollment classes. This session was recorded, if you get the change to watch it once it is posted, you should. Good stuff.

The last session that I attended was on eportfolios. It was a interesting story of how Gabriela Alpirez, the Humphrey Fellow, took an idea that she first used in a small high school and has developed it over the years to incorporate open source and government resources. It will be interesting to see how she is able to integrate the feature from her previous eportfolio systems into Moveable Type. She was very hopeful that MT will be able to do what she needs it to do. Maybe next year, she'll present again about the results.


ELI Mobile Learning 2.0

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I participated in the webinar that was presented over the last two afternoons. The sessions that were presented were informative and pretty engaging. Many examples of mLearning in action were shared to give the participants an good idea of what the possibilities are. The one thing that struck me was that there isn't much academic content being delivered via mobile devices (at least from the examples that were shared). As impressive and useful as the examples were, most of them were an exercise in making information accessible with mobile devices than actual learning content or just in time training as I had hoped. Polling using SMS seemed to be popular with several schools. In two cases, students actually did all of the development with individuals from the university consulting. These conversations uncovered a lot of considerations that should be looked at before embarking on a mobile learning quest.   

A few limitations emerged from several of the session was that device diversity and the cost of cell plans do hinder implementation of a broad mLearning plan for most schools. This spurred a conversation on Twitter about developing for the lowest common denominator. This isn't any different than other development discussion for other devices.      

I think it was still a valuable use of my time to sit in from learning some principles and limitation of mLearning to talking about the potential for mLearning here at Penn State with some of my ID peers to collecting a list of resources to check out for developing mLearning without a huge investment in another development tool. Once I have a chance to review the presentations, I will gather up some of the resources and post them for anyone who is interested.   

It would be great to hear what other departments are doing with mLearning. Is anyone doing anything interesting?

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