Thursday, October 13, 2011

Scope Creep

When I was given the assignment to discuss a time when a project I was working on fell to the pressures of scope creep I just stared at the screen and felt my frustrations rise. My limited exposure to this field was once again proving to make my assignments far more difficult than need be. So I offer the caveat that if you are purusing this blog to gain a wealth of knowledge about this problem I will not guarantee that this is the spot for you. But I will do my best in the following lines to offer you some real life perspective on scope creep...

Let me start by explaining that scope creep is 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, 2008).

I am at heart a minimalist. I like to keep things neat, clean, simple and yet beautiful. When I was early in my teaching career I took on the challenge of putting together a prom on a shoestring budget in the rundown gymnasium of a nonpublic special education school. 

The scope creep came from me. As I worked on the project I was flooded with more and more ideas that would make the prom even better. I was constantly thinking about the undeniable fact that this would be the pinnacle of social situations for many of the kids. With all of my changes I also adopted "an informal process of handling requests for change" (Portny, 2008). What I could have used aside from a calming dose of reality was a change control system, which is a "well controlled, formal process whereby changes can be introduces and accomplished with as little distress as possible" (Portny, 2008).

Now don't get me wrong, the prom was a huge success. The Secret Garden theme brought tears to the eyes of several parents.  But by the end of the process I was completely burnt out because I had to take on the majority of the changes on my own. By taking a few simple steps a lot of the stress and strain of those couple of months could have been far less stressful. 


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.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Estimating Costs and Allocating Resources

This week I was assigned the task of finding some sites that would offer help in Estimating Costs and Allocating Resources for an instructional design project. "Various tools and strategies can help project managers improve the accuracy of budget estimates," (Portny, 2008), and I found a few that have already started to help me.  I can honestly say that this project management thing is not (yet) my strong suit. So I was eager to find some sites that could actually help me gain a better understanding while actually becoming a resource I could have for future endeavors. 

The first site I found, Project Management Tips, was a great starting point because it gave me some real understanding. With its brief synopsis of project management and very informative links (located at the bottom) I was able to see a full picture of the processes and figure out where my project time and money would go. The site offered simple and helpful statements  like: "In order to run the project you first need to know how long things take, how much they will cost, and what kind of resources will be required. The only way you can get this data is by doing good estimates. Without good estimates you really have no way of knowing where you are at any point in the project, and you have no way of predicting how much the project will cost or how long it is going to take to do it" 

Another great site was the Life By Design blog post, Estimating Costs and Allocating Resources in Instructional Design. This blog offers links to sites that will do the math for calculating project costs. It also has some formulas for calculating additional project expenses and figuring out how much time different projects, or portions of a project, will take. Deborah, the author, gives step by step understanding of the different links on the page. The blog is a great resource for all things in project management and instructional design. She also blogs about scope creep, communication and other topics I have been exposed to in this course. 

If you can ignore the very busy ads, and other visuals on my final choice, Big Dog and Little Dog Site, you will see that this site is laced with all types of formulas and equations for finding out costs, time estimations and a plethora of other details for managing instructional design projects. The site has sections on budgeting, training costs, estimating development hours, and a host of other topics. 

I am not saying that these are the best sites out there for an instructional design professional. But as the self proclaimed novice that I am, these 3 sites offer me a deeper understanding of the profession. "Whatever the chosen method, being able to accurately estimate costs is a critical project manager responsibility" (Portny, 2008). Good luck!!!

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. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Communicating Effectively

My textbook states that communication is "sharing the right messages with the right people in a timely manner" (Portny, 2008). So the assignment this week was to look at the same message being presented in three different way; email, voicemail and in person. Of course without even looking at the presentation I knew that face-to-face was going to be the best answer. After reading a bunch of different articles this week that talked about communication, face-to-face with a follow up email is the safest bet. But this little module really sent the message home!

The site took the same message and gave it to you in an email, voicemail and with a video of someone saying it right to you. When I first read the email it started off with a nice tone checking to see if the recipient was still in a meeting and quickly shifted gears to an aggressive manner with full disregard to the well being of the recipient. (This is why I always tell people to be careful what you text, because tone is very hard to read).
The voicemail sounded much more pleasant than the email read. But it still came across a little hard towards the end. But the major difference was that the last line of the voicemail said "I really appreciate your help." Now when I read the 9 line email I didn't even notice this last sentence, and looking back it had its own line and everything. I think I was too frustrated by reading the intense message that I didn't even read the final line, it just looked like a closing remark. It made me reflect on all the times I have written a hard to swallow message and ended with a kind remark to soften the blow, and wonder how many people actually read the last line.
I was so blown away by my new discovery with the voicemail I felt there could not possibly be that big of a difference with the in person message. Wrong again! People's mannerism speak volumes, many more volumes than their words or tone of voice. After listening to the woman speak the lines I have just read and heard mere second before, I have a completely different feeling about the message. Her stance, smile and casual eye contact made all the difference in the world.  It didn't feel aggressive at all, in fact had I really been the fictitious recipient I would have happily finished up my portion of the project.

Communication is not just words, it is also spirit and attitude, tonality and body language, timing and consideration of the personality of the recipient (Stolovitch, n.d.). The importance of these different elements of communication were definitely displayed in this exercise. This 5 minute module really brought the true value of communication to light. In a similar situation I would have quickly shot out an email to get my person back on task and not thought for a minute to communicate my needs in a different way. But I now know that a little leg work and a smile can go a much longer way.


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.

Stolovitch, Harold. (n.d.). Communicating with Stakeholders. Retrieved on September 21, 2011 at

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Project Post Mortem

I was asked this week to discuss a past project that I was a part of that failed or did not reach the expected outcomes. It took me a while to think of an example, and as I type these words I am silently praying for a better example than the one I am most likely about to give. But as the beginning of the school year, with so many changes, the brain can only do so much. So my example will have to be as follows.

Last year I went to a training on a website that teachers in my city were able to find their testing statistics and scores. At the actual training I learned that the site could generate worksheets, additional tests and other items based on individual scores. I was very interested in the program and could see how it could benefit our school (the lowest in the district) and teachers in raising test scores. After talking with the principal (whom I has a less than desirable relationship with) I was given one week to develop a training to present to the staff.

With this limited timeline to develop a training about a product I was excited about but had only had 2 hours of training on and limited usage, I was frantic to try and piece something together. My presentation ended up being a simple power point that I hardly used because of the uncomfortable space and slow computer that I was given for my trainings. I was also only given 25 minutes to share this information with each grade level, so that students were not left for long periods of time with a substitute. "Because employees' training time causes managers to be shorthanded during the training period, it is important that the project team focus on what employees need to know versus what would be nice to know. So the training ended up focusing on the basics of the program instead of the "bells and whistles" that set it apart from other data driven websites.

Because I was so intrigued by the massive abilities of the program I was able to convey this excitement in the trainings. Teachers were interested in using the program to push their test scores and use the offerings as supplements to their lessons. I ended up having private lessons with those teachers who were really interested in the additional aspects of the program so they could fully understand how to work the site.
I really believe that if I had been given more than a week to plan and more than 25 minutes to share the training would have been more of a success. Even with the limitations several teachers were able to use the program to help them move their students academically.

Murphy, C. (1994). Utilizing project management techniques in the design of instructional materials. Performance & Instruction, 33(3), 9–11.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The future of Distance Learning

As my course in Distance Learning draws to a close I am asked to reflect on the future of this technology based education option and my role in the improvement of the perception of it and the actual field itself. When I stop and think about the future of distance learning I wonder if I will have children, and their role in the future that I will be helping to create. I see a growing acceptance of the idea of online education. I think in the next 5-10 years education over the internet will finally be a common option that is not even looked at as an alternative to traditional face-to-face studies, but just a general offering that is selected or passed up like you would a professor you do or do not like. Because technology is moving and growing at such a rapid rate, the time it takes for people to become comfortable with a new creating based on these advances is shortened ever so slightly with each new product.

In 10-20 years I cannot even imagine what distance learning will look like. The world is a global playground to any new technology. Students may have a simulation option in the future where their comments are collected and transmitted to one another in a virtual classroom that is tapped into with goggles and headphones. Synchronous chats may then look like actual classroom chats with avatars or holographic images of classmates and teachers. I could let my imagination continue to run rampant, but I am simply saying that the picture of distance learning in the future will be painted with an array of colors we have yet to see or even envision.

As a distance learner all any of us will have to do to generate and maintain a positive perception of online education is to ensure that what we are creating is quality. We have to always remember that the technology is not the reason for the course we create, but merely a conduit for the information to flow through. As the cyber world grows more intricate and the contributions become more and more interesting, we must keep a level head and not let the technology be what drives our courses. People will continue to base their decisions of school selection on things like price, name, accreditation, and so on, but how the school uses technology will soon become a regular on that list. If the online options that we create produce high quality students then the public will see that and our products will be what fuels the positive perception of online learning.

AS an instructional designer I will always want more for and from the students that my course designs will touch. For this to happen I will have to stay aware of the lasts technologies, so that when developing a class I can focus on how to convey the information and not be bogged down with trying to learn a new program while in the development stages. I will also continue to take classes myself to be familiar with the latest findings in learning theories, the new minds of future generations and the advancements of my field. By keeping my knowledge base current as well as my skill set I will be a viable resource in the future of distance education.
Regardless of how individuals feel about online learning, it has thus far withstood the test of time. Even though this window of time has been shortened by the speed of the evolution of technology, it has still withstood all of its tests. So in my eyes distance education is here to stay, now it may look completely different in the next few decades, but what we commonly refer to right now as “distance learning” looks nothing like the correspondences courses of yesteryear. So with that said, I see I bright future for this educational option, which in turn offers a bright future for me as well. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Best Practices Assignment

So this week I was supposed to create a best practices document for a trainer that decided to make his face to face class a blended class. In my mind this was a one page resource to keep him focused on the transition. I also envisioned it being used in a informational packet (with a few tweaks).  Some of the information that I was required to embed into this document is as follows:
- pre-planning strategies
- what can be enhanced by the distance learning format
- how does the trainers role change in a distance learning environment
- what steps can he take to encourage the trainees to communicate online

Attached you will find the actual document. feel free to look over it and let me know how you feel about it!!

Best Practices Document

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Free Online Course Critique

My assignment this week was to look at a free online course and critique it. So, while perusing which has so great links to all kinds of free things, I noticed that some of the courses that were offered were from Harvard. I quickly skimmed down to math and selected a math course that was offered at Harvard, MATH E-222 Abstract Algebra. I know what you are thinking, “she must be so smart!” You would be correct in that assumption, but just not as smart as the kid with the lowest grade in this class (at least when it comes to abstract algebra, a topic I know next to nothing about).

Now I understand this is a FREE course, so I know there was not an instructional designer slaving away turning an advanced math class into something palatable for the online student. but this is Harvard we are talking about and I guess I had foolishly high standards for the ivy league school. Let me start by saying aside from the fact that I could get videos of the lectures online, along with a laundry list of PDF files with hand scribbled notes on them and another PDF list titled problems sets that simply listed the page in the textbook to turn to and which problems to work on, were the only offerings that in any way shape or form resembled an online course.

This Harvard math class is guilty of doing one of the worst distance learning practices of “dumping” face to face course offerings onto the web (Simonson, 2009). This course was simply filmed and put on line. The film was not edited at all. When he was standing in the way of the problem or had written something illegibly there was no graphic added or a later image shot and edited into the film so the distance learner can see what the professor was actually talking about. In fact, the camera lagged behind the work, and would go back to the problem when it was in view but far after the steps had been given.  There were also no activities designed for the distance learner at all. If they didn’t have the textbook they could not even do the problem sets that were assigned to the face to face class. The design of this class would make it almost impossible to be successful while learning at a distance.

Another issue was the lack of an actual course management system (CMS) at all. A CMS is a virtual learning environment that has “become the de facto standard by which the vast majority of asynchronous distance education courses are delivered” (Simonson, 2009). Unless, you consider a webpage with links to all of the above stated elements and a very skimpy syllabus a CMS. There is no form of communications, project space or assessments for the distance learner. From the looks of things what was being offered as a free extension class was really just a compilation of the class artifacts placed on line for the face to face attendees to use as needed. In one of the lectures that I watched Professor Gross did announce that when speaking about the extension course he should look into the camera. But that appeared to be the only concession made for the distance learners.
There were some positives I would like to highlight, but I must honestly say they really do not compensate for the poor and almost nonexistent design of the online version of this class. I did really like that each lecture was offered in 3 different forms for downloading; Quicktime, Flash and as an MP3. This ensures an ease of use for the technology, and even allowed people with slow bandwidth to download MP3s so they could still participate. Professor Gross kept a very conversational tone throughout his lectures and seemed to really enjoy teaching the subject matter. He also acknowledged that he used too much jargon and asked that students stop and get clarification from him. All of the materials are available at all times, aside from the textbook which is probably due to copyright issues.  The final positive is that the course is asynchronous, so students can work at their own pace to fully grasp the intricate math problems.

All in all I would rate this course as a complete flop. Though, I highly doubt anyone at Harvard is worried about what I have to say, or what the nonpaying distance learners are not receiving from their ever so generous (please note the sarcasm) free classes. But, honestly, in this day and age everything that goes onto the internet with your name on it should be worth having the label. It would have taking an ID student less than a month to retool the class and actually make it worth taking. It is a reflection of the old school belief system that many highly esteemed schools still carry. My warning for them is that if they start looking towards future technologies their schools will be a thing of the past.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Blackboard Collaborate

My professor asked us to look at a scenario and figure out what type of distance learning technology we would use to remedy the problem. The scenario is as follows:

A high school history teacher, located on the west coast of the United States, wants to showcase to her students new exhibits being held at two prominent New York City museums. The teacher wants her students to take a "tour" of the museums and be able to interact with the museum curators, as well as see the art work on display. Afterward, the teacher would like to choose two pieces of artwork from each exhibit and have the students participate in a group critique of the individual work of art. As a novice of distance learning and distance learning technologies, the teacher turned to the school district’s instructional designer for assistance. In the role of the instructional designer, what distance learning technologies would you suggest the teacher use to provide the best learning experience for her students?
I began to peruse my textbook looking for a new idea to remedy this situation. Now as a first grade teacher in a low income area I have no real working knowledge of distance learning technologies, but I love to Skype and video chat with my family that is scattered all over the country. When I came to the section on desktop two-way audio/video I knew I had come across my answer.  But the first sentence talked about this technology being costly and cumbersome (Simonson, 2009), which was hard to believe having used Skype for free a million times. But as I started hunting I came across Blackboard Collaborate.
The website explains that it is a combination of Wimba and Elluminate. If I just sounded like I was speaking some foreign language, have no fear, I am going to keep it simple!

These programs offer users the abilities to have more engaging collaborations by using web, video and audio conferencing, instant messaging and a host of other options. The main focus for my assignment was the web and video conferencing.
Their video conferencing used a bevy of wonderful additions to my basic idea of video chats. Blackboard Collaborate offers not just teleconferencing, but also the ability to use 6 simultaneous cameras, live chat, use log ins with profiles, and an interactive whiteboard space. You can look at this link to see a video on how this technology works at, Introduction to Blackboard Collaborate Web Conferencing. But as educators in this day and age we must always remember that the key to success in the classroom “is not which technologies are used, but how they car used and what information is communicated using the technologies” (Simonson, 2009).
I felt like the teacher in the scenario could use the Blackboard Collaborate program with the museum curators to create the tour and then hold a lecture. The teacher could work together with the museum staff to create a whiteboard presentation on the exhibits. On the day of the “tour” the experts would join in with the class via teleconferencing. They would be visible on the Audio and Video panel. Each student could log in to the site for a live chat with the presenter, and the teacher could even have a microphone set up for a question answer session. This program offers a wealth of options for how to construct a distance learning experience, and that paired with a great lesson plan and a partnership with experienced professionals will lead to a very interesting and educational experience for the students.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson

If you are interested and want to know EVEN more about Blackboard Collaborate check out this video:

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Distance Learning in my Eye

            Before I began this journey to becoming an Instructional Designer I had a very small idea of what distance learning actually was. Not so much because I was unlearned in the theories and concepts of distance learning, but because I had really never thought about it. Then I went from having no real concern for it to plunging into becoming a distance learner, who is now currently learning about distance learning.  Now that this knot is woven I will explain this a little bit more. I used to think distance learning was getting on a computer or tuning into a tv show and learning something. I felt like a distance learner when I was on learning how to change my bike tire, or reading about the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism, even watching how to cook like Paula Dean on the Food Network. But as I began to learning more about this topic from a more professional standpoint it became clear that I was off the mark. Many of the things I considered to fall under the umbrella of distance learning were really self study.

            Distance learning is defined, in Teaching and Learning as a Distance as “institution based, formal education where the learning group is separated and where interactive telecommunications systems are used to connect learners, resources , and instructors” (Simonson, 2009).  So if I use this definition it is clear just how unclear I was about distance learning.

            First, it states that distance learning is tied to an institution (Simonson, 2009). So, even though is available in most homes, on multiple phones, used by teachers to show all kinds of information to their students, it is not an institution, nor is the Food Network, much to the chagrin of my best friend. Universities, schools, corporations and such are considered to be “institutions” in this matter. So even though thanks to Paula Dean I can now make a banana pudding that brings a tear to the eye, and I learned about it years after she demonstrated how to make said pudding in a city about a thousand miles from where I downloaded the recipe, and it is an education that has made me famous at my church, this was not and will never be considered distance learning but instead simply self study.

            This pudding example personifies the main point of distance learning. Yes, this kitchen master and I were separated by distance and time, and I had to use the internet (interactive communication) to find the recipe. But the main reason that makes this example one of self study is that distance learning must connect “learners, resources and instructors” (Simonson, 2009).  And no matter how emotional I get about this delectable dessert, Paula Dean has no connection to me and my kitchen explorations. “The definition of distance education included these four components. If one or more are missing, then the event is something different if only slightly, than distance education” (Simonson, 2009).

            Distance learning has been around for well over a hundred years. In the past the “interactive community” (Simonson, 2009) was letters and assignments mailed back and forth between teacher and student. But the popularization of the world wide web made learning at a distance an easy and affordable option in the United States of America (Simonson, n.d.).  In the span of a year the amount of students enrolled in a distance learning program went from 1.5 million to 6 million, which leads experts to believe that numbers will continue to increase dramatically in the next few year (Simonson, n.d.).  I personally feel there is a long way to go before it is received by all as a regular option for education. Home schooling and online degrees are still looked at by many as a less that standard education. But as the internet grows and becomes even more entrenched in our daily lives, people will accept distance based educations as a viable option, not a replacement of universities (Simonson, n.d.), but an option none the less.

            Now as I look at my personal definition of distance learning, I would have to say that it embodies much of what I have learned from these educational sources I was given in my online class. It is an education from a large institution that takes place at different times and locations for several people, and there has to be a shared relationship on some level between the teacher and learner.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Simonson, M. (n.d.). Distance education the next generation. Retrieved from on July 2, 2011. 

** The awesome banana pudding recipe can be found at: not your mama's banana pudding