Effective Communication

The medium in which a message is communicated can make a huge difference in how that message is interpreted. There are multiple ways to send a message and a recent scenario I was given showed how the same message delivered through different platforms can affect how it is interpreted.

Email

The first version of the message was sent through email. It was straight to the point and asked the receiver to help find some missing information. It seemed rather cold, even though at the end the sender said they appreciated the help.

Voicemail

The second version used exactly the same script, but the inflections in the voice made it seem a little friendlier and less demanding.

Face-to-Face

The third version was a video of a face-to-face interaction between the receiver and sender of the message. In this version the inflections were there, but also the non-verbal aspects of communication could be seen, such as the smile on the sender’s face.

 As a project manager, given these examples, it is easy to see that having face-to-face meetings would be the preferred method of communication. Obviously this is not always possible, so using methods that allowed voice communication would be the choice over email. Email would be good to use as a visual reminder that has specific details that could be lost or missed with other methods.

Post-mortem: A Tale of Lost Focus

Several years ago I was working on a software development team which produced a well-known 3D package. (I’ll leave the name anonymous, but it was used on several high-profile television shows and movies.) Much of the programming staff was excited when we got word that we were going to start a major new project that would allow us to create a new software package which would allow us to use next-generation tools and processes. Many meetings were held and an initial plan for the underlying architecture was created.

A few months into development the CEO of the company had another idea. He wanted to take the project public and invite customers to buy-in early to have access to the development process. In short, this was the beginning of the end for the project. A bungled, and publicly-panned, announcement of the project left a sour taste in the customer-base and caused some conflict between the development staff and management. Now the plan was being rushed in order to meet tighter deadlines. With the addition of a closed beta for those customers that paid, feature creep was more prevalent with more features that took development time from refining the essential underlying architecture of the software. With the loss of focus, the project started to go in multiple directions and the customers that were using the software were getting impatient with features not being fully-developed or not having their own ideas implemented. Van Rekom (Laureate, n.d.) states that scope creep always happens, so it must be considered when planning a project. I think we missed this critical step when we allowed so many new voices into the project.

Looking back, the project may have been more successful if more time had been given to developing a more stable architecture before others were able to influence how the software should work. Announcing a project and releasing the beta software before it was stable was also a tremendous mistake.

For my own part, as both an internal tester and technical writer, I contributed daily to bug reports and development of the user interface including documentation. While it was often difficult to keep track and stay up-to-date with ever-shifting software, I believe I was able to provide our customers with a usable set of documents that at least showed the basics of using the software that was released. Had the software development been more focused, I believe the end product would have been successful.

Resources

Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). Project management concerns: ‘Scope creep’ [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

Thinking about the future

As I look back over the last eight weeks, and what I have learned about distance education, I am nothing but encouraged about the future of learning online. I look at the perceptions now, where they were, and where they are going and see increased acceptance. As a beginning instructional designer, I must also consider what I can do myself to help improve those perceptions and how to be a positive force for improvement in the field.

Divining the Future

While it is nearly impossible to truly know what the future will bring, I see evidence in the public perception of distance learning that it will continue to be accepted. As more and more people have access to high-speed broadband, the technologies available to create and transmit the information will be more pervasive. Our text (Simonson et al, 2012) brought up the field of telemedicine. Recently, the technology of virtual reality (VR) has been making a more public comeback. In an article about Oculus Rift (Newman, 2014), the technology is being used to train new surgeons remotely. I see this as a positive step towards accepting distance learning, at least in the medical field. In 5 years, this technology could be used in an increasing number of schools. In 10 years, I could see the VR technology being used as a complete virtual classroom, combining ideas of discussion forum, blogs, and live chat in yet unforeseen ways.

What can I do?

 One thing I think I must do to help improve societal perceptions of distance learning is to become an expert in the technology. This not only means becoming proficient in using the tools, but understanding why I would use one tool over another and knowing which context is a best fit for a particular tool. Simonson et al (2012) expand on this when they explain it is not only which technologies are used, but how and what information is communicated using the tools.

Accentuate the Positive

The popular 1940’s song “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” (Mercer, 1944) encourages the listener to be positive to increase their happiness. While I don’t think it is responsible to completely ignore the negative aspects of everything, the notion of the song is something to think about. I feel, as an instructional designer, it is important to communicate positive thoughts about distance learning. The more that can be done to help the learner. This means providing useful tools to communicate with the instructor and fellow students, providing understandable boundaries and goals for the students, and allowing the student to feel like they have a responsibility in their own learning (Simonson et al, 2012).

In Conclusion

With all this in mind, I am becoming more aware of the role of the instructional designer. Not only must I learn the tools, but I need to know why I am using them. I also need to help grow the field of disntance learning by increasing awareness of the positive aspects of it.

 

Resources

Mercer, J. (1944) Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive. [Recorded by The Pied Pipers] Capitol Records.

Newman, J. (2014) How the Oculus Rift VR headset is helping train the surgeons of tomorrow. Retrieved from http://www.digitalartsonline.co.uk/news/hacking-maker/oculus-rift-vr-headset-becomes-tool-for-real-life-surgery-demos/

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2011) Teaching and Learning at a Distance: Foundations of Distance Education (5th ed.). Boston, MA. Pearson Education, Inc.

Going From A to 01000001

I was recently given the scenario of a training manager who was evaluating a course and felt the communication between students was lacking. My task was to provide guidance for the training manager and provide some best practices for creating a blended learning course. I provided information on different technology tools, what is needed for pre-planning, and what assessment might be needed within the course. I included a couple example matrices and other examples that will help facilitate communication.

WK7Assgn Miller M (PDF)

Open Courseware, Is free the best option?

Over the last several years, universities across the nation have been putting their course content online for anyone interested to look at and learn from. The MIT OpenCourseware project by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is one of those universities. (2014) The MIT OpenCoursware website offers several different topics ranging from Business to Science, each of which can be divided further into sub-topics and specialties. Some courses offer video or audio lectures, examples of past student work, lecture notes, and interactive simulations. The information presented is remarkable, but is it useful as a replacement for a distance learning environment?

The content structure is well designed and the amount of topics is staggering, but easy to navigate. It is possible to narrow down your search for information using the Course Finder and find individual courses based on your interests.

mit_coursefinder

However, as a distance learning environment an important factor is missing, the instructor or student interaction. Interaction in the classroom, in its various forms, has been shown to be an important part of the learning experience. (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & ZVacek, 2014). However, the framework is there to adapt the content and apply it towards a fully developed online course.

The content provided on the MIT Courseware site is structured in such a way that an instructional designer could take it and design a course around it, which could meet the Unit-Module-Topic guideline. (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & ZVacek, 2014). A course management system would provide the communication tools for a more immersive and interactive learning environment.

After looking at some of the content provided in the courses, several projects and activities are suggested, along with student examples. For example, in a course about using technology for creative learning (Resnick, 2009), several creative examples of using technology in different ways are provided. I think these provide excellent ideas for both learner and instructor to learn about the subject they are studying.

Personally, I probably would not use this type of learning environment as my primary source of learning, but it does provide a useful resource for finding out more about a given subject. Using it as a resource or framework for designing a more immersive learning environment, following the Terms of Use of course, might help in the development of a more effective source of learning.

Resource

Resnick, Mitchel, and Karen Brennan. MAS.714J Technologies for Creative Learning, Fall 2009. (MIT OpenCourseWare: Massachusetts Institute of Technology), http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/media-arts-and-sciences/mas-714j-technologies-for-creative-learning-fall-2009 (Accessed 3 Aug, 2014). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Pull Up A Chair, Let’s Travel

I was given a scenario to consider. A high school history teacher on the West coast wants to show her students exhibits at two museums in New York. While a field trip might be fun, it would be ridiculously expensive and difficult to travel almost 3000 miles to visit two museums and will have an interaction with the museum curators. With today’s technology, a teacher might not ever have to leave the classroom.

I am making the assumption that the high school teacher will be giving the virtual tour in a face-to-face environment, where student will be in attendance in a classroom. Since part of this lesson would be conducted online, with an interaction with museum curators, I would say this would be a distributed learning model as described by Simonson et al. (2012) The technology used would be a mix of multimedia including video, audio, animation, and text.

The initial tour of the museums could be done in a couple ways. One way could be a video tour which the students could view on their own and at their own pace. The videos could be hosted on the school’s servers or on a public space like YouTube or Vimeo. One video example of a virtual tour is an introductory video of the Natural History Museum in London. (2012) Another video produced by the museum discusses the creation of models used in a display at the museum. (2014)

Another option would be to have an interactive web tour using technology like Adobe Flash where students could click on various parts of the interface and learn more about a specific piece of art. The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) has created an interactive tour of their museum for children. I think something like this could be used for High School students, the content modified for their age group.

For the interactive part with the museum curator, a live-conference could be made using technology like Skype or other two-way live video feed. The teacher would act as a moderator and students would be encouraged to ask questions during the conference. Another way to interact with the museum conference would be to have an online forum where students could ask questions about specific pieces of art. The teacher could use the discussion questions and answers as part of the face-to-face discussion in class when they go over assigned art pieces.

Using all of these resources together fits well with the R2D2 model suggested by Bong and Zhang. (2006) The model promotes a new way to design and deliver distance education, where the R2D2 stands for read, reflect, display, and do. There are a myriad of ways to create online instruction and the R2D2 model for providing a framework for engaging the student. The students would read information (read), discuss information with the museum curator (reflect), watch video (display), and interact with the Flash tour and discussion forum (do).

Resources

Bonk C, Zhang K Introducing the R2D2 model: online learning for the diverse learners of this world (2006) Distance Education Vol. 27, No. 2, August 2006, pp. 249-264

Museum of Modern Art, Destination Modern Art (N/A) Retrieved from http://www.moma.org/interactives/destination/

Natural History Museum, Take a virtual tour of the museum, natural history museum (2012) Retrieved from http://youtu.be/tdQDm4gdSOc

Natural History Museum, Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story – the making of the models (2014) Retrieved from http://youtu.be/znUvFxsrMOs

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson

Defining Distance Learning

The definition and terminology used to identify distance learning is ever changing, depending on the person or institution making that definition. Some might simply mean learning from an instructor who is not in the same space as the learner. A more contemporary view might define the recent explosion of online schools which provide world-wide access to content, which may or may not be facilitated by an instructor. (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zyacek 2012)

Prior to starting this course for Distance Learning, I had attended an online animation school called Animation Mentor. Based on that experience, where each class met online at a specified time, I would have said this was absolutely necessary for the type of instruction we were receiving. Now that I am midway through my graduate studies, I am discovering this is not always the case. Meeting weekly with an animation industry veteran was certainly helpful, but may not have been absolutely needed. Having our work critiqued by the same person, I would argue, was valuable and was a needed part in that particular learning experience. The one other thing that helped enhance my experience was the learning community of the school. We had an active discussion forum, an “always on” Skype group chat, and other methods for students to interact and learn from each other.

If I were to define distance learning, based on my experience and new knowledge, I would say distance learning is the ability of a learner to gain relevant knowledge using available tools that allow for access to information from remote locations with or without the facilitation of an instructor, aided by the presence of an interactive learning community. The presence of an instructor or learning community does not mean physically present, but the ability to facilitate the learning experience using pre-determined methods and tools.

I am a huge fan of science fiction, in both film and print. Occasionally, the authors will explore a premise revolving around previously unimagined methods of learning. In a previous post, I wrote about learning in “The Matrix”, but I’ll skip that as an all too convenient way to gaining knowledge. The technology explored in Star Trek: The Next Generation offers a more fascinating potential for distance learning with the holo-deck. Is it still distance learning if you cannot perceive that the instructor is a simulation or projection of a real person?

Until we have that type of technology, I imagine the definition of what distance learning is will continue to evolve. As the technology continues to change, it will be my responsibility to keep up and design meaningful learning experiences.

 

Resources

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson