Tuesday, November 21, 2017

New Article: Applying Project Management Strategies in a Large Curriculum Conversion Project in Higher Education

My Franklin University colleagues and I have published an article on Project Management and Instructional Design in the Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration. The journal has generous copyright policies, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to share the full article here!

Joel Gardner
Franklin University
joel.gardner@franklin.edu 

Patrick A. Bennett
Franklin University
patrick.bennett@franklin.edu 

Niccole Hyatt
Franklin University
niccole.hyatt@franklin.edu 

Kevin Stoker
Franklin University
kevin.stoker@franklin.edu 



Abstract
Higher education is undergoing great changes that require universities to adapt quickly, and making these changes can be difficult. One discipline that can aid in executing change is project management, which has developed a set of clear processes and strategies for completing initiatives quickly and effectively. Several authors have identified project management competencies as key in the practice of instructional design. However, in our experience it can be difficult to operationalize project management, particularly in instructional design projects that are large in scope and require a quick turnaround. In this case study, we describe our response to an immediate need to convert 53 courses from a 15-week to a 12-week format. We share the project management processes, strategies, and technologies we used to plan, organize, and lead this large course conversion project. We share our experiences working with organizational culture, collaborating with busy faculty, and hiring part-time designers and content experts. Finally, we share our own best practices for managing and leading large, multi-course instructional design projects.

Introduction
There has been a tremendous amount of discontinuous change in the U.S. system of higher education over the last several decades. The shifts have included ever-increasing scrutiny by accrediting and regulatory bodies, falling enrollments due to fewer high school students heading to college, and astounding price increases to the cost of tuition. For example, the cost of higher education tuition has increased by 1,225% over the last several decades, which is twice that of increases in medical care costs during the same period (Jamrisko & Kolet, 2014). Additionally, the National Student Clearing House (2017, June 16) reports that the number high school graduates attending college has fallen over the last five years by more than 2.5 million students. Higher education is in a time of great transition and institutions that do not become more agile risk abject and total failure. As Bryson (2011) noted, the survival of an organization is predicated on how well it responds to the shifting ecosystem. The problem of decreasing attendance is so dramatic for some institutions that Frey (2013) estimates that 50 percent of all private institutions of higher education within the United States will collapse by 2030 due to insolvency.

On top of all of this, institutions of higher education do not change easily. In fact, the long-held traditions of colleges and universities make needed change even more difficult. Zemsky (2013) suggests that although colleges and universities may experiment with new non-traditional models, they may not adopt sustainable change, so the same old education models are applied to new opportunities. New models and approaches, such as project management methodologies, are needed to help maintain quality while at the same time reduce expenses.

Project Management
One discipline that can aid in executing change is project management, which has developed a set of clear processes and strategies for completing initiatives quickly and effectively. It appears that change is more rapid and discontinuous in nature today than at any other time in history. These types of abrupt changes require strategic and agile responses, and project management is one method of approaching change that can speed sustainable change and encourage positive organizational behavior interventions. Project management includes a set of clear principles and strategies for completing projects on schedule, per scope, and within a predetermined budget (Project Management Institute, 2013). A project is as a unique activity that has a predetermined start and end date. The overall practice of project management involves the creation of a project plan that breaks down the defined project into the related tasks to accomplish the goals of the project, sequencing the tasks, assigning resources, and working to adjust task start and finish dates to align with resource availability. This upfront planning process allows for the creation of a project schedule, a project budget, and a project team consisting of the required human resources to complete the project. Project management is successfully applied in a variety of fields and contexts (Project Management Institute, 2013).

Project Management in Instructional Design 
Project management is key in the practice of instructional design (Greer, 1992; Koszalka, Russ-Eft, & Reiser, 2012), a field which is inherently project-based. The International Board of Standards for Training, Performance, and Instruction (IBSTPI) identified planning and managing instructional design projects as a key competency for instructional designers, (Koszalka, Russ-Eft, & Reiser, 2012), and many authors have promoted the notion that programs preparing instructional designers for their work should include instruction on effective project management (Merrill, 2007; Williams Van Rooij, 2010). At our University, we have employed project management strategies in a variety of instructional design projects, including course design for University programs and curricula, corporate clients, government clients, and other institutions of higher education.

Responding to Change at Franklin University 
Franklin University has a long history of adapting to changes in industry and the higher education ecosystem. Our University was an early developer of fully online programs in the late 1990s and has successfully provided online education for nearly 20 years. In the early stages of our online development, Our University was granted permission from the U. S. Department of Education (ED) to have an overlapping winter and summer trimester to support the development of online programs and employ a 15-week summer term. However, during the 2016-2017 academic year, the ED communicated that it would no longer support the overlapping of terms. This meant that the summer term would be shortened to 12 weeks in length. Because this direction was given just 7 months before the next summer trimester, it created a serious potential problem for many of our students who would need to take key 15-week courses during that summer to graduate from our University in a timely manner. Our university had more than 85 15-week courses, all of which were online and several with face-to-face versions. This included major area courses in many high-enrollment programs such as accounting.

To respond quickly to the requirements of the ED, we created a project team to plan for and execute a new strategy: converting all 15-week courses to 12-week courses. Furthermore, University leadership mandated that the required 15-week courses for Summer 2017 be redesigned immediately. That meant that our institution would need to convert 53 of the 85 courses from 15 to 12 weeks between January 2017 and April 2017.

In this case study, we describe how we responded to an immediate need to convert 53 courses from a 15-week to a 12-week format. We share Our University’s model for delivering online education using adjunct faculty. We then discuss the project management processes and strategies we used to plan, organize, and lead this large course conversion project. We share our experiences working with organizational culture, collaborating with busy faculty, and hiring part-time designers and content experts. We also share the technologies we used to effectively manage this large course conversion project. Finally, we share our own best practices for managing and leading large instructional design projects.

Method 

Instructional Design and Centralized Curriculum at Our University

In this section, we provide an overview of our course design and delivery approach at our University. Adjunct faculty, who are actively employed experts in the field related to the courses, teach the majority of our courses. This aids us in achieving our goal to provide instructors and courses that are relevant and current to the needs of employers. To aid in controlling and assuring the quality of each course, we employ a centralized curriculum in which each course is developed and deployed within our Learning Management System (LMS) BlueQuill, and each section of the course contains the same structure, assignments, rubrics, and point allotment. Per our design process, teams comprised of an instructional designer, faculty member, content editor, and sometimes external content expert create each course.  This team and process has become an integral component of curriculum development, revision, and improvement.

This design approach creates a sense of "our course" among the team and ultimately provides a more robust experience for the student. It allows the faculty member and content expert to focus on the content, or discipline, while the instructional designer focuses on the best way to distribute the information throughout the course, and the content editor conducts a series of checks to ensure that the course is ready for publication. A management team employs project management strategies to oversee, support, and lead the design project.

Project Management Applied to Instructional Design
As noted above, several authors have written about the relationship between instructional design and project management (Greer, 1992; Koszalka, et al., 2012 Merrill, 2007; Williams Van Rooij, 2010). Williams Van Rooij (2010) found that project management is a critical contributor to the success of instructional design, and the generic ADDIE process for designing instruction does not fully encompass critical project management components (Williams Van Rooij, 2010). We have found this to be true in our instructional design work, and below we describe how we integrated both the ADDIE process within an overarching project management process to execute this course conversion project.

According to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), there are five process groups or phases of project management, which we highlight here and describe in greater detail below: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing (Project Management Institute, 2013). These groups generally occur sequentially, though executing and monitoring and controlling occur simultaneously. For this project, the five phases were led and managed by the management team, which included the vice president of implementation, the executive director of design services, the department chair of instructional design, and the director of implementation, who acted as project manager. The instructional designer who led the design teams performed the executing phase. The executing phase encompassed the five phases of the ADDIE model: analyzing, designing, developing, implementing, and evaluating, which were the responsibility of the instructional designer (see Figure 1). In this manner, we integrated project management principles and instructional design processes.

Figure 1. The relationship between general phases of instructional design and the project management process groups at our University. The ADDIE phases helped guide each individual course design project, and the project management process groups guided the overall course conversion of the identified courses.
Process Groups. Our implementation of the course conversion process paralleled the project management process groups defined by the PMBOK. In this section, we define the five PMBOK process groups (Project Management Institute, 2013) and describe how we implemented them in this course conversion project.

Initiating.
The initiating process group consists of those processes performed to define a new project or a new phase of an existing project by obtaining authorization to start the project or phase (PMBOK 2013). In this phase, typical activities include identifying who will be affected by the project and ensuring that all stakeholders are aware of the project scope and agree to its implementation. As we began to grapple with this project, we first met with multiple stakeholders to help clarify the needs and constraints for the project. We held several meetings to present the current situation, listen to stakeholders’ concerns and ideas, gather feedback on the proposed plan, and determine the goals and outcomes for the project.

Planning.
The planning process group consists of those processes performed to establish the total scope of the effort, define objectives, and develop a course of action (Project Management Institute, 2013). In our experience, planning is the most important part of the work for the project manager, and inadequate planning is very often the cause of a project’s failure. For this project, this planning included identifying the courses that were to be converted. This included prioritizing those courses running in the coming summer trimester that had a high enrollment and potentially impacted students’ ability to complete their degrees in a timely manner. This planning also included defining team members’ roles, identifying the project’s scope, and developing a communication plan.

A key part of our planning for this project was clarifying the role of each of the design team members. These team members included an instructional designer, a content editor, a lead faculty member, and in some cases, a subject matter expert hired to provide content expertise for the course. We defined each team member’s role, including when and how they would contribute to the process. Along with this planning, we identified a clear deadline for when key parts of the design process were to be completed. We also identified a deadline by which all courses needed to be completed.

An important part of the planning process is identifying the scope of the project. This includes clarifying the project goals, what to deliver, the criteria for success, and the cost of resources spent. We compared our capacity as an organization with the specific needs of the project and prioritized which courses to focus on for the summer start date. To help control the scope of each individual course and keep the project to a manageable size, we clarified that the goal was to convert the courses to a different format, not necessarily to fully redesign the courses. Our goal was to finish all conversions, despite the potential to further improve some of the courses. We estimated that it would take around 60 hours to convert a single course and directed our designers to spend about this much time on each course.

Finally, we also created a communication plan that considered all of the key stakeholders for the project. These stakeholders included students, faculty, designers, adjuncts, and the registrar’s office. A key aspect of this communication included our initial kickoff meeting with all stakeholders in which we described the purpose of the project, the timeline, and the process to complete the project and further built stakeholder buy-in. We discuss more elements of our communication plan under the Monitoring and Controlling section later on.

Executing.
The executing process group consists of those process groups performed to complete the work defined in the project plan to satisfy the project specifications (PMBOK, 2013). As noted above, the executing phase is where all of the course conversion work took place. In this phase, the instructional designers employed the instructional design process with the faculty and content experts. In some cases, edits and changes to these courses took place within a Microsoft Word course manuscript design document, which captured all of the content and assignments for the course. In other cases, these edits and changes were identified on a marked up PDF copies of the courses to be changed. To employ project management for these courses, we created major milestones for the courses’ development so that we could track the designers’ progress in developing the courses. The instructional designers attended biweekly meetings to provide updates on their progress meeting these milestones. Instructional designers also tracked their time spent on each course project so that we could effectively monitor how long each course took to complete and make adjustments as needed.

In addition to the work accomplished by the instructional designers, our content editing team played a key role in the execution of this project. Content editors reviewed the completed course manuscripts and put them into the LMS. They also conducted quality checks on each course to ensure that all of the course components and functionalities such as discussions, synchronous sessions, point allocations, and rubrics met the course quality standards we had previously created. Ultimately, content editors reviewed the courses for accuracy, consistency, and accessibility. Again, these activities were reported biweekly and each content editor tracked time spent for each task daily.

A key component of these course conversions was the collaboration with adjunct faculty who served as content experts. Because our full-time faculty were required to convert many of these courses rapidly, we needed to hire additional experts to support the design process. Typically, these content experts were adjuncts that teach the specific course that they supported and have the familiarity with the content and course flow. Using this model, we were able to develop multiple courses simultaneously without overwhelming one particular lead faculty member. For example, one faculty member had to convert 13 courses, which would be impossible given the complexity of the work and the other responsibilities that the faculty member had to maintain during the same period. We anticipated and, therefore, budgeted for 21 courses, but ultimately had 34 courses supported by a content expert.

Monitoring and Controlling

Communication. One key method for monitoring and controlling is communication. As noted above, we created a plan for communicating the project and its status to all stakeholders. Specifically, we held planning meetings with all stakeholders to gather their insights and develop an understanding of the project needs. We held a kick off meeting with all involved and communicated the project purpose, scope, and plan. As noted above, we held biweekly meetings with the instructional designers to communicate any updates and to facilitate peer-sharing and collaborative problem solving. We also checked in with faculty regularly through emails or phone calls, particularly when issues needed to be resolved. We also met monthly with the academic deans to discuss any concerns, and to answer questions. At the end of the project, we conducted lessons learned meetings to gather insights from team members on what went well and on how we could improve on the work with future course conversions.

Tracking and Reporting.
 Another method for monitoring and controlling is tracking and reporting. We held biweekly status meetings to monitor the work of our instructional designers and content editors. In these meetings, the project manager followed up with each team member on the status of each course, including which milestones were completed. This meeting served to hold team members accountable for their assigned work and gave us the opportunity to identify issues and problems early so that we could respond to them quickly and keep the course designs moving forward.

We also tracked employee work using the time tracking software Replicon. Instructional design faculty and content editors entered the time spent on each project into this tool, which allowed us to create reports on the time spent for each assigned course conversion so that we could plan for future course conversions.

Quality Reviews.
In addition to the tracking described above, we also instituted quality reviews to monitor and assure the quality of the courses implemented into the LMS. These quality reviews included review of the faculty member, the instructional designer, and a comprehensive peer review of the final course by two content editors. Components of the review included: a review of the overall flow of the course; a check of course functionality such as links, assignments dates and discussion functions; a review of all images for appropriate use of alternative text; a review of course syllabi to ensure inclusion of required policies and other components; and standard review of the updated course materials.

Closing.
 As noted above, the closing phase of a project is when the project officially ends. To close out this course conversion project, we held two lessons learned sessions – one with our instructional design/content editing experts, and one including all faculty and college leadership - to identify opportunities for improvement for future projects. Opportunities we identified included setting clearer deadlines, building in time for course review, and staggering due dates for a more balanced flow of work. We then communicated the successful completion of the project to all project stakeholders, including a final report of the project’s success. We documented the changes made to each course and any additional notes for each course conversion in our records in SharePoint. Finally, we held a luncheon with key project stakeholders to celebrate the successful completion of the project.

PMBOK Knowledge Base.
In addition to the five process groups noted above, PMBOK has 10 knowledge areas, which we describe briefly in column 1 of Table 1 below. These knowledge areas can be emphasized or deemphasized depending on the industry, the project and products, and the project context. In our instructional design projects, we tend to focus on seven of the knowledge areas, while paying less concern to three of the knowledge areas. Specifically, we do not typically focus on project integration management because our processes are well established, and there is little need to manage their integration. Project risk management was not a focus, because there was little choice in this project – we were required to complete the changes - though the project did have some inherent risks. Finally, project procurement management was not emphasized because the majority of our resources for the project were internal, aside from identifying and compensating content experts. Table 1 below briefly describes the 10 PMBOK knowledge areas and summarizes how we applied these areas in this course conversion project.

Table 1. The 10 PMBOK Knowledge areas and how we applied them in this project.

PMBOK Knowledge Area
Our Application
Project Integration Management – Managing the holistic processes and components related to a project
  • Coordinated the design and management processes of the course conversion project
Project Scope Management –Defining what the project includes and does not include.
  • Met with project stakeholders to identify courses we needed to convert
  • Worked with design faculty to determine the level of design for each course (in this case, a conversion in length)
Project Time Management – Managing the time spent on the project and ensuring timely completion.
  • Developed an estimate of time needed to convert each course
  • Estimated the overall project time needed
  • Defined the deadline for completion of courses, as well as milestones for key tasks
Project Cost Management – planning and tracking the budget to control the cost of the project.
  • Identified external support needs based on project and the existing internal resources
  • Contracted with part-time employees to fulfill those needs in excess of our capacity
  • Gave all employees parameters for how much time to spend on each course conversion
Project Quality Management – defining and measuring the quality of the products to meet the project quality standards and scope.                             
  • Created course production standards for each course
  • Conducted quality assurance reviews of each course using production standards
Project Human Resource Management – Organizing, managing, and leading the team to deliver the project in scope.
  • Held kickoff meetings to communicate expectations
  • Consistent periodic meetings to track progress, address issues, and provide support
  • Frequent email communication with individuals and stakeholder groups to keep the project on track
Project Communication Management – Planning and executing the communication of the project and project-related information to all stakeholders.
  • Held kickoff meeting to communicate the project parameters and plans
  • Communicated the status of the project to University leadership every two weeks
  • Email communication to solve problems and share status to staff, faculty, and faculty leadership
  • Biweekly meetings with instructional designers to communicate status, problem solve as a group, and provide support
Project Risk Management – Identifying anything that could be an obstacle to the success of the project.
  • Identified risks, including potential impact on students, potential lack of faculty commitment, inability to secure needed content expertise
Project Procurement Management – Managing the acquisition of resources needed to complete the project.
  • Identified content experts and coordinated their compensation
Project Stakeholder Management – Identifying stakeholders and understanding their role within the project.
  • Met with multiple groups of stakeholders multiple times to establish the project, build support, communicate status, and address issues
  • Held lessons learned meetings to gather insights and signal closure of the project
  • Communicated completion at close of project to leadership

Technology for Facilitating Project Management
As alluded to above, we used several technologies for this project. In this section, we describe these technologies and share how we used them in the management and execution of this course conversion project:
  1. Microsoft SharePoint is a document management and storage system that the University has employed. Microsoft OneNote collects notes or data about a particular topic that fosters collaboration while interfacing with all Microsoft Office products. We created a specific project page within SharePoint to house all documents for this project and used it as a central location for storing course manuscripts, documenting what actions we took, and noting any changes that we might need to make in the future.
  2. Replicon is a web-based software that can be used to track projects, hours on tasks, the work of team members, and reporting on that tracking. We used Replicon to track the number of hours worked on each course within the project, which helped us to validate the estimates that we established for the work that the team would complete. In addition, Replicon helped us assign future work to the team by reporting the completion time for each course.
  3. Microsoft Excel is a software that creates spreadsheets. We used Excel to track the status of each project and to create reports with the project status. This allowed us to quickly report our progress to all levels of stakeholders. Note that these reports were effective because the project manager was responsible for updating the spreadsheets daily if not multiple times per day.
  4. In many cases, we also used a course manuscript, which is a template built within Microsoft Word that provides consistency among all courses. Essentially, the template provides a structure for all instructional designers, which allows them to focus on the creative elements of the course design. Additionally, the content editors can work more efficiently with the manuscript because they know which elements go where in the LMS. By implementing the manuscript, the content editors were able to significantly decrease their build time, which decreases the overall budget for the project.
  5. BlueQuill is the Learning Management System that we employed for this project. We implemented and taught all courses within BlueQuill.  The LMS is built internally by our University and is available commercially.
Results
This course conversion project was successful. We completed 53 course conversions on time. To be specific, when we began the project, we estimated that it would take instructional designers an average of 60 hours to convert each course. Based on our tracking, our instructional designers averaged 48.9 hours per course. The PMBOK acceptable standards for estimation are to conclude at -10% or +20% (PMBOK, 2013), and we were roughly 8% under on hours, which is within that standard. In addition, our content editors averaged six hours per course.

Our observation was that using these project management principles encouraged positive interactions with the faculty and content experts. In addition, we were in the middle of a merge of two groups of instructional design and management team members. Looking back, we needed a project of this scope and urgency to bring the team together, and it helped to build a sense of unity and commitment among design team members, many of whom had not previously had an opportunity to collaborate with one another on projects. This project provided purposeful opportunities for the teams to create what Haslam, Reicher, and Platow (2011), refers a social identity as the team self-stereotyped leading to the creation of combined team values, norms, and beliefs surrounding the project. This is a far superior approach to providing long-term team cohesion. This is what Haslam, et al. (2011) define as we leadership.

This successful project also helped to build relationships with college faculty members. As in many universities, some groups of faculty members were uncertain about the effectiveness or usefulness of instructional design support for their courses. Because of the university-wide impact of this project, we worked closely with several of these faculty members, and informal feedback was very positive. In addition, based on the successful execution of this and other projects, we believe that other leaders and managers within the University trust and rely on our expertise more fully.

Recommendations and Reflections 

Recommendations
We recommend the following to leaders and managers of instructional designers. First, we recommend meeting with all stakeholders early and often. This includes faculty, faculty leadership, instructional design management and team members, and any other key stakeholder. Your goal should be to collaboratively clarify the needs of the project, establish support from all stakeholders, identify obstacles and potential strategies before the project begins, communicate the status of the project regularly, gather feedback, and report on the conclusion of the project.

We also recommend communicating early and often. We accomplished this through regular meetings with the instructional designers, stakeholders, and college leadership. These meeting help to the project manager stay transparent with all stakeholders throughout the process. In addition, hold lessons learned sessions at the end of each project so you can learn from and apply those lessons in the future.

We also recommend holding biweekly status meetings in which the team members report on their progress. Our project manager typically leads this meeting, though the director or manager could manage it. We have found that these meetings promote collaboration and peer problem solving and help to identify common issues that can be addressed by the team. In addition, the meeting creates a sense of urgency and a need for team members to show progress since the last meeting. Meeting every two weeks works well because as the research indicates, activities to create a single deliverable should be no more than 80 hours (Project Management Institute, 2013).

We also recommend harnessing technology to facilitate instructional design projects. Technologies can help you organize, track, store, and monitor the work and the instructional products of the instructional designers. When used appropriately, they also allow for sophisticated reporting on the number of hours worked and the progress made.

Wherever possible, we also recommend employing a full-time project manager to manage and monitor instructional design projects. In our experience, project managers who employ key PMBOK principles can provide a significant increase in the productivity and results of an instructional design project. Where this is not possible, we encourage directors and managers of instructional designers to employ these key project management strategies.

To decrease the amount of time needed to bring a substantial number of courses to fruition, we recommend considering external subject matter experts that teach the subjects to assist in the instructional design process. We also recommend employing part-time, contact instructional designers and content editors to increase capacity when needed. Documenting processes and developing clarity on standards makes this possible, and without that kind of clarity this would not work as effectively.

Reflections
It is worth reflecting on the centralized course design strategy taken by our University. In our context, a centralized instructional design model and standardized curricula in which instructional designers, not faculty, design and develop courses seem to have facilitated our ability to respond quickly as an organization and to convert these courses quickly. We completed all course conversions in a short 12-week period. However, this centralized, standardized model may not necessarily make sense in all higher education contexts.

This paper illustrates how we have combined the disciplines of project management and instructional design, specifically combining the ADDIE process with the PMBOK principles. As noted above, in this approach, a project manager is responsible for the overarching project management, and the instructional designer manages the specific timeline for all course design elements. This works well for us, but it may not work for other universities that have different contexts and constraints. Still, we believe that using these PMBOK principles is a critical component of effectively managing instructional design projects, as well as any other major response to the higher education environment today.

It is worth reflecting on the flexible nature of project management and instructional design principles. Because of the pragmatic nature of the practice of the fields of project management and instructional design, we have found it useful to use the principles and processes such as those found in PMBOK and in processes such as the ADDIE process because they can be applied in myriad ways. We might emphasize, for example, project communication management in this project, but give it less emphasis in a project that has fewer stakeholders. In another example, we might conduct an analysis differently for a course conversion than we might for a new course designed for a new program. These are principles to apply in a pragmatic manner based on the context in which the work is taking place.

We have found that this flexibility has enabled us to respond quickly to the demands placed on our design team and our University. Project management tools and clean design processes have helped to facilitate our response to the demands of accrediting and governmental bodies quickly. These principles can also be applied in a variety of ways to help facilitate other kinds of change.

Conclusion
In this paper, we describe how we employed project management principles to succeed in a large course conversion project. This project was a response to a specific direction from the Department of Education to shift how we schedule our courses at our University. Higher education will continue to experience this kind of pressure and change, among many other kinds. We will need to respond to those changes quickly and effectively, and in our experience, project management is a key tool for managing and directing those responses.


References

Bryson, J. M. (2011).  Strategic planning for public and nonprofit organizations: A guide to strengthening and sustaining organizational achievement. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.

Frey, T. (2013, July 5).  By 2030 over 50% of Colleges will Collapse. Retrieved May 19, 2016, from http://www.futuristspeaker.com/business-trends/by-2030-over-50-of-colleges-will-collapse/

Haslam, S. A., Reicher, S. D, & Platow, M. J. (2011).  The new psychology of leadership:Identity, influence, and power. New York, NY, Psychology Press.

Jamrisko, M., & Kolet, I. (2014, August 18).  College Tuition Costs Soar: Chart of the Day. Retrieved November 16, 2016, from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-08-18/college-tuition-costs-soar-chart-of-the-day 

Koszalka, T. A., Russ-Eft, D. F., & Reiser, R. (2013).  Instructional designer competencies: The standards. Retrieved August 15, 2017 from http://ibstpi.org/instructional-design-competencies/.

Merrill, M. D. (2007).  The future of instructional design: the proper study of instructional design. In R. A. Reiser & J. V. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (Second ed., pp. 336-341).  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

National Student Clearing House.  (2017). Current term enrollment estimates – spring 2017. Retrieved July 24, 2017, from https://nscresearchcenter.org/currenttermenrollmentestimate-spring2017/. 

Project Management Institute.  (2013). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK guide).  Newtown Square, Pa: Project Management Institute.

Williams Van Rooij, S. W. (2010).  Project management in instructional design: ADDIE is not enough.  British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(5), 852-864.

Zemsky, R. (2013).  Checklist for change: Making American higher education a sustainable enterprise.  New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Conference Reflections - How Relevant is AECT?

My great friend and associate Dr. Lewis Chongwony just posted a GREAT reflection on his experiences at the international convention for the Association for Educational Communications and Technology. He asks some critical questions about AECT and its fundamental purpose and impact. I highly recommend reading the post.

I also attended AECT's convention this year, and I had some similar thoughts. Here are my reactions in bullet-point form. (You will notice that I use the term we in these questions - I am a scholar and a member of AECT and the Educational Technology/Instructional Design community).
  • What is our purpose? This is something I have wondered about for several years. What is the purpose of AECT? It feels like it is essentially focused on supporting and rewarding research related to educational technology. But, I and many others have wondered what positive result this has achieved outside our own circle of discussion.
  • How can we impact education instead of simply researching it? I am not saying that no impact has been made, but many problems continue to plague our educational system. Right now higher education institutions and typical tenure policies are focused on rewarding research and research-related activities. This is important, but it seems to be disconnected from the issues we see in the systems we are trying to understand and influence.
  • We are topic centered instead of problem-centered. The very structure of AECT is based around different topics, and as scholars we tend to ask "what is the topic of your study?" Even though we know the power of a problem-centered approach, we still think in a topic-centered way. If we want to have an impact, we must select a problem or a series of problems that we are going to take responsibility to solve.
  • How can we share our scholarship more effectively? I see this as an attempt to make our knowledge more accessible and therefore more used by practitioners. A few observations - first, academics have been trained to do a specific style of writing. It can be inherently boring, very long-winded, and hard to interpret and apply. Second, the cost of our publications can be prohibitive. I attended a session on an excellent book that had been written by some peers of mine, but when I went to purchase the book, I found that it was nearly $100 for the book. Seriously? $100? We can't figure out a way to reduce the costs of publishing that book? It didn't have any special color illustrations or anything like that, so why in the world was it so expensive? I can only assume that it was a result of some kind of strange publisher relationship...
I have considered AECT my scholarly home, and it is an outstandingly supportive community. But I certainly join Dr. Chongwony (and many others speaking at the convention) in questioning the direction we have been heading and our relevance and impact on the actual practice of education. My deepest desire is to positive impact peoples' lives and improve the nations and people I work with. Am I doing so through my work with AECT? I have found myself over the past couple of years branching out to different ways of sharing my knowledge (like this blog and an upcoming book that I have written) to make this knowledge more available to others. Will AECT as an organization make the changes it needs to remain relevant and have a deeper impact on the practice of education?

Monday, June 19, 2017

Summit Notes: Essential Institutional Capacities to Lead Innovation

I recently attended the WECT 2017 Summit on Essential Institutional Capacities to Lead Innovation. It was a very good conference that shared some best practices in higher education for innovations to improve student success. Below are some of the notes I took during the conference.

Michelle Weise - Sandbox Collaborative – Southern New Hampshire University

Michelle discussed some of the things that her university has been doing to promote design thinking and collaborative, creative problem solving at her university and as a service for other universities. They created the Sandbox Collaborative, which is a space where people can really think through their design needs and consider solutions for their work. They pulled together a variety of research-based tools and techniques from research and other organization. The space looks very open, beautiful, different, and inviting. It seems to be the kind of space that would be interesting and exciting to be in. The space and group serves as internal consultancy focused on performance improvement for the university (the current needs) and to help look at over the horizon solutions and opportunities (the future). In my experience, it is very difficult to maintain and optimize what is already existing while simultaneously planning for new, innovative systems and approaches.
She noted that they started in “stealth mode” which allowed them to develop and grow and innovate. If you are under scrutiny of others and have the existing culture and patterns imposed on you, you may have a difficult time being able to move forward and will likely lose many of your innovative ideas. Autonomy is critical in the initial phases.

Jeff Borden - St. Leo University – Innovation Incubator

Jeff talked about their innovation incubator, which has been a place for innovating and creating great solutions for the university. They eventually created LionShare, which is a system that pulls together all kinds of student behavior data and provides the students with a variety of supports and tools that provide just in time support to students that is strong up-front and decreases over time. “For technology to work, integration is the key.”
Does your university support innovation? Will they put money behind it? Will they support it?
If an organization or individual is rewarded for innovation, then innovation will happen.
Some reflections: to me, it seems that implementing the innovation is a major issue. Jeff addressed it with the need to consider stakeholder engagement, but there is much more to it than that. What if we never put enough resources toward solving the problem? What if we don’t beta test? What if we ignore cultural or international issues? What if we don’t use foundational project management strategies effectively?

Breakout Session 1: Identify the Talent You Have, What You Need, and Where to Discover Candidates

MJ Bishop
Dr. Bishop shared some key results of a couple of powerful studies that look closely at centers for teaching and learning.
Bishop, M., & Keehn, A. (2015). Leading academic change: An early market scan of leading-edge postsecondary academic innovation centers.
The results of the study included the following insights:
  • Institutional culture is one of the biggest challenges to innovating, along with lack of resources.
  • Innovation centers seem to be regularly undergoing reorganization. (7 of 10 interviewed were undergoing a major revision).
  • Building collaboration was a key thing organizations were doing (collaboration within campus organizations).
  • There seems to have been a shift from faculty success to student success.
  • Most teaching/learning centers started between 2001 and 2010.
  • Most leaders of these centers have had faculty experience.
  • Most report to the provost or academic affairs.
  • In most, the mission and reporting function changed a lot over the last several years.

Outreach to department chairs and financial incentives were the most effective methods for increasing faculty engagement with the center.
Christina Anderson
Christina asked a few questions that really help us gain a focus with the changes we are working to make within an organization. Some good questions here:
  • What are you trying to change?
  • Why?
  • How will you know it’s been successful?
  • When does it need to happen?
  • Who needs to be involved?

There are certainly some foundational project management/goal setting/change management principles embedded in these questions.
Jay Hollowell
Sometimes we are pushed into a swimming pool of sharks. (If you don’t know the joke, it is funny J). This is often the cause of innovation –we do it as a reaction to something in the environment. We can also do it proactively without a push into the shark pool - either way, we must react and adapt and innovate.
Near the end of the presentation, we met as a table and discussed the following question. I have added in our responses.
How must higher education institutions change to better support learning?
  • Redesign the tenure process to go the teaching track or research track. This will help facilitate improve teaching and learning.
  • Bring in additional roles such as mentors to help students move through a learning path as opposed to different courses. Western Governors seems to do this. There could be other supplements including having students provide that kind of support.
  • Incentivize faculty to design courses more effectively so that the students start effectively.
  • Faculty learning communities – faculty teach the same course and come together and have a  conversation about the course and what they are doing, struggling with, what is working. Faculty seem to struggle with the concept of community and dialogue can help instill the idea of sharing experiences and expertise.
  • Hire more full-time faculty.
  • Quality onboarding of new faculty. Be more intentional in onboarding. Focus on teaching them how to teach online and face-to-face. Create an experience of up to 12-18 months. Use quality standards and rubrics, peer evaluations, and others.
  • What role should the teaching and learning center plan in today’s learning design infrastructure?
    • We focus a lot of effort on instructional design to help support the teachers Simplicity is often key – focus on the basics of ID, teaching effectiveness. 
Again, this was a great experience. I have found, though, that very often the context of sitting in a conference is not that I am acquiring the content that is being shared, but that I am thinking alongside the presentations. These presentations often spur ideas and insights that are meaningful but that are not at all related to the presentation content! That was the case at this conference - many ideas for improving myself, my work, and creative endeavors, and the university for which I work.

Thanks, WCET, for a great experience!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Professional Development in Instructional Design

In the absence of growth, atrophy.

The world is constantly changing, and as a learning professional, your role is constantly shifting. To remain relevant and to have a positive impact in your profession, you must continually acquire and expand your knowledge and skills to improve yourself in your craft.

In this blog post, I will share some of my current thoughts on professional development in instructional design.

4 Strategies for Setting Professional Development Goals
  1. Be clear about how you will impact peoples’ lives. If you have this clarity, then your next step often becomes more clear. I have articulated my professional purpose in this manner: “My professional purpose and mission is to discover and share knowledge that inspires, empowers, and equips others to succeed in their careers and lives.”
  2. Envision your future self. What kind of a person do you want to be? What do you want to become?  Look at examples of people you want to be like and identify the traits you would like to develop. Who do you want to become in a year? In three years? Create a compelling vision of yourself and make it a reality!
  3. Have career goals. Your career is going to happen, so you might as well be deliberate about what you want to happen within that career. What is the next position you would like to hold? What is the dream job you want to work toward? Work to align your career with how you want to impact peoples’ lives.
  4. Create clear actions for reaching your goals. Be specific about the steps you will take – the skills you will develop, the people you will meet, and the knowledge you will gain. It is sometimes helpful to create a timeline for what you would like to happen, realizing that timelines and paths are fluid and ever-changing. Be sure to identify the most important step you must take and focus on that step.


Categories of Development in Instructional Design
There are 4 basic areas of professional development within the field of instructional design:
  1. Process knowledge and skills. These include project management and workflow, and the result of these skills is increased efficiency, quality control, and empowerment of designers. What knowledge or skills would increase your efficiency or effectiveness in your design processes?
  2. Technology knowledge and skills. These include technologies that deliver or enhance the learning experience, track design processes, evaluate learning, and manage the overall learning experience. What are your technological gaps as an instructional designer?
  3. Theory. These include research and theory on how people learn (learning theory) and how to help them learn (instructional theory). There are many theories and models for learning that are pretty innovative, and improving and refining your understanding of how to help people learn is quite important. In addition, younger generations experience information and knowledge differently than perhaps older generations do, and understanding their experiences and expectations will also inform how you design. How might you deepen or refine your theoretical knowledge?
  4. Self-improvement. You are the instrument through which all design takes place. You must make yourself the most effective “technology” possible. How could you improve and optimize your attitudes, beliefs and habits? How could you improve your health and mental sharpness? What could you do right now to make yourself a more balanced, well-rounded individual?


General vs. Specialized Development
I have a fairly high level of specialized knowledge in learning and instruction. I have been involved in teaching, learning and instructional design for nearly 20 years, now, including an MS degree, a PhD, several years of training and design experience, and years teaching ID to graduate students.  However, I have realized that I use a great deal of general knowledge and skills to make my work meaningful and useful. These general skills are not necessarily design-specific and might include communication, critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, among many others. Design skills are essential, but so are the general skills.

I will finish this discussion with two questions for your consideration:
  1. What design-specific knowledge and skills (e.g. technologies, processes, theory, etc.) do you personally need to develop to make yourself more effective as an instructional designer?
  2. What general knowledge and skills (e.g. communication skills, critical thinking, project management, political savvy, etc.) do you personally need to develop to make yourself a more effective professional?


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Types and Benefits of Innovation in Learning Design

Innovation in instructional design generally revolves around three major areas: Technology, Process, and Theory.

Technology - innovations in technology for learning typically yield several benefits:
  1. learning enhancement - appropriately used current and emerging technology can significantly increase learning
  2. tracking - quality technologies enable us to (a) monitor and measure student learning and progress, (b) manage learning experiences, and (c) manage the processes of creating and evaluating learning more effectively.
  3. delivery - technologies enable us to deliver learning experiences quickly and efficiently to broader audiences quickly and at relatively low cost
  4. management - technologies allow learners and others to manage their learning more effectively
Process - innovations in instructional design process should yield the following benefits:
  1. efficiency to reduce cost and time to produce instruction
  2. checkpoints and controls for creating quality instruction
  3. empowerment to the instructional design team to be creative and innovative

Theory - innovations in instructional theory, or how to design what the learning experience actually looks like, yield several benefits including (but not limited to):
  1. increased efficiency in the student learning experience
  2. improvements in meeting the defined learning outcomes and goals
  3. increased student motivation in learning
  4. increased ability for students to transfer their learning to the real world

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Critical Question: What Should I Do Right Now?

I just had an interesting and slightly stressful experience. Within about a 5 minute time period, I had the following take place:

  1. My brother contacted me about a design-related issue he wanted to talk through.
  2. My coworker popped into my office and asked me if I wanted to take a quick walk to a nearby cafeteria.
  3. I was trying to read through an article on instructional design leadership.
  4. My boss sent me an instant message asking if I could meet with him briefly about something he was concerned about.
  5. My wife called and asked me if I could meet with her the kids for an impromptu lunch.
  6. All of this happened with several other design, reporting, and management tasks calling for my attention from the back of my head.
Which would you do?

I imagine this is a common situation for many people these days. The options are endless, and the right decision is not immediately obvious. But we have to decide and move forward with confidence, adjusting our actions based on how things seem to be going. And hopefully we have guiding principles that provide us with guidance on how to move toward what is most important..

A few reflective questions:
  • How do you focus on what is important to you? 
  • What should you do right now? 
  • What will help you achieve your goals? 
  • What will uphold and support the values that are most important to you?
  • What is absolutely essential?

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Importance of Balance

One thing I have been thinking a lot about is the need of balance in life. Just like Mr Miyagi taught Daniel in The Karate Kid (which is, by the way, one of the best films of all time, in my opinion), balance in life is absolutely critical. Yest, it can be very difficult to find a balance that is healthy and produces the positive results you desire in life.

I been thinking about quite a bit because my wife, birth-daughter and I have recently adopted 4 children. For the past 8 months, we have worked to combine two families into one. We have worked hard to establish new positive routines that will bring a sense of family, joy and satisfaction to everyone.  As a result of this change, I have been thinking a lot about life and the need to achieve a sense of balance.

How do you you know when you are out of balance?
Striking a healthy balance means that all areas of your life are sufficiently cared for. It means balancing between happiness now and working for a better future. It means balancing time at work and time at home. It means balancing between focusing on your own needs and the needs of others.
Here are some great ways to tell whether your life is out of balance:
  1. Your emotions - your feelings will tell you when you are out of balance. Common feelings associated with balance issues include uneasiness, stress, anxiety, and unhappiness. (That reads like a list of side-effects like the end of a medication commercial).
  2. Your body - Often when things are out of balance, you will become ill, feel sick, have pit in your stomach, have tense or cramped shoulders, experience extreme weight loss or weight gain. You have got to listen to your body to and learn over time to determine which of these is affecting you the most.
  3. Your family - your family members know when you are out of balance. They may not like being around you as much. They may want to see you more. Perhaps you don't spend time with them as much as you would like to.
  4. Your supervisor - your supervisor knows when things are out of balance. She will notice your performance dipping, your engagement flagging, or your attendance faltering. 
Typical Life Balance Issues
So what are the areas of life that often become imbalanced?
  1. Enjoing Now and working for the Future at the same time
  2. Taking care of your Self and Others
  3. Maintaining Temporal needs and Spiritual health
  4. Having a life and work that has Structure but affords Autonomy
  5. Work hard but enjoying Rest
  6. Balancing responsibilities and time with Work and Family/Home
  7. Maintaining Control of your environment and Letting Go of what is unimportant
  8. Striking a balance between a life of Routine and Novelty
I plan to write about each of these balance issues from time to time over the coming several weeks.

Thanks for reading!