Category Archives: Project Management

Online Project Management and the Course Development Process

Working with virtual teams to develop online courses presents multiple challenges. Managers, designers, developers, and faculty content experts must all be able to communicate and collaborate effectively, and primarily asynchronously, across time zones. Online project management applications are available to help provide shared workspace and an overall structure for the process.

This post summarizes a Sloan-C poster session I presented with Noel Broman last week. We currently use Basecamp to facilitate the course development process with small teams. This service is a paid one, but there are others – many others, with a range of pricing schedules as well as free options. Take a look at this list of 15+ Project Management Tools.

Reviewing the Options

Consider how your team might use an online system and what features they need to get the work done.

  • How many people need access to the system as a whole? To an individual project?
  • How many projects do you have running simultaneously?
  • What is your budget?
  • Do you want/need a social networking component? (personal profiles, etc.)
  • What features do you need?

A short list of features to get you started:

  • Calendar
  • Milestones and benchmarks
  • Automated notifications
  • File storage
  • File version control
  • Check-in/Check-out function
  • Internal communication (email, instant messaging, conferencing)
  • Collaboration space (whiteboards, wikis)

Benefits and Challenges

From my own experience the following features make a positive difference in the process:

  • Version control of documents – Ending the need to ask the question: who has the latest development guide?
  • Visibility of milestones – calendar feature with email reminders ensures that dates and deliverables are openly posted and available to all members of the team.
  • Task assignment – creating to-do lists and assigning specific tasks to team members by name
  • Project templates – once you set up a project area with the milestones, etc. you need, you can copy it for use with other, similar projects.

A few things we are still working on:

  • Learning curve – take the tech skills and experiences of your team into consideration when making a selection and allow time for everyone to experiment with the interface.
  • Training – most of these applications come with guides and tutorials of some kind, but these may not be enough. Consider creating a sample project that everyone has access to just to try out all of the features and practice with the tools without fear that they will break anything.

Your Experiences

Are you using a specific tool or feature that you can recommend to the rest of us? Do you have questions about using an online project management system? Please post your ideas and questions.

Image credit: stock.xchng

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Course Design – Start with an Outline

From a project management perspective getting a brand new course moving can be a challenge. With a course revision, you’ve got a full draft right from the beginning in the form of the exiting course. With a new course, the momentum has to come from a complete stop. The work of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) is critical in the design stage to ensure that the scope and sequence of the specific content and source(s) of content are all appropriate. SMEs who are also filling other professional roles, such as full-time faculty, need support that helps them to provide their expertise, stay focused on project goals, and complete assigned tasks on schedule.

The project manager/instructional designer can provide tools that both manage the process and result in the information developers need to build the course. For a new course, starting with a high-level outline can be helpful.  A simple table can serve this purpose: organizing thoughts and documenting a plan for the course. The format allows for moving things around and review by others on the team.

In the illustration below, columns list the components of a course unit and each row represents one unit (one week per unit is a typical – but not required or even recommended – way to plan).

Possible advantages of this approach:

  • Provides easy access for others on the team – to contribute, review, edit (Consider posting as a GoogleDoc or in a system that allows for file sharing and version control like Sharepoint or Basecamp).
  • Structures the course before moving to the more cumbersome and detailed development guide for full writing of the course.
  • Becomes a primary reference document for the course – you can go back to it.
  • Allows for division of labor later on – multiple people working on separate units at the same time.
  • Offers flexibility – add columns as needed (e.g. case study) and your own course/program nomenclature.
  • Provides documentation for approval at a critical point in the process – before development goes forward.

This is a plan, not a prescription. Not all units will require a synchronous seminar or have assignments due. In the next phase of development (writing the course content in a development guide) the outline may change somewhat, but it is there in the beginning to show the way forward.

It’s a simple tool that takes some time to complete early in the process. This time on the front-end will likely save your schedule later on. Take the time to frame the house before you begin to buy the furniture, or even put up drywall.

Do you use something like this to get a new course project moving? How do you provide initial support and guidance to content experts and course writers? Please share!

Preparing Faculty SMEs to Join the Team

It is not news that online course development teams in higher education rely on (need!) faculty members as content or subject matter experts (SME). My experience is that faculty members joining design teams on these projects are often doing so for the first time. They’ve often been asked by their Department Chair to work with this often new group of techies to build an online course. They are used to working alone or with small groups of other academics on course development. They will likely end up being the instructor for the course, if they aren’t teaching it already.

Preparing faculty to serve in this new role can ease the transition. Here are a few things to consider from the perspective of project manager, instructional designer, course developer:

Connect SMEs with training on the LMS (and maybe even basic HTML editing) – Know the workshop schedules, the good online tutorials, and have a contact on the faculty development and support side you can personally put the SME in contact with. While the SME will not usually be responsible for loading content into a LMS, it may help for them to understand where you’re going.

Connect with training on online instruction – If the SME doesn’t have a lot of experience with online instruction, hooking him/her up with workshops and seminars related to facilitating online discussion (asynchronous/synchronous) and selecting instructional strategies can open up a few more possibilities.

Encourage networking with peers – Are there other faculty SMEs you have worked with in the past that might be willing to share feedback or lessons learned? It’s also helpful to provide examples of previously developed courses and multimedia elements.

Provide easy-to-edit formats – What you really need from the SME is input on content and revision of existing content. If a Word document works best, use it to provide them with the text that requires editing. This may create an extra step or two for the staffer responsible for getting the content online, but in the long run will save time and frustration on the part of the SME – the team member with the most challenging schedule.

Outline clear-cut responsibilities and tasks – Schedule regular meeting times (F2F or virtual) and assign tasks for all team members with specific deadlines. It’s a team effort and all of the pieces need to come together as smoothly as possible. Outline roles and expectations and review the project’s production schedule periodically with the group.

Develop a written Memorandum of Agreement – Perhaps this should be listed first. As the SME is identified and prepares to join the team outline in writing the project’s purpose (new course, revision), development timeline, roles and responsibilities of all team members. Also address compensation and how copyright and acknowledgements will be handled. Best to go ahead and get these conversations started.

Foster a supportive climate – Encourage creativity, innovation, input and feedback throughout the process. This goes for the team as a whole, not just the SME. Everyone has a role to play and ideas to contribute. What has this faculty member always wanted to try or include in the course, but didn’t have the resources to do alone? Now may be the time.

Communicate clearly and often – Early on it is helpful to develop some kind of communication plan. How does the SME prefer to be contacted with updates, requests for review, changes – email, phone? Find what works and document progress on at least a monthly basis.

Do you work with faculty content experts to develop online courses? Please add your comments and suggestions to the list.

photo credit: jisc_infonet, Flickr