Tag Archives: At work

Top 10 Learning Tools – 2011

This is my third year of submitting my Top 10 Tools for Learning to Jane Hart’s annual project. Jane invites you to add your input as well:

If you are a learning professional (e.g. teacher, academic, trainer, consultant, developer, practitioner, analyst, etc) and active in the field of (e-)learning, please share your Top 10 Tools for Learning to help refine the Top 100 Tools for Learning 2011.

She goes a step further and defines learning tool for us:

This could be a tool you use to create or deliver learning content/solutions for others, or a tool you use for your own personal learning.

This year I’ve done more writing than designing, but have put these tools through their paces for my own personal learning purposes. So, here’s my list (in no particular order):

  1. Hootsuite: I have written about information curation and management systems several times this year and use Hootsuite every single day to manage Twitter tasks: monitor the incoming feed, correspond with other individuals in the field, track topics of interest, follow conference events, and develop writing ideas.
  2. Twitter: This one pretty much goes without saying after #1! I have come to rely on Twitter a great deal, but I am also exploring Google+ more and more for information, conversations, and network building.
  3. Google Search: This is the go-to search engine for me without a doubt. Especially since I made the move over to Chrome.
  4. Chrome: Using this as my primary browser not only opens up the convenience of Google-related features and functions (e.g. searching via keywords in the address bar), but also does a nice job of tracking most frequently visited and most recently visited sites for easy return.
  5. GMail: Another Google product and the one I use for work. Email continues to be a mainline connector for me, and a place where other communication efforts (i.e. Twitter) seem to end up eventually. Did I mention it works well with Chrome? Chrome allows me to set up the notification of new messages so I get a visual on-screen.
  6. Feedly: This is another information management tool that I have written about this year. Set up your reading list of blogs and other websites, and access them in an easy to scan interface. This is a daily routine as well. (And, yes, connects with Google Reader). The Feedly App also allows you to sync your reading list and progress across devices.
  7. WordPress: I use WordPress.com for this blog, and my work is posted on a WordPress self-hosted blog. When asked for recommendations for pretty much anything web-based (i.e. blogs, websites, portfolios, online course delivery, content management ) I mention WordPress. With its large and helpful user community, easy to learn admin side, and design flexibility, you’ve got to give it a try. Oh, and don’t forget to check out a local WordCamp!
  8. MS Word: I made the move to a MacBook Pro over a year ago and haven’t looked back, but I still use Word. For me it’s tried and true. I know how it works and document creation is essential for me. I even admit to creating drafts in Word first before moving to Google Docs or WordPress to share, and then I back up the shared files in Word.
  9. Delicious: I’m still using Delicious pretty heavily, even after the move to AVOS last month. The transition was a little rocky, but everything seems to be back up and running – except, sadly, for Chrome extensions. So while I am shopping for another bookmarking system, Delicious is it for now.
  10. iPad: I am not sure if devices are allowed on this list, but it does fit the definition provided for learning tool. I resisted this purchase with the original then pre-ordered the iPad2 and use it to access everything listed above, except MS Word.

After I completed this list I looked back through my Top 10 for 2009 and 2010 and was a little surprised at how my use has changed over time. How about you? If you haven’t added your Top 10, consider doing so before the project wraps for 2011 sometime in the next few weeks!

UPDATE! Jane Hart’s list of the Top Tools for 2011 is complete! Take a look at the list and slideshow presenting the submissions of 531 learning professionals.

Image credit: zigazou76, Flickr

Social Bookmarking with Delicious

My previous post on Feedly sparked a question about Delicious – just one of the many social bookmarking tools available right now. It took me a while to get organized with Delicious, but since I “got it”, the system has been a lifesaver. While there was a brief scare a couple of months ago when Yahoo put it on a short list of tools to shelve, the latest word is that Delicious will continue (whew!) under new ownership.

In my current role as an education writer I read about and research a lot of topics related to online education, current trends, etc. and need a way to catalog what I find, the useful bits anyway. More importantly, I need a system that allows me to locate these finds at a later date, when I really need them. Delicious has become that system for me.

Set-up and Access

I realize Delicious isn’t new, and maybe not as feature-rich as some of the other options out there, but it works for me. Here are a few reasons why…

  • Browser Add-ons: For this tool, any tool really, to be helpful it needs to be easy and convenient to use. I am currently using the browser add-ons for both Firefox and Chrome. Installing these adds Delicious icons to your toolbar – when you are on a site you want to bookmark, click on the ‘tag’ icon, enter your tags (keywords for search later) with the pop-up window, and save. This takes a little set-up time on your part, but it’s quick.
  • Network Privacy: You can select whether or not you want to share your information and collection with others. (Go to Settings>People>Set network privacy.) At first I kept my account private, but eventually found opening it easier as I started sharing some of the information – more on that below.
  • In the Cloud: Having this kind of account, where all of my links/bookmarks/favorites are “in the cloud” is great for moving around. I have access to everything, and the ability to keep adding new things, from any computer or location as long as I have an Internet connection.

Developing Your Tag System

Part of “getting it” is figuring out a way to label and categorize. Your way will be different from mine, but plan for this a bit before you get started. You’ll need to decide how to label things – a taxonomy of sorts. I’ve gotten better at this over time, but need to do a little housecleaning. A few ideas for planning your tagging taxonomy:

  • Levels of interest – Much of what I save is related to education, but I try to narrow that a bit by using, higher education, K-12, for-profit, etc.
  • Nouns or verbs – For example, blog or blogging? Sometimes one makes more sense than the other and there may be a place for both. Just think about your approach so you can find it later on.
  • Singular or plural Blog or blogs? Developing a rule like this will help you keep your list tidy and prevent you from having to search for both versions when you are looking for something.
  • Multiple words – If a single keyword is actually two words, Delicious will save it as two separate tags unless you link it together somehow – highered, highereducation, higher-education, higher_education
  • Abbreviations – This is another option for keeping your list neat and retrieval easy – ID for Instructional Design for example.

A classic example of where I could have done better is aggregate. If you look at my list of tags you’ll see all of the following: aggregating, aggregation, and aggregator. At the risk of sounding a little obsessive compulsive, this bothers me. You’ll also find aggreating – since Delicious doesn’t provide a spell check and will accept as a tag, pretty much whatever you type in.

A few other ideas for tagging that might be helpful:

  • Author’s name
  • Publisher
  • Source – if I found the link on Twitter, I might add @username as a tag.
  • Type of site – I use .gov as a tag.

Remember – the goal of all of this tagging is to be able to find the item again later when you need it. What about the piece will trigger your memory? Maybe that will be the topic and author, or that it was in the New York Times, or even that it was a list of things. Try to find the tags that will allow the item to surface when you search your collection.

The “Social” Part

Consider using your bookmarks for conference presentations. Tag all of the links that are in your presentation slides with something (a hashtag perhaps?) and invite attendees to access the links that way.

Use Delicious to collect all of the reading you are using in a course. If it is available online, you can tag each item with your course number and make your list available to your students.

Answer a request for help! If someone in your network is looking for resources related to X, you can send them a link to your Delicious account with the relevant tag.

Delicious badges are available for your website and I just added a widget to this blog in the sidebar that links to my account. You can also link your Delicious account to Twitter so that you tweet your new additions.

Other Options

While Delicious is my favorite, there are other applications you might want to try.

There’s more to Delicious, and social bookmarking in general, than what I have described in this post. This is just where I am finding value. The goal is to find something that has the features and functions you need, and an interface that works for you so that you’ll use it and keep coming back. Once you get it going, your bookmark list will be your first stop.

What about you? What additional features and functions are you using? What other bookmarking tools are your favorites?

Photo credit: chrisheuer, Flickr

RSS Reader Review: Feedly

If you are like me, you’re trying to stay current, to manage the flow of information, and it seems like an uphill battle. After several failed attempts at Google Reader I decided to try Feedly.  I’m about two months in at this point and am glad I made the move. Feedly isn’t new, but if you are looking for something to organize all the stuff you want to read online, you might want to check it out. Here are a few of the reasons Feedly is working for me.

Cover page format – Advertised as “magazine-like” I have found this to be true, and I think this format is the key to me coming back to actually read. It offers a nice, simple layout and combination of headlines, text, and images. On this main “cover” page, and in the other views as well, you can view the details of each post, many in full text, before deciding whether or not you need to go on to the site. This page also gives you a quick look at the headlines.

Categories – You can assign each new blog or website you add to your Feedly account with a category. This works well to keep the work related streams separate from other interests for example. This feature also allows you to view just the feeds related to a specific category you’ve created.

Tie-in with Twitter – It’s extra easy to send a link out via Twitter within the Feedly page. You need to link your accounts then you are ready to share. Feedly offers several social networking elements that might be interesting to you. You can also share via LinkedIn, Facebook, Google Reader, Instapaper, Tumblr, and others.

Tie-in with Delicious – I am a diehard Delicious fan and Feedly allows me to quickly add a link to my collection there. You can also add to Evernote, Pinboard, Diigo, and others.

“Latest” view – Probably my favorite view at this point. Gives you a long list of what’s been posted most recently – one line per entry with the blog or site it came from and the title of the post. Checking this view has become part of my routine at the end of the day.

Apps for iPad and iPhone – When I first started using Feedly, I didn’t find an iPad  app and was a little disappointed. But that has been remedied! The app interface is a little different, but you still get that magazine like feel and the “latest” view option and tie-in with Twitter.

Firefox Add-on – Another component that adds to the ease of use is the add-on. Use this to quickly open your Feedly account at any point and to add a feed to your account from an open blog or other site.

While I still have many, many unread entries, I am able to quickly identify a handful each day to read in full. The format allows me to scan for issues that are important to me and to easily share what I find.

Building a Reading List

Deciding which feeds to read is an ongoing process of adding and deleting. If you try Feedly, or any other RSS reader, give yourself the flexibility to continuously fine tune and stay on the look out for new sites and authors. Here are just a few of the feeds I am now following and recommend:

What about you?

What sources should we all add to our lists? Your recommendations are welcome! Suggest a few of the blogs and websites that you follow to stay informed.

If you have tried Feedly, please consider sharing your experience here. If you are hooked on another reader, let us know which one! What are the features that make it helpful to you?

Taking Your Work on the Road

Sometimes a change of venue can be a welcome thing. I found this to be the case during a recent week of working from the road over the holidays. It can be a boost to productivity and a nice change of pace if you think about the logistics a little in advance and plan accordingly.

Location, Location, Location

Finding wireless Internet access in advance is a must and it helps to have multiple options in mind. I had great success in coffee shops, fast food restaurants, and public libraries and broke the day up so that I was usually one place in the morning, then took a break for lunch before settling in at another location for the afternoon. Be a good patron! These places, especially the coffee shops, are busy and popular – poor form to take advantage of the wireless without being a good customer.

The Ballet of Battery Life

Not all of the locations above were equal in terms of availability of outlets/power strips. It took me a couple of days to scout out the prime seats (close to outlets) in all of these locations to plug in my laptop. Don’t forget the cell phone chargers! If you’re on the phone a lot, like I am, these batteries will need attention, too.

Joining Conference Calls and Online Meetings

Become a master of the mute button. This comes in really handy in noisier locations. If you have a headset for your phone or computer I’d recommend packing it. I left mine at home thinking it would be just another thing to carry but regretted that. In especially noisy places I found outdoor tables and even my car to be effective refuge locations for calls.

Adapt and Overcome

Back at home now, I have a new appreciation for the luxury of multiple monitors and the proximity of my own kitchen. My home office is a controlled and stable environment, but on the road be ready to adjust your location as needed and quickly, especially when preparing for conference calls. Murphy appears frequently, and seemingly out of nowhere, in the form of landscaping crews with leaf blowers, rainstorms, and school kids on field trips.

You Won’t Be Alone

I ran into plenty of folks doing the same thing I was doing – oddly comforting. We shared info about access keys and outlets, and watched each others’ stuff when someone needed a break.

For more information…

Want to find out more about working away from the (home) office? Check out the following:

Do you have experience workshifting? Share your advice and lessons learned.

Image credit: stock.xchng

Turning the Tables: Instructional Designer as SME

This post is a reflection on a recently completed project – I was the subject matter expert (SME) for a new online course in instructional design – a welcome opportunity to experience the course development process from a different perspective.

The project was unique in that the course being developed was an instructional design course and all of the members of the team were professional instructional designers. (Reminding me of past experiences where I had to submit a resume for positions that involved resume writing – kind of a double test! The proof is in the pudding and all of that.) I was provided with a course description and list of approved course-level learning objectives.  The next steps were up to me. This was where the adventure began. Normally I hand off a description and objectives. Time to get to work. I began by preparing and submitting a Course Outline and went from there.

Project team

My initial concern was that this could become a case of too much input or competitive in nature, but this was not the case. Collaboration was a priority and effective and I learned from the team in the process.

  • Instructional Designer/Project Manager (ID/PM) – This is my usual place on the team… keep the schedule, set the deadlines, set up and facilitate progress reports and meetings, provide feedback on the work and some copy editing.
  • Multimedia Developer – Took my development guide from Word document to online course pages complete with images, icons, navigation etc. Made great suggestions related to organization and structure.
  • SME – I was to outline the scope and sequence of the content, write any text for the units, select the textbook and course materials, and create assignments.

Food for thought

What could this turning of tables do for my practice?

  • Course/Program Fit – Where does the course fit in with the program? I was provided with the development guide for the course that would precede this one in the degree plan – very helpful! Not something I usually do, but something I should do, especially with new courses and programs. Faculty SMEs tend to be more familiar with the curriculum when working on a revision.
  • Expectations –Assumptions can bog the process down. While it was clear (via detailed contract) on what to expect with this project, there were a few nuances. For example the SMEs I work with aren’t expected to create rubrics, but I was for this project. The more detail the better in the written contract and/or statement of work.
  • Volume of Content – I have heard this from SMEs, the comments about how much original content is required. And now I have experienced it for myself! When the writing of introductions, summaries, case studies etc. is required it can be more time consuming than you anticipate. Scheduling the due dates by unit, or groups of units, was helpful here.
  • Need for Feedback – The ID/PM on this project continuously gave me feedback on the content I was submitting, providing suggestions on ways to expand and clarify the presentation. I need to do more of this with my project SMEs throughout the process.
  • Finished Product – I got a sneak peak via web conference and desktop sharing at what the final version looked like. I wanted to see more! The SMEs I work with ask for this, too. After you’ve spent so much time working with the content it is a feeling of accomplishment to see the finished course online.

This project turned out to be a reality check for me about how I work with SMEs and what could be done differently. How can you improve support to your SMEs?

Image credit: schoeband, Flickr

Additional Duties as Assigned

We’ve all found ourselves tackling assorted tasks that were not exactly part of the job description. (Once I actually had to build a sign with donated plywood and paint!) This may be particularly true of Instructional Designers. In a field that is dynamic and in an economy where organizations are striving to do more with less, the job description expands.

What takes up your time that isn’t in an Instructional Design model? Thinking about my last few positions and employers, these are the items that stand out for me and seem to be consistent:

  • Copyright/license research and documentation of permissions
  • Report writing
  • Keeping, typing, and distributing meeting minutes
  • Attending meetings, lots of meetings (I knew of course that there would be meetings, but…)
  • Conducting the hiring process and writing performance evaluations
  • Marketing (business development) at expos, manning tables and booths
  • Copy editing and formatting

I have personally and professionally learned from the process and everything involved. It all adds to your knowledge base and builds up your skill set – ultimately allowing you to do more and understand more about the organization.

What have you found yourself doing that was a little unexpected but added value?

photo credit: Beverly & Pack, Flickr

Learning Instructional Design: in school and on-the-job

I have been asked several times to serve as a guest speaker in graduate level instructional design/technology courses. (All but one of these events occurred online via synchronous classroom!) The topic I am assigned is usually something like:  “Working as an Instructional Designer” or “Managing Online Course Development”.  The two questions I field most frequently are listed below along with my responses.

What are the important things about instructional design that you learned in school?

  • Coursework helped me to learn and understand different approaches to designing courses and modules. In school you become familiar with the standard processes and models and practice taking an idea for a learning event through the steps and stages.
  • Through the completion of individual and group course projects I learned the basics of how to do the work. Putting the pieces to together in the best possible sequence takes practice. I like many other students often dreaded the group work, but that’s the way it usually works with an employer. You rarely work a project start to finish on your own. It’s a team effort.
  • Planning a project was also part of many course activities. Being able to organize the work and resources at the outset makes the rest go ever so much more smoothly…although the plan will change – more on that below.
  • Through my coursework I gathered a pretty substantial set of resources. Different instructors have different favorites as well and that helps you grow your own library or tool box. These resources include textbooks, key journal articles, professional organizations, and countless checklists and templates.

What did you have to learn on the job?

  • Management skills are a critical piece of the puzzle, in my opinion, and although I was required to take a course in project management, this is a skill that truly comes from practice. You get better with each project at considering all of the variables and making decisions. It’s about people, resources, and time. These skills include learning to communicate and collaborate with all levels of management and team members. Check this link for more on the ideal skill set for an Instructional Designer.
  • The plan changes. Learning how to deal with this in terms of people, resources, and time also comes from experiencing projects take an unexpected turn. Some variables are hard to predict and leave you in reaction mode. Strategies for getting everything and everyone back on track can be read, but experiencing and trying them out adds them to your tool box.
  • On the job you also learn the real-world consequences of a plan and timeline. It’s one thing for you to miss the mark with your classmates when designing a wine selection tutorial for a fictitious grocery store chain (remember that one, guys?) It’s another thing to miss the mark with an academic calendar or corporate budget.
  • Keeping current with trends and research in technology is a constant effort. The schoolwork and interaction with classmates started the conversations. It’s the continued work, reading, investigating, and experimenting at work that help you stay as current as possible. The pace at which the options and possibilities for online learning are changing is fast and furious.

The skill set of the Instructional Designer is wide and varied and can largely depend on where you are working and what type of course you are designing (K-12, higher education, military, corporate). Get as much experience as you can while you are in school!

Both schoolwork and practical experience should work together to prepare you for the work to come. Try to tie in current or past employment in terms of topic area when working with an instructor to outline a course project. Take on internships, volunteer work, and part-time jobs when you can to not only open up opportunities to practice what you are learning in your courses but also to gain the experience your future employers will be looking for.

photo credit: MAMJODH, Flickr