Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Guidance on Validation Documents

I'm based in the Learning Development and Innovation team at the University and have been working with the Enable team since the start of 2009. My focus within the team has been on being able to integrate my previous project work (on creating Best Practice Models for e-learning) with PHOEBE. As part of this work I've been developing some new versions of our validation documents that incorporate guidance and advice for those completing them. Here I have reflected on my experiences to date, with the hope that it will help others considering how to start on the process.

Starting Point
Some time ago I explored PHOEBE (developed by the Technology-Assisted Lifelong Learning unit TALL at Oxford University) and thought that it was an excellent tool to assist teachers when planning and designing learning that included technology. I explored the possibility of using this tool to integrate with my work on Best Practice Models for e-Learning and worked with the team at TALL to edit the template as well as the guidance notes. I demonstrated it to a group of staff in 2008 and they were very impressed with the way that PHOEBE supported the design and planning process with links and resources embedded into a planning template. However, they commented that ideally the tool would be linked into our own course information and processes to improve ease of use. As part of this it was expected that PHOEBE would be an integral part of the Enable work in helping to guide and create validation documents. Although the PHOEBE team had hoped to be able to develop a version of the tool to integrate into an institution's systems, this was not possible in the time of the project. In addition, after consultation with colleagues from the Enable team it was felt that the tool needed to be fully integrated into our systems and should not be developed as a stand-alone tool. The Enable team suggested that any tool used to support the creation of validation documents would need to be interoperable, with content created in the tool being accessible from other tools etc. We initially envisioned being able to create our own tool that would enable this to happen, however the main show stopper at the start of the project was the lack of document management within the institution, this was picked up as an issue for other innovations within the university and since the start of this work the university has started a Document Management Project Group. In the meantime it was felt a proof of concept would be useful, so I worked on developing some new versions of our validation documents that incorporate guidance and advice for those completing them.

Creating the Proof of Concept
The screen-shot above (from PHOEBE) shows the design template to the right with a series of headings and boxes to type the content of the learning design. The headings are clickable links that display help files to the left of the screen. As the basic principle of having guidance at the point of need was seen as an opportunity to aid validation development I then developed a very simple version by adding a 'guidance column' to our existing validation documents in Word and including a range of suggestions and links.

The guidance and links were summarized from the Best Practice Models work and also included some general advice and links to other sources of information about course planning and design, mostly to existing resources on our website. The QIS team were happy with my suggestions and provided a few additional links that were relevant. Originally, I had envisaged having two versions of the documentation - one for courses that included some element of e-learning/TSL and a different form for those without. However, QIS thought the forms so useful that they asked me to incorporate the additional general links and guidance so that the forms could be used by all courses and remove the need for two different sets.

This process of gathering existing guidance about planning and designing learning highlighted for me the wide range of resources available that are difficult to find. Some were not available online and I had to make them available, and many were sourced from different places on our website. Since then, a new web-page on Teaching and Learning at Staffordshire University has been planned that will collate a number of these resources together and will improve access.

The screen-shot below gives a flavour of the new documentation. QIS have approved the documents developed for both undergraduate and postgraduate programme specifications and have invited staff to pilot the documents to gather feedback for evaluation. I hope to use this feedback to check the usefulness of the links and guidance and to update and modify it as appropriate. The use of a document management system will simplify this process, as it is likely that the guidance and links will need regularly checking and updating.

Where Next?
Since the start of the work in creating guidelines within the validation documents a number of developments within Enable have moved forward:
  • The university has started investigating an institutional document management system
  • The Enable team are trialling a workflow / document management system with transferable skills for External Examiners that could be applied to this work
  • Discussions have started around creating a Flexible Learning Toolbox which these documents will become part of
Once we have the feedback from the pilot for this and the work from the External Examiners we will be able to look at a roadmap for moving this work further.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Mob rules

Something that has been simmering in the background for Enable for a while has been the subject of governance and managing innovation. This is a main aspect of TOGAF and something that the Enable team wrote a number of internal documents about for the then Pro Vice Chancellor, in particular within the recommendations for setting up a Change Management (AKA Programme Management) office. Since these documents and the change in senior management things have become a little quiet, but recently the whole "Governance" thing has come back to the fore. This has been for a number of reasons.
  • Two of the project team attended the JISC EAPG which had a day focused on Governance giving the project team a couple of thoughts to follow up including:
    • Although seen as Governance exists or doesn't there is a third state - exists but is worked around
    • How is it managed/ reviewed?
    • does governance ensure quality control/ stakeholder engagement?

  • The project manager and director are writing a short survey based on internal interviews (that they hope the community will help participate in once complete - keep an eye on #jiscenable on Twitter) on perceptions of governance and finance models in Higher Education

  • The project manager is writing a number of pages for the Design Circle with the help of the rest of the project team, and one of the subjects is Governance.
Obviously Governance is an important part of any institution but it has been noted that institutions have a number of issues with it. We are hoping over the next few months to unpick a number of the issues highlighted above, to try and understand what is happening, how it is happening and what we can do to change cultural behaviours & perceptions. This has only been seen as possible thanks to the re-engagement of senior management, and the fact that the messages we have been saying are starting to filter through and be repeated back to us. Without this change in behaviour and understanding I believe that attempting to address the above would be too difficult an issue for the Enable team.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Dripping Tap

Over the last two years(!) we have been constantly sending out messages at all levels of the university, regarding managing:
  • our projects using a Change Management Office Approach (i.e. P3M3)
  • our information
Methods we have used included:
  • One to one meetings- with a focus on faculty/service needs
    • with senior staff
    • with project managers
  • raised at committee meetings
    • informally with a focus on issues raised in committees
    • presentations raising issues that have been raised during one to one meetings and how they link to points above
  • Summary documents and articles
After hitting a number of issues with getting these messages across including:
  • Loss of executive staff
  • Loss of engagement when making presentations
    • Using wrong language
    • Not using relevant examples
    • no real examples of what success looks like
  • Starting new initiatives without full stakeholder engagement
  • Limited communication by projects outside of committees
We have now found that the message has sunk in at all levels, so would like to say to all our colleagues trying this to hang in there! We now get to hear the same message being said back to us during committees, and have got the new senior executive sponsor fully engaged with the project. After a few false starts initiatives are starting to be run with stakeholder engagement, communication across the university is growing (including the development of an online change service - more on that later). We are starting to look at projects from a central perspective and understanding that changes to one area of business impacts can impact other areas. So it's all good here at Enable.