Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Making Someone Else's Idea a Reality

Many people come to Learning Technologists with big ideas that they want to make a reality, which is absolutely a good thing. However because it is difficult to understand how complex something is in an area that you are not an expert in, people can have unrealistic expectations of timescales, and exactly how the aims will be met.

Rather than everyone getting frustrated with each other, here are some things I’ve learned that might help a new Learning Technologist get started with projects in their institution.

  • Start by understanding the project aims, but discouraging details. “I want a portfolio that students will use to evidence their learning in a range of contexts over the rest of their lives, and it will have an animation of a dog which changes pose and colour as you develop and learn…” is the sort of request that starts well but which can cloud its own aims. Try and see what is behind the dog animation idea; perhaps they just want it to feel friendlier than online portfolios they have seen before. 
  • Find out what has inspired them to ask for this; often they have seen a conference presentation and you can examine and even use, something that already exists,
  • Once you have understood the aims, then you do need to agree on practical details of features, and make decisions on who will do what. Be realistic about what you can do. If it turns out no-one has enough time to work on the project, grants might need to be applied for or support from senior management won, in order to pay someone else to work on it. Alternatively you could find other institutions and external organisations who want to do a similar thing and work in partnership.
  • The initial version of the project may only contain a small number of the hoped for features. Don’t try to meet all the aims at first, as you’ll probably never even get version one released. Make it clear that it will be something that develops over time, taking feedback from users.
  • Before you start, make sure they know what they need to supply you with (resources, learning objectives) and by what date. Be clear that if they slip in providing suitable resources, you will have less time to work on the project. Perhaps put aside 10/20 specific days to work on the project and let them know that these are the only days that you can work on it.

So that’s my limited perspective, and shows how I will attempt to keep my stress levels low and my time protected during future projects. Any advice from others in the comments would be happily received too.

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