Blog Post 3: Planning and Communication

This post looks at two key parts of an Instructional Systems Design (ISD) project, using a Project Management (PM) approach: planning and communication. Now that the project has been initiated and designed, it is time to complete the required documents that make up the project-plan document. Additionally, by completing a communication plan the project manager can keep track of stakeholder expectations, especially those of the learners and instructors when writing training materials.

 

Image by www.futuristmovies.com

Image by www.futuristmovies.com

Planning

 Cox (2009) estimates that about 40% of the time that goes into a project is spent on planning, underscoring the importance of the project-plan document. The project-plan document “describes the overall approach used to plan and manage a project”, while the work is “defined, documented, and managed through the project plan inclusive of all subsidiary plans” (Cox, 2009, p. 63). So what does this specifically look like?

Project-plan document:

  • Project management plan
  • Collecting requirements
  • Defining scope
  • Work breakdown structure
  • Defining activities
  • Sequencing activities
  • Estimating activity resources
  • Estimating durations
  • Developing schedules
  • Estimating costs
  • Determining budget
  • Quality planning
  • Human resource plan
  • Communications planning
  • Risk-management plan
  • Identifying risks
  • Qualitative risk analysis
  • Quantitative risk analysis
  • Planning risk responses
  • Planning procurements (Cox, 2009)

Quite the list, right? I only want to elaborate on two key components of the project-plan document: the scope statement, project milestones and work breakdown structure (WBS). The completion of these segments will aid in all subsequent documents.

The scope statement defines the objectives, deliverables and requirements of the project by detailing all the work involved (Cox, 2009). A concise scope statement will tell the reader the main elements of the project. To illustrate, below is an overview and scope statement for a current project.

Project overview:

The creation of Thai Buddhism, lower secondary, eLearning modules to be used in a blended, flipped course. Students will be provided with materials to explore content on their own time while building off of their individual learning experiences during class time, with collaborative discussions and projects. Students’ mobile technologies will be leveraged, allowing them to research at their own pace, in their own time. Students already have a fundamental grasp of Buddhism, as almost all are practitioners. Because all students are English language learners (ELL), having materials and presentations that can be viewed repeatedly will help with language/concept comprehension and acquiring new vocabulary.

Scope statement:

To create 14 eLearning modules for a grade 7, blended and flipped Thai Buddhism course by October 15, 2014, at a cost of 120 man-hours.

Image by ccommons

Image from creative commons

A milestone is “an event during the life of a project that signifies a new stage. Often a milestone is reached when a key task or deliverable has been achieved” (PM Hut, 2011). Creating a list of milestones will help in the formation of the WBS and give an overview of the project’s tasks. Milestones for the current project can be found below.

Project milestones:

  1. Outline lesson plans for 14 weeks of instruction using pre-existing materials
  2. Ensure collaborative/constructivist learning activities for each week
  3. Revise and update material
  4. Create presentations and videos for online use
  5. Find appropriate supplementary resources for each week of instruction
  6. Publish material online
  7. Review and test the modules with colleagues
  8. Revise online content and learning activities accordingly

A WBS is a comprehensive look at all deliverables that are broken into manageable chunks (Cox, 2009). Each task also contains primary and secondary tasks, which leads up to the completion of the overall task. An example of one task follows.

  1. Outline lesson plans for 14 weeks of instruction using pre-existing materials

1.1 Set out current lesson plans for grade 7

1.2 Assure all standards are met using the core curriculum standards

1.2.1 Assure that all standards are included in lesson plans

1.2.2 Assure that all learning core content is included in lesson plans

Image by openclipart.

Image by openclipart

 Communication

The communication process involves a source, receiver, message, channel, feedback, encoding, decoding and includes different degrees of nonverbal signs, external noise and internal noise. The source (speaker) gives the message (information to be shared) to the receiver (listener) via a channel (email, memo, etc.) and gets feedback (the receiver’s response); encoding the message (choosing appropriate language) is the source’s action before sending it through the channel, while decoding the message (interpretation) is the receivers action that is affected by nonverbal signs (for physical interactions), external noise (distractions outside of the receiver) and internal noise (the receiver’s mental noise) (Cox, 2009). Barriers to effective communication include the receiver’s perception, beliefs, attitudes, values and noise (Cox, 2009). These are mostly cultural aspects that may depress the instruction being communicated and result in decreased engagement and learning. For more on communication technologies, click here.

Image courtesy of

Image by http://soldatmamma.blogspot.com/2012_09_02_archive.html

The most obvious challenge I expect to face in the project is the fact that students are English language learners (ELL) and the content involves the processing abstract, theological and spiritual concepts. I suspect that the message may be lost if the communication process is not functioning properly. Two ideas I have for overcoming this challenge are:

  1. Include a Thai/Pali definition for important concepts/terms. Because all students are familiar with Buddhism, including the term they may already be familiar with will lessen the extraneous processing. Decreasing extraneous processing aids in essential and generative processing (Reiser & Dempsey, 2012). Students will be able to better connect former knowledge when integrating theory with practice, aiding constructivist learning.
  2. Use simple visuals to illustrate text material. Simple line drawings are more effective than complex visuals when building understanding with learners; visuals increase understanding more than text alone (Reiser & Dempsey, 2012).

 Reflections

 I found the information in these topics to be particularly relevant to my educational environment. I can view the creation of courses developed for each semester as separate projects, taking into account the basic structure of the project-plan document that suits my needs the best. Overall, it is a systematic approach to planning a course that I can take that will not leave out major sections; a framework that I can refer to as needed and for re-checking the elements of instruction. The communication process can be leveraged to create the most effective learning experience possible. Arranging the content the in the same manner throughout a course will aid in the learning process by staying consistent and progressing in a logical way. When I first started teaching, I would have to constantly backtrack because I presented the core content without making sure that students were familiar with the basic concepts. If I had taken into account the learner’s beliefs and values, I would have been able to make the content resonate more and complement the culture so that instruction would have been more effective. Now I know! Now, to put it into practice…

 

References

Cox, D.M.T. (2009). Project management skills for instructional designers: A practical guide. Bloomington, IL : Iuniverse. ISBN-13: 978-1440193637

PM Hut. (2011). What is a project milestone? Retrieved from http://www.pmhut.com/what-is-a-project-milestone

Reiser, R. & Dempsey, J. (2012). Trends and Issues in instructional design and technology. (3rd ed.) Allyn & Bacon. ISBN-10: 0132563584 | ISBN-13: 978-0132563581

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