Saturday, January 7, 2012

Weighty Choices

Image of heavy chains
Some time ago, and for no good reason, I decided to begin using my iPad at work. I started with notes to myself on stuff; it wasn’t long before I pushed the envelope and insinuated it into more and more of my instructional design workflow. Soon I was using it to capture (writing freehand using a stylus) meeting notes. Later I used it to edit images and create short videos. I had a watershed moment a couple of months ago when I figured out how to use it with the training standards reviews I do at work. More on this last bit a little later.

My motivation for this is straightforward. I favor simplicity. The iPad is a simple tool. Windows, the information technology (IT) department’s standard computer platform, is anything but simple. It’s ironic, when I stop to think about it, that getting to where I am productive with my iPad-centered workflow took a lot of time, reflection and effort. I worry some times that I might get stuck in a rut that, in the interests of keeping costs low and timelines short, I might take a cookie-cutter approach in my work. So I push myself to try new ways of doing things. I like to think that doing so helps to exercise my brain, to create more synapses, which I understand to be a good thing. I need to make one more thing clear. I have not stopped using a computer at work. There are many tasks iPad is useful for. There are a lot of other tasks iPad completely sucks at. So usually you’ll see me with my iPad in front of me and my work-provided notebook computer off to one side. So where does simplicity come in? Read on.

Here I am finishing up a training standards review (TSR) of a 30 lesson (instructor-led over four days) course. At work we’re transitioning to an instructional development model where the subject matter experts produce their own courses. It’s taken me several weeks to review the course to ensure its contents meet the organization’s accepted best known methods (BKMs) for instructional design. The heart of the TSR process involves a checklist that spans several pages. It lists each BKM. Basically I run through run each lesson (some lessons are hours long) through the checklist. Then I make note my observations on the checklist. It’s a time consuming iterative process. At the end of the process I prepare a report and meet with the person(s) responsible for producing the course and let them know how well the course conforms to the BKMs. The old way had a couple of pain-points: all the note-taking on the paper checklists, collecting all the observations and compiling (in MS Word) a final report with everything in it. Yuck.

The way I do it now my iPad is the checklist. I record my observations in a Word-like file using QuickOffice Pro HD. Unlike the hard-copy of the checklist the iPad file expands to fit whatever I enter. This is cool. By the way: In case you’re wondering why I don’t have an instance of Word containing the checklist open and toggling back-and-forth from the lesson and the checklist let me say that doing so gets old. Fast. I think alt-tabbing from one application to another and back again in Windows interrupts my thought process and increases my cognitive load. Sure, I’m sort of doing the same thing when I look at the lesson’s materials on the PC and then look at my iPad as I enter an observation. But the point is that I have both objects, the lesson and the checklist, visible at the same time. Sure, I could attach another monitor to my PC and accomplish the same thing but this solution doesn’t seem as simple to me. Besides, having another monitor in front of me would make it more difficult for passers-by to see me. Integrating my iPad into my workflow rather than adding a second monitor lets me exercise a little more control over how I work. This is a big deal. There are other benefits, too. If the owner of the course, or any number of stakeholders, wants an update on where I am in the process I just mosey on over to their office and show them my iPad checklist. It’s so easy, too, to email or fax a copy as well

Thoughts or questions? Let me know.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Disruptive instructional design & performance support

Bits 'n pieces of stuff today. I was doing some research for a project last night: browsing the 'net and making use of the Capella U. alumni library. I was searching for these keywords:

instructional design
performance support (job-aid)

I found lots of stuff, maybe 30 or so good articles (not necessarily peer reviewed). As I began going through the journals today I noticed something (odd?). Most of the articles came from ASTD's T+D journal. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, I don't think, but it got me to wondering how good the alumni library is; by "good" I mean how many resources does it give me access to?

Why am I interested in disruptive instructional design and performance support? I've been a fan of evidence based (EB) assessment for a long time. In the elearning work that I (mostly) produce providing learners with a good learning experience can be challenging. Measuring how much they walk away with can be difficult. Part of the challenge comes from the culture of my organization and part from technical constraints (LMS, Intranet, security, etc.). So I'm interested in how peers confront and overcome these and other challenges. I figure disruptive is a good search keyword because more of the same isn't going to do much to get learners excited; I think training could use more excited learners.

About performance support: I love my iPad. I use it a lot in my personal and professional work. The thing I like most about it is that it gives me (way) easy access to lots of information. The information could be notes I've collected about this or that; it could also be, and usually is, stuff I've found on the web. Any more it isn't what I know that's important (from a learning and performance perspective) it's what I can find. So call it performance support, decision support, job-aid or whatever I want to do a better job supporting my customers. So how can I make my instructional presentations better for learners? How can I support them long after they've completed a course?

I appreciate your thoughts and comments.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Urbie's iPad (AKA eyepad) app scoring system based on APGAR

Lately I've been thinking a lot about how I use my iPad (eyepad used to mis-direct spammers) in my instructional design (ID) and elearning development  (eD) work. I started blogging about it a couple of weeks ago. I mostly use the ADDIE and ARCS ID models; initially I thought to describe how my eyepad apps work with each phase of the ADDIE model.

While posting my choice of Analysis apps it occurred to me that I was only identifying my favored apps. I wasn't really saying anything about how good a particular app was working for me. What made me think about it is this: I'm a techie from way back. It's in my nature (DNA?) for me to make something work, even though a tremendous amount of work and looking the other way might be involved.

Consider this: back in the mid-90s I had two Apple Newton MessagePads, the Model 100 and 120. I used them for every task related to my technical training work. Were they really effective tools? Not really. I had to overlook that they didn't usually translate my handwriting to text very well for example. Moving data to and from a Newton and a computer was challenging to say the least. Anyway, after thinking about it for a while I began to understand that just saying I used a particular eyepad app in my work wasn't enough. I needed to come up with a semi-objective system to describe how well I think an eyepad app helps me in my ID and eD work.

In the first few minutes after each of my daughters were born someone on the delivery team evaluated her and came up with an APGAR score. Named after Dr. Virginia Apgar the score is used to rate how well a newborn is doing. APGAR has five components: Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity and Respiration. Each component has three possible scores: 0 (not good) to 2 (doing fine). So an APGAR score of 0 is cause for grave concern while a score of 10 is like no worries.

I think APGAR is useful in scoring eyepad apps. I know that some apps I've obtained look great (Appearance score of 2) while crashing immediately after startup (Pulse score of 0). Along these lines I think a Grimace score of 0 means I'm cursing the app while a 2 means I'm smiling ear-to-ear. Rounding it out an Activity score of 0 means the app doesn't come close to doing what its developers claim and Respiration score of 0 means I'm huffing and puffing as I put the app through its paces.

So here we are. Going forwards I'm going to rate the eyepad apps I use in my ID and eD work using my take on APGAR. Over time I expect that crowd(sourcing) will drive me/us towards something that's more efficient/effective. Please let me know what you think about this.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

iPad instructional design apps and workflow

I've had an Apple iPad for the last 18 months or so. It mostly replaces my laptop (Mac Book Pro) when I'm away from home. I currently use a 32 GB 3G (Verizon) & WiFi model. Though the iPad has the ability to access the Verizon 3G network I tend not to enable it. I actually use a Verizon 3G MiFi device for my on-the-road internet access; it's sort of odd but MiFi 3G is way faster and more reliable than when I have my iPad's Verizon 3G turned on. 

Since I work a couple of states away from home I depend on it a lot for personal and professional use. This post describes how I use iPad in my instructional design work; today I'll talk about my preferred instructional design models and how I use iPad to facilitate note-taking when meeting with customers and subject matter experts. I had thought at first that I'd be able to hammer this out quickly in one post. As it happens something like three weeks have gone by since someone asked me to talk about my iPad and instructional design experiences. I ended up reflecting on it quite a bit longer than I thought.

I hear a lot on twitter and other places that some of my peers, other instructional designers, don't much care for the ADDIE (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate) instructional design model. I sort of like it. I use ADDIE and ARCS (Attention, Relevance, Confidence, Satisfaction) on every instructional design project I do, and have for the last three years. iPad and ARCS, in particular, work quite well with the storytelling approach I favor. I think you'll see the apps I use reflect this.

I hadn't really thought much about how I use iPad in instructional design until Allen Communications came out with their DesignJot app. It does an excellent job of walking someone through a full-on instructional analysis. It's all in there, including the kitchen sink. I've used it a couple of times but I've found that it's overkill for the kind of work I do. Most of my projects are for a federal law enforcement agency. I ran through DesignJot once and then the second time I used it I realized I didn't need to; I mean my customer and target population weren't likely to change. If I were a contractor again, servicing many and varied customers, then yes, DesignJot would probably be a more active tool in my kit.

ADDIE starts with the analysis phase: meeting with the customer and getting a feel for the sort of project it's going to be: topic, target population of learners, identifying roles and responsibilities and so on. Part of this process involves helping the customer understand and appreciate what instructional design can and can't do. This is especially important when the desired method of course delivery is elearning. The apps I use for analysis and customer interaction deal mostly with recording meeting notes, record keeping and project management. It's vital that I come away from customer and subject matter expert (SME) meetings with a thorough understanding of the project.

Note-taking apps: Noteshelf makes note-taking a breeze. You basically write (freehand) your notes. You want to use a stylus with this app. The first step in note-taking involves creating a notebook. You can customize the notebook cover and pages. There are a number of default covers and paper styles; my favorite paper mimics my trusty yellow legal pad. You can also buy more using in-app purchases; I haven't done this. After you've finished taking notes it's simple to export (I routinely use email, print and dropbox) your notes. The thing you want to remember about Noteshelf: it takes freehand (hand written) notes. It does not let you type text into your notes. Notability is my other note-taking app. Like Noteshelf you can record your notes freehand. Notability also supports audio recording, typed-text and PDF annotations. It really pushes the note-taking envelope by letting you mix audio, text and drawings on the same page. I mostly use the app for freehand note-taking as the soft-keyboard (or using a Bluetooth keyboard) tends to distract the people I'm meeting with. In the design phase (ideation) it's a killer app.

For record keeping I depend on emailing my notes to my computer for storage. If I'm working on a rapid design project I'll sometimes forward the notes to the customer or SMEs; the notes can be a little on the messy side; when they are I like to clean them up in a word processing app like Pages, QuickOffice or Office2; the latter two office apps I use when I expect to receive Microsoft Office formatted documents from the customer when I'm in the field; both are excellent when it comes to compatibility. I also use Dropbox for archiving. I can create folders to organize my notes. The people I work with say I use Dropbox like they use Sharepoint. I think Dropbox is much cooler and faster.

For the last several months SG Project has been my project management app. It works a little like Microsoft Project; I like it for that and because I can import/export XML Project files back and forth.

About the stylus: I've used two. My first stylus was the Pogo Sketch. Lately I've been using Just Mobiel's Alupen. Both work quite well as a stylus for note-taking and sketching. I switched because the Pogo Sketch doesn't feel quite natural in my hand; it's on the skinny side. The Alupen is much fatter and fits quite well when I hold it. If the Alupen has a down-side it's that it lacks the pocket-clip on the Pogo Sketch.

One more word about record-keeping on my iPad: Blogsy. Blogsy is the app I use for blogging. I haven't tried any other apps for this purpose; what I had seen available in the app store tended to be unappealing given their UI or customer feedback. Blogsy's really easy to use; it can be a little quirky though. For example, tagging a blog post by adding labels causes the app to freeze. Weird things happen when I use Blogsy's undo-redo: chunks of my text disappear and don't come back. Even so, it replaces what I had been using before: either the blog's default web-based text editor or Adobe Dreamweaver. That's not a typo: Blogsy, for how I do blogging, is as effective as Dreamweaver.

In this post I talked about my favored instructional design models: ADDIE and ARCS. I outlined the apps I use for what I consider to be the main component of ADDIE's first (analysis) phase: note-taking, record keeping and project management. My favored note-taking app is Noteshelf. It is flawless when it comes to writing freehand notes. Notability is another note-taking app I regularly use. It has richer features including audio recording, text support and annotation. I use it a lot in ADDIE's design phase. If you're going to do serious note-taking on the iPad (of the freehand variety) then you need to get a stylus.

In my next post (tomorrow hopefully) I'll describe how I use iPad apps in ADDIE's design phase. I'll also start in on how the iPad shines when it comes to ARCS.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Instructional Technology

I wasn't always an instructional designer. I used to be, for something like 16 years, an electronics technician (ET). After maintaining some fairly sophisticated Navy communications and semiconductor manufacturing equipment for so long I think I know a thing or two about problem solving methods and tools. The main take-away, that is the primary transferable skill, from my ET days is knowing how to identify and solve technology related problems quickly using an appropriate set of tools and processes. Back in the day I used electronic test equipment and hand-tools to identify and solve problems. Today my tools are quite a bit smarter: computers and software.

The other day I got to thinking about commonalities between then and now: ways of knowing and doing. What I came up with was story and pencils. A story usually started a problem solving effort: Someone describing some thing. The pencil helped me record facts and impressions. That was then. Today story still kicks off my instructional design efforts. The pencil's a bit different now. I guess you could say it grew up; it's an iPad.

I use my iPad mostly for recording, ideation, prototyping and communicating, all things you can do with a good pencil. Where the iPad stands-out is in communicating. When I meet with a customer or subject matter expert (SME) my iPad (and stylus) are my primary tool. I use it for note-taking and doodling. It's simple to pass it around to others so they an see where we're at. It's intuitive to use, too, so others can manipulate the information it contains.

Over the next several days I'm going to describe how I use iPad in instructional design.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Crash Project

Welcome back to my on again (mostly) off again blog.

Last week was hectic but very enjoyable. A peer retired the other day, leaving me with some unfinished business: a four day instructor-led course on intellectual property compliance; the course was due to be taught for the first time at the end of this month and was in need of a little more work. Though I lacked a deep knowledge of the subject matter I was able to edit several of the lessons and connected with the customer on several levels/occasions to make their deadline. The deliverables on CDROM were picked up only a moment ago.

What made it possible for me to come through on short notice? My customer service and project management skills made it happen. My former peer had done a good job with the instructional design. What I needed to do was be able to facilitate a post-pilot review/edit cycle, publish and deploy.

There were a couple-three more review/edit cycles more than I'd like to have. I think this was due less to project creep than the need for the crash-nature of the project. It was fun, heady almost, zooming from one task to the next.

Next on my plate: two online courses. Both on diversity in the workplace. Sweet.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Instructional design for manufacturability.

typical instructional designer's cubby

Before I was an instructional designer I worked as an electronics technician in the Navy and in high technology manufacturing: fixing things and doing stuff to things to decrease the chances they'd break. Better uptime meant more time for liberty ashore and profit sharing in the corporate world.

Here's where this is going: my technical and manufacturing background makes me want to work efficiently. I'm a big fan (and believer) in measurement, particularly the statistical process control (SPC) kind. I've lately been wondering how I could apply SPC to the process of instructional design. One measure that comes to mind is cycle time: the time required to produce a course (or to complete a step in the process of creating one).

Like a lot of ideas I get this one was on the back-burner for a while. What made me think about it again was a blog post I read earlier today: Rapid Intake's take on instructional patterns. I'm not a big fan of rapid authoring tools. I prefer to use rapid instructional design processes to speed things up. Tools like Rapid Intake's speed up development time by using pre-built shells an instructional designer pours content into. Rapid instructional design processes, the A and D in the ADDIE instructional design model, speed up ideation and prototyping, decreasing cycle time.

The difference between the two, rapid development and rapid instructional design, is subtle but significant. If you think about it, you don't get much benefit from a rapid development tool until after you've analyzed a learning problem or opportunity and come up with a design to solve it. Development, you'll recall, is the second D in ADDIE. It doesn't make much sense to jump right into rapid development if you don't have stuff to pour into it.

Rapid instructional design is done up-front. Put succinctly, you get the instructional designer(s) in a room with the customer(s) or subject matter expert(s) and then you come up with ideas for creating a learning experience. It's a lot like brainstorming. I think the most effective tools at this point in the process are a pencil and paper. Working within the constraints of your artist you sketch out prototypes based on your ideas. It's easy to come up with, and shoot down, lots of prototypes. At this step in the process the deliverables are two or three prototypes that can be shown to others to see if they get what you're trying to convey. Changes at this stage are cheap: pencil and paper, remember? Changes made during development, even if you're using a rapid development tool, are a bit more costly.

Anyway, you can see where this is going. When you finally pick up your authoring tool of choice you work from the paper (some designers I know create PowerPoint slides from their sketches) prototypes the customer or subject matter experts have helped you create. This really helps out later by decreasing the need for lots of reviews (and changes).