How to start an inno project and build commitment your team?

You have a vision, you gathered a team and you even have a budget. And now, how do you get your team started? List your team’s expectations, build a common understanding, and let your team take on responsibility. You also have to come to terms with the fact that the project involves uncertainties.

We have the ambition to create a tool that provides micro-learning to train cognitive biaises. Today we have a prototype. Last spring, we had only a vision to lead us. As told in a previous post, one of my colleague detected a need in an industry and an opportunity for us to create a new tool. He gathered a small team and invited us for a kickoff meeting. We were all motivated. How could we proceed?

During the kickoff, we jolted ideas around, and used sticky notes to draw the project. It was important that we all had a common understanding of the tool we wanted to create. This kickoff meeting was also the moment when we created a team spirit and built personal commitment.

Ownership, responsibility and role

As motivated as I was to play my part, I needed to understand how I could contribute to the project and how much time it would involve. We started by writing down the outputs we expected from the meeting. The expectations were various.

Our expectations for the kickoff meeting

Kevin expected us to take ownership. The initial idea came to him and he wrote a paper about it. He expected us to work as a team and take ownership. This is what he means by ‘Co-sign Whitepaper’.

To me ownership meant responsibility. The moment I commit to a project means that I stop saying ‘Kevin’s idea’ or ‘Kevin decided’ or ‘Kevin meant’. I start saying ‘we think’, ‘we decided’. It also means that I committed myself to play my part, make time to work on the project.

I needed to understand, the role that I would play, in other words how, with my competences I would contribute to the project. This is expressed as ‘Where do I position myself?’ From the beginning we are a multidisciplinary team. We have learnt to contribute with our respective skills. Understanding my role leads to better planning. If I understand my tasks and how I relate to the other team members, I can organise my agenda and be available when I am needed.

During this meeting we also decided how we would communicate about the project to our stakeholders’, which at this point, were internal. We finally defined the next steps and decided the content of the next workshop.

Map the idea – understanding with drawing

We were sitting down, listening to Kevin. Sitting around a table is so limiting! Ideas cannot express themselves, they keep eluding and the energy slowly runs low. We couldn’t see what Kevin was explaining. After a moment of deep concentration, I tend to relax a bit, which means that I am not being this concentrated. At some point, we were all running low on energy. Thus we started drawing.

White walls are a blessing. Someone starts drawing and you can add up your idea, then everyone can see and add his/hers.
It started with a sketch, and step by step it became like a map. A map of the idea, where we could navigate, see the stakeholders, start apprehending who we needed to talk to, what we needed to understand, what remains unclear, what is our role, our strengths and weaknesses.

Let your team take ownership by drawing together the idea.

It very much looks like this: drawing, talking and gesturing. When you stand, the flow of ideas wraps you up and before you realize it, you are ‘in it’, you take ownership and you belong. You stand and draw together. It has nothing to do with sitting and looking at someone talking, you are part of it.

Drawing of our project

Our drawing got more complex while our understanding of the situation got clearer.

Be kind to your blue side and deal with uncertainties

Have you ever heard of the DISC assessment? That test attributes colors to people after a test. I never took it myself, but I often heard some friends refer jokingly to it. When they refer to the ‘blue colleague’, they talk about his preciseness, attention to detail and his capacity to be systematic. As I started this project, I realised that part of me, that I will call my ‘blue side’ backed off, because it was unconvinced. My blue part tends to refrain the overly enthusiastic and risky part (I don’t know the color of this side yet ;-)

In other words, during this meeting, my blue side realized that there is a huge part of unknown in this project. When you start an innovation project, you have to be aware of the fact that some uncertainty and risk will always be present. During my studies and work life, I have been trained to try to avoid mistakes and evaluate risk. I usually try to have a fairly good idea of the success I expect  from my actions before I perform them. Starting an innovation process is the contrary of this. It is jumping in the unknown and imagining something that does not exist… yet. You need to be open-minded and accept the risk and unknown.

To conclude: we mapped the project and I accepted the probability to fail

It was time for me to accept that mistakes are part of the game and to come to terms with the probability of failing. An innovation process is made of ups and downs, test, success, mistakes and iteration. The risk is part of the game.

During this first meeting, we mapped the project and the stakeholders It gave us the necessary common grounds to start working together. To draw the project allowed us to clearly see the expertise we needed. We planned the next steps and organized the first workshop where we would invite other experts. The project had officially started.

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The exciting day I started an innovation process for a learning tool

We currently address the need for a modular framework for bite size learning, and we are now investing to create the next level micro-learning system. Innovation ‘for real’ is nothing like you might expect. It does not happen like an apple falling off a tree: good ideas do not fall from nowhere. You have to be open to challenges, to be motivated to work with the team and in a ‘safe’ place, an environnement where trying is allowed.

How to be open to innovation?

You have to be open to new challenges, which is difficult even close to impossible if you are stressed out or under tight deadlines for example. During my first year at Liip (2016), I undertook many projects that had started before I had arrived. As a result, I had little time for planning or strategies, I undertook what was already started. During this first year, everything was new, I was in the turmoil of an event, or in a middle of a project, my whole energy was focused on current tasks.
Before Christmas 2016, my knowledge of the enterprise and the field had exponentially expanded. It allowed me to grasp the necessary bigger picture of my enterprise’s needs and challenges. Simultaneously, many projects came to an end, as a result, I was not under tight deadlines. In other words, I was open to new challenges and ideas. I had cognitive capacity to take on new challenges. When Kevin, a colleague I barely knew, approached me, I welcomed his project with an open mind.

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Five Steps to define your perfect Digital Learning Environment

Sometime ago, I ran into a quote about learning that sticks into my mind. There are a lot of quotes hunting the social media networks, but this one just didn’t want to go away. It was the starting point of a reflection on how to create a great learning experience for today’s learners. I end up with five simple but essential steps that I will share with you in a series of posts. We will start today with a short overview of these steps.  

Digital Learning Environment in 5 steps

 

This quote from Albert Einstein resonates to me like the perfect antithesis to most of the Learning Management Systems that I’ve seen up to now. In terms of technology and functionalities they are perfect, but there is no experience, no emotion when you use them. They deliver the exact opposite of what learners expect: they deliver just information.

Learning is an Experience

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Impressions from the Moodle Conference

The annual Moodle conference for the UK and Ireland took place at the Dublin City University,  March 11th to 14th, 2015. Due to the flu that got me down as I got back, this post comes with a slight delay.

The main topics of this years UK & Ireland Moodle conference in Dublin were Learning Analytics and the Moodle Association. Further notable topics were (the more technical) inclusion of Bootstrap 3 in Moodle, the working groups for the simplification of forms and for designing a student dashboard.

As Moodle HQ are in the process of taking ownership of a couple of key Moodle conferences (Dublin was not one of them, but there was strong collaboration), the new format of “working groups” was tested on a larger scale. The idea of a working group is for Moodle users to work on a a specific topic in order to come up with specifications for Moodle HQ to implement as improvements to the Moodle core. The topics here were “form simplification” and “student dashboard”. These working groups have a certain weight, as a delegate from HQ will take part, with the task to make sure the outcomes can (and will) actually be implemented. An interesting observation here was, that at the hackday at the end of the conference, as the working group findings were presented and discussed, the tasks were heavily challenged by developers who naturally prioritise and approach things differently. I could sense a bit of frustration there when a response from HQ representatives would be “this is what the working group was for and basically you’re too late now with your input”. I think it is early days for the working group approach and it will take some time to get used to it.

The most heated discussions were on the initiation of the Moodle Association, as presented by Martin Dougiamas. Martin has been looking for new ways to fund Moodle development for some time now and this is what he decided to do. The Moodle Association is a non profit organisation (and therefore excempt from taxation). It will be completely separate from Moodle HQ after the initial work necessary to launch it. The idea is, for members of the association to come up with specifications and funding for Moodle core development and then to contract HQ to do the work. Martin would like to see instituions to be members in order to comission large junks of development work. There will be a correlation between how much money an entity puts into the association and how many votes it will have. All projects will be up for the association members to vote on. The projects with the highest votes will have the association’s funds allocated to it and will be developed by Moodle HQ. There will be some sort of cap on how many votes individual association members can have.

The idea of this associations opens a lot of questions of course, especially on what it means for Moodle partners who are currently the sole source of funding for Moodle (10% of revenue from Moodle related work by partners goes to Moodle HQ).

The keynote on learning analytics by Bart Rientes from the Open University gave a very interesting insight into what Open University do with their attempt at predictive analytics. The idea there is to show learners which areas of the curriculum they should focus on for the best outcome, based on data analysis. This topic raised two main questions: How do students get to see and use this data and what are the questions we want the (analytics-) system to answer. In a hands-on example with Gavin Henrick I experienced how difficult it is to come up with this question. Without this question being sensibly formulated though, learning-analytics somewhat remains a buzz-word.

The best example of a customised Moodle was presented by Thomas Bell with the United for Wildlife MOOC platform they launched as beta on that day (…). The platform comes with a rather beautiful user interface. Check it out! learn.unitedforwildlife.org

David Mudrak gave a good overview of how the plugins universe works, with a plea for more support on reviewing third party plugins. This reminded me of our initiative to collaborate and publish security reviews of plugins we do for our clients. Somehow it seems hard to motivate developers or companies to collaborate on this.

Davo Smith eloquently convinced us how easy it is to use Behat testing and Dan Poltawski demonstrated how Moodle HQ do continuous integration.

The hackday brought some excellent discussion and follow-up work on the integration of Bootstrap 3 and the state of renderers and templates in Moodle. This was once again the most inspiring part of the Moot, there’s some very talented people that are passionately involved in making Moodle the best VLE out there. This is no easy task, considering the massive amount of code and all those legacy bits still lingering. One of the reasons Moodle needs more funding is to make it the best possible option on the VLE market. The competition is there and work needs to be done. The difficulty here is the generic nature of Moodle: changes need to work for all the users, not just one specific site.

Thanks to Gavin Henrick and the team for making this great MoodleMoot possible. And thanks to Liip for giving this little bit extra to allow me to travel to Ireland by train, bus and boat.

leaving Ireland on the ferry

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1st Moodle MOOC starts 1. September

The first ever official Moodle MOOC Massive Open Online Course “Teaching with Moodle” is about to start. It is free and made by the people at Moodle Headquarters. The course facilitator is the fabulous Mary Cooch. Don’t miss this if you’re interested in teaching with Moodle!

At the time of writing there were already 4447 people enrolled. Impressive and exciting stuff.

moodle mooc screenshot

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Moodle 2.4 released

Earlier this week, Moodle announced the availability of Moodle 2.4, with many new improvements, after almost 6 months worth of work since the release of Moodle 2.3 (in June 2012).
Within the e-learning team at Liip, we are very excited to see this new version of Moodle released for public consumption: it’s various new features and performance improvements will power all our next Moodle client developments.

Let’s review some highlights from the announcement:

New icons

During the 2.4 development phase, the Moodle HQ designers have worked hard to provide refreshed and modern-looking icons: this was long needed and will certainly help shifting the perception of Moodle towards a modern and nice-looking LMS.

See also:

Performance

The introduction of the MUC (Moodle Universal Cache) in 2.4 reportedly makes Moodle instances lighter on server resources and faster for user experiences. Its high configureability and flexibility (that allows the use of memcached, move session caches out of the database, etc), will allow us to fit its configuration to our various clients needs and we’re eagerly looking forward to that!

See also:

Assignment improvements

Moodle 2.4 has also received a bunch of improvements in the Assignment activity. With these improvements, teachers can now:

  • require students to explicitely acknowledge a submission statement;
  • grade assignments offline;
  • create “group” assignments (a work that has to be done by a group);
  • implement “blind” marking, where students and teachers are made anonymous to each other in the marking process.

All the rest

There are plenty of other changes released in Moodle 2.4 (see the huge release notes page) and this blogpost would be kilometrical if we were to list them all, but here are some highlights of things that will be important to our customers or to us, behind the scenes:

If any of the above change would look like an interesting improvement to your current Moodle installation, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the Liip e-learning Team to discuss this opportunity with us.

Cheers, Didier

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Thoughts on the MaharaUK conference

Returning from the rather excellent MaharaUK 2012 conference in Lancaster, I’d like to share some thoughts and findings.

Half a year ago we at Liip had the feeling Mahara wasn’t really going anywhere. We suspected there were not enough contributing developers and generally not enough interest in Mahara outside of New Zealand. The user experience and it’s tie-in with institutions (as opposed to easily available services like tumblr, wordpress, facebook etc) is not where it should be for students to genuinly embrace Mahara as their own. Also the underlying idea of Mahara as a platform for life long learning never really seemed to get a chance, due to the lack of independent Mahara instances actually providing a life long hosting option. The only option going in this direction now is the occasional allumni instance provided by some institutions.

There was one very positive signal recently to counter this impression of stagnating Mahara commitment: the quiet arrival of comprehensive documentation for users and administrators via manual.mahara.org. It puzzles me somewhat that there wasn’t more noise around this wonderful tool.

Then there was the release of Mahara 1.5 with important improvements that pointed in a positive diretion, coupled with the announcement of a faster, more regular release cycle and work on the next version advancing nicely. These improvements, the plans for the 1.6 release and some very interesting plugin developments were summed up passionately by Dominique-Alan Jan’s keynote presentation. One of them should make those people happy wanting to have more control over learning goals and outcomes: An adapted version of the Moodle checklist plugin to work with Mahara. The other was Extresource, making use of oEmbed which should make its way into Mahara core soon, to ease the use of embedding external content.

There were more positive examples of Mahara usage by Jon Bowen from St. Peter’s College in New Zealand, listening to Jon really made me feel Mahara was THE way forward for how pupils collect, display, discuss and submit their work from an early age.

A bit of a downer came from the brief discussion that ensued from Jon’s presentation about government backing of the NZ Mahara project, where Richard Wyles said after the recent departure by a key figure in the department of education the government backing was everything but certain. Both Richard and Jon assume the NZ Mahara project is now “too big to fail”. A lot of us had assumed the NZ nation wide Mahara project had been initiated and backed by the government from the start and could be used as a role model for other countries. Sadly this was never so. The project was driven by individuals from the start. I’m pretty convinced Mahara needs to be available life long from a trusted provider and I don’t see who else but governments could do this. In Switzerland I believe we still have a chance to get there, but discussions have been dragging on and I feel time is limited.

During the technical workshop we had some discussions about making adding and editing content more central, maybe by changing the look and feel of the TinyMCE editor or using a different editor to get a more modern look and feel. I think much work needs to be done on user experience and I saw some interesting work in that direction by Mike Kelly from the University of the Arts London and I hope he gets this into Mahara core soon! Mike also presented a new use or feature rather with the listings directory he built for the art students. Their site is public and well worth a visit on workflow.arts.ac.uk.
Gregory Anzelj presented his work on the repository plugin for Mahara which is almost complete. It allows the use of external repositories like Dropbox, Box.net, Flickr, Google drive, Windows Sky Drive, Picasa.
Simon Story presented the use of SimpleSAMLphp to integrate Mahara with other systems. I have yet to understand in what way this adds to, extends or replaces Shibboleth.

We often hear that Mahara’s too complicated for users. Again at this conference. I agree to an extent, there’s too many clicks involved for many things, you can get lost, adding content is not central enough. Inline editing would be great to have. Just click on a text you want to change and immediately start typing, including autosave. There was a good input from Steve Wright (trials and tribulations of using Mahara as PhD learning journal) suggesting a simple step by step wizard for first time users when logging in to Mahara to set up the profile, create the first entry, share.

I’ve heard the request for better mobile integration a couple of times from our clients, now there’s good news courtesy of Jon Sharp and Roger Emery presenting MaharaDroid app version 2 . Now you can do all the essential stuff like adding a journal, messaging etc from your Android device. There’s nothing for Apple’s iOS yet. The responsive theme I’ve been dreaming about might help there, but what users seem to want is a native app with on-screen “badge” notification etc. A good solution for the meantime would probably be blogging by email. This would be really helpful particularly for students reporting from work experience or research in the field.

It was a pleasant surprise to see a presentation of Mahara for midwives on the programme, as one of the universities we work with have shown interest in exactly this. I missed the presentation though because I was on the other stream with a refreshing presentation by Toshifumi Sawazaki on Mahara usage in a more rural part of Japan, where several universities and private colleges (!) have collaborated to create an e-learning platform using Mahara and Moodle inside a custom portal (F-LECCS). Apparently there is no Mahara partner in Japan, so there was a steep learning curve involved in setting up and maintaining this setup on university infrastructure.

One of the more stirring presentations was a remote one by Kristina Hoeppner on how new features make it into Mahara. She was presenting from Wellington NZ and a strong earthquake occurred in the middle of her presentation, throwing things about in the room she was in. Kristina was very brave in continuing her explanations on how to submit and track feature requests, development cycles, priorities and progress in Mahara development.

Richard Wyles presented the Open Badges project they’re working on in conjunction with the Mozilla Foundation. I have yet to grasp the use for this, but judging by Richard’s enthusiasm it probably makes sense :)

It was a good conference, I’m glad I attended and I hope I can bring the drive I now feel behind Mahara home to Switzerland and our new e-learning team at Liip so we too may innovate and commit to Mahara again. At the moment we’re swamped with Moodle V2 migrations, so it won’t be easy to keep up the momentum.

Thanks and respect to all the good people involved in organising MaharaUK 2012 and to those who presented, – great work.

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What kind of IT training do kids need today?

I had an interesting discussion the other night with a friend of mine who runs a school in Zurich.  The subject was media competency in students.

It started off by me asking if they were still running Windows on the school computers used for IT training. My friend was reluctant to answer the question and said they didn’t do much computer training in the classical sense anymore. Apparently using electronic devices seems to come naturally with kids these days, especially with the young ones. Even with children (like his own 7 year old) who don’t have a lot of apparent access to computers, you no longer have to explain how to move pictures around by touch or mouse or trackpad, how to find software to do stuff, where to type, click, drag and drop.

I never thought of it this way before, but agreed there seems to be a lot of truth in what he said. This would be very nice indeed, as it allows to focus on actual content much more, rather than spending hours explaining the basics. I argued it was still important to learn the basics of how “the machines” that do all that stuff for us are made. And more importantly to learn about who controls what at what cost, learn about alternatives, different ways of doing things. My friend replied this was at the heart of what they try to teach the children anyway, knowing there is always an alternative way to achieve something – and this should not be limited or focused on IT. I like that approach a lot. He also said it is more important to teach the parents to find their way around this ‘digital age’ as to not have this big knowledge gap between parents and children; as parents should still be able to offer guidance on what is the Internet in particular. This seems right but doesn’t sound like something a school could achieve. Although it’s true that the kids I know in Switzerland and the UK have impressive basic skills at handling digital devices and software I wonder if with the ones growing up around iPhones and iPads the skill won’t be limited to swiping / touch screens. I think (and hope) not, but we’ll have to see about that.

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Mahara ePortfolio what for?

For various reasons, people don’t really know what an ePortfolio is and/or what the Mahara ePortfolio system could be used for. I will try and explain:

Mahara is…

… a web based tool to track, nurture and document your learning path.
… a container to store your artefacts (textfiles, audio files, movies, pictures) in one place.
… designed in a user centered way, giving you (and only you) full control over your content, with easy tools to share only what you want to share.
… ecouraging self reflection, self learning and learning in peer groups.
… designed to practice and encourage peer review with a system-wide feedback functionality.
… designed as a kind of reversed “walled garden”, giving you easy control over the “gardens” you work in.
… made for social networking without distraction in a controlled environment.

Mahara use cases

The most obvious use case is in education. Mahara is made to accompany you throughout an educational career, from primary school, higher education to further education and vocational training. Mahara is made for life long learning.

Since you have your CV, diplomas, awards, journals, feedback and discussions all inside Mahara, a job application is easily assembled, choosing from the elements in your Mahara that fit the job you’re applying for. This leads to the use case of Mahara as a software for job agencies , – to manage and “sell” their clients.

Easy to create forums, groups, institutions, feedback forms (wherever you want them) and the option to have several blog instances per user, let you create a social networking site out of the box.

Drag & drop embedding and arranging of movies, photos and audio files make it fun to create, work with and share your content. In the primary school use case, Mahara can be used to train media skills, by having a class work with Mahara on small research projects like gathering, reporting and sharing nature observations or a day at the zoo, museum etc.

Speaking of nature, Mahara can be a platform for breeders and growers (…), to document, discuss and show off their “items”, be that cattle or flowers.

Mahara is an ideal place to document and report on work placements (which is often a requirement in higher education), voluntary work and political or environmental activism. Any example where you want to have discussion as well as documenting activities illustrates this use case really. You can write a journal, embed video, photo galleries, run discussion forums, share with and invite people to join – all inside Mahara.

I’d be happy to read about further examples of how to use Mahara, please leave a comment.

Find more information on the Mahara website mahara.org. A good place to start is manual.mahara.org

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Invitation to the moodle 2.0 release party in Fribourg the 29th of November

The long awaited 2.0 version of Moodle will be released FORTHWITH!

As the official Swiss Moodle partner, we’d like to invite you to celebrate this event with us, together with our business partners and friends, and thank you for your cooperation with us at the same time.

The party is on 29 November 2010 from 6 p.m. at Rue de la Banque 1, to enjoy appetizers and drinks, and among other things, the legendary Moodle Mojito.

To register your intent to attend, we would be grateful if you would send a short email by thursday the 25th of November to charlotte.schlegel@liip.ch.

We hope to see many of you there!

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