Category Archives: Uncategorized

All you have is your name

Educating in the digital information age has its challenges.  The ready access of content, research, and feedback provides students with abundant opportunities to excel in their educational pursuits.  Of course this also gives them the opportunity to be less then honest about the material they create.  Instilling integrity into a group of students is a challenge at all levels of education and across the many different methods that content is delivered.  Face-to-face courses are struggling with this issue to the same degree as distance education courses.  So how is this problem being addressed, and is it making a difference? 

In many cases, software is being employed  to automatically scan student submissions for plagiarism.  A simple internet search for “plagiarism software” resulted in many thousands of results.  Of these, “Turnitin” is a web service that will “Check students’ work for potential plagiarism by comparing it against the world’s largest comparison database” (Turnitin, 2014).  Instructors must realize that Turnitin will identify instances of plagiarism, but “ cannot distinguish automatically between plagiarized text and properly cited direct quotations” (Jocoy & Dibiase, 2006).  Another useful tool are web search sites like Google and Microsoft’s Bing which allow instructors to “…track down copied phrases” (Jocoy & Dibiase, 2006). 

Something to consider as an instructional designer would be to design content that reduced the risk of plagiarism in the first place.  The University of Leeds in England proposed a number of design elements that would facilitate proper student assessment while reducing the risk of plagiarism.  Some of these ideas were (cited from University of Leeds, n.d.):

  1. “Write learning outcomes that avoid the use of terms ‘list, describe, or explain’ as these invite students to copy.”
  2. “Map/schedule assessments to avoid over-assessment-to ensure that students are not overloaded and to avoid bunching of assessment deadlines as these can encourage students to resort to dishonest tactics”
  3. “Vary the assignment each year-different style, format, wording to prevent students copying work or getting answers from previous cohorts”

 Jocoy and DiBiase discuss the creation and implementation of an expectation management strategy.  The idea is to educate the student on just what plagiarism is, how to avoid it, and what the consequences are if caught copying someone’s work.  Numerous studies have shown that many if not most college students have little understanding just what plagiarism is.  This lack of knowledge results in the acceptance from a students’ perspective that copying internet sources is acceptable.  Jocoy and Dibiase quote “…students who received no explicit plagiarism instruction plagiarized twice as often as those who participated in active instructional activities such as class discussions of definitions of plagiarism…”(2006).  By clearly establishing performance expectations, defining what plagiarism is and how it applies to academic dishonesty, instructors can potentially reduce the prevalence of this problem.

 As a teacher and instructional designer I believe students can be made to understand the importance of integrity and honesty.  For some, this will be a life long lesson that will help shape their personalities.  For other students, they will “toe the line” during the course in order to avoid discipline issues.  My job is to try to not only impart the knowledge and information that is part of the course, but also make them good members of society.  For this reason, integrity is a common topic of discussion.


Jocoy, C. & DiBiase, D. (2006). Plagiarism by adult learners online:  A case study in detection and remediation.  International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 7(1).  1-15


Turnitin (2014).  Corporate website.


University of Leeds (n.d.). Plagiarism-University of Leeds guide.  Designing assessments that prevent plagiarism.  Retrieved February 13, 2014 from


Accessing, Using, and Sharing

Online education has grown and matured due to advances in communication and technology.  As instructional designers, it is our role to carefully and deliberately apply these evolutionary tools to our courses without alienating the student or faculty. 

When considering the types of tools that should be incorporated into a course, accessibility and usability are two of the most important considerations.  Instructional designers must understand who their target audience is and how skilled they are with the online communications, access, and interactions.  Since our goal is to make students successful in the course of study, we must first consider the usability of the content.  “Usability is the extent to which a system can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use” (Cooper, et al. 2007).  This lengthy definition may also be tied with “ease of use” (Cooper, et al. 2007).  If your students and faculty are unable to use the material due to technical issues, then the content is worthless.  Usability may also be affected by the user’s environment, available tools, or a physical disability.  Regardless of the cause, designers must establish clear guidelines and resources in order to facilitate learning.

While usable content should be a primary focus, accessing the content may become even more critical.  If the students cannot access the information, either due to slow internet connections, poor server technology, or incompatible software, then they cannot begin to address the usability aspect.  As a result, “Accessibility and usability are intrinsically linked.  The lower the level of accessibility of a resource…the less usable it will be for them” (Cooper, et al. 2007).  Just like usability, how a student access the content must be considered.  What if the student is deaf or blind?  Is the content designed in such a way that they can still access and learn from the online content?  As an instructional designer, you must have very clear expectations and understanding of the requirements of the students who will be taking your courses.

For me, the tools that hold the most appeal as an instructional designer help me to rapidly design and develop content that is interactive and interesting.  Flash HTML5 based interactions are very useful for developing courses that require step by step multimedia instructions.  They also permit incorporation of design elements that help to keep the student engaged.  I also appreciate the need to create a social community within a course.  Using forums, email, and announcements to communicate with students is something I don’t do enough of right now and need to improve in the future.  “Announcements are very useful for your teaching presence” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010).  I tend to rely on my single weekly face-to-face meetings to impart some form of a teaching presence, but in retrospect, I can see that at the beginning of each class I have to start the process over again.  I hope to foster a more interactive community by creating discussion boards for students to interact in and establishing small groups who can communicate in their own space between the classroom sessions.

Recognizing the need to create a learning system that fosters ready accessibility, usability, and a sense of community is a priority for instructional designers.  Each of these aspects helps to create an environment for the student and faculty that fosters collaboration and eases frustrations.



Boettcher, J., & Conrad, R. M. (2010).  The online teaching survival guide.  San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass

Cooper, M., Colwell, C., & Jelfs, A. (2007).  Embedding accessibility and usability:  Considerations for e-learning research and development projects.  Research in learning technology 15(3).  231-245.  Retrieved from February 2, 2014.

Bringing Them In and Holding Onto Them

ImageBeginning any new endeavor, particularly educational based, is an excited time.  Depending on your previous experiences as a student, this period can be something to be anticipated since new experiences and knowledge will be presented, or something to be dreaded as new techniques and methods are forced upon you.  Add to this the trepidation of the first time online student and you can quickly come to realize many of the individuals within the class are just one or two steps away from full blown panic.  For these reasons, the online educator must take careful, planned steps that welcome students into the learning environment.

Technology today is everywhere.  For most of us, using smartphones and participating in online interactions has become somewhat second nature.  Yet there is a large percentage of the population that has little to no exposure to these things.  For this reason, instructors should not assume the comfort level of online learners to the technology being employed.  This can also be an issue for instructors who are experiencing a packaged online course for the first time.  Both students and instructors may benefit from surveys that measure their ability and willingness to learn in the online environment.  Conrad and Donaldson present one of these surveys in their text (“Are You Ready For Learning Online?” 2011). Incorporating this into the first few days of an online course will help to identify those students who may struggle in this environment.  This survey will also inform the new online instructor what the realities are for online students.  Understanding the personal requirements and cognitive needs of the course within the first few days will help students understand just what is expected of them.

While significant effort can be invested in created a social community within the course, there is a similar need to establish a cognitive presence.  This allows students to “…[shift] form the social presence interaction to thinking and discussing the course content and personal learning goals” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010).  Clearly articulating what is expected from the course is crucial to both instructor and student success.  By asking students what they expect to learn from the course, “…an instructor gains insights into the state of the learner’s knowledge, confidence, and experience with the content” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010).  Also, by conducting exercises and discussions focused on the course syllabus and objectives, the student gain understanding what is expected of them and how to succeed.

Finally, embrace technology, but don’t go crazy.  There are a number of wonderful software and technological packages that can bring some excitement to the course, but the content has to be there to support it.  Frustration can quickly build among instructors and students when an intricate, lengthy interactive exercise ends and everyone looks around wondering what they just learned.  Even more frustration can occur when students have issues accessing the technology in the first place.  On a personal level, I am currently teaching a course that uses Adobe Acrobat forms that are downloaded to the student, they fill them out and submit the documents back to me through the learning management system.  The intention was to provide quick feedback on their homework.  Unfortunately a number of students have had issues with this since they do not have the correct software or simply do not understand how to utilize the technology.  To combat this frustration in future courses, I will adopt a technique set forth by Conrad and Donaldson; “Offering a nongraded assignment…will eliminate the panic that is experienced by many students when faced with a graded assignment that requires the use of a new tool or process” (2011).  Prior planning, combined with a robust review process which students and faculty participate in, will help future generations of the course.


Boettcher, J., Conrad, R. M. (2010).  The online teaching survival guide:  Simple and practical pedagogical tips.  San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass

Conrad, R. M., Donaldson, J. A., (2011).  Engaging the online learner:  Activities and resources for creative instruction.  San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass

“Learners in an online course cannot hide passively.  If they have not prepared and processed the content prior to posting their discussion responses, that shortcoming is evident to everyone” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010).  This statement helps to illustrate the importance of student involvement and preparation during an online course.  Individually, a student may be drawn to an online course because of the lack of community and the feeling that the social connection is not necessary.  The reality though is learning requires social interaction.  Peers and the instructor force the student to consider the course content in a different light and help to build connections.  Collaboration with individuals who are working toward a similar goal helps to build the constructivist approach to learning and set performance expectations.

Research into creating an online community uncovered an article written by Kevin Wilcoxon for Learning Solutions Magazine.  He argues that three factors must be built into a successful online learning community.  A social presence allows students to identify with other students.  This facilitates communication and interaction.  A cognitive presence allows for the exploration and development of understanding.  The final factor is the teaching presence which encompasses all the traditional elements or instructional design along with the role of the instructor.  “Thus, teaching is not the sole responsibility of the instructor within a learning community” (Wilcoxon, 2011).  Instead, the instructor spends most of their time facilitating student development and providing guidance through the content.

Many adult learners were students in primarily lecture based courses.  Their ability to adjust to learner based approaches can cause frustration.  Instructors need to realize this and accept the evolution of students to the online environment.  Moving these students from a passive role into a more dynamic, interactive role takes time.  Instructors need to ask good questions in discussion forums and carefully monitor student performance to ensure the interactions are occurring as expected.

Taking the time and effort to build a learning community helps the instructor to not only pass on content to the student, but allows for the students to take responsibility for their own development.  The social presence of students allows for the initial support of each other, and then evolves into more in depth discussion and advanced cognitive development.  The instructor must be present for this, but their hard work at building a community will provide long-term benefits.

Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Wilcoxon, K. (2011).  Building an online learning community.  Learning Solutions Magazine [online article].  Retrieved January 11, 2014 from

My Own Worst Enemy


Designing and developing online educational content is my primary role and, since I am the only one doing it within my organization, I generally do not have to worry about coordinating among different teams.  Until recently that is!  I am now suffering from scope creep and feeling a bit bewildered by it!

The project is to create an orientation lesson for clinical preceptors.  The course needs to be geared toward RNs and Emergency Department technicians who will precept EMT and Paramedic students.  The content focuses on scope of practice, performance requirements, and paperwork needs for both the student and the preceptor.  Objectives have been clearly outlined by management and a timeline has been established that gives me plenty of time to complete the project.

I just finished the initial version for approval and I feel like a complete amateur.  The reason is my own need to “…improve the project’s output as the project progresses” (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton, & Kramer, 2008).  A project that started out as a simple narrated PowerPoint has become a multimedia festival with movies, animations, and a soundtrack!  This additional content was added strictly based on my desire to make the project more interesting and engaging, an admirable goal but the time commitment has pulled me from other duties.

The interesting aspect of this project is the reaction from the stakeholders.  I believe the design and content bar is set so low for online education that anything with some elements of thoughtful design is automatically considered “wonderful”.   I know I am sounding cynical here, but the interaction of this course with my own work has been enlightening.  I did not realize how changes to a project midcourse actually impact the timeline for deliverables.  While I agree with Lynch and Roecker that some changes “…must occur due to a change in vision, a change in the needs of the customer, even a sudden change in budget” (2007), but recognizing the risk to the overall project from these changes is critical to meeting a schedule.

So what have I learned and what am I going to do about it?  I have learned I am my own worst enemy!  I need to establish what my deliverables will be within the content design and stick to them.  New development with fancy software toys can wait until the next project unless absolutely necessary.  Also, establishing a change control process, as discussed by Lynch and Roecker, will help me control changes and keep track of project variations.

Overall I believe my workflow has improved with better prototyping, but I need to work on managing my own expectations and limit the amount of scope creep that occurs.



Lynch, M., Roecker, J. (2007).  Project management e-learning:  A handbook for successful design, delivery, and management.  London, UK:  Routledge.

Portny, S., Mantel, S., Meredity, J., Shafer, S., Sutton, M., Kramer, B (2008).  Project management:  Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects.  Danvers, MA:  John C Wiley and Sons

Different Perspectives


Estimating the amount of work necessary to complete portions of a project can be a major challenge.  After factoring the personnel skills and resources available to the project team, other online tools can help the project manager narrow their estimates.

A traditional aid that has been used by many industries, and can be considered an icon in professional development is the “Dummies” series of books.  Project Management for Dummies authored by our very own Stanley Portny has a good section on Estimating Required Work Effort.  Since the book is written “for dummies” the text is easy to read and understand.  Plus, icons spread throughout the book draw the reader’s attention highlighting important tpics.

The next job aid I discovered is another view of the same topic outlined in the “For Dummies” book.  Duration Estimate templates are created by Project Management Docs and they can be used to estimate specific areas of a project with greater accuracy.  I think this set of tools is an example of seeing information from a different perspective.  If you are having a hard time understanding how to estimate a project’s duration, then the worksheets provided on this site may be of assistance.

It’s all in the eyes!


“There are managers so preoccupied with their e-mail messages that they never look up from their screens to see what’s happening in the nondigital world” (Csikszentmihalyi, n.d.)

Relying on digital technology to deliver messages has created a business society that operates at an efficient, rapid pace.  Email has replaced the phone call or face-to-face meeting.  The ability to rapidly create a message and send it around the world instantaneously creates an environment where the true meaning of the sender is lost on the receiver.  This consequence cannot be reduced with emoticons or amusing anecdotes.  Instead, it is something that must be recognized and managed by professional communicators.

The three examples presented in the course are a great representation how the same content can be received in different ways just based on the method of distribution.  Kind words and understanding phrases are respectful, but without the non-verbal cues to reinforce their intent, the message could come across as demeaning and rude.  “Without hearing your voice or seeing your facial expressions, it is difficult to discern tone, meaning, and emphasis” (Bristol-Smith, 2011).  The voicemail is an improvement since the receiver can detect inflection in the senders voice which eliminates some of the risk of misunderstanding the message, but there is still some doubt as to the senders sincerity. 

The optimal method for communicating, in most situations, is face to face.  Eye contact, relaxed stance, and a non-confrontational verbal tone help sell the sincerity of the sender.  “Only a small percentage of communication involves actual words:  7% to be exact.  In fact, 55% of communication is visual and 38% is vocal (Gallo, 2007).

So what does all this mean?  For a project manager, using face-to-face communication methods to rely important or sensitive messages is best.  Whether this is an actual meeting between people or the use of video conferencing, make sure the receiver can see your face and read your non-verbal cues.  Of course, that also means the manager must be careful about how their body is sending a message.  Non-verbal cues can either sell, or confuse a message. By maintaining eye contact, the sender of the message demonstrates well deserved attention to the recipient.  “People want to feel special.  They want to feel as though you are speaking to them directly or that they are the most important person in the room during your conversation” (Gallo, 2007).  This is a fact that communicators too often forget.


Bristol-Smith, D. (2011).  The dangers of email.  Retrieved September 17, 2013 from

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (n.d.).  Quote.  Retrieved September 17, 2013 from

Gallo, C. (2007).  Body Language:  A key to success in the workplace.  BusinessWeek February 14, 2007.