Dec 19, 2008

Remember the Milk Experiment

So I've started my Remember the Milk experiment.  This will be my list for all work related tasks.  Click here for an introduction to RTM if you are unfamilar with it.
I have set up my RTM environment as follows:
  • General - Miscellaneous tasks (e.g. Install new computer memory)
  • Maybe/Someday - Miscellaneous tasks that are low on the priority list and are not currently essential for my work
  • Personal - Tasks that are not related to work but I may need to do at work; I actually have 2 RTM accounts and will share my personal tasks with my work account using the share feature (e.g. Call Dr. Smith about appointment)
  • Projects - List of projects I am working on; read more on projects below (e.g. PeopleSoft Textbooks Training)
  • pst - Holder for all project related tasks; read more on projects below; acronym for project sub tasks
  • Complete (month) - Tasks completed in last month, I'm forgetful ;o)
  • Complete (week) - Tasks completed in last week, ditto
  • High Priority - List all tasks given a priority of 1 or 2; these may be project specific, personal or general tasks; also lists overdue tasks regardless of priority (over due tasks that sit in this list should be either finished or rescheduled)
  • Next Action - Lists all tasks tagged as "next"; I use this to schedule my events each day...I don't always work on tasks based on priority alone.  Note: this is not the same as Allen's GTD next action.
  • PeopleSoft Textbooks - My major projects may have their own tab.  This is one of them.
  • Priorty - Lists all tasks given priority 3
  • Waiting - Lists all tasks tagged as "waiting"; these are tasks were I am waiting on action from someone else; tasks in this list will no longer appear in my priority lists.
About Projects
I've figured about a way to do sub tasks for projects that seems to work fairly well.
  • Each new project is created as a task in the Projects list
  • I tag the project with a unique tag with a prefix.  I use "c." for a course I am creating.  (e.g. c.pstextbooks)
  • Each new project sub task is created as a task in the pst list
  • I tag the project sub task with the same unique tag for the project (e.g. c.pstextbooks)
So now the steps to see a list of all the sub tasks for a project are as follows:
  1. Go the Projects tab
  2. Click on the project you are looking for
  3. Click on the unique tag for that project to see the list of all sub tasks for the project (see below; view Jing animation)
I realize that RTM may not be the best solution for a project that is complicated enough to require a project plan.  In that case I may use some thing like Microsoft Project to manage the project plan and use RTM to manage tasks related to the project but may not be in the project plan per se.
The next step is to see how this experiment works over the next month or so and report back.

Dec 15, 2008

The Perfect Task List

I hope you didn't read the title of this post and hoped that I had found the end all perfect task management tool.  I've had no luck in that department yet.  Has anybody found the perfect task list management tool?  I'm going to go out on a limb and guess the answer to that question is "no".  I've been looking for ways of managing my work flow and I've been hoping task management software will help out.  The problem I've found is that there are basically only two different types of task management software: to-do lists and project management tools.
What I'm looking for is something in the middle.  While I'll have "real projects" I have to manage, I'm not anticipating I'll be tracking resources and using advanced project management features any time soon.  E-Learning content development projects where I'm the primary developer will be the main projects I'm tracking.  More often than not, I'll be managing less formal projects like "Prepare for meeting with Bob" that might include tasks like "Do dry run with Sally on Dec. 19th" and "Print out process documents in preparation for meeting".  These are the types of "projects" I want to be able to easily manage.  These projects seem to be some where in between a standard to-do list and a formal project management tool.
The organization I work for provides a work productivity tool that contains e-mail, calendar, database, and task list functionality.  Like many to-do list implementations I've seen, the software leaves much to be desired.  Tasks can not be sub tasked easily for managing projects.  There is no good tagging scheme.  Tasks can not be easily filtered.  Completed tasks seem to linger around instead of leaving the list once completed.  Needless to say, this is not a valid option for me.  I decided to use a mind mapping tool called FreeMind to manage my tasks.  The ability to create a tree like structure and the free form approach was very conducive to managing my work flow.  I've used this for a few months and it has been very useful.  The drawback I am running into is that it is not easy to filter (for example show all priority 1 tasks) and there is no good tagging scheme.  I've decided I'm ready to try a new approach.
I've been using Remember the Milk for my personal task list.  (Note that I've been using many of David Allen's principles but his principle of combining work and personal lists is not something I'm ready to do)  I like the tagging scheme RTM provides and it has a lot of good features like due dates, repeats, and notes.  The main drawbacks I see are that there is not a good way of handling sub tasks and I don't know how to easily export tasks to a new system if RTM no longer is a good option for me.  However, since it's worked fairly well for my personal list I'm now ready to try it for my work list.  I have a plan in mind to handle project management through tagging but I have seen no good examples of this so I consider my plan experimental at this point.  More to come on that.
Do you use a tool to manage your tasks?  What has worked and what has not worked?

Dec 11, 2008

A Glimpse into the Mobile Future

I have a vision of what mobile devices will be like in the future. I suspect universities, airports, and coffee shops will deliberately put up white walls in certain areas to serve as projection screens for mobile devices. Who wants to look at a tiny two inch screen when they can project on a wall. I've always pictured this day as far off in the future but now I'm ready to believe that we could be there in as little as five years.

Time magazine's top gadget for 2008 is the Optoma Pico PK-101. This is a quality projection device about the same size as an iPhone. It is designed to be used with an iPod to project video on a wall. Combine this with another device not much different in size than an iPhone, a laser virtual keyboard, and you turn a mobile device into a system that is as easy to use as a laptop and fits in your shirt pocket. This is where I believe mobile devices are heading.

The devices I've referenced can be bought today at stores like Think Geek and Amazon.com (Optoma/Keyboard). Of course there is still work to be done to bring down the size and combine them into one device but I don't have much doubt that this can be done.

Projector + Virtual Keyboard + iPhone/Blackberry = Mobile Future

Dec 9, 2008

WBT Development Toolbox

The organization I work for has never formally offered web based training. My role is to help start up a web based training program. One of the tasks I've been working on is selecting a tool kit for creating the content. My goals for selecting a content authoring product are as follows:
  • Ability to easily import from existing course materials made in Word and PowerPoint
  • Ability to export to SCORM 1.2/2004
  • Ability to create simulations
  • Ability to use UI templates or global “skins”
  • Must be easy to use
  • Must be able to create interactive content that keeps the user engaged
I looked at several products including IBM Content Producer, IBM Simulation Producer, Wimba Create, SumTotal Toolbox, Lectora/Saba Publisher, Thesis Rapid SCORM, Articulate, and Adobe Captivate. I ended up selecting three of these products. All the products I selected have the following attributes:
  • Create SCORM 1.2/2004 packages
  • Questions and quiz functionality is powerful
  • Easy to add audio soundtracks in to content
  • Import a course story board created in PowerPoint
  • Relatively easy to use compared to other tools in the market
  • Easy to create highly interactive content
Articulate
The first content authoring product I choose was Articulate Studio '09. This product really makes a lot of sense and it's integration with PowerPoint makes it easy for more people to become involved in the authoring process. It works within PowerPoint so that any one who knows PPT can quickly come up to speed to create a nice looking presentation. Studio ’09 contains a great quiz maker and has engagement objects like timelines and charts that can be used. There are certain courses that this tool will work very well for and save lots of development time.
Lectora
I choose Lectora as the next piece of my tool kit. It is good for creating more advanced courses that require more customization than Articulate. It can take better advantage of variables and decision making structures which will allow me to create more engaging content with better feedback. Course development time will take longer than Articulate but the resulting content will likely be of better quality. Lectora has the option to import from PowerPoint so I can still use PowerPoint to storyboard the content.
Captivate
The last content authoring tool I choose was Captivate. I will be doing a lot of technology training courses so software simulations are very important. Captivate does a very good job of creating software simulations. Articulate and Lectora do not do simulations. My current plan is to use Captivate to create flash simulations that can be embedded in content created by Articulate or Lectora.
Those are the main authoring components of my WBT development toolbox. There are several other supporting tools in my toolbox that handle images, audio, video, and screenshots. I will save those for a future posting.

Dec 5, 2008

Workplace eLearning Environment Sketch

I've been reading a good bit about different aspects of the eLearning environment.  There's a lot of bloggers out there talking about incorporating Learning/Web 2.0 into workplace learning.  I'm a big fan of the informal learning opportunities Web 2.0 helps create.  However, my organization is just getting its feet wet with online learning so the immediate chore is to get the LMS going and start offering formal classes online.  So I want to try to keep the immediate chore in perspective with the context of the larger learning environment I have in mind.
Click on the following graphic to see how I've mapped the eLearning Environment I have in mind for my workplace.  I'm interested in learning if you see a similar environment or if you see it completely differently.

Rebooting Processes

Do you ever feel like you need to reboot your brain?  Feel like you've got several errant processes running and you need to reset them?  I felt like that this week.
Unfortunately for us humans rebooting is not that simple.  We can't just flip a switch and reset everything.  However, I do think we can look at the processes in our lives that are out of control and deal with them one by one.  For example, my sleep process is stuck on too low of a setting.  I've got to kill that process so that I can start a new process that allows me to get the full sleep my body needs.
The consequences of not rebooting our processes occasionally is that our brains get crowded and have too many out of control processes to deal with.  It can get overwhelming.  It can stifle creativity.
How does this relate to eLearning?  This is a great time to be in eLearning.  There are a lot of new products and methods emerging that are allowing learners to be engaged more than ever before.  As an eLearning professional we need to re-evaluate processes that are old, out dated, or just not working.  Ask ourselves, what is the learning objective of this process?  Is there a better/newer way to accomplish that objective?
For example, in my work place we use a Lotus Notes database to have discussion board postings.  However, those discussions would probably be more effective as part of a social network where they are easier to access and more visible by more people.  That example may be more difficult to reboot but at least we can make ourselves aware that a better process exists.  Another process I had to reboot recently was a content development tool that just wasn't working.  It was expense, slow, and difficult to use.  With a little bit of research I was able to find a content development tool (Articulate) that was on the opposite end of the spectrum and would save the training developers here hours of work per project.
What processes do you need to reboot?

Bang! And the blog is off and running!

I'm starting this blog for the following reasons:
  1. To learn by teaching
  2. To get feedback on topics of interest
  3. To discover ways in which blogs can be used for eLearning (especially in the work place)
  4. To get experience with writing
  5. To provide an additional avenue for networking with others in the eLearning field
I had previously developed a personal blog which was mainly about my kids and accomplishments in life.  My intended audience was family and friends.  I maintained that pretty well until Facebook emerged and became a much better tool for managing relationships and friends.  I like the concept of sharing thoughts and knowledge with others.  I think it makes the world a better place.  ;)
The plan for this blog is to discuss issues that relate to my profession.  However, profession and personal life often overlap so at times I may venture off of eLearning and into life in general.