Monday, October 30, 2006

Adventures in Customer Service

On Friday, the Boss and I received the following e-mail (names and details have been changed to protect the guilty):

Wendy and the Boss,

The Software development team is pleased to announce the release of Enterprise v10.x.y this week. This latest version of the Software resolves several issues identified by our clients and we want to thank you for your assistance in bringing incident number 166078 to our attention. This problem has been fixed in v10.x.y and I just wanted to take a moment and recognize the great help and cooperation you’ve demonstrated in pointing this issue out to us. The full list of fixed issues for v10.x.y is available on the Knowledge Base in the client area of http://www.softwarecompany.com

If you have not already secured a schedule slot for your upgrade to our latest software version, please contact your account manager. If you have any questions comments or suggestions, please do not hesitate to contact the Support team directly.

Many thanks!

Sr. VP of Customer Service.


Now this is a nice piece of marketing. Makes your contributions towards improving the software seem important.

One problem: In the last upgrade they BROKE the thing that this "upgrade" is now supposed to fix!!!!

Furthermore, these upgrades (even the small ones) require planning, resources, and testing. And lots of it.

We are now in a Catch-22. The System Administrator informed me that we are not going to do this upgrade. But the thing that the upgrade fixes is clinically important.

Since it has taken 4 weeks to get this much information from the Software company - I'm hoping we can sit on this issue without too many complaints. At least until we get v.11. Of course - everyone PROMISES that this new upgrade will solve all of our problems. Hahahahaha..............

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Too Much Information.....

I finally figured out why I am now only finishing 1 book a month - RSS feeds.

On my iPOD - 155 podcasts - both video and audio. I get, on average, 10 new episodes each day.

On Google Reader - 39 subscriptions. If I don't read the posts 1 weekday, I have over 100 posts to read. At some point I'll figure out how to create a listfeed to connect to this blog.

On del.icio.us - 38 items. I'm limiting this to professional interests. Add 20 more sites regularly viewed from IE favorites,

eMail - 3 accounts (I'm only talking personal accounts). Average 30 e-mails a day from various newsletter sources. I'm not even including spam or e-mails from friends and family.

This doesn't include TV, Radio, web research, and other forms of media I use every day.

It's a wonder I get outside and talk to anyone.

Does anyone else feel pressure to keep up with all this stuff?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Creating Time-Eating Monsters

Much of this week will be spent making sure what I currently have works. As I work - I find all sorts of other things I should be creating to make this a full eLearning experience. Funny how ideas outpace the time it takes to turn the ideas into reality.

I noticed that we did not have anything resembling a test server for Moodle. Since more than 3 of us use the system now, I didn't want to do some of the final configuration on our live server without testing it first.

A testament to Moodle's scalability - I spent part of Sunday installing it on my laptop. How many commercial LMSs can you install on YOUR laptop? How many would you WANT to?

Now I can do all sorts of things that could destroy the code, the database, or both. First test - customizing the login page.

I hope to start making movies of these processes shortly. I'm checking out Google Video and YouTube. Ideally, I would publish in Flash so I can make them interactive. I know Google Video prefers traditional formats. Again, the ideas vs. time issue.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Issues of Trust

Once the IT team decided they liked Moodle, the system administrator asked, "How are we going to tell whether they are the ones who actually did the test?"

Yes, this is a realistic question. And it's an issue that comes up pretty regularly in higher education e-learning circles.

Attending training is a prerequisite for getting a user ID. Pass the test - get access to our system. I would LIKE to think that our health care providers and employees are responsible enough to do the test without going through the effort of having someone else do it for them. A person who decided to take that route shouldn't be responsible for my (or anyone else's) health care. What other shortcuts would they take?

Besides, I figure cheaters would be easily caught once we get the first help desk call and look at the testing reports. The system is complicated enough that it's easy to pick out someone who hasn't gone through training. What we could do about it, on the other hand, is a different issue and up to the organization.

One solution bandied about - make them come into the classroom and take the course and test while you watch then. My thought: We're dealing with adults (we hope). It's a waste of my time and demeaning to the student.

Another solution - before giving them their user IDs, have them call us up. We can remote access to their computer and have them do a brief exercise based on their department's workflows. Find the patient, open the chart, enter the note, write a prescription, enter a charge. That's what they have to do anyway - and if they did the training, they should be able to do all of that in under 10 minutes. That includes extensive documentation in the note. Some policies would have to be put in place regarding when we can do these testing calls or if managers outside the IT department can proctor this exercise. Again - the trust issue.

The third solution - trust our students to do the right thing and come up with a procedure to deal with the rare exception. I personally like this solution because it requires me to do nothing unless the student has trouble. I also think it shows that we trust our employees. I doubt that we will choose this solution.

We haven't decided what we are going to do yet. Any other recommendations?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Moodle Benchmark #2.5 - Checking in with the Boss

Soon after the staff meeting - I went to check in with the boss to show him my progress.

He is also very happy with what he sees. Bosses like it when they see visible progress. They also like it when the toughest customers are happy.

I have more time to get the system in shape. The senior management meeting has been cancelled until mid-November. This should be just enough time to get all of the feedback from the IT staff, get some tutorials fixed, and be able to roll out the entire system the day after the meeting.

I want enough time to get our end-users used to looking at Moodle for information before the major electronic medical record upgrade. Upgrade planning starts November 1. The test install should happen November 15.

I've been not-so-subtly selling this project for over a year. Every time someone complains to me that they have no time to sit in a classroom with me, or whenever I have a tough time fitting someone into my schedule for training, I tell them "We'll soon have an online system that will let you do this when it is most convenient for you!" I'm hoping that this guerilla change management technique pays off when we roll this thing out.

Moodle Benchmark #2 - Convincing the IT Staff

Thankfully, I work in IT - so it was a matter of convincing my colleagues.

In some ways, this is the most challenging benchmark. They will see things that the average user won't see. Plus, they look at it from an administrative standpoint. They were VERY impressed.

Pros:
- "You mean this thing is free and I can download it on my own laptop!!!"
- "Wow! This thing looks really easy!"
- "I want to play with the reporting. This looks cool!"
- "I like the project course with the Wikis and Forums and file-loading."

It's tough to get this crew excited about applications - since we seem to spend all day fixing them and/or arguing with vendor support. To see them THAT excited is very validating.

Ideas for improving the system:
- Multiple Admin accounts. Right now we have only 1. We want to keep track of who is doing what with the system. Ta said that she came up with a way to create these accounts. I will post her solution as soon as I see what she did.

- Automated e-mail for new items in courses you are signed up for. I know that you can get e-mails from the forums - but I want to see if this can be done for any new item in the course.

- The ability to take queries and add them to a user account in Moodle so they can run the reports themselves.

- A way to isolate particular courses so that users only see the courses they need.

After the meeting - Ta did another full backup of Moodle. Very important since 2 of them will be playing with the databases.

Some of the IT team have already started working in Moodle - nosing around and seeing if they can break things. By next week, we should have enough information to put the reporting through its paces before presenting to Senior Management.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Breaking the impasse

I find that there is a point during any lengthy creative process where I find myself staring blankly at the project. I don’t quite understand what I have, have no idea whether it is going to work, and have no idea where to go from here.

I was at that point last week – hence my sporatic blogging.

During those times, I find myself doing a LOT of research – in an attempt to break the impasse. For the Moodle project, the impasse broke on Thursday.

We are implementing Moodle for the reporting. For good reporting, we need to understand what types of reports we need and how best to publish our Captivate files to get the right metrics.

I spent Wednesday staring at the mySQL database behind Moodle. I didn’t see an easy way to query the database for the types of reports I want to run. One of the other IT staff suggested that we may need to install more reporting tools. This didn’t make a lot of sense. So Ta and I finally sat down with Vandana, our database guru.

Using Vandana’s experience with reporting tools, we finally found the keys to running queries off of the Moodle database. Even better, Vandana was excited about what she saw, “This thing is really robust! We can run reports off of this database and our other databases!” Excellent news. We can start thinking about reports to see how well the training works in the real world and also the return on investment in $$$$$.

Looking at the reporting options, I realized that I did not have to republish the 60 tutorials I currently use. Since I will have to trash 50 of them in February with the major upgrade, I did not relish the thought of republishing these tutorials (again).

When I build the new tutorials for upgrade, I will publish them as 800x600 SCORM files. This will give me time and attempts metrics, and optimum visual quality for our systems.

This Wednesday, I am going to meet with the rest of the IT department to show them what Ta and I have been up to. We are going to have them test our system and give us some ideas for improvement. This will also give us more metrics for us to manipulate in preparation for the big meeting next Monday.

I will give more details as I get the time to write them down. Right now, I am racing to populate some courses for testing.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Learning and Neuroscience

A SharpBrains interview with Dr. James Zull.

A key condition for learning is self-driven motivation, a sense of ownership. To feel in control, to feel that one is making progress, is necessary for this Learning Cycle to self-perpetuate. -Dr. James Zull

We know this - so how do we apply this?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

I wish I was Dogbert...

I fear I am in over my head with this Moodle project. It's not the instructional design that has me freaked out. That I can handle. It's the system customization.

Customization = programming.
Me + programming = bad news.

My brain just doesn't quirk that way. Since the requirements for reporting and functionality are still too nebulous to spend the money for a consultant, and we have no one in the organization with the appropriate skill sets, it's up to me to figure it all out.

During a stuck moment, I found this post in Scott Adams' Dilbert blog.

"...Every time I try something different or unlikely, someone says the equivalent of “don’t quit your day job.” When I venture into areas clearly outside of my expertise, I hear “You’re in way over your head.”...Somehow I have to square that seemingly good advice with the fact that I’ve so often been successful against long odds, especially when I’m in way over my head. In fact, that’s when I do my best work."

He's right - though it's hard to see until after the fact. Now if I could only figure out PHP......

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Stupid Moodle Tricks - Moodle Videos

Dennis Daniels has posted a bunch of Moodle videos on Google Video. Most are for Moodle 1.5.2.

Update: I've had a chance to watch a few of Dennis' videos. Geared for very tech savvy folks. The video quality is not great; so if you are not familiar with the interface, it may be difficult to see what is happening.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Hanging in TheirSpace

The recent issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education cites the 2005 Teens and Technology report that shows teenagers and college students prefer more instantaneous forms of communication, reserving e-mail for communicating with us "old people."

Harcum College, outside of Philadelphia, built a MySpace page in an attempt to reach their students. The college is pleased with the success of the experiment.

George Siemens concludes "When we stop asking students to come to our space and use our tools, we start seeing progress."

So what about those of us whose students are the "old people"? Who have just started using a computer regularly? Who finally do not fear the mouse?

I think Mr. Siemens' point is well taken. We should stop asking students to come to our space and use our tools. But I can't spend all day in exam rooms with the doctors and there is only one of me. So now what?

I saw something promising during a demo for a new version of our billing system. Within the user interface, as the person worked, was a step-by-step reminder of how to perform a task - with links taking the user directly to whatever screen, function, or resource they need at that time. I'll believe this more when I get my hands on it - but it is a BRILLIANT idea and the most exciting thing I've seen in awhile.

This solution may solve my problem as a software trainer, but what about softer skills? Theory? Policy? Customer Service? What do we need to do to get into their space?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Decisions Pt 1 - User Accounts

Ta and I sat down this morning and made some decisions. We still have a lot of research to do:

- Because of the residents and med students, we are going to allow people to access Moodle outside our network. As a result, we will have to maintain 2 databases (network user and Moodle Only user) and find ways to merge the 2 when necessary. If anyone has any suggestions, please post!

- The user ID protocol will match the one we have for our network. We're hoping this will make it easier to match users if we need to merge them.

We still need to figure out what we want to do for a pre-registration process. I know we can lock some courses down with enrollment keys. I also don't have a good feel for how much control the upper management wants to maintain over course enrollment.

If anyone (corporate or academic) has a user account and permissions workflow for their LMS that works for them - I could really use the feedback.

Thanks.

Being a Learner

“I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”
~ Pablo Picasso
Cited from senia.com

Right now, I find myself well beneath what Kathy Sierra calls the "Suck Threshold".

As a trainer, it is good to be here - if only to remind yourself of what it is like to learn something new and complicated. As a person, well, it sucks - at least until you pass through the "suck threshold" and into serviceable amateur status.

The complexity of the Moodle project overwhelms me at times. Figuring out how to get the reports I want. Getting my Captivate/SCORM modules to work right. Using my iffy HTML/CSS skills to make the site look pretty. Modifying bad picture files. None of these tasks require skills where I feel competent.

For growth - that's the point. It's the memory of feeling completely incompetent that I have to take with me into the classroom. That's where my students are at when they come to see me. And it's the feeling they are desperately trying to avoid.

I would like to think that my regular escapades into the "I suck" zone helps me guide my students through it unscathed.

But right now....it sucks....

Friday, October 06, 2006

Moodle Human Issues - User Accounts


Computers are stupid creatures. They require very specific instructions to perform the most insignificant tasks.

How well a computer system works depends on the human interaction surrounding that system. An easily forgotten truth in our rush to implement the latest and greatest enterprise something-or-other that (we hope) will solve all of our problems and allow us to stop thinking.

As I thought about our LDAP implementation, I realized we need to come up with some policies regarding passwords and accounts. Being a control freak - I wish I could make these decisions myself and not have to worry about feedback from others.

Since the decisions are not solely mine to make - I came up with a list of questions for Ta and the boss to consider.

- Should we require a network ID for access to our system? If so - how will this impact our other systems within the network?

- If we do not require a network ID, how do we handle users who create an account, then receive a network ID later?

- Should we create a preliminary sign-up process to pre-load courses to the account or make the user sign up for the courses? (Right now - the courses are being categorized by job-title.)

I'll be posting more questions as we develop this system and will post the decisions (and results of the decisions) as we work.

Is there anything I should add to the list for user accounts and permissions? Other things I should keep in mind as we begin the implementation process? Feedback is greatly appreciated!!!!! Thanks!

Picture from The SourceFire Computer Security calendar.

Stupid Moodle Tricks - Setting up LDAP

For our Moodle install, we wanted to set up the passwords so that a user can immediately log in to Moodle without setting up a separate Moodle account. To accomplish this, Ta used the LDAP authentication tool built into Moodle. The original instructions are listed at http://moodle.org. Go to the Administrator documentation.

When using this process – it is CRUCIAL to have the network guru with you.
Hint: Network gurus like food. Being extra nice to the network guru is also a good general policy. If you have not been nice to the network guru, or don’t know one – time to go make friends.

After the approval by the senior management and completion of course configuration, we are going to try and get the system to auto-login from our Intranet site so, if they are in the building, they won’t have to log in twice.

The administrative area in Moodle explains each of the fields in detail. Since we don't want to get hacked - I am changing some of the site-specific settings to generics.

Ta's techie notes follow:

- Under the authentication method, we chose Use an LDAP Server.

LDAP Server Settings
- ldap_host_url: clntldap.ourorg.com The comments next to this field tell you to add ldap:// or ldaps://. We found that wasn’t necessary. Talk to the network guru for these settings
- ldap_version: 2 We are using LDAP protocol version 2. Put in your appropriate version.

Bind settings
- ldap_preventpassindb: Yes This field prevents passwords from being stored in the Moodle database. Very important!
- ldap_bind_dn: cn=grpwise, o=ourorg We are using our Groupwise system in our cn field. You will need to talk to your network guru for these settings
- ldap_bind_pw: werenottelling This password should be EXTRA secure and hard to guess. Numbers in random spots don’t hurt. And make sure your network guru knows this password and places it in his/her password library.

User lookup settings
- ldap_user_type: Novell Edirectory Our organization uses Novell’s eDirectory
- ldap_contexts: ou=it, o=ourorg We are starting the pilot by allowing access only to those in the IT group of network users. Keeps the riff-raff out while we configure and test the system.
- ldap_search_sub: Yes We have subcontexts set up within our user directory and want Moodle to search those for authentication. Ask your network guru what the appropriate setting should be for your organization
- ldap_opt_deref: No We don’t want our system to use aliases when looking for users
- We left the optional fields blank.

Force change password
- Force change password: No
- Use standard change password page: No
We want any password changes to occur through our network. When the network password changes, the Novell password changes.

LDAP password expiration settings
- ldap_expiration: LDAP Moodle will check our LDAP to see if the password expired
- ldap_expiration_warning: 10 We currently have it set for 10 days – like our network ID. We may change our mind.
- ldap_expireattr: left blank
- ldap_gracelogins: No We decided not to do grace login support for Moodle.
- ldap_graceattr:left blank

Enable User Creation
- ldap_create_context: left blank

Course creators
- ldap_creators: Left blank. We only want the administrator (me) to create courses.

Data Mapping – We activated and used the default for the following fields:
- First Name
- Surname
- E-mail address
- Phone 1
- Phone 2 (used Mobile)
- Department

All other settings left blank.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Software Implementation Failures

Much of my professional time is spent in the throes of software implementation.
Michael Krigsman has an entire blog filled with sadly funny examples of software project failures called Rearranging the Deck Chairs.

For those of us who are implementing an LMS (or other eLearning tool) - this is a worthy read. Preferrably BEFORE you get started.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Finding talent right in front of you.....

Michelle is the boss' new secretary. She has been serving as our Moodle tester. Since Ta and I started this project - she pesters me daily, asking when she can test stuff. Very motivating to have an enthusiastic co-worker keeping you on-schedule.

She came by my cube this afternoon - "Do you know where the Photoshop disk is? I need to reorganize this picture." Michelle then unrolled an enlarged screenshot of the consultant's vision of our intranet site. The consultant had obviously not read any web design and usability books and the picture bled with red marker.

My first thought - "Oh my god - reorganizing that picture is going to take FOREVER! How much time does she have to learn Photoshop?!" My Photoshop skills are serviceable (at best) and this was not a small project. Essentially - she had to reorganize every part of the picture and modify most of the graphics. This means (to me) multiple layers and resizing. I sent her off to check the software shelf in the boss' office hoping that a) the disk WAS in his office and b) that the project didn't land on my desk.

About 30 minutes later - I saw her at her desk happily Photoshopping away. "Yeah - I've been doing this in my Digital Photography classes. I LOVE using Photoshop!" I bet it took only 15 more minutes for her to finish.

So I'm going to give her a new project - help me make our new Moodle site pretty. I've been fighting with our new logo hoping make it pretty. Thus far - I have spent 8 hours on this project. Michelle will do a MUCH better (and faster) job.

I learned something today - never ever underestimate the talents and passions of your co-workers. Especially the junior co-workers. You never know what they bring to the table.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Stories top/down and bottom/up


I continued digging around Dave Snowden's Cognitive Edge blog and site and found some articles that flesh out his ideas on using narrative as a change and measurement tool.

An article worth reading - Narrative Patterns:the perils and possibilities of using story in organisations. Dave describes methods for encouraging change through story-telling and ways to mitigate the development of stories that undermine the desired change.

Between this article and the MSC article - I came up with a really simplistic understanding of the power of stories:

- Develop stories told by the top(executives) to the bottom(staff): to create change

- Collect Stories told by the bottom(staff) to each other: to measure change (notice I didn't say executives - since they will probably get another version that wouldn't be as accurate)

Of course, collecting staff stories presumes that the executives understand what they are hearing - if they are listening in the first place.

Is an anthropological approach the right one to take when trying to measure the intangible success of a training program?

Picture: Dance of the Black Tailed Deer from Northwestern University's Edward S. Curtis collection.

The Learning Circuits Blog: The Big Question for October: Should All Learning Professionals Be Blogging?

The Learning Circuits Blog: The Big Question for October: Should All Learning Professionals Be Blogging?

Yeah - I'm late. Had to do some "real work".

My selfish reaction - NO! because then I would have way too much to read!!!! I've only finished one book since I started this exercise because I spend all of my time reading BLOGS! Waaah!

My measured/professional-type response - If you are planning to make your students do it as part of your class you should blog for at least a month. This seems to be enough time to gauge the pros and cons of the exercise and give you a better understanding of what you are asking your students to do.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Adventures in Second Life - a lecture


Following Brent's lead in his post Corporate eLearning Development: SL inworld presentation: How People Learn, I decided to sit in on John Bransford's lecture.

The experience reminded me of the issues many teachers and students had during the first week of an interactive video course:
- getting familiar with the technology (especially for the teachers)
- learning new classroom etiquette
- figuring out how to structure the class to take advantage of (or minimize the disadvantages of) the technology.

With Second Life - both teachers and students have to get past the initial "playing with the technology" stage. For a structured course within this environment, time/exercises to get all parties familiar with the medium will be useful.

I've been toying with Second Life for a month now and, thus far, have figured out how to change my clothes, touch things, fly, land and teleport. I'm not terribly good at any of these tasks. As a result, I found myself distracted by the technology (people flying, interesting monsters, figuring out how to get a better view using the camera controls, getting kicked out during the presentation) and did not pick up as much of the message as I should have.

What I got from the presentation - "We should all work together." A solid sentiment since we are all still trying to figure out how to apply this technology. One of Branford's suggestions - simulations. The movie Dr. Bransford played during the session was an interesting example of how people can work together in a virtual environment to communicate information and solve problems. Note: the movie is in QuickTime.

I know that there was more to it than that. Right now, the transcript is filled with a lot of side-chatter. I'm sure they will clean it up soon.

The picture above is my avatar - Raven Tsuki (on the right) and some of the folks who attended the lecture. My next goal in Second Life - figure out how to build glasses..... Please say "Hi" if you see her lurking around Info Island.

Measuring the Unmeasurable

A theme I have seen over the years is "How do you determine whether your teaching/training is working?"

In my world - that is easy. How much time does it take you to do a task and how accurate are you?

However, for most topics, measuring success is a slippery thing. In a prior job, I had to facilitate customer service training. The students enjoyed being away from their desks (and getting a chance to vent), but I was never convinced that these trainings did anything to create long-term change in the desired direction and I had no idea how to measure that. Fewer complaints from patients? Increased worker retention?

I'm starting to see an anthropological approach to solving this issue of whether your training is working or not.

The paper that got me thinking about this is Most Significant Change (MSC) technique. Rick Davies and Jessie Dart designed this technique to allow international aid organizations track whether their programs worked.

The basic technique consists of collecting stories from the field and selecting some to send to the next group. The selection committee then explains to the storyteller WHY they selected the story (the feedback loop). This process is repeated with each level filtering the stories and explaining the selection to the level below.

The stress here is on cultural / social change. The intangibles that are difficult to measure using conventional techniques.

Brian Goodwin and Dave Snowden are also developing a measurement system using narratives. Their approach - from Snowden's description of it in this post - is more quantitative.

The debate over what the new knowledge economy will look like is worth the read.