Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Angering My Control Freak


This is what MY control freak looks like.
From rottentoons.com
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When we last left the LMS - Sid (my soft skills counterpart) was bemoaning how we can't seem to get our colleagues to see the value of having one place for training across the university.

We let the sleeping dog lie for awhile. Neither of us had the energy or the time to sell the idea.

Rumblings occurred earlier this month that important stakeholders are now interested in making our little LMS (which is currently serving as a content warehouse) into a full-fledged useful learning management system.

One place for training of all types (rather than making people call 5 departments to find the information they need).

One place for reports on courses and on what employee is taking which course.

It seemed like an insumountable cultural challenge. We are all used to our little fiefdoms.

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Right before vacation, Sid quietly asked if she can help gather information for interfacing our pet LMS with the university's enterprise application. I gave her what we had and sent her on her way. Didn't have the bandwidth to figure out why she asked (too involved in the Web project).

During my vacation - there was a meeting of all of the stakeholders.

An amazing thing happened during that lull. All of the resistance seemed to disappear....

And some of the people who resisted are now chomping at the bit to get started. To help. To make this thing an honest to goodness tool that we ALL can use.

So the Manager, the Director and I now find ourselves with the opposite problem - too MUCH help.

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I talked to the Director this afternoon after one of our stakeholders jumped the gun. The stakeholder meant well. She wanted information and she had excellent contacts to get it. Thankfully, she also thought to give me a buzz.

My first gut reaction, after hearing that she scheduled teleconferences with the vendor and her contacts at an organization also using the LMS was

Oh No!!! Why didn't you talk to US first!!!!
(The little control freak on my shoulder, bouncing up and down screaming...)

Thankfully, the stakeholder told me this over the phone, so she couldn't see my face. I also had enough presence of mind this time to NOT say what I first thought and listened carefully.

This could be a good thing. I told the control freak on my shoulder. We need the help. These are important stakeholders and they really OUGHT to have a piece of the process. The tool really needs to be for everyone and I really want to hear the questions the stakeholder has for the vendor and the user organization. We're finally getting traction. Best not to slow it down.

Baaaaahhhhhhh!!!! said the control freak. What about consistency of message! They are doing it because you are too slow! Didn't do enough! They want control of your baby!!!!!! Don't do it!!!!!

If this is going to work, we need to get the stakeholders actively involved and helping us DO stuff. Not just TELLING us what to do.

The Director was having a similar conversation with her control freak too.

After we both compared control freaks (I think hers is blue) and came up with a strategy to temporarily mollify the control freaks while encouraging help from the over-enthusiastic stakeholder, I stuffed my control freak in a desk drawer and locked it.

I can still hear her muffled complaints.

Little does the control freak know that tomorrow, I am giving away even more control...to my soft skills counterpart, Sid......

(to be continued.....)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Thoughts on Goals

I started doing CrossFit in June. For those who know me...I would never be mistaken for an athlete. And unlike many of my colleagues at Potomac CrossFit, I came at this pretty danged cold. Thankfully, they are a real supportive bunch. This crew also serves as an awesome case-study in combining online and real-world community. (A possible subject for a later post).

To get an idea of the types of things we do - I started a workout tracking blog.
Because, dangit, I need a good dose of navel-gazing with my exercise.

I'm finding that success in CrossFit, for me, requires 4 levels of goals.

The immediate
OK...I'm gonna do just 1 more rep/50 more meters/get to 10...
Usually thought while I am hoping not to puke on the floor or go into cardiac arrest.

The short-term - daily
For each of my workouts, my goal is to do 1 thing better or do 1 thing that I have never done before. That 1 thing changes based on what I am facing when I go to "the box".

For example - yesterday's "goal" was to get through 10 rounds of "Death by 10 meters."
"Death by 10 meters" is performed at a 10 meter distance.
- The first minute, you run the 10 meters. You rest for the remainder of the minute.
- The second minute you run 20 meters (once there, once back). Rest for the remainder of the minute.
- The third minute you run 30 meters. Rest for the ever-shrinking remainder of the minute.

You see where this is going...

I managed to get through 10. 11 flat out wasn't gonna happen. I still have LOTS of work to do on my cardio.

The medium-term - month

Each month, I create some performance goals. They do change, occasionally, based on the workouts I attend for the month.

Creating these monthly performance goals gives me some skills to focus on during the sessions. I'm trying to get past the "I suck at everything" point to only sucking at most things :') I'm a long way from being a CrossFit master.

The long-term - year

I've kept this a bit more general for now because I am still getting benchmarks on a number of activities. Right now - it's a vague "Finish a CrossFit Workout as written." Any one will do....

I'm going to make these more specific over the next month since I should have many of the benchmarks completed and have an idea of where I am starting from.

I'm also going to ditch the "appearance" goals. Because those fall into place when I hit the performance goals :')

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World of Warcraft fell into the same pattern.
Immediate - Gotta kill this set of monsters.
Short term - Gotta finish x tasks this session.
Medium term - Go up a couple of levels this week
Long term - make it to Level 70.

I've stopped playing WoW for the time being. I got what I needed out of the experience and learned that I much prefer my gaming solo. (Fantasy Football being a notable exception to this rule).

My figure thanks me....
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I think the goal model works for motivation when designing training. Of course, this means we have to treat "training" as an ongoing exercise, not a one-time event.

We need to encourage people to develop immediate, short-term, medium-term and long-term goals.

And we need to create the support systems to help people accomplish these goals.

Because training really is about "behavior change". Right?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tackling a New Captivate Project



When I'm not performing interpretive dance, this is what I do.

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I could have sworn I have written this down before somewhere in this blog.

If I have, it's been awhile and I'm sure I've fine-tuned the process since then.

So....by the request of the Manager....How Wendy tackle's a new Captivate project!
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I create software simulations about 95% of the time. This is how I tackle a software simulation project.

This process assumes:
- Yes, we need a Captivate tutorial on this and not something simpler like a PDF. I'm not gonna get into the Assessment process here. That's a whole 'nother post.

- I have at least a passing familiarity with the application being presented.

- I have already collected all of the support information I need (documents, people, multimedia, etc) and have it someplace where I can quickly access it.

- I have all of the access I need to perform any set-up before filming. Or have made friends with the administrators.

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1) Create the outline(s) / Instructional Design
- General (what processes do I need to demonstrate) ----> Specific (the actual steps of each process)

2) Figure out how to divide up the task.
- I usually divide up the tutorials by the process I am demonstrating.
- During the actual development, keep a lookout for ways you can divide the process further. Better to have 2 short tutorials than 1 really long one.

3) List all of the tutorials you need to build for the project as a result of step 2
- I use this list to keep track of what needs to happen. As I develop, I add and cross off items from the list.

4) Set up the project organization structure.
- New folder in the appropriate location on your desktop.
- If you need to share files and communicate with others, new folders in your document management tool. Notify the team you are working with the location of this folder and make sure they have access.

Note: Editing Captivate while accessing the file from a network drive invites bad juju. Always fully download the project from your document management system or shared drive and use File>Save As... to ensure that you are working with the Captivate file directly from your PC.

5) Set up the Captivate project for the tutorial.
- I have a standard template with the graphics / common slides / style guide and film size I use for all of my tutorials. Keeps me from having to re-create the wheel each time I build one of these things. For those who don't have a standard template, but have access to a Captivate guru - borrow theirs. If you don't have either a Captivate guru or a template, create one! Kevin Siegel gives great advice on how to create a template in Captivate 4.

Note: If you are creating your own Captivate template and you need to put the resulting tutorial in an LMS, talk to the LMS administrator for guidelines on what needs to be in the template and any size restrictions on the resulting tutorial. They can also give you information on final publishing requirements.

- Create a naming convention if your project has multiple tutorials. For instance, if I am building a series of GroupWise Mail tutorials, I will generally name them GroupWise_Mail_Descriptor. The underscores prevent funny characters being added to the URL or Project Name when you try to publish or post.

6) Set up the application you are filming
- In an ideal world, you are working in a test/training system and NOT in production. If you have to work in Production - it is IMPERATIVE that you work very tightly with the system administrators and keep them notified of everything you are doing including:
+ Which records you plan to touch
+ What edits you plan to make
+ Any mistakes at the TIME YOU MAKE THEM. Accidents happen and it is easier to fix at the time you make it than when the mucky muck finds it. Trust me, the administrators will be much happier with you if you do.

- If you can - create dummy records so that you do not inadvertently expose sensitive information. Document the important information on those dummy records so you can go back to it.

- If you have no choice but to film real information - be prepared to spend quality time masking your work. Notify the client EARLY that this will need to happen.

Note: I use a combination of highlight boxes and the Transparent text caption. It's ugly. It takes time. You are better off getting help from the administrators and creating dummy records.

7) Do a dress-rehearsal of the process you plan to film.
- Make sure your steps are accurate
- Make any necessary changes to your outline
- Determine how you need to "chunk" your filming. You don't need to record everything all at once.
- Look for any screens that may take a long time to load or, for newer applications, any error messages that may happen.

8) Film it!
- Set up your recording defaults before pressing the record icon. Adobe provides excellent advice on the recording process.
- Press [PrintScreen] on your keyboard regularly to make sure that you have all of the screens you need. Better to have too many screens than too few. It is also much harder to re-create a screen after the fact than to take a screenshot during.
- Don't forget, you can always record more screens.

9) Edit it!
- Again - Adobe has excellent advice on how to edit your Captivate tutorial
- Make sure your visual and audio cuing + terminology is consistent.
- In Captivate 4, I also write my narration in the Notes area during this process. Makes it much easier for me to add closed captioning, create printouts for SME review that include visuals + script and view the script as I record.
- I do sound recording after most of my edits are complete (except timing). I'm not good enough to talk and film at the same time.

10) Perform a technical check!
- Publish your Captivate tutorial (don't worry about the SCORM stuff etc).
- View your Output.
- Note where you need to make any changes.
+ Do all of your buttons work?
+ Do your text captions / images / buttons appear at the appropriate times?
+ Does any branching work as expected?
- Edit more. Republish.
- Continue this process until it works!

11) Get the first working draft in your client's hands as fast as possible.
- We upload to a departmental web area and give the client the link.
- I have found that even with script approval - often the client doesn't realize that there are errors until they HEAR it.
- Harass the client for feedback.

12) Repeat steps 9 - 11 until the client is happy.

13) Final publish and post
- If you need to put it in an LMS - make good friends with the LMS administrator. Ideally - you already ARE good friends with the LMS administrator. (You did make friends with the LMS Administrator during Step 5, right?) Work closely with the LMS administrator to make sure the tutorial scores as expected.
- Publish, post and test with the LMS administrator until everything works.
- Notify the client and have THEM test the scoring.
- Publish post and test until the client is happy.

14) Have a beer/glass of wine/gin martini/non-alcoholic beverage of your choice. Check "Complete" on the tutorial and start the next tutorial. If it is for the same project - you can start at Step 5.

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I created a "How To" for Captivate 4.

Thank you to George Washington University for the server space and permission to share.

Wendy's "How to" for Captivate

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Back from Vacation


In case I seemed a bit quiet this week.

Erm...I was out being productive.

(BTW - that's the 21" bass I caught. I also caught an 18". Both were mighty tasty.)

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

A Victory for Prior Knowledge

I'm hanging out with the folks at the Student help desk these days.

I keep looking for the post where I sing their praises.
If I haven't yet - it is a grave oversight. These kids are pretty awesome!

Every day, with much grace, they deal with panicky students, angry parents, language barriers (large population of international students where I work), and the usual rounds of misunderstanding. These kids work hard, for not much money.

Right now, I am listening over the cube wall. The team leader is discussing World of Warcraft healing and tanking tactics with some of the students and staff. And I actually KNOW what he is talking about!

I'm not going to let on that I know their code.....

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Yesterday, one of the students received a phone call from an older Education PhD candidate working on her dissertation.

As is common with folks hitting the end of their disseration - she was just a bit panicky.

The student gets off the phone and turns to her boss (who I am fondly going to call the "Student Wrangler").

Oh my god! This person is on Word 97! She can't create roman page numbers. I don't even know if Word 97 can even DO roman numeral page numbers.

I sit right next to the Student Wrangler and hear all of this.

The Student Wrangler is a newly minted grad himself. I think he was 12 when I worked on my Master's Thesis back in '93-'94. He looked just as confused.

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I vividly remember that last phase of writing my Master's Thesis. At the time, I was working on a "custom built" PC with Windows 3.1 and a very early version of Microsoft Word.

The library, as part of their "Formatting Your Thesis" package, gave us a template. Essentially a piece of paper with boxes that your text, headers, footers and page numbers had to fit into. (Dr. Byrne may have better memories of this process than I do.)

I spent many hours in front of that blasted machine getting the $%&^# page numbers to fit in the *&%#@* page number box and to get the document to paginate correctly.
Part of the document had to be in roman numerals (the introduction) and the rest had to be in arabic (the rest).

I KNEW Word 97 could do what the PhD candidate wanted. But from the student's description of the problem, it sounded like something else was going on as well.

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The student went to get more specs on the machine.

Oh...My...GOD! She's on Windows 98! And using an old AOL browser!!!! This is like fixing an abacus!!!!!

The abacus is an easier machine to fix.

That said, the PhD was working on a machine that I was intimately familiar with from 1997-2003. The Windows 98 / Office 97 configuration. This machine type appeared in practically all of my early jobs when I first left Grad School in 1996.

Though it was far from perfect - it worked for this student's purposes. She saw no need to go through the trauma of upgrading. Heck, this was why I kept seeing this beast in the wild as long as I did. IT departments knew its quirks and could work around it.

As the machines began to die - they started being replaced by the Windows XP/Office 2003 critter. For those with sturdier beasts, Microsoft eventually forced everybody's hand and quit supporting Windows 98/Office 97.

Hence the problem this PhD student was having finding help.

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While the student, the Student Wrangler and I were chatting - the PhD candidate also sent an e-mail to the Student Help Desk, which clarified the issue she was having.

Thankfully - the User Interface between Word 97 and Word 2003 is practically the same.

The essential problem was that she did not know how to change the page numbers from roman numerals to arabic numerals in one document.

The solution - multiple sections!

The PhD candidate mentioned in her email that she was having a tough time finding a solution via Google. I performed my own Google search and saw exactly what she meant. Thankfully - I also found the following handy tip guide from SmartComputing.

I sent the guide to the Student Wrangler to pass on to the PhD Candidate.

Then we all hoped for the best.

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The next morning, the Student Wrangler received a thank you from the PhD candidate.

Crisis averted.

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4 hours later, one of the other students receives a phone call. This time, from one of the library staff.

Turns out - the library staff and the Electronic Thesis and Disseration tool vendor have been BOMBARDED with calls for the exact same issue.

How do I put roman page numbers and arabic page numbers in the same document using Word 97?


No one knew the answer! Not the librarians. Not the vendor. And they can't find it anywhere since the library got rid of their Office 97 references. (I'm personally surprised this is just NOW coming up as an issue - but I didn't let on to the librarian.)

I passed the tip guide to the librarian with the reminder that Word 97 and Word 2003 are very similar beasts - especially when it comes to dissertation formatting.

Happy librarian. Happy vendor. Happy PhD candidates who don't want to upgrade.

A small victory for prior knowledge.

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This post is for the Student Wrangler and the Director - who both told me:
You really need to write about this in your blog!

RIP - Kaia


Kaia puppy had to be put down yesterday.
She's been ill for awhile and having a progressively harder time walking.
Each time the SO and I saw her, we figured it would be the last.
She would rally each time.
This time...no rally.

She lived an awesome life.

Rest in peace old girl. You will be missed.

Dealing with Unforseen Variables
The Cat/Dog Experiment Round 2