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Project management for e-learning

Those of you that know me well will know I am a little sceptical about project management. Don’t get me wrong I do understand that if you are given a lot of money to deliver a “project” then you need to demonstrate that you do have some (vague) idea of what you are going to do, when and who is going to do it. Although I do remember that 80% of projects fail, not because of beautiful plans just because they fail to connect, impact and change the day-to-day work of an organisation. And I am even a Prince2 practitioner so I feel I have (sort of) earned the right to be sceptical. What I don’t get is when reams and reams of documents are created for planning and reporting and sorting and ordering which don’t really add much value to the project and actually seem to take an awful lot of time and energy away from doing the actual work of the project. I love a good gantt chart but it is meaningless if the only activity is making the gantt chart itself! (Reminds me of the most surreal project I was involved with which was to agree the templates for Prince2 documents to be used in the University and then produced a whole set of documents which outlined which document templates were going to be produced. ARGH! I spent most of my time gazing down at the documents at my naval wondering what an earth I was supposed to be doing).

However, there has been a lot of discussion on the Heads of E-Learning Forum list (the Steering Group of which I chair) about what project management methodology is appropriate for e-learning projects. So, we decided to organise the recent HeLF event on the subject of project and service management and have some presentations on different methodologies. And it was a really good day (element of surprise removed from my voice!).

We ended up with presentations on ITIL from Malcolm Murray at Durham (ok not a project management but all around organisation/management issues), Prince2 from Richard Hall at De Montfort and Benefits Management from Richard Bell at City. The three presentations enabled discussion on various aspects of delivering e-learning support and the challenges that e-learning presents. We explored how SLAs could work with VLEs and whether they actually enhanced or hindered relationships with other areas such as Information Services.  Malcolm’s slides are at http://www.slideshare.net/malcolmmurray/helf-itil-presentation as well as the notes of the discussion - https://duo.dur.ac.uk/webapps/cmsmain/webui/_xy-9127910_1-tid_0HiLfrny?sp=1 And some HeLFers have started to share their SLAs – see UCLs. We also got into a big discussion on how to measure and define the benefits of e-learning and how whether we could really tell how what we were doing made an impact.   I do like the benefits management approach as it makes you think more about how you know what you are doing is actually working, hence focusing more on change.

The possible introduction of laptops into examinations as a sample project provoked some strong arguments about what could be defined as a benefit of this – does it really increase access and help students? – I think Richard B still has the scars ;) – and Richard Hall presented some ideas on programme management in relation to the use of new technologies and VLE evaluation that were very similar to some of our thinking at City on the Strategic Learning Environment. Have a look at the work of Mark Stubbs from Manchester Met on their approach to their VLE.

This also got me thinking about how we need to do some more work in relation to the SLE on signposting where we are going, beyond just Moodle. Obviously Moodle is important, but when and how are we going to bring in the other technologies. And how do we ensure we can support innovation and change?  Do SLAs help us and are they more important when working with opensource systems? Or do they stifle communication, dialogue and flexibility?

More information about HeLF can be found at www.helf.ac.uk – slides from this meeting available soon


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