Musings on a collaborative virtual environment

In eLearning Basics, eLearning Design, Instructional Design, MA Technical Communication and eLearning by Jake Mac ManusLeave a Comment

Recently, I completed a project within a collaborative virtual environment for an MA in Technical Communications and eLearning, University of Limerick. This blog post recounts my experience of what I found useful and what could be improved upon during that time.

Our team consisted of seven members, including students from USA and France, as this was a collaborative project to write an instructional document that would be translated into a foreign language (French).

Our first task was to structure the team into various roles and responsibilities. After a few initial group emails, we arranged a conference call to introduce ourselves and organise the project details. I found this initial call very helpful, as it bridged the divide that can occur between people when communicating solely over email.

During this conference call, the team decided on:

  1. Writing a brief, 1000-word document on how to set up and use Twitter for the first time,
  2. Identifying the roles and responsibilities for each team member, and
  3. Choosing a communication channel that would best suit our needs.

I accepted the role as Graphic Designer for the project, as I have previous experience using the Adobe Creative Cloud suite. The team also decided on Slack as our main communication tool, which I found very intuitive and easy-to-use, and Google Drive for storing resource and project files.

The Project Manager then created a Gantt chart that showed our respective responsibilities to be completed over time. I found this a helpful resource that I referred to over the course of the project, and I will encourage further use of Gantt charts in my own professional working life.

Once the Instructional Designers had completed their work, I copied their text from MS Word into an Adobe Acrobat PDF document, and took screenshots for each instructional step. I than arranged the graphics on A4 pages and used curved arrows that linked the instructional text to its appropriate image. If the text was minimal, such as short single lines, I joined them together into the next instructional step to help reduce the volume of graphics, which were, by far, the largest elements on each page. Once completed (approx. 16 hours.) I returned the document to the team on our collaborative Slack channel for review.

The main comments were regarding the merging of instructional text to fit the design of the document. This must be an issue that occurs quite frequently when working within collaborative, multi-disciplinary teams, where work overlaps, and doesn’t quite fit together. However, as I was leaving on holidays and could afford no further time on the project, I requested if someone else would rearrange the document to fit the team’s requirements.

A few weeks later, the MS Word document came back from the French translators, and I took the updated Adobe Acrobat PDF and copied across the french words and their corresponding screenshots to complete the project on-time.

Although we achieved our deadline, I felt a lack of structure in the project, especially when team members added comments that nobody could really action or decide which were more important than others. To me, the Project Manager‘s role was crucial in getting the work completed, and I wished for better direction in that regard.¬† The other issue I came across was that the grading for this project was considerably lower than for other similar assignments throughout our two year, part-time Masters. I felt that more weight should go towards this collaborative project, as all team members must commit to completing their work and achieving the agreed deadlines, especially when others are relying on each other to do their part. As this is a crucial skill to have in the modern workplace, I would like to see more credits attached to this assignment.

If you’d like to take part in the discussion on any particular point, please post your comments below!

Jake Mac Manus
Instructional Designer



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