feedbackFeedback – it’s a curious thing. One of the things we have had to do is comment on other teams sites, both informally as part of the Open Design Studio showcase, and more formally running through each others rules of thumb heuristic walkthroughs.

In the early stages of our project we had a number of nice and positive comments, these encouraged us as we found our feet and worked out what was going on. But now the site is up for evaluation I’ve found “good job” statements less useful. I am not sure if these were about form or substance, especially when we know that our necessary shortcuts have left room for improvement.

We’ve been grateful for two meaty evaluations with practical points for improvements, just what we needed. Being defensive is just daft, it denies easy learning. At work I have been doing some WebPA testing for the Celtic II project. We are one of their pilot sites and have been giving it some welly – my objective to protect our users (academics) from grief. I’ve reported a couple of new problems which were met with THANKS, much better for me to find the issues and give diagnostics, test resolutions than have future users lose faith in the technology.

With this in mind the TMA asks me to review the comments that I have made on ODS. As a team we have had a concerted effort to comment, and this has resulted in some useful discussion points for us. Putting my comments in a table I am struck by the fact that they I are largely insubstantial and fluffy (if encouraging). I’ve taken good ideas, but not risked (or taken the time) to challenge. A real learning point – take it over the fluffy threshold.

Sportsmen inevitably do well on Strictly, they are really good at receiving feedback. Coaches are equally good at framing it. Trust, and lack of additional agenda is needed. Here’s one of the nice things about sitting behind a password protected wall, we can build trust and practice giving and receiving feedback.


Not Developed in this Prototype

reflectingmanWe agreed a storyboard on Thursday (in what I described as an Uber productive hangout).  We made really good use of screen sharing and live edited a document drawing out the features from the feature table – and allocated these to folk.  Our team has lost some time with holidays and we were pretty realistic about what we could achieve.  We agreed to prototype the highest scoring elements and return to any mid-range values if we had time, but we set a definite time limit for the prototyping phase.

A home for our Prototype

Rather than embedding our content in our existing site I thought it would be cleaner to have a fresh site so that the navigation and structure would be clear.  It also meant we could be ferocious in attempting to separate content and style.  I had a bit of a mess around with the standard Google templates, but resolved pretty quickly that it would be easier to start from scratch.  Within a jiffy we had some placeholders for each element of our features table.  The great joy at this time was being able to repeatedly write

<< not developed in this prototype >>

What the prototype caught

Content for week 1 flew in from Christina and Nicola.  I’d agreed to do some work on our Week2 which was to introduce our mentors to digital diaries.  I’d suggested without a great deal of thought to do it as if we were using Blackboard (the VLE my colleagues support at work) and was pretty sure we could use a blog or a journal.  WRONG!  My reading of the help text showed me that EEK…if it is a journal it is shared with tutors, if it is a blog it is shared with all on the course.  Our storyboard had presumed we would share and comment on week1 (Blackboard =blog) and then be private (Blackboard=journal) for the remainder (my understanding was with tutor having the ability to review the individual blogs).  This is a great example of an error that would be shown by prototyping, and the answer must be to have someone with a real knowledge of your platform involved in the storyboarding process, or at least reviewing storyboard draft 1, before you go to prototype.   I posted a note about this to the forum, but didn’t explain it very well & may well have had the wrong end of the stick from the hangout about what we wanted to achieve in the first place.

Walkthrough and tweaking

On Monday the crack team of Christina and Nicola ran through each page of the prototype and added comments, inserted and clarified text and refined the flow.  It was clear from the comments that all three of us wished one page (an example of reflection) to be repositioned, so I moved it and relinked it – perhaps this is where the prototype was really useful in helping us really visualise the flow and examine how it would feel to one of our readers.


During the evening I ran through the site, sorting out formatting and tweaking text slightly.  I was pleased that we had some extra text explaining why three models were offered (in my role as team-reflective-numpty I share some sympathy with our mentors who may struggle to “get it” without being given 3 different flavours).  However our privacy issue remained, we clearly had different ideas of what was technically possible – our assessment did not match our earlier activities.


We had three options:

  1. Adjust the assessment
  2. Throw out the VLE and e.g. go to a WordPress Private Blog and redo all of Week2
  3. Leave it with the inconsistency in place for our reviewers to spot

In real life it would have literally been back to the storyboard…but it was 9pm and I wanted to make a decision, Nicola and I punted some ideas around and went for 1  – a few edits sorted it.


As each comment was dealt with we deleted them cleaning up the site in the process.  I’d forwarded a note from ODS about the text density to the TGF (Tutor Group Forum) and before I knew it Nicola had split the text up.

The fact that we had a storyboard that we all had worked on and agreed really helped, the feature table combined with the site structure made it possible for each of us to get on with doing our bit.  We rather cheekily reused the digital storyboard a couple of times in the site itself.  All in all a pretty efficient process.  Another thing that helped was that we had been considering and completing our heuristics in parallel with developing the prototype itself.  This focused the mind on making sure we got somewhere towards meeting our stated goals and checkpoints.

Worth it?

It’s interesting to consider whether this prototyping activity was useful in this context.  Yes we identified some issues and changed the flow, but there would not have been much more work in putting it straight up onto a VLE.  I spent much of last summer redoing three sections of our IT Service website and arguably much of what we did involved having an outline plan and then “put it up and see what it looks like” type approach  – I’ve tried doing charts with arrows but with a good content management system you can move and relink things really easily.  We all had our sub sections but we just got on with it, reorganising and refining as we went.

What I did think was useful was the “extract features” concept…the freedom to do things out of order and with big gaps to get an idea of the flow and development. It would be sensible to do this in situe, then at least you could copy and complete the course without recreating all of the content areas.

My Role

So my role in the prototype was mainly sorting out the holding structure and doing some of the content in Week 2 (a kind of technical serf+).  I failed to do all that I had committed to but <<not developed in this prototype>> helped me out.  In all I spent around 14-16 hours on the prototype and walkthrough/correction activities, which was about what was prescribed. Part of my enthusiasm to post the site to ODS lay in the fact that it was easy to spend lots of time perfecting something that, by definition, was not supposed to be perfect!

Laughter and Red Wine

Laughter and red wine are, are the only answer to block 3. We have had a spirited crack at it so far but it has been at cost. I put this post on my main blog shortly after returning from holiday. I have had various moans about this block off-blogg, but here are some thoughts jotted with the end in sight. First in true #h817lds style I will state some positive things

  1. I appreciate openness to improvement. Big cheers to my peers for encouraging and helpful comments. I need to continue to embrace being a learner and be open to input on how to improve my work.  I’ve appreciated how OpenDesignStudio has made it easy to view other’s work, comment and review comments.
  2. I have enjoyed getting to grips with google sites and may develop a real one for life outside work.  The use of the google site template as a shared workspace has been an informative experience, and once I got my head round the template, it’s proven to be a good way for us to record progress on activities and show our workings out.  (I know that designing a template like this would have taken hours.)
  3. we use office365 rather than Google for cloud email – I can see that google is not a bed of roses, and negotiating between different google identities can be a real pain for users – the google grass no longer looks quite as green
  4. reflecting on my early reaction to this block aka “how come my life has become hijacked by this study thing” has brought me to some useful conclusions about my general propensity to have a go at the near impossible. This week in different contexts I have not attended meetings as they were not priorities and I had too much to do. The world did indeed continue to spin, not doing things is clearly a good strategy when in overload.

Now things I have struggled with:

  1. Units of time: as a student I know that this course requires 14 hours per week. Sometimes I do this, sometimes I can only supply 12 hours. I tend to aim for Saturday and a few evenings in the week, with the odd day taken as annual leave for my sanity. My study week is front loaded, but my expectation is that I will deliver this over the week. Part of my reason for doing online learning lies in “flexibility”. My unit of work is a week. Now, put me in a team with others who have different study patterns (eg. work evenings, travel, have family to look after at weekends….) and then ask us to do tasks involving “agree” or “discuss” or “coordinate” and delays will be built in. If most of us are answerable to employers we don’t have the flexibility to get together at the same time. Consensus takes at least 24 hours. Multiple milestones as fractions of our standard time units (several milestones per week) add to the pressure.   We can’t always get on with individual tasks until group decisions are reached.   There are two net effects….you can end up making the team wait…you are forced for the sake of expedience to meet/work at times that do not suit.  This could perhaps be helped by
    • designing tasks with one milestone per week and
    • constructing  teams based on working patterns and common availability
  2. Start up time: it would have been easy to presume that part way through a module we know each other and can work out team roles easily.  But this wasn’t really the case – we were scattered and disorientated in MOOC, and like other teams we had not  even ‘seen’ some of our team members in previous forums.  By the time we had arranged our first meeting we needed to be off.
  3. the big picture: I had instruction overload without any increase in clarity, a video or online session recording would have helped. My questions where, what’s the big picture, what are the goals, what does good look like, how is this relevant?  Admittedly, running straight into this in a worn out state from TMA and MOOC did not help me take in what we were hoping to achieve.  The elluminate session in week 3 was helpful.
  4. google: even with good instructions getting to grips with GoogleSites and permissions has taken time.
  5. New concepts:  “design principles”, totally new concept to me – where do I start? I wasted vast amounts of time wasted barking up the wrong tree, but managed to do a bit of more relaxed reading around this (while off task on holiday) and feel like I have learned some useful things.
  6. timings: this all seems to have taken so much longer than that I really have had available.  (My garden is a nightmare)  I’ve put in more time than other blocks and feel like I have achieved less, but with more stress!
  7. taking shortcuts: 3 of the most productive members of our team have had a planned week holiday over this block – in a team of 4 this is significant resource reduction. We’ve had to take some shortcuts, to get the task done, but this has been at the cost of discussion and reflection.

That’s all for now..feel better already