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Defining your Project

Defining a Project

Clearly an e-learning project should be driven by real teaching and learning needs and not by the technology itself. However, there is an element of self-development in becoming familiar with the technology and this may be an important driver both for you and your students.

There may be external constraints on exactly what you decide to develop. Your department may have plans that your work forms part of or if you are applying for funding for the work, the nature and explicitness of the project may need to alter to fit funding criteria. Even if the overall nature of the work is predetermined, there are several aspects you can build upon to suit your own purposes (see ‘Getting the most out of you project’ below).

When is a project a ‘project’

Any piece of work that has a beginning, an end and some form of ‘deliverable’ can be considered a project. The project usually constitutes the first (and sadly all too often, the last) cycle of development of a new product (output) and/or change (outcome). The fact that a project has a beginning and an end is both its strength and its weakness. Strength, because it encourages clearer thinking in describing and achieving goals and weakness, because it has a finite lifecycle and so can only deal effectively with change over a limited time span.

Project proposal

If you are seeking funding for your project then the proposal will normally take the form of a formal application, perhaps using a template. There will likely be criteria that you will need to meet to be successful. However, even if you are working alone and un-funded, including an explicit proposal stage serves a useful purpose.

  1. It help you to clarify your reasons for doing the work
  2. It forms the basis of a project plan

Aims and Objectives

The aims and objectives of a project are often set down at the proposal stage, particularly if funding is being sought, before the project is planned in detail. Most projects have an end ‘deliverable’ whether this is an output, such as a product, a piece of software, a report or an event, or outcomes, such as a change in the way people work or learn.

Assessing whether an output has been produced or delivered is usually easier than assessing a change. Nevertheless, assessing the change is easier if it has been well defined. Thus, you will need to be clear about what changes you hope to bring about, why and by what means. How will you determine whether that change has occurred or the extent to which it has occurred? Any outputs also need to be well defined but they are probably secondary to issue of change.

Of course, the project itself may be to measure and report on change (‘How have academics’ perception of e-learning changed over the last five years?’). The change we are then interested in is the impact of that report on University thinking and practice.

Needs analysis

Analysing needs can consume a considerable time, so one needs to balance the effort against the scope of the development and any changes you are proposing. The list below provides an outline of the kinds of information you should seek to gather; you may not have to start from scratch. Check whether the department, SU or national LTSN Centres in your subject have undertaken any surveys that could inform your analysis.

  1. current course, strengths and weaknesses/opportunities and threats
  2. stakeholders, especially student expectations and requirements
  3. subject domain, drivers from professional bodies and employers
  4. learning outcomes
  5. teaching/learning activities
  6. constraints and resources
  7. evaluation methods needed

Choosing who you work with

Others may be involved in the project at later stages but at an early stage, choosing people you can work with effectively is crucial.

Ask yourself:

  1. Do you like them?
  2. Can you work with them?
  3. Have you worked successfully with them before?
  4. Can they provide what you need?
  5. Can you rely on them?
  6. Is the project high in their list of priorities?

Defining the limits

Failure to clearly define the aims and objectives and the deliverables of projects can lead to problems later. A common problem with projects that defined during a funding application is the temptation to add more and more possibilities to the bid until achieving all of these is simply not feasible. Awarding bodies should pick up on this but sometimes do not have the expertise to assess the feasibility – they are relying on you to do this. Even outside a funding situation, it is easy to underestimate what can be achieved within a given set of time or budget limits.

Feasibility needs to be seriously addressed at the project planning stage and all but the core aims and objectives pruned away or relegated to an appropriate level of priority; having a clear and uncluttered vision from the outset is better.

bullet Planning your project