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Posts Tagged ‘planning

I am a planner and I know of two common axioms about planning.

  1. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
  2. A plan is only as good as its implementation.

The first is about being prepared by thinking things through and practising before a critical event. The second is about putting theory (the plan) into actual practice (the action).

The problem with some plans is that they are hastily made. No amount of firefighting will compensate for foresight , wisdom, and prudence.

The bottomline: You need a good plan. A plan that offers solutions needs to address clearly defined problems. Jump the gun and you solve problems that do not exist, distract, and demoralise.

The person who shared the image in the tweet below probably did not intend to illustrate three important principles of clear messaging.

If you need to send a message, you need to decide what to say and how to say it. This is the planning. In the case of what was most likely a sign for an eatery, the message to potential customers was: We are open for takeout.

But a plan is only as good as its implementation. The message was garbled because the person who pasted the words haphazardly.

Someone on the inside did not bother to check that the message was clear. If they bothered to read it from the outside, they could have rectified the error.

If we are going to transmit messages effectively, we should put at least equal effort into planning, implementing, and checking that our messages are received as intended.

The context for this slide: It was 2013 and I was presenting to an audience more used to US English spelling (hence the spelling of “decentralizing”). More importantly, I was on the same mission of advising people to not make the same unnecessary mistakes that others had already made.

Fear Factor: e-Learning Edition Part 3

The advice I gave was simple. A teaching solution that is often presented before considering the learning problem is a vendor-provided learning management system (LMS). This creates lock-ins of platforms and tools, pedagogy, and finances.

All three lock-ins can have hidden elements. For example, you might already be invested a particular tool but that same tool is not compatible with the LMS. If you wish to get the equivalent tool or a new one, this is likely to come with additional cost. In any case, the likely end result is teaching to the whims of the tool instead of letting good pedagogy lead.

Today, that same advice might be recontextualised to not relying almost solely on a content management system (CMS) like our Student Learning System (SLS) or a video conferencing platform like Zoom.

One fear of having multiple platforms and tools is the loss of administrative and IT systems control. This is the top-down approach which is largely non-consultative and does not create ownership or empowerment among its users.

To be fair, you can rationalise the need for such an approach because users might not know what to use in a situation like COVID-19 lockdowns and home-based learning (or more accurately, emergency remote teaching). Having just one (or very few) tools and platforms also allows for system managers to provide more focused support.

However, this presumes that teachers and student have no idea what to do and use. This is not the case. Practically any system has its technology leaders, laggards, and those somewhere in between. The first group is likely to already be using some technology tools without sanctioned support. This can be a boon or a bane depending on how it is planned and managed.

The recent phenomenon of zoom-bombing — trolls joining and disrupting Zoom-based video conference calls — could be used as evidence of why the command-and-control approach works. If people try different tools and managers know that some tools are better and safer than others, why let those people use inferior and unsafe tools?

However, that question is a flawed premise because a small group of administrators and IT folk do not and cannot know as much as a large group of users trying and testing different tools. If just a small portion of active users manages to identify flaws with a platform like Zoom (and there are many), they are a valuable source of testing and information. They could — and have — advised on NOT using Zoom in the first place.

Why rely on actual users instead of administrators and IT folk for testing, analysis, and critique? They are actual users who will use and “abuse” the tools for teaching, learning, and unanticipated ways. They will not think and operate along the lines of spreadsheets, policy, security, etc. They will use the tools authentically.

So the issue is not the loss of control in decentralising technology initiatives. It is the coordinated planning, evaluation, and sharing of such tools and their practices. The fear of losing control is misplaced and misguided. The energy that is wasted here could be channeled to coordinated decentralisation.

Yesterday I shared some advice on how novice facilitators might put more thought into cooperative group work.

Today I focus on how they might write better lesson plans.

Lesson planning is not a chore, it is a discipline. With practice, it becomes a habit that gets internalised.

Even faculty members in institutes of higher education (IHLs) need to lesson plan. Especially faculty members need to lesson plan because they might not have had teacher preparation.

Novice facilitators should not simply walk into tutorial rooms or laboratories and try to repeat what they experienced as undergraduates and graduate students. The didactic pedagogy they perpetuate is based on the transmission of information.

While information might be transferable, knowledge is not. Such meaning is negotiated cognitively and socially. Facilitating such negotiation first takes the knowledge and skills of writing learning outcomes, designing learner-centred activities, and providing feedback on performance. All these should be developed in a lesson plan.

Lesson planning is essentially a writing process. Like any writing process, there is drafting and revising. Novices should not expect to get a plan right on the first attempt. The process can be painful, but as the adage goes: No pain, no gain.

The programme I am involved in requires future faculty to write course descriptions, lesson plans, and personal teaching philosophies.

No matter the academic subject, there are disciplines to hone when writing. One is chunking thoughts in paragraphs. Each paragraph should contain one main idea. Ideally, one chunk should link to another in a logical series.

Write tight
Another discipline of writing is not to write the way you speak. A conversation between two people can meander and even get lost. It is informal and interaction is immediate. Elements of a lesson plan need to be written clearly and concisely.

I find that it helps to imagine that you are planning a lesson just in case someone else needs to take over your class in your absence. You need to write simply and directly so that another facilitator might read your plan and lead the class almost like you would.

Do not be lazy
When writing, use the autocorrect tools in word processing programs. They help you avoid spelling and grammatical errors. However, they cannot correct lazy or ill-disciplined writing.

The screen capture above shows how I highlighted and corrected a lesson plan element. The lesson plan was about bits and bytes, hence the tongue-in-cheek comment about ones and zeroes.

My comment might come across as mean. It is not. Being a disciplined writer means not taking the reader for granted. What you say is not necessarily what someone else will hear. It is about taking another’s perspective.

Disciplined writing is also about caring for the small things that matter. If you cannot get these details right, how can you be trusted with the larger picture?

Autocorrect tools do not understand context or detect all errors. So another aspect of disciplined writing is proofreading. Such reading is not just for spotting and correcting spelling and grammatical errors, but also for addressing flaws in logic and bumps in flow.

I find that it helps to walk away from a piece of writing and return to it with a fresh perspective.

Practise and transfer
Like most skills that are developed over time, writing takes practice. Future faculty who wish to be good facilitators should invest time in writing good lesson plans because this is a skill that transfers. Disciplined writing can help with the composition of dissertations, grant proposals, conference submissions, research papers, etc.

But the most important purpose of disciplined writing by novice faculty is lesson planning. Such writing might seem burdensome initially, but when practiced iteratively and reflectively, it becomes a habit. This habit pays off when students benefit from learner-centred design that is held together by disciplined writing.

I have decided to share one way I plan for an event as a consultant. Think of this as planning out loud.

Recently I received an email request via my Contact page. This led to a phone conversation for possible consulting gig in six month’s time.

I like people who plan in advance. This gives us time to shape what we want to do together and to scale administrative mountains. The more lead time the better.

I was told that the event had two main themes: 1) For participants to reconsider the future of education and work, and 2) to “future proof” their efforts.

The experiences had to address, on one hand, the issues of current student mindsets and expectations, and on the other, teacher mindsets about risks and opportunities.

I get requests like these quite often. They are generic, but over time, I try to get to know my partner and tailor-make an experience.

Even though I have not committed to the task yet, I have outlined a plan that could shape a proposal.


  • Future-proof like water-proof and fire-proof? Or future-ready? One prevents, the other embraces.
  • Can you be future-ready? Or should you be prepared instead?
  • Your vocabulary and practices reveal mindsets: Classroom, curriculum, “what can we do TO them”?
  • What are some “standard” 21st century competencies (21CCs)? What are actionable and core 21CCs?
  • Learning is messy, teaching is neat; focus on the learner and learning instead.

Quite serendipitously, I read two tweets shortly after the request that could serve as thought-provoking statements for discussion.

Along with some administrative and logistical details, that is all I have planned for now. They will stew in an Evernote page and I will work on them over the next few months alongside other planning documents.

Sometimes these efforts do not pan out. This is largely because administrative elements that should support now dictate instead. But I still learn from the process and am invariably better prepared for the next request.

Video source

In this 3.5 minute video, my son and I illustrate how Minecraft might be used to practice arithmetic and put a plan to action.

This video is probably the shortest in our series so far on informal learning with Minecraft. But I think the exchanges of when I teach him and when he teaches me is the most obvious in this video.

Viewers might note that my view of Minecraft sports a different look. I apply the Sphax texture pack to make things look a bit less blocky.

I shot the time-lapse sequences with an iOS app called OSnap. My “camera” view of Minecraft was screencaptured with Quicktime and all videos were processed in iMovie (OS Maverick).


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