Development of materials for online, distance, blended and campus-based courses can be a pleasurable experience. It can also be fraught with issues not least constraints in time, budgets, resources, personalities, egos, etc. How can we manage this? It’s quite easy really … keep the conversation and communications flowing.

The worst thing that can happen during the time set aside to design, develop and implement the materials is that there is a breakdown in the process or communications. Breakdowns will and do happen, it’s how you manage it that can determine how quickly you can get back on track. If the goal or deadline that you’re working to is a sensible and achievable one then I always see that as the starting point to work back from. You have three months? Excellent, drop a week or two off that for final checks and testing. You’ll need it.

From there work out any leave or national holidays between now and then. This might throw up further family leave or conference activity that will mean part of your team will be unavailable. Work out roles and responsibilities, assign these according to expertise or availability. Let everyone know who is doing what, when and why. I don’t like them but a Gantt chart will really help you here. Keep it updated, no matter how hard or late. Keep it stored centrally, with all your other files and resources, and let everyone know where it is and why it’s there. Refer to it regularly. Point everyone to it regularly and check you’re on schedule for each milestone. It’s better to find out early you’ll miss a milestone, you can work with that, than to find out the day after it was due. If that happens then there is something more serious happening here (see below), your team should be able and willing to give bad news as well as receive it. Milestones move, but identifying them early helps mitigate any serious delays.

Work out a communication structure early, stick to it, hold others to it, don't let it drop... Click To Tweet

Work out a communication structure early, stick to it, hold others to it, don’t let it drop, encourage delays to be caught up, don’t sacrifice the end goal – once you do that it’ll become acceptable for those deadlines to be ‘flexible’ and sometimes ignored.

The elephant in the room, if there is one, is that the academic or team you’re working with is not particularly interested or engaged in the project or course. Sometimes this is because they’re just very busy and this isn’t a priority for them. It could also be that they’ve had this work dropped in their lap and are effectively forced to engage (or not). Whatever the reason, keeping on side with them is key to the relationship. 

We’ve all struggled at some point or another with team members dragging the heals as part of the process. As I said earlier, there are many personal or work related reasons. For me it’s always been key to remain helpful, informative, supportive and focussed. If you’re on message and on time or budget, others will take your lead and follow suit. Mostly. For those who don’t, if you’re in communication with them then the relationship you have can help bring it back on track. Yes, their office may be gathering dust and they’re never on campus, but you do have a phone and their number. Call them. If they are on campus but just busy (or avoiding you?) then I often seem to find people in the queue for a coffee between lectures [smile]. Don’t get all heavy, just a short ‘hi’ and chat to ask about progress or how they are is sometimes enough to find out that, yes, they are sorry for the delay and, yes, they’re nearly finished. There, no great panic. Back on track again.

Sometimes we spend time and effort building a relationship we often forget that it needs maintenance and regular tweaking to keep it fresh and working. Circumstances can change, as do projects or timescales. Build the relationship and work on it and you will find those you work with will also share your passion for the work and that three month deadline is easy, after all!

Image source: clement127 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)