Learning Activity Management System Project

Executive Summary

The objectives of the LAMS project is consistent with the strategies of the organisation. LAMS (the Learning Activity Management) aims to support educational facilities and increase standards of education. The project consists of the main sections: project background and scope, benefits and outcomes of the project, education and technical support, human resources, budget and evaluation of implementation. Also, the project consists of two main parts: technical integration and staff support programs. The project managers prove that the methods and technologies surrounding teaching and teaching have been systematised so that those involved now take for granted the way things are done, just as educators in more conventional environments take for granted the way face-to-face classroom teaching should occur. The objectives of the LAMS project are specific and derived from the objectives of the organisation using the strategies selected by the organisation. Project structure and consent meets the needs and expectations of the University and educators. Thus, it can be restructured in order to simplify the implementation phase. The LAMS project long-range plan should be realistic and doable, even if it needs an R&D stretch to become more challenging. The project management should pay more attention to monitoring and control phases and develop possible alternatives and solutions to problems and innovations that appeared on the market.

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Introduction

Objective and Scope of the Report

Project management is one of the most important areas of management science that requires careful planning and assessment. The goal of the project introduced by Macquarie University is to “integrate, develop and promote” the use of new technological systems, LAMS. LAMS means the Learning Activity Management The University believes that increased standards should include foreign language training and cultural awareness beginning in the elementary grades. Project managers believe that education has moved from the margins to the mainstream of higher education policy and practice in many countries, accompanied by spectacular growth in programs, institutions and enrolments. Governments, in particular, increasingly see distance education as a valuable economic and social tool in meeting the demands of an information society. The project consists of several main sections: project background and scope, benefits and outcomes of the project, education and technical support, human resources, budget and evaluation of implementation. Also, the project consists of two main parts: technical integration and staff support programs. The project managers prove that the methods and technologies surrounding teaching and teaching have been systematised so that those involved now take for granted the way things are done, just as educators in more conventional environments take for granted the way face-to-face classroom teaching should occur.

Importance of the Project

The project management plan is “a formal, approved document used to direct project staff and project control. The primary uses of the project plan are to document planning assumptions and decisions, support communication among stakeholders, and document approved scope, cost, and schedule baselines. A project plan may be summary or detailed” (Burkun 2005, p. 12). The purpose of the project plan is to direct and support project implementation and control its outcomes. The project plan is needed to avoid ambiguity and indecision, mistakes and pitfalls in project implementation. Electronic technologies are triggering a change in every area of work and social life in the developed world. Universities are responding to an imperative to adopt online technologies that will enable them to provide up-to-date education and training, support larger enrolments, and remain competitive in a global educational economy. Applied to education organisations, project management becomes more complex and demanding based on unique management functions and learning objectives of the educational institution.

Project Background

Change of the magnitude planned by the University will be easy and fast. For the University, this long-term transformation requires simultaneous attention to the University’s culture, the knowledge and skills of academics as teachers, the organisational and resource arrangements supporting learning and teaching, and its networks of relationships within the University and with Swedish and international communities. “The Learning Activity Management System (LAMS) is an authoring and delivery system designed to support collaborative, activity-driven learning environments” (Project Plan: LAMS p. 5). The aim of this project is to improve connections between teachers and students, support and encourage students, working in groups. Macquarie University had experience in e-learning and innovations, successfully introducing WebCT technologies. “Research and development of LAMS is managed at Macquarie by the LAMS Foundation, working with the Macquarie E-learning Centre of Excellence (MELCOE) and LAMS International” (Project Plan: LAMS p. 6). An important detail is that software was developed here at Macquarie University, and it would be easy to make necessary changes and introduce innovations. As the learning paradigm changes, so do the teacher’s role and relationships with students, exchanging transmission models of teaching for constructivist, collaborative models of learning. Good teaching has always emphasised deep learning through dialogue. However, the transmission model is easier when teaching large numbers or when academics have a limited repertoire of teaching skills. It is also an easier response to students who are reluctant to abandon their initial dependence on the teacher and seek autonomy as deep learners. It is now increasingly difficult to sustain this as a prime model of university teaching.

Structure and Content of the Project

An organisation’s project management cannot be divorced from its general management. On the other hand, the use of the same management techniques and programs that are successful in general management more often than not will not be appropriate for project management. Nevertheless, the universal principle of “system thinking” can be adapted and applied to the LAMS project and is central to the approach for management (Badiru, 1993).

Project structure

The project plan consists of two parts: a technical integration and a staff support program. The first phase will consist of “Initial planning – technical and educational; planning, scoping, development and preliminary testing of technical integration of LAMS into the Online Teaching facility (MUOTF); launch, invitation and dissemination of information about the trials” (p. 4). The dimensions of general and project management are very similar; however, their management is different. To obtain an integrated and well-functioning system, management of these dimensions uses the various strategic options for the management of these dimensions. The second phase will concentrate on “implementation of the technical integration – LAMS integration ‘live’ within WebCT; enhancement of standard LAMS tools; use of LAMS across most colleges and a mix of departments in a number of different contexts” (Project Plan: LAMS p.4).

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Nature of the Project

In general, the venture is not truly a project because it does not involve all-important principles and parts of project management. This venture can be seen as change management aimed to improve current facilities and update education and technological systems. It is based on previous research and platform but adds new features and benefits for the University technological systems (Blanchard & Johnson 1983). In spite of these facts, project management techniques can and are legitimately used to manage this project. The people who design, develop, implement, and evaluate a substantial responsibility for the success of a program. Yes, the equipment must work, but the software is a far more important issue. Second, technologies that are used must have a track record. Third, the management of technology-based instruction is more important than teacher-based instruction. The lead times required for development, budgeting, development cycles, and possible organisational changes that may be required to implement a new program require careful management planning. Fourth, the skills of the teaching staff must be equal to the task of implementing the technology-based instruction. And, fifth, the conditions under which delivery or distribution of the program occurs must be considered (Borg & Gall 1989). This process starts with the corporate mission and the corporate objectives that are developed based on a number of factors that have to be analysed. These factors include a review of the strengths and weaknesses of the organisation, an analysis of opportunities and threat scenarios. The contribution of the LAMS project, and thus the magnitude of the allocation, must be supportive of the organisation’s strategic plan and objectives. If it is not, it will be discordant and not in line with the organisation and perhaps has no place in the organisation (Burkun, 2005).

Project Content

The purpose of the plan is to “integrate, develop and promote the use of LAMS (the Learning Activity Management System) across Macquarie University through (1) a technical integration of LAMS into the Macquarie Online Teaching Facility (MUOTF); and (2) b. a staff support program including promotion, educational design, training, professional development, development of LAMS activities, and implementation assistance” (Project Plan: LAMS p. 6). also, the project management aims to implement the first large-scale technical integration of LAMS and apply it to all departments in the University, provide innovative learning and access effectiveness of the project (Burkun, 2005). Since the process of strategic planning is iterative and several passes will be necessary along the process, the project allocation can be made to assure that there will be a significant contribution of project work, or that perhaps the objectives of the overall organisation might not be technically logical and feasible and must be reassessed. This is a two-way approach that is not very common in education. The purpose is needed to help researchers and educators to understand the scope of the project and its main aims (see Appendix 3). The project schedule was included because it helps all stakeholders to understand the scope and structure of the project, prepare necessary materials for project implementation and restructure their own schedule. The schedule was developed by the project management team. The information comes from the laboratory and the University management staff. The project schedule was prepared on the basis of previous experience and goals of the project, demands and needs of the students and the teaching staff.

Audience of the Project

The main audience of the plan is teaching staff, the University authorities and a technical support group. These groups need to know the main objectives of the plan and schedule, expected outcomes and their contribution to the project. For teaching staff, it is important to understand the role of LAMS in student-centred learning, but there remains a tension between the desire for individualised learning and the standardisation inherent in self-instructional learning packages delivered to large numbers (“A Guide to the Project Management” 2000). For the educator, there is a risk of alienation within an educational system and a fear of losing authority in the learning environment. A gulf is opening between present levels of knowledge and skills as educators and those they increasingly require—not only in choosing and using technologies for course development, teaching and assessment but also in curriculum development more broadly (Drucker, 2004).

The University authorities need to know additional resources needed and their involvement in the plan. One major difficulty in responding to the need for teachers development is the shortage of well-qualified, multi-skilled staff developers or instructional designers with backgrounds in both distance and classroom teaching and advanced understanding of a technologically mediated learning environment. The role and skills base of this position do not easily fit traditional characteristics of academic work and are often misunderstood when it comes to salary levels and tenure. Status and career paths are often unclear and may not encourage people into the area. One solution is to maximise the ability of centralised expertise to support academics by creating networks of departmental academics who become the local, flexible learning guide and mentor to their colleagues. This solution has the added advantage of helping academics to construct their own knowledge and skills as educators. Members of the technical support group need to know the purpose of the plan and its impact on the University, teachers and students (Kornfeld, & Rupp 2002).

Communication with the Audience

The best way to familiarise the target audience with the project is to organise a conference or meeting and inform all interest groups about the main phases and implementation strategies. It is important to develop a clear and detailed presentation including all aspects and planning stages to give the idea of the project. All researchers (Amdam, 1996; Blanchard & Johnson, 1983; Burkun, 2005) agree that it is important to inform all interest groups about all stages of the plan to avoid misunderstanding and confusion. After it, the project manager should pay attention to those aspects and specific tasks related to each group: technical support, teachers and the University authorities. Following Frame (2002), it is desirable that all groups will be informed about their parts of the project. Burkun (2005) underlines that there are a number of strategic decisions that R&D must make; they include how to acquire new technologies. These technologies will be embedded in new products or current products. These decisions include whether to do development and implementation of technologies in-house or to obtain them through a number of other means such as licensing, joint venture, limited R&D partnerships, or contracting with other organisations in the industry. Competitors that cannot sustain cost-cutting translated into price-cutting in the marketplace will go out of the market. The next step in the strategy of penetration is for R&D to determine the technological position of the remaining competitors in relation to your own organisation’s technological strengths (Laudon & Laudon 2005; See Appendix 4).

Change management

The main change in structure should deal with the training and education of staff. Following Frame (2002), it would be possible to provide training of teachers simultaneously with technology implementation. According to Laudon & Laudon (2005), any project should take into account two factors that impact the project. These are the internal and the external environments. Each environment is complex but is specific for a given industry in the case of the external environment and for a given organisation in the case of the internal environment. Broadly speaking, the internal environment of an organisation is more or less under the control of the organisation itself, but not under the control of the LAMS project function. The external environment of the organisation is generally not directly under the control of the organisation. These ideas will influence project structure and demand change management and monitoring of new innovations in this field (Montgomery, 1998). These institutions influence R&D and LAMS project strategies in a number of ways. First, these institutions train the workforce used by education agencies in their LAMS project functions. Secondly, these institutions need to provide to the education agencies basic research and contract work that industrial laboratories are not willing to do or to provide (Laudon & Laudon 2005).

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Following Amdam (1996), most of the major distance teaching universities, on the other hand, are embarking on major changes to their distance education centres ranging from disbandment and dispersal into faculties, to down-sizing of technical production facilities and personnel, to the redefinition of the roles of instructional designer and editor. They may encounter problems of lack of staff developers with expertise in the individual performance of teachers. Instead of viewing a distance education program holistically in terms of scheduling and costing, there is a trend towards treating courses or groups of courses as projects for which the distance education centre provides an integrated set of services, including management of the relationship with external multimedia services providers (Newbold, 1998).

Contents of the Project Phases

Each of the project phases is based on traditional project management techniques: planning, communication, training and support, development, implementation and evaluation. Following Schermerhorn (2007), any project by its nature aimed to optimise its contributions to the accomplishment of organisational objectives and must be at the forefront of the identification of opportunities for the organisation. The project must be able to do this with few, if any, constraints, including operational and long-range planning constraints. Exploration of new ideas, new technologies, and new approaches with potential for the organisation must be identified, analysed, evaluated, and assessed, and concrete recommendations must be made by the project to general management (O’Neill & Fletcher 1998).

Joint Technical Project Phases

Joint technical project phases involve planning, requirements and scoping, specification and unit testing, user acceptance testing and liver implementation. Following Montgomery (1998), all these have to be done in an orderly and systematic fashion. Another approach of a penetration R&D strategy is to develop a product using a new technology developed by your competitor that, if introduced to the market, would have cannibalised the competitor’s own products. This is often called a “maverick strategy.” This is not a theoretical strategy, as illustrated by the Gillette vs Wilkinson episode for steel razor blades. Gillette had developed the technology ahead of Wilkinson, but bringing it to the market would have cannibalised their own products, currently holding a very high leadership position in the marketplace (“A Guide to the Project Management” 2000; see Appendix 2).

Educational Phases

Technical project phases differ from educational phases but follow the traditional approach applied to the technical stage. They are a new development and scoping, enhancements and live, system testing and programming, specification, scoping and architecture. The manager of the project receives from the organisation the power of action and decision-making because of their position in the hierarchy. This is considered a legitimate power conferred by the organisation to the position, giving the authority to act or not act. That authority is not absolute since it will generally include a number of boundaries that might or might not hinder the management of the project. The legitimate authority of the manager of the project can be undermined by a bureaucracy that, through rules and procedures rigidly applied, creates a battleground that produces an atmosphere of distrust and inflexibility, resulting in a reduction in creativity and innovation. A strategy that a manager of a project can use is to provide a buffer between the scientists and the bureaucrats to filter various annoyances that are only a blind exercise of power. The exercise of illegitimate authority by the manager of R&D is not constructive in the project organisation. The use of “earned authority” should be the preferred mode. This type of authority is successful because it depends on the trust established between scientists and their managers (“A Guide to the Project Management” 2000; see Appendix 1).

According to Borg & Gall (1989), the success and effectiveness of the project depend on the experience, training, and judgment of the manager that has been earned the “old-fashioned way” by hard work establishing these bonds. The manager of the project can delegate their authority, and this is a strategy designed to motivate scientists to perform even without the appropriate resources if they respect the manager. By delegating authority, the manager of the project also transfers power. Although the amount of authority delegated is well-defined and constrained, it is necessary for the manager to feel comfortable with that transfer of authority without attempting to second guess decisions made by scientists using the delegated authority. Some of the external environmental factors can conceivably be influenced indirectly through trade associations or even professional associations in education (Peters, 1992). The possible alternative for this project is to involve students in project implementation and introduce all stages during the teaching process. It will help both teachers and students adapt to the new environment and make necessary changes during the implementation stage. Project managers receive a printout for their organisational units, and each unit reporting to the manager also receives its appropriate printouts. The use of a common perspective and a common language would be, hopefully, the first step toward real and substantive interactions. The system aimed to support learning activities and improve teaching facilities at the University. Many managers complain that the technologically-trained people they hire are deficient in communication skills and the general knowledge needed to be of value to the company. Many companies have had to establish basic skills training to compensate for deficiencies in writing, communicating, and human relations (Senge, 1990).

Budget

Training expenditures could be included in the R&D budget but are often included under the human resources budget. The controlling mechanism occurs by comparing the actual expenditures against the budget on a monthly basis or any other time basis that is appropriate. Comparisons of actual versus budgeted activities are done and expressed in terms of variances. Quantum improvement in the use of budgets as control mechanisms in an organisation can be promoted if one separates the “operational budget” from its “project budget” component (Owens & Wilson 1996). The project budget could refer to a single project or to a series of projects. In this way, the operational budget is not affected by the uncertainties of project results, and projects are not affected by the vagaries of changes in operational levels of resource utilisation. The “operational budget” would include activities that are not strictly related to the project. It is used to administer the R&D function and support groups servicing that function as well as the other functions of the organisation (Petroski, 1985).

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All the information about the project comes from the university management and research laboratory working on the project. These institutions deal more often with basic technological research. The support for research by academic institutions comes from research grants. These institutions are also funded through research contracts. This project requires heavy investments in facilities, equipment and specialist staff, which do not sit well with universities honing their core business to teaching, research and community service. Innovative and flexible in curriculum design and delivery; supporting students in various ways, especially in networked and virtual environments; and pulling together the special management and quality control facets of flexible learning (“A Guide to the Project Management” 2000). The financial primer in the preceding section is part of the overall financial management of the whole organisation. The financial picture of the organisation has a direct impact on the management and the conduct of the LAMS project. The manager of the project uses accounting data for monitoring and controlling the resources that the organisation has made available to the project and for making operational decisions. These include, for example, payroll. Financial accounting deals with external parties, which is done by general management, not by project management. Management accounting, on the other hand, is utilised by the manager of the project for control of the project operations via budgets (Schermerhorn, 2007). When the business aspects of the enterprise and the role of the project are understood, there should be a perception that R&D can be managed effectively and efficiently to contribute to the success of the organisation’s objectives (“A Guide to the Project Management” 2000). A derived benefit of the business perspective is that putting the project on a solid financial footing facilitates communication between the project and the rest of the organisation, including general management (Saaty, 1999).

Conclusion

The LAMS project is not a typical project based on the previous platform and framework of the e-learning system. Thus, this project involves all important parts of the traditional project management: phases of implementation, technical and educational phases, planning, development and controlling. In the best possible world, the University provides appropriate and adequate data ensuring the safety and effectiveness of education and relations between the students and staff. Technology permeates the whole value chain, and as the core technologies of the organisation are expanded, the competitiveness of the organisation increases. Given the critical examination to which technologies are subjected far more critical than is typically given to lecture-based, instructor-led forms of instruction it is important that evaluation be given a very high ranking in the planning for any use of technology-based instruction. Evaluation should consist of an assessment of the quality of the program, its effect on learning, and any tools it includes for the management of the instructional enterprise. Continual review of the impact on learning, whether delivered by technology or instructor, needs to be built into programs. In addition, cost and its corresponding benefit will need to be considered. Beyond the skills, our students will need for their adult personal lives, the project management trains technicians, engineers, and teachers. In order to compete on an international level, they produce individuals who have an understanding of mathematical, scientific, and technological principles.

Recommendations

The value of the LAMS project long-range plan is that it must be derived from the overall long-range plan of the organisation. The problem encountered is that, in general, the long-range plan of the organisation is developed under the aegis of the marketing function and massaged by the financial function. The tendency of the marketing function in an organisation is to react to short term “blips” in the marketplace, and basing the LAMS project plan on marketing views is dangerous. It will result in incremental improvement of current products, cost reduction programs, “me-too” products to counter the competition. It will shun breakthrough products because of their uncertainties, not only from a technical point of view but also from a market point of view. The LAMS project plan must directly support the objectives of the organisation’s long-range plan. This is a fast rule, but it is also flexible enough to allow the LAMS project to explore alternative technologies as they become ready for implementation. One of the missions of the LAMS project should be to devote some resources to exploring the feasibility of newer technologies that might be useful in the long run, especially when global competition requires it. It is also important that the LAMS project plan takes into consideration the various constraints imposed by the organisation in the areas of resources, personnel, and schedules. The role of the manager of the LAMS project is to negotiate these constraints to ensure some flexibility in the plan. Technology is one of the elements used by general management to make decisions relative to the strategies to be used. At the least, top management should have the benefit of LAMS project technical thinking before a decision is made on the strategies to follow.

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