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Plan to Succeed

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Edited by Anita Pilgrim, Thursday, 26 Oct 2017, 06:09

As an experienced researcher with decades of project management under my belt, I plan my work without even thinking about it. I often get by without even writing my plan down, but for a course of study, you are far better off making a proper written plan.

Open University modules are already carefully planned, with assignments designed to gear you up in gradually accumulating skills areas so that by the end, you have been gently taken on a journey to higher academic abilities. To some extent, you can rely on the plan laid out in the module. However - 'real' life has a bad habit of poking its nose in and making a fine mess out of the module's carefully laid out plan.

The module I'm currently studying has a brilliant way to help me: writing a plan is part of the first assignment. There is a link to this short, free course from OU Business Studies about project planning, in which we are shown Gannt plans. If you have got time to spare, this course is well worth working through. If you are short of time already, you could just sketch out a plan for yourself on a piece of paper or in a spreadsheet as I've done here.

This is my Gannt plan for my studies.

Excel spreadsheet laid out as a Gannt plan

(The free course provides a Gannt plan in a pdf, but my pdf reader will require an expensive upgrade before it will allow me to edit pdfs, so I decided to draw up my Gannt plan as an Excel spreadsheet.)

Well, that all looks great! Ah, but, what about 'real' life? I have gone back over my plan to put in points showing where I might have peaks of work or want to take extra time off to cover a school holiday.

Another Excel spreadsheet laid out as a Gannt plan

I can see that just before TMA01, I have got two loads of marking due in. I am down to give a workshop right afterwards too, for which I will have to do some preparatory work. Looking at this Gannt plan, I can consider doing my workshop preparations now so they are out of the way, and putting in some early work on my own TMA01 (such as writing the plan bit of it!), then I will have time to do my marking and check my TMA before putting it in. If I am coming up to the dates for marking and still have a lot of work to do on my TMA, I can ask for an extension in good time.

I am actually going to work on a more sophisticated plan in the OU's software application Compendium. I was hoping to just run that off and show it here in this blogpost. When I started, however, I discovered that it will take me a little while to re-learn how Compendium works. (I used it previously on the e(LATE)D course I studied, but have mis-remembered it as being very easy!) I have therefore had to adjust my Gannt plan to show that project planning will take longer than I had first supposed. (I want to use Compendium because it's designed for planning teaching projects. I think it will be useful to me later on, so it'll be worth putting in the time to learn how to use it properly.)

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Black cat and pink blanket

Mind mapping - e(LATE)D TMA Stage 3

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Edited by Anita Pilgrim, Friday, 31 Jul 2015, 06:43

Personally I have never got on with mind-mapping. Spider diagrammes make me want to get out my feather duster and clean that mess off the paper so I can write. I know that the livelier minds of my students can be visual or aural rather than textual so I always pretend to draw one in order that they understand how visually mapping out their ideas could support their thinking, but secretly I just write a list. Grocery shopping, To Do (cat to vet, rake lawn, don't forget to pick up child from school), Report on Social Deprivation and Education, it can all be done by The List. And then you can use the list as your Contents. Although not for the To Do tasks.

However, using mind mapping online tools was part of the game on e(LATE)D so I heaved a sigh and got on with it.

First we were to try out FreeMind. I felt very much welcomed as there is a large note at the bottom of the FreeMind instructions already saying "Did FreeMind make you angry? Write a complaint." I put my ideas into FreeMind, while telling the cat to stop complaining, I would take it to the vet in a moment, and it looked like this: 

FreeMind diagramme

Well, that is not even pretty! What about some colours and stuff, chaps? Sorry, but that really didn't do much for me.

On to the OU's own mind mapping software: CompendiumLD. My mind map there looked like this:

Compendium diagramme

OK, at least it has some colour, I suppose.

I did find CompendiumLD had value. It is designed not just for free-thinking mind mapping but for planning teaching. I found it helpful that it suggested I make particular nodes for Tasks and Outputs. It enquired tactfully who was supposed to complete these Tasks: Tutor or Student?

I don't really think using these tools used up as much time as I felt, I think they were actually quite speedy. I'm just very impatient with mind mapping, LOL, whereas if I have a chunk of text in front of me I will sit there all day, ignoring the plaintive cries of my hungry cats and child. ("Just have some crisps and sweets. And feed those damn cats.")

CompendiumLD is not valuable for presentation purposes, IMHO. I expect you can see that some of those Nodes have notes attached, but these don't readily open up for others to see. If I was going to seriously mindmap and present, I would use Prezi. Although I hate mind mapping, I adore Prezi. That shows you how super duper good it is. It is intuitive and for very little effort, you can make a set of presentation slides which look stratospherically amazing. You can muck about with all kinds of designs for your Prezi slides, and I do like that. It feels like being back in the sandpit at kindergarten - but with Einstein and Newton making models of time and motion. (I said it feels like that! What you actually produce in there is between you and your conceptual framework.)

OK, now I better take the cat to the vet. Back at you shortly with more reflections on my e(LATE)D TMA e-tivity development process! wide eyes

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