Monthly Archives: February 2013

A work of art

My Project Management Tools

I’d like to talk about Project Management, something I have done whether I wanted to or not. I found that on several of my past team projects, I was selected by default to do the project management because I was the designated “computer geek”. I took a couple of courses on the subject and then dove right in. I wasn’t that interested in Project Management as a career, but I did find that it’s just another tool in an Instructional Designer’s toolbox. A little competency goes a long way here! Along the way, I’ve used Excel spreadsheets, MS Project, and some online solutions.


Spreadsheets are probably the most common project management tool that I’ve found in most organizations. Everyone has the software on their computers and some companies consider them the backbone of their data infrastructure. The tricky part is getting them to work with a group of users with varying degrees of spreadsheet expertise. The boss usually demands a pretty complex spreadsheet that includes nested projects, roll-up formulas, and color coding. The users tend to email various versions of the spreadsheet amongst the team and “break” formulas pretty regularly. It’s not the best solution, but it’s a good start.

MS Project

Moving a spreadsheet into MS Project is pretty easy but that’s only the beginning. MS Project offers a complex interface with many variables available… so many ways to spiral a simple project out of control. I found that I was spending way too much time filling in the details that only I would appreciate and less time on the project itself. Plus, each team member needed to purchase an expensive license to use it. As the Internet began to offer more online solutions, I looked there for inspiration.


I found Smartsheet a couple of years ago through an article on and recommended it to my team at the time. We were a small team but we were spread across several states, so an online solution that we could all access made a lot of sense. It was a less expensive solution than MS Project, so we gave it a whirl. I found it simple enough for my less computer savvy teammates but complex enough to manage several projects at once. For a small team in a larger company, it was a great solution. But now that I’m on my own, I wanted to find something almost as good as Smartsheet, but within my price range… which is FREE!


I started with Rapidtask, an online free project management solution, but found it was a little clunky and did not give me a lot of options to manage each of my tasks. It’s more like a fancy To-Do list, which is pretty good, but not exactly what I was looking for. So it was back to the drawing board.


Right now, I’m using Gantter and so far it reminds me a lot of Smartsheet. The interface is very MS Project and allows me to get pretty complex if I want to, or just keep it pretty simple. Best part… it’s totally free and doesn’t pester me with expensive upgrades for full functionality. For me, it’s working out great and I began to use it for my Ugly PowerPoint project.


Whatever application you choose, don’t be afraid to try a number of project management solutions until you find what works for you. The best ones I found have excellent user help sites with how-to videos and documentation. User discussion boards are also very helpful (but can really lead you down a rabbit hole sometimes).

Additional Reading:

Fire Eagle continues apace...

Storyboard for Ugly PowerPoint

If you have never put together a storyboard, think of it like a comic book, but without all the cool art. It gets your story idea into a format that you can send to other people for review without spending a ton of time on production. This comes in handy when you’ve been given some content by a subject matter expert (or SME) and you start to conceptualize how your presentation is going to be structured. Before you commit too much time to the end result, you want to make sure everyone agrees with how you’ve structured it and what you plan to do with the graphics. Your storyboard becomes your blueprint for the finished project.

Following my Project Milestones, I have met with my SME’s and stakeholders and have created a draft storyboard with a script based on the PowerPoint presentation and some ideas about the graphics. I now give my SME’s a chance to make any changes to it and to respond to some of my notes. At this point, I’ve learned quite a bit from my SME’s about how reclosers work, but I don’t want my phrasing to sound awkward. I have urged my SME’s to specifically look for these types of errors because I’m pretty sure that if something doesn’t sound right to the learners, the presentation won’t have as much credibility with them. This training is designed for experienced line mechanics from the field and I can almost see the eye rolling if they hear terminology that doesn’t sound authentic.

To create my storyboard, I copied the notes directly into a Word document and then re-arranged each part into a section that made sense to me. For example, I came up with sections like, How Reclosers Work, What Types of Reclosers You’ll Find, and How Reclosers Work. I filled in each section with notes that covered each of those topics. I copied thumbnails of the original PowerPoint into the graphics column and added notes about animations or interactions that would help illustrate a particular topic.

As I send a link to my reviewers, I think it’s pretty important to give them a realistic deadline for them to get back with me with their feedback. In the past, I have always appreciated it when a project manager follows up with an email after our meeting. I could turn that email into a To-Do or a calendar entry, depending what kind of system I was using. A follow up reminder email can be helpful as we get closer to the deadline. I need to be careful not to sound too “naggy” but I know that some folks do appreciate a reminder.

Right now, I’m just using a standard Word document to create my storyboard. It’s just a table divided up into three columns and I can paste in a thumbnail graphic or just make some notes about what I want it to look like. Nothing fancy, but it gets the job done plus it’s easy to distribute to teams. I noticed a cool tool you can use online for storyboarding called Storyboard That. You can put together comic book style storyboards and share them online. Your free account gives you the chance to create three per week. Plus, you can email a PowerPoint of your storyboard to yourself. Pretty cool! It may not be suitable for this project, but you never know when something from your “bag of tricks” will come in handy. This one’s definitely going into my bookmarks.

So, the next step is to dive in and begin developing my graphics for this course while I’m waiting for the feedback. It’s going to be a challenge working with photos that have been stretched out of proportion or copied from unknown sources. Nothing is set in stone at this point, but I’m pretty confident that I have the basics down and can start visualizing what this will look like.

Additional Reading

2 Mile post along the Mt.Washington Auto Road

Project Milestones for Ugly PowerPoint

I’m going to outline the project milestones that I’d have if I were the instructional designer for the “Make the Ugly PowerPoint into a Beautiful Articulate” project (as I’m calling it now).

  1. Meet with the Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) and stakeholders to determine the goals and objectives of the course. Also, find out when they’d like to see this in production, or how much time they would expect this project to take.
  2. Using the information from the meeting, create a storyboard that includes a draft version of  the script along with some ideas about the graphics. Distribute this to the SME’s for script approval. I like to include a hard deadline for their feedback to keep the project on track.
  3. Develop the graphics, gather or take photos, and get copies of other media like videos or supporting documentation.
  4. Create the assessments making sure they align closely with the objectives we’ve determined from the first meeting. Also, if evaluation data is needed, it’s a good idea to put together a pre and post test at this point. These tests could be made up of questions from each assessment in the course. If it’s a shorter course, just a final test may be all that’s needed.
  5. Create interactions, animations, and triggers that will be featured in the course. Also insert other media like video or websites.
  6. Upon final approval of the script from the SME’s, record the voice over (if necessary).
  7. If a voice-over is required, edit the audio and insert it into the presentation. Paste the script into the notes section and synch the audio to the animations.
  8. Publish a draft of the presentation and send to the SME’s for feedback. Again, I like to give them a deadline to keep the project on track.
  9. Make any changes based on the SME feedback.
  10. Create a PDF version of the presentation that includes the notes. Also add any additional resources like weblinks and other documents for further study on the subject.
  11. Re-publish the final presentation and set up online. If needed, create the appropriate content ID’s for the LMS and attach the content.
  12. Send the links to the stakeholders for promotion of the course to the appropriate audience.

I like to use a “checklist” for my projects so I don’t miss any steps along the way. It’s modeled after the ADDIE model. I may stray away from this model at times, but I feel it’s a good starting point. If I’m working with printed material, I can print this checklist out and attach any relevant materials. I have found it to be very useful when I’m working on several projects at one time and need to jump from one project to another and keep track of them without missing a beat.

Next post, I’ll dive into the actual project.

Project 1: Ugly PowerPoint


The Reclosers presentation is a great example of an ugly PowerPoint given to me to make into an online presentation.

There are multiple audiences for this presentation. First, it is for electrical utility line mechanic apprentices who need an introduction to reclosers before they perform hands-on training in class. Trainers can use it in class, accessing it from the company’s intranet and playing from their laptops using a projector, pausing the Articulate player when they would like to expand on a point made as they go along. Second, it is for experienced utility line mechanics in the field who can access it from the LMS using a laptop computer in their trucks to brush up on their skills. In fact, any employee accessing the LMS would be able to get information about reclosers from this presentation. But as it has been made obvious by the recent reviews on,  it’s assumed that the audience has some knowledge about utility distribution equipment. Third, it is for line mechanic supervisors who would like to use it for their safety meetings, like the trainers would use in the classroom. They could access it from the company’s intranet using their laptop and a projector for a small group of their employees. It is fairly common to be asked to provide a product with multiple uses in order to maximize the benefits for the widest audience possible. A great choice of projectors is available at

I would be teamed up with a subject matter expert, most likely one of the trainers who had originally developed the PowerPoint. Draft versions of the Articulate presentation would need to be approved by a larger team of trainers, and when final approval is achieved, would be made available on the trainer’s website and the LMS. I would work with Corporate Communications to advertise the product’s availability via email and the company’s intranet site. In the weeks after the release, evaluation data would be gathered from the LMS and the trainer’s website (Sharepoint) to see how often the presentation was being used, any feedback given, and if it was reaching the intended audience.

Next post, I’m going to talk about the milestones of the project and the most popular audio visual rentals.

#271 eLearning

An introduction to my blog

My name is Barb Roland and I’m an Instructional Designer in the Central Ohio area. I’m going to use this blog to document some of my portfolio projects. Hopefully it will capture my journey as I transition into a different phase of my career.

Here’s a little background on me: between 2000 and 2013 I worked at American Electric Power in Columbus Ohio in their Distribution Technical Training department designing their training materials. They train line mechanics, underground network mechanics, and meter electricians. Their programs are four-year apprenticeships for the workers who build and repair utility equipment. They climb poles, use bucket trucks, crawl into underground vaults and need to have technical knowledge about how to work on their equipment. These four-year programs consist of learning guides, PowerPoint presentations, web-based training, hands-on field training, and testing. My job was to write or update their material and make their material available on the company’s Learning Management System and their intranet site. My goal was to push the trainers to embrace web-based technologies whenever it was practical to do so.

During my time at American Electric Power, I managed to finish a long-overdue Bachelor degree at Franklin University. I majored in Digital Communication, something that I hoped would help me figure out what I wanted to do with my career. I had been an Administrative Assistant for many years, but always found that I was getting involved in graphic design, database building, learning management systems, and computer based learning. I was usually the “office geek” who was unafraid of learning new systems and exploring new technologies. I had studied at Kent State University in their graphic design department when I was much younger and always felt drawn to learning, writing, and art. So, it was a natural transition for me to get into Digital Communications. At the time, there was no program for Instructional Designers and I had never even heard of this as a career choice. After I had my degree, I approached my manager to promote me to a Technical Writer position, a position I figured was as close as I could get to describing what I was doing at the time. He agreed and I got my dream job. I got to work on a variety of projects and dove into our company’s learning community, where I learned about Articulate Studio and other elearning tools. I quickly learned that I was an Instructional Designer and my career came into focus.

Student in bucket truck grounding a line
Student in bucket truck grounding a line

The electrical industry is going through a lot of changes these days, and American Electric Power is no different. The company went through a re-organization at the beginning of 2013 and unfortunately my position was affected. But, I’m grateful I had the chance to discover that my passion was instructional design while I was in that position. I feel that I have a lot more focus about my career path now. So now, I’m in the process of putting together some projects that anyone can see online that show what I can do as a designer.

My plan is to post some details about each project I put together with each blog post. I may even post a bit about the process of transitioning from the corporate world as an employee to a contractor. It may be a bumpy ride, but I’m looking forward to what happens!

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