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Building a tool to manage project-based processes

drawing

Processes

A process can be broken down into smaller units that are less complex than the whole process and yet have an identity of their own and can be named. These small units often take place in a given order that can be represented as sequences of actions. Such a process may not be linear. Several such sequences may take place in parallel. This analytical approach to processes is useful as it allows an improved, shared understanding of the process. It also facilitates planning, management and evaluation. When this is done in preparing lessons or pedagogical projects, it is called “scripting”. Most of the examples given here come from education, but this approach can be applied to any project or complex goal-oriented activity.

Representing this process graphically using appropriate software is not a new idea. A number of software companies already provide such tools, which, although somewhat clumsy, also allow quantification of activities for planning, costing and billing. Going beyond that use of software, the resulting map of the process can be used as a backbone in understanding and handling both knowledge and technological needs related to the process. This is the advantage of the project process: it is a tangible, goal-oriented structure that can be used to make sense of related knowledge and technological needs, and also provide the structure to manage knowledge building and technological service provision.

Technology

One of the interesting outcomes of the SEED research project is the idea that pedagogical scripting (i.e. mapping the teaching process) can be enhanced by making a direct link between the activities a lesson or pedagogical process is broken down into and appropriate technologies that might be used for that activity. There are several stages in identifying and integrating the necessary technology. Amongst these, there is the job of finding out which activity corresponds to which technology. This works best when technology is also broken down into smaller, modular units that correspond to basic activities and that can be readily combined to support more complex activities. The advent of modular web-based services makes this possible. The SEED project suggests using a catalogue of technological modules that are classified in terms of the activities they can be used for.
On the basis of a tool made to depict project processes, the activities in the project could be linked by a further tool to a catalogue of descriptions of technological modules. The aim is to help users identify what tools they need to use for a specific project activity. One could imagine that this could be extended to providing access to the tools themselves either for free (for example for education or for activities society seeks to favour) or as a paying service. Users might also gain access to technology related information and services.

Knowledge

In a knowledge-based approach to project organisation, at each stage of the project you need to ask yourself the question what knowledge you lack and how best you can get that. You need to develop strategies to develop or acquire that knowledge. Should you learn how something is done yourself or find someone else who knows how to do it? Once you have identified the knowledge you need, it might be available on line or you might have to find someone who has the knowledge. In the above-mentioned tool for mapping project processes, a further extension would be to link an activity and your related knowledge needs to the knowledge required whether it be in a database or a with a person. Having a tool that helps you link your knowledge needs to possible sources also opens the way to creating a viable “market” place for knowledge. This is one of the major challenges of the Information Society: handling the exchange and “commerce” of knowledge. When knowledge is not yet bound up in a book or article or product or predefined service, commerce of it is made all the more difficult because of its intangible nature. What’s more, in an economic system that judges value by the scarceness of a saleable good, incorporating “pure” knowledge is a problem because it has most value when it is not hoarded but rather circulates.

Postscript

One of the foreseeable problems with the above mentioned ideas may be that most people don’t naturally have an analytical approach to the processes they are involved in. From experience, they tacitly know what goes when. For them taking the time to make the process explicit could be seen as a waste if not even, more deeply, a threat. There may be a fundamental psychological resistance to consciously structuring what formerly was unconscious. But can we avoid doing so? Once people have got over the misguided idea of wanting to put all knowledge into a computer, knowledge management is about making tacit knowledge more explicit. Can complex communicative processes involving many people be grasped and managed in an intuitive way by all participants? As long as language is the main vehicle for communication, it seems unlikely that we can avoid making explicit what we are doing if we are required to collaborate with many other people, especially via the Internet.
Another potential problem is that the distinction between knowledge and technology may well turn out to be artificial. Just consider the case of complex online “content” for learning and teaching. Both knowledge in the form of texts and illustrations and technology in the form of simulation or assessment modules, for example, come together to enhance each other in an inseparable pedagogical unit. Building a support system that makes a rigid distinction between technology and knowledge may turn out to be counter-intuitive.

Author: Alan McCluskey
Version: 1.0
Date and time: 2003-12-21 18:05

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ISSN: 1664-834X Copyright © , Alan McCluskey, info@connected.org
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Created: December 21st, 2003 - Last up-dated: December 21st, 2003