Goodbye TREE

It’s sad to close a service, especially one that you were involved in developing – but it is also a chance to reflect on what was learned from the process.

TREE was conceived in 2014, when our website was still using the somewhat clunky Polopoly content management system (CMS). The original vision was to develop an interactive tool aimed at teaching staff, to help them find out about the technology tools we offer and how these can be used for teaching and learning. We had ambitions to develop an interactive system that allowed people to rate our services add comments. We used extensive user consultation to develop requirements for this tool which I wrote about in a previous blog post – Setting out on an Agile project journey: Part 1, User Stories and Poker Chips.

Interface for TREE (Technology Resources for Educational Enhancement)
Interface for TREE (Technology Resources for Educational Enhancement)

TREE went live in summer of 2014. It was developed in Drupal – and its appearance was much cleaner than our webpages at the time. However, even with very limited content we had issues with the available search options.

Our main stumbling block however was with encouraging people to author content, and in keeping this content up to date. This required duplication of their effort as they were often already maintaining very similar content on service webpages.

We soon realised that there is too much overlap between TREE and our university webpages. Also, in 2015 our university website content management system changed from polopoly to Drupal. This has made it more user friendly to maintain webpages and offers better functionality than the previous CMS.

By creating a different web tool we were creating another place to direct staff too, this required an effort to promote, when staff were already going to our well recognised website in search of similar information.

We experimented with different channels for promotion – I set up the TREE Twitter account. I now see that I only posted 34 tweets – but I’m sure at least an hour of agony went into each composition! This was on top of email correspondence, print articles and some of my earliest blog posts. This experience introduced me to digital marketing and promotion and I learned that this requires a clear focus and vision and time to devote to development.

Screenshot of the TREE Twitter account
The TREE Twitter account

Lynda.com, which the University of Edinburgh subscribed to last year, has several courses that look useful for those interested in this area https://www.lynda.com/learning-paths/Marketing/become-a-digital-marketer

What we did right:

We learned from users – through comprehensive requirements gathering and later usability testing. People don’t all use websites in the way you think they will or that you do. Taking the time to consult with users on requirements and to sit with users during testing provides amazing insights.

We built relationships through requirements gathering and consultation and from this developed large mailing list.

What we learned:

If you can, put information where people are already looking for it – publicising a new website is hard! It’s much easier to improve content in the place people were going to look.

What I did in my holidays…Become a Manager with Lynda.com

Since summer 2016 the University of Edinburgh has provided a licence to Lynda.com online courses for staff and students. I spent some time in my Christmas break looking at this. I had already started to explore Lynda.com, watching several videos and completing the course ‘Learning with Lynda.com‘ which I’d recommend as a good starting point for those new to the resource.
Completing a course (which as far as I can see this means watching all the videos) gives you a certificate of completion – and this can be easily shared, for example on Twitter, Facebook or on your LinkedIn profile or downloaded as a PDF and printed out.

I found the course I completed interesting but I still wasn’t sure yet how to use Lynda.com for my own development – the courses are very short (most of them can be completed within an hour or two) – and are well presented and relevant – but the library is vast and offers many subjects relevant to my work (for example Education, Design and Business) . Each course give you certificate – I wasn’t sure what my next step was – beyond collecting a long list of certificates? Then I found the feature called Learning Paths that collates a selection of courses around a goal and this answered my question. I decided to take the next step and tackle the one to ‘Become a Manager‘ – which is made up of 9 courses:

1. New Manager Fundamentals
2. Hiring Your Team
3. Onboarding New Hires
4. Delegating Tasks to Your Team
5. Leading Productive Meetings
6. Managing for Results
7. Performance Review Fundamentals
8. Building Accountability Into Your Culture
9. Rewarding Employees

I was at home over the break so I decided to access this via the Lynda.com App on my Android tablet or phone as I usually have one of these devices to hand. The App gives a reduced selection of the Lynda.com features but does mean you can download content – so you can download a course when you have Wi-Fi and watch even when you don’t. The videos can be watched full screen and you can easily skip about within the course structure. Progress was synced to my account across multiple devices and progress watching the downloaded content was synced next time you had a connection.
Unfortunately the App doesn’t give you access to the ‘My Goals’ section of Lynda.com where you access the Learning Paths. So this first thing I did, to work around this, was to go to my laptop and add all the courses from this Learning Path to a Playlist – as I could see this via the App. Then, in odd pockets of time over the holiday, I watched the videos and worked through the courses. It was easy to squeeze this into odd moments – I would watch a couple of videos when I was cooking, or when I had a few minutes during the day. They are generally bite sized (I’d say three minutes on average) and include good recaps – so stopping and starting isn’t much of an issue. This activity probably replaced some time I would have spent reading the news or twitter online.

After a chunk of videos, say three or four, there is a short quiz and I found these really helpful to check if I’d understand what I’d just watched. Though the interface for questions on android devices was frustratingly temperamental – it requires you to drag the correct answer off the screen – but sometimes took several attempts to register this. I did persevere though, as I really wanted to check my answers.
Many of the courses also come with exercise files which can’t be accessed from App, but I will probably take a look at these now I’m back in the office – as several of them are templates that maybe useful in my work.

The App also doesn’t allow you to bookmark videos (which you can do on the website) and this I did miss, when watching the courses there were one or two videos that resonated, and that I wanted to go back to again or to discuss with colleagues – without the bookmark option it’s going to be harder to find these again. Hopefully Lynda.com will add this feature in time? I see in the App that I can share videos in various ways, so next time I will try to email details of key videos to myself.

What did I get from following a learning path that I wouldn’t have got from just choosing nine courses on management that I was interested in? I think that answer lies in the collation, basically I did watch courses that I wouldn’t have selected – because I was interested in the overall goal. This was on the basis that someone with more experience than me had selected appropriate courses and that therefore the relevance would become clearer to me in time. Some of the courses listed I didn’t initially think looked interesting or relevant – the course ‘Managing for Results’ for example, was much more relevant than it looked on the face of it. A couple of the courses used slightly different language (it being authored in the US) – for example ‘Onboarding New Hires’ is what I would have called New Staff Induction – so I wouldn’t have been able to find this by searching for it despite the relevant content. On the minus side, the legal aspects where focused on the US context, this was clearly stated but I still felt I had to watch through them to complete the course!

Once I completed the course I went to my laptop and added the certificate to my LinkedIn profile. This displays nicely and it links through to show the details of the Learning Path and the courses it contained. This would be valuable to staff and students for evidencing their knowledge and skills.

So having spent time exploring what it means to Become a Manager with Lynda.com – I’m now ready to relate this to my current work – feeling better prepared and more confident to develop my own experience as a manager in 2017.

Screen shot of the 'Become a Manager' Badge from Lynda.com on my  LinkedIn profile
The ‘Become a Manager’ Badge from Lynda.com on my LinkedIn profile