The team project file is submitted and ends the team assignment, so this blog is a report of the six week project.
My impressions of working in a virtual team
The very start was very friendly and I felt welcome. Then, when it comes to working, it was a bit slow as no one really wanted to start (?). But in general, I'm happy with the team. Everyone did something, even though one person was a bit out of topic. My teammates and I helped one another, and even when it's not our job: the French students checked the grammar of my instructions and I helped them back when they were stuck in their translation.
If I am invited to work in a team again, I will definitely say yes! However, I'd prefer to work with people who are from different fields. I believe I can learn more about their specialties this way.
The most valuable things I learnt from doing the project
One of the most valuable things is time management. Like most students, I usually begin my work the last day and am playing with the clock everytime. By working in a team, I couldn't do that because it would penalize my teammates.
But the most valuable thing I learnt is to respect my teammates. Respecting one another leads to a good cohesion of the team and the project can go well when no one feels frustrated, angry or left behind. When everyone feels they have their place in the group, working together is enjoyable.
New skills I developed during the course of the project
I improved my teamwork skill. This time, I worked with international people so had to deal with new issues such as communication and time.
I didn't really improve my technical skills as I use technology tools everyday.
A brief description of the leadership structure in my team and an evaluation of how effective the team leadership was
There was no leader in the team! Well, no official leader, but I'd say my classmate and I generally led the team, as we're always the first to get the other ones to work. My opinion is the team is small enough, and nobody really wanted to be the leader.
If I consider the Irish team as the team leadership, I'd say it was effective enough, as the instructional document for translation was ready in time for the translators, and also was finished a long time before the deadline. There was no problem with the submission, and no problem occurred in the group.
You can also read my thoughts about my team in that post: http://writingwithpeanutbutter.overblog.com/2013/11/can-you-lead-me-all-the-way.html.
Things I would do differently in future projects, if any
I would harass my lecturers/employers/bosses to have clear and precise instructions about the final document. It'd have avoided the wave of panic in the last minutes.
I would also share the tasks among the teammates from the start. This way, the work would be equally done by everyone.
The team project is almost over, when suddenly a wave of panic invades my class. We're all wondering:
- Where do we submit the assignment?
- What format must we use?
- Must we only submit the original version or both original and translated versions?
The last question is easy to answer. In the assignment instruction sheet, it says we'll be only graded on the instructional document, it means we don't need to worry of the translated version. However, the two other questions don't figure anywhere on the instruction sheet.
What happen when information is missing? The facts I'm going to relate now occur to my class, but I believe those facts also happen to users when the instructions are missing.
First, we refer to what we're used to. On Sulis, there's a section called Assignments. In that section, the lecturers create new folders for each assignment. Students submit their assignments in the relevant folder. For my team project, my lecturer created a folder for it.
But today, we were told not to submit in the Assignments section, but in the Resources folder. Students never use the Resources folder. Only lecturers use it to put the lecture slides and material for learning. It also leads to confusion on how to upload the assignment in the Resources folder.
Two problems appear in this change: the user is confused by a sudden change and has to learn how to use the new tool.
Secondly, we always choose the simplest and the most convenient. I don't have Word contrary to other students, so I use OpenOffice because it's free. In addition, I've been taught to use OpenOffice for years now, since I'm in secondary school. Consequently, working with OpenOffice is much easier to me than Word.
As I believe not everyone uses the same tool as I, I always convert my OpenOffice documents into a PDF file, this way everyone can open my files. I don't convert to a .doc file because the formatting is different, and my original file is just broken after that.
When I heard that students should submit their assignments in a Word doc, well, it was too late for me. My document is ready for submission, all the formatting has been done perfectly, converting it into Word will just destroy all the work I've done.
The problem which appears here is some steps are definite, you can't undo them.
Presenting important instructions at the beginning of a task required is essential. If instructions are missing, the user feels frustrated, loses their time to find out what is missing and how to solve the problem, and they sometimes can't go back to the departure that means can't fix the problem.
One of the French teammates posted the translation on Sulis. As I can speak French, I checked her translation. Since I've been living in an English speaking country for a few months, reading French was a bit unusual.
The translation looks good. At the same time, it wasn't very difficult, as we agreed to write the instructions as simple as possible, because we were supposed to inform people not used to web tools.
The translator student did well in using imperative verbs. It may be not a problem in English, but it can be confusing in French: most verbs in imperative tense sound like the infinitive tense. For example, you pronounce the infinitive "manger" and the imperative "mangez" exactly in the same way.
When I was in secondary school, I had to write instructions for entering a soccer match. I wrote all the instructions in the infinitive tense. My teacher then explained to me it wasn't grammatically wrong, however it sounds too robotic, as if I was talking to machines.
I didn't dare writing in the imperative tense first, because the imperative tense seemed too harsh and not friendly, just like commands or orders, while my audience was other students. My teacher told me it might be one of the uses of the imperative tense, but using the imperative tense here is more appealing.
To show you an example in English, it would look like something like that:
- To create your team.
- To write the team members' names in the form.
- To send the form to Mr. XXXX.
Weird, isn't it? But as I said it before, while in English, it's obvious that something is wrong, it's not so easy to notice that in French, especially as it's not incorrect at all. Indeed, French recipes are written with the infinitive tense.
When writing instructions, while a language uses a specific tense for them, another language may need another tense to make sense. The writer must be careful not to offend or to neglect their audience.
Even though my contribution to the team project is finished, I still keep an eye on the forum Sulis and follow the discussions of the French team, just composed of two translator students.
They organized and shared the part of the work very fast. They just needed two days and six posts, and the work was shared between them! After these six posts, they knew who would do what, explicitly.
Contrary to us, the instructional designer students, even though with four members, the start was slow and nobody really knew what they should do and what the others were doing.
It reminds me my first year in university, when I joined the cinema club. I went to a script workshop, where the participants took part in the writing of a script.
Around ten students took part in the first meeting. Ideas were flourishing. Everyone came up with different ideas and were suggesting all of them to the group. However, it was hard to have everyone agreed as new ideas didn't stop appearing. In the end, we agreed for a general story line, but there weren't many details.
Two weeks later, the second meeting occurred. There were fewer participants this time, around five. Yet, the story line was written faster. Every participant listened to one another and ideas were more precised. The script was built up together, not by trying to fit parts together. At the end of the session, even the workshop tutor concluded that a small group worked faster than a big group.
I believed the same thing happened during my current team project. It means the more member a group has, the harder it is to manage. It's also the reason why big companies are considered on the top, because not everyone can manage so many people. Of course, there are sub-supervisors, etc, etc, but still though, working and managing big groups is hard work.
*They call her Helvetica.
What are the conventions of an instructional document? I've been showed how to write the instructions, I've learnt how to design a document, I've read Gagné's book about the principles of instructional design. But what about the style?
When I was writing the content for my team project, as I was the one who created the document for submission, I've spent a long time thinking of the style. My team didn't agree for a particular style guide, that's why I had to take time for it.
I applied the theories of "good style" in technical writing. I changed the typeface family from serif to sans serif. I don't know if my lecturer will print the documents when he corrects them, but as there are nine teams, that is to say nine documents, and they are pretty long, I guess my lecturer will correct the documents online. Therefore, I think a serif font suits more than a sans serif font.
The size wasn't a big issue. I chose 14 pt because 12 pt looks too small to me, because of the screenshots. Indeed, screenshots of YouTube are only efficient if we take the whole screen. Consequently, the pictures are huge comparing to the content, that's why I used a big font size for the document.
Also, a lecturer of mine said that black on white tends to tire the reader's eye. She said dark blue on white may be more efficient. I notice when I was at school, students were required to use the dark blue pen and not the black pen. There may be some connections by chance?
Even though I won't probably be graded on the presentation page, I know I must modify it to make it more attractive. For now, the presentation page of the project document is just composed of the title of the project, the names of the team, the module code and title, my lecturer's name and the date. As a kid, I used to put a picture on the first page... and it is apparently the convention for instructional document.
A few weeks ago, I watched the documentary Helvetica. It was interesting to see how a typeface is created. However, I still can't believe how some people can love a typeface that much, that they can spend almost two hours talking of it (her?) with the same passion. So, I decided to use Helvetica as font.
Unfortunately, Helvetica is missing in OpenOffice... and surprisingly in Word too!
I posted the latest version of the instructional document last week. It means the first part of the assignment is over. It also means that the instructional designer students, the US and Irish teams, can now rest until the French team's feedback.
Indeed, as it's a document project for translation, even though my duty is over, I still have to keep looking at the French team's work and advice. Also, although the document ready for submission is here, we are still doing proofreading and hunting the smallest mistakes.
The six members work together on the same project, but we can still distinguish two groups: the instructional designer (ID) students and the translator (T) students. Because the distinction is so obvious, during the first part of the project, only the instructional designer students worked on it and the translator students didn't say anything at all.
At the end, a T student asked us a question: must the T team get new screenshots in French?
This question just reminds me that I forgot one of the best quality of the technical writer: a technical writer is the connection between all the staff. A good technical writer goes see how others work before doing their own projects. I was too much into my instructional document and wanted it done, that I forgot to talk and discuss with the T students.
For now, it doesn't seem annoying as the T students told us the instructions look easily translatable. However, while I am myself French, I think I made a big mistake in forgetting the document will be translated after the instructions are written. What if the English instructions were difficult to understand? What if we didn't choose YouTube but a trickier tool?
The T students are now working on the translation and they're using the same forum to discuss their work. I'll definitely keep an eye on it, this way any unclear instruction can be fixed immediately.
Previously, I blogged about difficulties of working in a team. While teamwork is still a mystery to me, I at least tried to think of what a good team is.
I sometimes watch the TV show Bones. There are a lot of TV shows about mysteries and murders and lots of their main characters work in a team. I've already watched at least one episode of the other detective shows: CSI, NCIS or Cold Case. However, Bones is the show I watch the most, because I like their team.
I actually envy the Bones team. They give me the image of the perfect team and I envy them because I dream of working with this kind of team, but that has never happened to me. Following the teamwork guidelines of the University of Melbourne Law School (link removed), I would like to present a comparison between my current team and the Bones team.
Characteristics of Effective Teams
- Membership and Common goal.
- The Bones team composed of forensic scientists and cops solve murders.
- My team composed of students in technical communication and translation create an instructional design document with a translation.
- Social organization.
- Anthropologists, entomologists, pathologists, forensic artists and cops.
- Technical writer students and translator students.
- Interdependence between members.
- Share the results.
- Share the grade.
- Productive involvement.
- Tasks are shared depending on the expertise of the staff.
- Everyone is doing the same thing but: a member mostly wrote the first part of the instructions, another wrote the second part, another wrote the additional content, and another designed the document.
- Effective communication and interaction.
- Forum, Facebook, mails.
- Mutual interest.
- Everyone depends on the others' work.
- Everyone gives their opinion but no one attacks personally another.
- Collective consciousness.
- Staff for each murder change but it's not annoying.
- Members are from three different countries but use the Internet to communicate.
- Mutual trust.
- Staff is composed of experts in different fields who have been dealing with their specialization for a long time, so everyone definitely trusts the others.
- Everyone contributes and reviews the other members' work in suggesting improvements, and also encourages or congratulates when the work is well done.
- Staff are paid for good work so nobody gets lazy and on the contrary, wants to do the best for the team.
- The Irish team is more active than the US and French teams.
After this comparison, there are actually no big differences between the two teams and I'm surprised that my team positively respects the criteria. In general, my team is not so bad. However, I think some points didn't allow the team to be at their best.
First, we are all students. We are not professionals yet and not everyone has already worked, that's why not everyone behaves professionally. Moreover, as we're still learning, nobody's a real expert and some may not feel confident.
Then, we haven't met one another in real, and can only use the Internet to communicate with one another. The time zones are different, so a fast answer can't be expected. There's a waiting time, time in which you wait for the others' replies. It slows down the work.
Finally, we will probably never meet and work in the future. Therefore, nobody thinks it's worth knowing the other too much because you'll forget them and you'll be forgotten when the assignment's done.
Even though my team is not perfect, I am quite happy that we fit to the criteria. It proves all the members here have potential to work in a team in the future. Of course, some qualities need to be developed but that's a start!
My course director asked me how my collaborative project was going. I immediately answered I was lucky and didn't have much to complain. I deduce I am lucky when I compare my team and the other teams in the class.
Except the lack of leadership that I described in my previous post, no other negative points come to my mind, while I hear my classmates complain every week about their teammates. Their complains are not unusual when it comes to team work and my course director also confessed there was always a problem in all her team projects. Those are the usual complains:
- The teammates do nothing.
- The teammates do not reply.
- The teammates work in the wrong way.
- The teammates criticize my classmates' work... after this has been posted for weeks.
For my part, my biggest frustration is when I don't get any answer. I mean when I keep posting updates of our work, but nobody replies. When there's no reply, I don't know if I should keep going because of "no news, good news (?)", or if my teammates are looking at my work and will answer soon, or if they haven't even seen my post.
It's frustrating! I feel frustrated when the discussions stay empty and I have the impression of talking to a wall. I also feel alone while my teammates are supposed to support me.
I realized that the team projects, that is to say the final projects which have to be submitted, are never difficult. Even though the students are graded on their work, the goal of a collaborative project is to make you work with others and be professional.
Indeed, while you usually submit individual assignments, when you enter in the professional world, you are not alone and have to deal with others. That's why the team assignment which has to be submitted is easy... because working with others is not easy.
I see collaborative projects in school as times to practise our teamwork skill. The real "winners" at the end are the students who understand how to behave and work in a group, because they will get that undoubtedly useful skill that they can apply in the professional world: that teamwork skill.
For now, we're just half way of the project. And since yesterday, not only did my American teammates reply but they also posted their part of work. It was such a relief to see you're not alone in a team! Our team can work after all... anyway, we're just half way of the work, everything can still change but I am hopeful and confident.
I just met my teammates for my collaborative project last week, and it is already the end of the second week, while I must keep in mind that our English document must be submitted next week. Times flies so fast!
Last week, we introduced ourselves, it was the "meeting time". Even though we started to suggest ideas for the project, we only elected the definite choice this week and the first drafts were thrown a few days ago.
Actually, although we seem regularly working on our project, my Irish classmate and I have noticed that WE, the Irish members, always have to launch ideas and motivate the others first.
- My classmate contacted everyone by writing the first mail.
- I created the Facebook group to enable discussions.
- My classmate was the first team member to suggest ideas.
- I created the Introductions topic on Sulis.
- My classmate and I wrote the first draft of the instructional document.
Not only do we always start everything, but we also have to motivate the others. Each time we post on Sulis, we got no answer and only the two of us comment. I have to put a note on Facebook and only then, our teammates reply.
My classmate complains about that situation. I am usually optimistic and don't get angry fast and think of it instead. I am wondering: did we make a mistake in not electing a group leader from the beginning?
In the assignment sheet, it reads team members should spend the first week to introduce themselves and elect a leader. As we are a small group, just six, I saw no need to do so. Yet, now, I understand the role and the importance of the leader.
In fact, my teammates are not lazy and still work. However, they won't start until we ask them to do so. They need someone to tell them to work and motivate them. That's the role of the leader. A leader guides the group and motivates them to have the work keep going.
Last year, I had to create an e-learning course with three other students. We decided to give each of us a role, to sound more professional. I was the project manager. Although we didn't state that I was the leader, everyone was referring to me: I scheduled the meetings; I put our parts together and submitted the work; when a teammate of mine finished their part, they checked with me first before emailing it to the others; when they doubted something, they came to me.
The e-learning course went well, everybody knows what the others were doing. Unlike now, it seems very hesitating.
I am sure my teammates are not lazy, as they still offer suggestions... when they're asked to do so. Working with people you have never met or will never meet can be intimidating. Nobody wants to offend anyone and nobody wants to call themselves "leader" because they think it'll be too pretentious. It's hard to work with people you don't know, as you don't know how they react.
In fact, as there's no meeting between groups and each group submits their own work without being in contact with one another, there's no need to appoint a leader and call them "leader".There's no need to give all the power to one member. However, someone in the group has to be the reminder. This person has to guide the team, to tell them it's time they worked, to wake them up, and to motivate them. This person acts as a leader without the title of "leader".
The leader doesn't feel the need to exhibit their pride. The leader only exists thanks to the group. The goal is to work together. There's no extra marks to be called "leader". If there's no apparent leader elected, someone has to act like a leader, even without the title. The marks will be shared among the members but the most important thing, after all, is to get the project well done. Better to get something than nothingness, isn't?
A teammate of mine, who has never blogged, asked if Facebook (FB) could be used as a blog. Including me, three of our team replied "no". However, I thought of it again and my answer is "no... for now".
In what way Facebook can be used as a blog?
- Of course, you can use the status as a blog post. However, it's a bit limited so you'd better use the FB notes. If you haven't finished writing your note, you can save it as a draft. You can also preview the note before publishing it.
- You can include pictures in your note and choose the layout, that is to say the place of the picture in the text.
- When the note is published, it is also dated.
- People can comment your note... and "like" it.
- Now that hastags are available on FB, you can tag your note.
- You can also "tag" the people whom you absolutely want to read the note.
- You can make the note unavailable to certain people.
Interesting, isn't it? There are so many common points with a "normal" blog. Nevertheless, the FB notes are not developed enough.
- Even though you can bold, italicize and underline your text, you have no choice for its typeface. There's only one unique typeface.
- Visitors are limited. Even though you set your FB account "public", it is only visible to FB users. On the contrary, there's no need to create an account to be able to visit blogs. Visitors save their time this way.
- You can share the note but only on your/another FB wall or in a FB private message. That means the sharing remains on FB, while you may want to share it in a mail or in another place.
- You can't upload videos and audios in the note.
- You can't change the graphic. Your FB remains blue (how many people have been trapped in clicking to a suspicious link to change their account to pink?). That means you can't personalize your account.
For now, it seems that FB notes can't replace blogs. It is not even the purpose of FB as it mainly works as a social platform. However, it's worth a thought as it gives the impression that Facebook wants to be bigger and more omnipresent that it already is. It sounds like Facebook wants to be THE website where you can do everything.
Indeed, why does Facebook give you a mail address, for example something like firstname.lastname@example.org, while you don't need to know your friend's mail address when you send a private message to them?