Tag Archives: writing

How to Crush Any Large Project in 3 Easy Steps

By this point in the year, I am preparing to defend my thesis, and I’m feeling pretty good about my chances. It is amazing to think that I have worked on anything for this long, and I hope that everyone takes the opportunity in life to start and finish a project of this magnitude, although not necessarily for academic credit. Writing a cookbook, rebuilding a vintage car, constructing a greenhouse, or producing your own indie film, these are all noble goals worthy of our highest levels of attention. Short tasks are easy; we can prioritize minutes and perhaps hours, but how do you maintain that same drive and focus when the confines of your endeavor drag on for weeks and months? These three quick tips will hopefully give you the inspiration and tools you need to tackle your own large project.

The Worthiness Test (The Planning Phase)

If you are anything like me, you learn from doing. Not from being talked at, or theorizing, but from actually digging in, taking things apart to put them back together as something new, something you own. The art of doing is typically absent from most 21st century institutions of learning, but it remains that for many this is the easiest and most effective way to gain skills.

Before engaging in any large project, it is helpful to ask several questions before proceeding with any research or implementation. This is perhaps the most important stage of project development, and I cannot stress that enough. A brilliant idea and poor implementation can be excused occasionally, but not often is the reverse true: bad ideas are just that no matter how you dress them up. Some initial research may be necessary to determine feasibility or originality, but in this stage of the process we are concerned primarily with the raw idea of the project itself. Consider the following points before proceeding:

Will the Result Be Worth Your Effort?

There are millions of topics and millions of possible applications for our knowledge, but that does not mean that all of them are good fits for our skills. You must be passionate about your work, otherwise you risk breaking down in the doldrums of the project’s timeline. We can all listen to a single song for a lap around the track, or perhaps a mile, but could you run a marathon to this music without ripping your headphones out? Picking something you love is the easiest way to ensure that you will have an investment in seeing it through to the end.

 Can You See Down Rabbit Holes?

Rabbit holes or the occasional tangent are possibly the most detrimental threat to the success of any well planned project if followed blindly, but do not mistake their existence for a negative sign. Although you want to avoid following rabbit holes as much as possible after the initial planning phase, you should nonetheless see them, and the more the better. The existence of these rabbit holes is promising since it means that you have already found places on which to build your project further, in either future revisions or different projects. We are looking for offshoots, other ways to quickly leverage our knowledge and experience from the first successful project into an equally or more successful second project. Always be thinking about the big picture, and if you look around and see no rabbit holes, no future applications or ways to build on your idea, then chances are that it may not be worth pursuing in the first place.

What Do You Stand to Gain?

This may seem like a selfish question, but the answer need not be considered so because gain can be measured in different ways for different people. For the business minded, gain equals money, and lots of it. For scholars and researchers, this may mean credibility or increased research skills, but for the pure hobbyist, gain could mean little more than a good time.

Think seriously about why you are choosing to complete the project you have planned, and understand explicitly what skills you will gain from doing it. For example, when planning my thesis project, I knew that in some capacity I wanted to increase my knowledge of Antebellum American Literature to increase my functionality as a teacher and researcher, but I was also deeply interested in developing coding skills for web development. Beyond this was my innate desire to start something bigger than myself that would help students and teachers. As a result, I developed a project that would allow me to work towards achieving all three of these things. In essence, I measured my own personal gains in the following ways: increased content knowledge, improved technical skills, and a product that is open to the public with the sole intent of doing more good than I could do alone.

These equations will be different for different people, but be honest with yourself about what you want to get out of the experience and make sure to develop a project that will address these specific desires.

Celebrate Small Successes (The Implementation Phase)

Most people tend to celebrate the completion of a project in its entirety, when in fact we should be celebrating small victories along the way. Not that one final, beat all celebration isn’t in order after all is said and done, but to maintain the proper motivation and a focused attitude it is also necessary to celebrate the completion of smaller parts of a complex whole. Admittedly, this requires that the project be broken down into a system of smaller parts, which it of course should be—project managers know that all large projects are just a series of smaller, yet equally integral, projects. Before starting your work, break down the whole into pieces, and allow yourself to celebrate crossing each one of the list.

This is important for morale, but just as important for overall workflow. Nothing will slow a project down more than a bogged down section or chapter. I had my own moments like this when annotating Henry David Thoreau’s “Economy” from Walden, at a whopping 70+ pages, but sometimes there is nothing to do but to lock and load and celebrate when the dust settles.

By focusing on the small completions we are able to avoid the larger uncompleted project staring back at us at every turn. I faced this dilemma in writing my undergraduate thesis in 2010-2011. While the first chapter came easily, the next two were not so automatic, but much of it had to do with the fact that I focused on the writing process as a holistic phase instead of a process of segmented actions. There is too much to think about when conceptualizing an entire manuscript to write portions of it effectively. Start with your topic or idea for a chapter and complete that one section before moving on to the next.

Revision Should Start from Day 1 (Reflection and Revision Phase)

I tend to take a fairly literal interpretation of the word revision, as a re-seeing of things. This should not be a stage that you move to after the implementation phase, or an activity synonymous with fixing comma splices and formatting errors. Revision and reflection should be an integral part of implementation. Invariably we will all start projects with certain assumptions that will ultimately be disproved, and we must react to these instances or risk irrelevance. It is important to recognize that these moments of revision are inevitable, and we should embrace them as a way of making our work better. As I said before, doing becomes a way of knowing and learning, which entails also reacting to scenarios and situations that take us beyond our current systems of knowledge.

Completing large projects can be one of the most singularly rewarding experiences an individual can undertake. However, you must know that the road will not always be easy, especially if the road you’re on has had few previous travelers. Large projects can be a lonely and isolating experience if you allow them to be, as your friends and colleagues will quickly tire of hearing you discuss the same topic ad nauseum for months on end. To combat this, reach out to others who have been where you are now. They will surely understand and provide you guidance along the way. I hope that these tips will encourage you to pick a project and begin doing, using these helpful tips as a guide.

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Applications of the E-portfolio

Many universities are implementing e-portfolios in some capacity. The purposes of e-portfolios fall into roughly one of three main categories. The first type of e-portfolio involves using the space to learn reflectively. This type is prevalent in teacher preparation programs. The second type of e-portfolio is used to help the institution with assessment. The third type of e-portfolio is used as a marketing tool to showcase employment and technical skills. The following report gives a brief overview of the different types of e-portfolios and some suggestions on how these could be incorporated in various capacities across different departments at higher education institutions.

E-portfolio as a reflective learning space

The idea of a reflective learning space is predicated on the notion that students who frequently look back at past work or past experiences will gain some insight into how they function as learners and what future growth is still necessary to complete certain professional goals. Although this type of e-portfolio can be employed in a variety of higher education settings, they are most frequently employed in teacher preparation programs. This type of reflective learning space allows pre-service teachers to better understand teaching standards and gives them a way to organize and store professional documents.

E-portfolio as an instrument of assessment  

The e-portfolio as an instrument of assessment fills two roles. First, the institution can use the e-portfolio as a way to collect data and assess students’ progress towards certain learning goals, whether they are general education goals or certain teacher dispositions. Second, the e-portfolio can be used by institutions to collect and present data that will help them achieve or maintain accreditation. Current research by Wetzel , et al.  indicates that most institutions with mature e-portfolio programs, those existing for more than five years, use part or multiple parts of the e-portfolio to collect and present data used for NCATE accreditation.

E-portfolio as marketing tool and skills dossier 

The e-portfolio is also able to play a vital role for students who have recently graduated or a looking for a summer job or internship. Although current research by Ward and Moser indicates that the use of e-portfolios by HR recruiters was low in all industries of employment, a large percentage of employers indicate that they will become increasingly involved with e-portfolios in the near future. The research of Ward and Moser also indicates that e-portfolios are used most often in the fields of education and human services.

The preferences of hiring managers focused on utility. Respondents to the research queries of Ward and Moser suggest that resumes and references are the most applicable artifacts of an e-portfolio, followed by samples of written work and projects/presentations.

Another benefit of using e-portfolios in the job search process, as indicated by the research of Carliner, is a way to validate credentials from international candidates, or vice-versa, a way for American job seekers to validate language skills or other credentials to international employers. This type of e-portfolio could be especially valuable to foreign language majors or students studying international relations.

Suggestions

Although e-portfolios are versatile instruments, research suggests that e-portfolios are less effective when they try to combine more than one of the above goals. To paraphrase Wetzel, when they try to do all three things, e-portfolios do none effectively. Although these are valid claims, especially when considering the necessary mindset required of students to create an e-portfolio tailored to multiple needs, perhaps a staggered system could be put into place. This staggered system could have students adapt their e-portfolios at different times throughout their careers so that they are never focused on more than one rhetorical situation. For example, incoming freshmen could be required to create and add some basic content to an e-portfolio in a freshmen seminar class. As these students progress through college and their respective majors the e-portfolios can be used by content area professors to engage students in reflective learning. Towards the end of the program, students will again tailor their e-portfolio to target certain discipline specific careers. It is at this point that the e-portfolios could be used for assessment, although not necessarily the type of assessment that many universities are using at present, but rather a holistic form of assessment, a type of assessment that measure not only students progress towards learning goals, but other skills and practical experiences that would otherwise go unrecorded.

Concerns

Although implementing e-portfolios on a large scale offers a wide variety of benefits, both formatively and summatively as assessment is concerned, the technical limitations of students and faculty in addition to the large amount of time required by both students and faculty to create e-portfolios are the largest detriments to large scale implementation.  The research of Wetzel and colleagues notes that the two largest concerns of students and faculty regarding e-portfolios are the technical skills required and the time that it takes to digitize and arrange content artifacts into a meaningful order.

The lack of certain technical skills could be addressed in a number of manners; first, the use of a content management system, akin to Google sites, Blogger, or WordPress, would immediately decrease the amount of technical expertise required to create and maintain professional looking e-portfolios; second, the institution could employ either students or a small professional staff to assist students and faculty with the creation and assessment of e-portfolios; third, the institution could support students in the creation of the e-portfolios by integrating them into already existing classes.

The large amount of time that it takes to create and populate an e-portfolio with artifacts can be addressed in several different ways as well; first, by extending the creation and population of an e-portfolio over a four year span the students will gradually complete this process, and in addition they will presumably build a comfort level with the software over time, thus decreasing the time taken to complete various tasks; second, both the time and technical concerns of implementing e-portfolios point to integration of e-portfolios with other assignments in classes specific to students’ majors and in an initial class that supports incoming students as they navigate and become familiar with the digital amenities of the institution.