Here are some details of the services I offer and how I approach a job.
Learning design / communications design
Learning design, or any kind of communications design, I believe to be primarily a form of design: the matching of form to function, which in the case of learning materials means learning outcomes. Good teachers can do their learning design intuitively and on-the-fly, but distance learning (because of the long feedback cycle) and online learning (because of the multiple specialists typically involved) require it to be done explicitly and in advance.
If asked to facilitate a learning design meeting or workshop, I aim to structure it around those issues and challenges where the participants have a perceived need. I usually start with some kind of learner analysis, but thereafter I choose and sequence subsequent topics in accordance with participants’ readiness to deal with them. My view, summarised in this square window diagram, is that it does not matter in what order teachers addresses learning outcomes, assessment, learning activities and subject matter, as long as they are all planned out in “constructive alignment” by the end of the design process.
I have facilitated numerous learning design meetings or workshops, for Learning Materials Design’s bespoke courses and resources and for Open University modules in the Faculty of Wellbeing Education and Language Studies. For a new Masters in Translation Studies, for example, after consultation with the lead academics, we covered: learner analysis, priorities amongst the learning outcomes, active presentation, core learning mechanics, and the incorporation of skills strands into the topic sequence.
The learning design workshop you ran for us has been one of the most productive and enjoyable ones I have attended, as you tailored it really well to our needs, and listened to what everyone brought to the day. I also always feel that your very sound understanding of pedagogy means that you can really understand academic teams.Tita Beaven, Senior Lecturer in Spanish, The Open University
Author briefing and training in distance learning materials
Authors new to distance learning materials often suppose that they are being asked to write a textbook summary and need training and practice in conceiving and writing good learning activities. Beyond that basic principle of active learning, there are many particular training topics which may be important for a particular project, such as: use of AV, designing assessment, writing multiple-choice questions, designing collaborative activities, writing for digital media.
For authors who understand the kind of writing that is required of them, a project briefing should typically cover the output specification (word length, study duration, topic scope, learning outcomes); details of other course components, such as direct teaching or assessment, which the materials should complement; any exemplars, templates or style guides which should be followed; the writing repertoire, for example the interaction types supported by the platform; and any likely mistakes or problems.
At Learning Materials Design, we had a very good reputation amongst freelancers for the quality and thoroughness of our briefings, and it was a high standard I had an interest in maintaining, since I was often responsible for recruitment and management of authors. At the Open University, I regularly worked with editors on the content of the Author Guides which they created at the start of a production, and I delivered three rounds of formal training to academics, mostly on issues to do with writing for digital pages and making best use of the online medium. In addition, for specific projects I trained authors in writing for the particular features of the FutureLearn platform.
You quickly established strong working relationships with all stakeholders, leading the briefing for authors and the lead academic. You have been very supportive of their requests and ideas, whilst at the same time ensuring they are aware of what the platform can and can’t do and suggesting alternative ways to do things.Becky Jones, Curriculum Manager on FutureLearn projects, The Open University
Critical review and feedback
When conducting a critical review, my aim is to take up the position of a reader or learner, and to check that the materials work for readers or learners as they should. That involves bearing in mind the intended learning or communications outcomes, as well as the intended learner or user experience. Typically this means checking for flow and balance, how easy the materials are to follow, and where they are in danger of becoming boring (usually because they haven’t explained why the topic is important) or the activities are too difficult, too complicated or lack a significant payoff. I take it as a point of honour never to make a criticism without suggesting a possible way in which the problem might be resolved.
For a new module in the Open University’s MA in Online and Distance Education, the flagship programme of its Institute of Educational Technology, I was appointed to the role of critical reader, responsible for providing critical feedback to authors of the materials at the second draft stage. My comments and constructive suggestions were so valued that I was engaged as critical reader on three further new modules on the programme.
Thank you so much for your H819 critical reading. We always greatly value your comments and they have informed much of the module content and structure.Dr Leigh-Anne Perryman, Chair of the H819 module team, Institute of Educational Technology
Structural / developmental editing or re-writing
Editing at this level includes changes to structure, form, style or length, in order to improve the materials’ alignment to purpose, audience or medium, or to transform them from one medium to another. It can also include the addition of new elements, such as learning activities, explanations, instructions, introductions and summaries. When extensive re-writing of this kind is required but returning the draft to its author is impractical, then I can undertake the revisions to an agreed brief; my revised version can be returned to the author or other subject matter experts for checking or further elaboration.
I began structural editing as an academic at the University of Cambridge, where I converted a student’s Masters dissertation into a chapter for an academic collection, and at Learning Materials Design much of my work consisted of structural or transformation editing, for example condensing multiple information sources and case studies into a guidance pack for business managers and transforming a government face-to-face training programme into self-study materials. At the Open University, I supported the conversion of undergraduate module materials into FutureLearn MOOCs, re-writing authors’ drafts where necessary to make them work within the specific constraints of the platform and liaising with FutureLearn in their development of a new type of online interaction essential for our courses.
Perry joined Learning Materials Design in 1994 as Project Editor for a major open learning CPD project. By the time he left in 2003, he had developed to become one of our most valued Senior Materials Developers, with a real practical flair for creative learning design in all media, and an exacting eye as an editor of learning materials drafted by others.Jane Wolfson, Director, Learning Materials Design
His written summaries and training worksheets are exemplary, very clear and concise. Perry has also adapted quickly to our “teaching voice”, implementing this, for example, into the training documentation now available on all language modules and the department’s student site.Ushi Stickler, Lecturer in German, The Open University
Website style guides
A style guide for a website, or a family of websites, needs to include firstly conventions of naming and location, so that the same things are consistently called by the same names and located in the same places, and secondly a discoverable information architecture, so that the user always knows what they are going to find when they click on a link and can sense that they are moving closer to their goal. Usability testing can help to decide between design alternatives or provide empirical data in support of a design decision.
At the Open University, I created my Faculty’s first website style guide, to bring consistency to the increasingly divergent websites built by different course teams and editors. Subsequently I worked with the OU’s Student Experience team on the development of a new and improved generic website design and led its implementation within my Faculty. I also conducted usability testing to validate a standard organisation of the long and miscellaneous “Resources” pages on course websites, in which students were having difficulty locating important items.
Copy-editing and proofreading
The purpose of copy-editing, as I see it, is to make the author look good and to help them say what they want to say as effectively as possible. The main purpose of proofreading I believe to be transparency: that nothing should come in the way of the reader’s engagement with the text.
I have an eye for and an interest in linguistic and typographic detail. As Assistant Editor on the academic journal Studies in History and Philosophy of Science I was responsible for copy-editing and proofreading on behalf of the academic editors, and at Learning Materials Design I shared the copy-editing and proofreading of the company’s output with the rest of the editorial team.
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