A project team will normally have between three and six members with clearly-defined responsibilities. What follows is a description of six of the most common specialists that are found on e-learning project teams. The composition of project teams will vary from organization to organization and in some cases, responsibilities may be combined.
1. Subject-matter expert
The subject-matter expert is typically a faculty member with expertise in a particular academic discipline, topic, or field of practice. He or she serves as the course author and develops the content, helps to design learning activities and assessment strategies and brings his or her experience with the challenge of teaching the content. Ideally, the subject-matter expert also goes on to teach the course at least once after it is developed. In some distance education contexts, however, it is often the case that the original subject-matter expert is not available to teach the course, or it is designed to be taught by more than one instructor. The subject-matter expert, therefore, often plays the role as both author and instructor, or academic lead for a team of instructors.
2. Project Manager
The Project Manager’s primary role is to support the day-to-day details of the project through the planning, development and delivery stages. The Project Manager helps to define the project budget, negotiates a project schedule with the rest of the team, and pulls together the people who will be needed to develop the materials. The Project Manager is also responsible for tracking progress and the allocation of resources throughout the life of the project (which is most cases includes the period when a course is actually being delivered to students). The Project Manager is often also the Instructional Designer.
3. Instructional Designer
The Instructional Designer’s primary responsibility is to assist the subject-matter expert in developing high-quality, pedagogically sound learning materials. Instructional Designers typically have some background in an academic area, but are not necessarily experts in the subject area of the project, nor actively teaching. Instructional Designers work to help subject-matter experts gain a critical awareness of the relationship between course materials, activities and assignments, and evaluation methodologies. They also play a critical role in helping everyone on the project team to negotiate the impact of media and different modes of delivery on teaching and learning relationships.
4. Media Designers
Media Designers are professionals in the design of graphics, multimedia, video or whatever media are required to support a project. Such designers have extensive skills in using development tools and authoring environments to create media for use in print, television, the web, CD ROMs or DVDs. The type of designer needed for a project varies with the nature of the particular course and delivery context. For a course that will be developed for the web, it is quite common to have a graphic designer and multimedia designer involved. A media designer can play a very important role in helping both subject-matter experts and instructional designers to come up with creative approaches to use media to serve instructional ends. It is particularly productive to include such people in some of the early design conversations with subject-matter experts.
5. Web Developer
For projects that are to be delivered online, it is typical to include a web-developer on the team. A web developer has the necessary skills to convert project documents into HTML formats for publication, and may also have expertise in using tools within a learning management system like Web CT to support presentation of material, quizzes, and site management. While faculty members are increasingly capable of of handling their own web publishing, one of the principles of a project management approach is that the expensive time of a faculty member not be used for such purposes. Web developers may also play a role in assisting with learner support, as they are well-positioned to help learners who are having technical problems with the learning environments they have programmed. Depending upon the skill level of the web developer as well as the technical needs within different projects, it is possible that web developers will also fill programming functions as well by designing java script or database integration to support dynamic web-pages.
6. Learner Support
Learner support professionals are, ideally, also available within a project team, and may play a direct role in the development of orientation and support resources tailored to support e-learning in general. They may also be called upon to develop systems to support the delivery of courses where organizational resources are inadequate to meet the need. We will be looking more closely at learner support in the last topic of this unit, but at this point, it is enough to say that learner support crosses over many roles (including administrators and teachers) to ensure effective delivery of a course. Strategies to support learners must be considered as part of the discussion when a project is being developed so as to ensure that there is a successful implementation.
Defining Roles and Responsibilities
While the specific configuration of a project team will vary from institution to institution and, even, within and between different departments in a single institution, it is important for roles and responsibilities to be clearly defined at the start of a project. The description of roles as listed above are typically required for projects, especially more complex ones, though the particular functions may be combined in single people. Some institutions use dedicated Project Mangers while others combine the roles of Project Manager and Instructional Designer, for example.