Build Your Blog Academy (BYBA)
I designed an in-depth curriculum teaching digital publishing principles.
-Conducted surveys and ran feasibility and revenue models
-Mapped out course curriculum for digital publishers
-Scripted education modules
-Assisted in the development of a Learning Management System
Monumetric is a small start-up company that helps digital publishers, such as bloggers, expand their outreach and monetize their sites.
In 2015, Monumetric created a 50-course minimum viable product (MVP) training program to see if bloggers and web content builders would find this curriculum useful in helping them develop their sites. They did. Due to this success and after about 7 months of beta testing, I was asked to redesign and expand the scope of the Build Your Blog Academy (BYBA) project. I was given free reign to design a full-scale training curriculum to teach bloggers and new site owners how to increase their influence and content and provide them with strategies to do so.
To begin the project I conducted many surveys with those who had taken the MVP course as well as a large sampling of randomly chosen bloggers to discover what education they thought was valuable and how they preferred to learn.
The survey data I collected showed that there was interest in website development coursework among bloggers and digital publishers. I began running feasibility and revenue models to verify a market for this product. Since I did not have a business degree, this process was new to me and took time for me to learn. It also required enormous analytic thinking. Luckily, one of the company’s partners acted as part-time mentor to help me refine my focus and point out holes in my data and assumptions.
After proving the feasibility of the project, I was given a bare bones budget of $1,000 to develop the curriculum and build the first five courses. The owners of Monumetric wanted to fill a niche without trying to compete with learning sites like Lynda or Pluralsight.
I took the feedback generated from the surveys and started developing a new curriculum that ranged for basic site coding to graphic design to traffic acquisition. As I mapped out the courses, I invited several industry experts on coding, design, SEO and others to provide several layers of critique and scrutiny to make sure what I was planning was high quality and would remain relevant for 3 to 5 years in an ever-changing digital publishing landscape. I also enlisted web design and digital publishing specialists within our company to provide many rounds of critique and input to help me design a look and feel that would engage learners.
While I maintained the overall creative head, working with these experts opened my mind to new ideas and directions. This led me to include user engagement and simplicity in the design and flow of the program.
Based on what I was learning through this process and in consultation with company managers, I planned to meet the needs of bloggers and other digital publishers by expanding our course selection from 50 self-contained lessons to over 350. The significant expansion of the curriculum was intended to touch on various aspects of web development requested by digital publishers.
As the scale of this project grew, our company decided to invest in its own equipment and resources to produce the courses in-house.
This led to my researching how to design a recording studio on a tiny budget. I spent many hours researching what a good studio needed and constantly reached out to audio engineers and video experts to help me design a quality studio within a bootstrapping budget.
I began to purchase our own studio equipment and build our recording room, retrofitting a very small, echoing office.
Scripting each lesson was the most demanding work for me. I collaborated with a young broadcaster new to our company. He was my sounding board, helping me develop the lessons into engaging material that individuals would find valuable.
The most difficult challenge was to use principles to teach specific courses without featuring ideas or methodologies that would be out-of-date within six months. The plan included ongoing podcasts that would feature cutting-edge ideas to keep all of the content fresh
In addition, some coursework such as on data analysis requires creativity to make it interesting and understandable to those new to the industry. To overcome this obstacle, I worked with our developers to build a platform that would allow users to learn the information in a variety of ways.
Learning Management System (LMS)
It was difficult to find an LMS platform with a simple user interface that would handle a high quantity of learners at a fair price. My experience the National Nutrition Certification Program (NNCP) helped but the scale of this project was much bigger because of its subscription model.
We discovered it would be easier and less expensive to build our own LMS. I began working with our developers to create the product to support our needs.
The Project Ends
After I had fully scripted 10 lessons, had a video storyboard approved, and found voice actors, Monumetric’s business partners decided to rethink their business strategy. While they were happy with my design and the courses themselves, they had other business concerns that facilitated the shift of resources away from my project to building and researching new advertisement technologies development, the core competency of our company.
Although my project was not taken to completion, it was a great learning experience for me. I had learned how to run feasibility and revenue models, how to build a large curriculum base, and how to design a recording studio. I also learned the value of creating a larger team at the outset of such a large-scale product. While I could consult with experts and specialists when questions arose, I was spread thin. Creativity and design are greatly benefited by the synergism created by including several individuals on a project who can consult together, divide the work, and receive consistent feedback from experts and end users.
This experience was also a good lesson in living with economic realities. A design may be excellent, but excellent design does not always lead to sufficient revenue if demand is not high enough.
Create an Active Lifestyle (CAL)
I helped design a physical fitness curriculum, Create An Active Lifestyle, for food stamp recipients.
I completed 80 to 85 percent of the curriculum, including graphics, text, and handouts before leaving the project upon my graduation from Utah State University. At that time the project was handed off to a team who subsequently revised and then published my work as a book and eBook.
Many food stamps recipients do not know how to stay physically fit. In addition, they lack money for exercise equipment or a gym membership. I was tasked to develop a physical fitness curriculum for Food$ense educators to help them teach food stamp recipients ways to become physically fit and active without adding any financial burden to them or their families (for instance, having a gym membership, hiring a personal trainer, buying sports equipment, and so forth). The goal was design a creative and intuitive training program that was easy for anyone to follow or teach.
I was interested in doing this project because I believed helping people learn how to be physically fit would improve the quality of their lives. I also enjoyed the challenge of finding a way to teach exercise principles simply and clearly.
Since I was a certified physical trainer, I was well versed in the principles of exercise science. I read other physical exercise curriculums to see others’ designs and methods and to analyze how they could be adapted to meet the needs of people who could not afford exercise equipment.
Designing a curriculum to help non-professional, volunteer educators understand and teach the components of physical activity and fitness (despite their having little to no previous exposure to the principles of exercise science) was the most difficult aspect of the project for me. How could I present the material in a way that could be easily understood and taught?
Trying to put myself in their shoes, I wrote, organized, and compiled most of the material. This project was the second curriculum program I worked on. However, I found it to be just as rigorous, requiring multiple iterations and consultation with exercise science professors and students so that the manual could facilitate a quality education. Their feedback helped me to simplify the concepts and make the manual easy to use.
I worked with the graphic and marketing designers to develop the artwork and design the organization for the material. While most of the ideas were mine, their insight and assistance in designing the flow of information and final composition of the book increased the professional look and feel of the product.
The design and content reviews with professors and the marketing team constituted the longest part of the project. These iterations improved the content and clarity of the curriculum but, more importantly to me, taught me that creativity requires review and improvement to truly make a polished product that is easy to use and valuable for the intended user group.
National Nutrition Certification Program (NNCP)
I led a team of two to design and develop the National Nutrition Certification Program (NNCP), which is a standardized and sustainable FDA certification program for current and future teachers of Food$ense curriculum.
My teammate moved just two weeks after the project began, so the majority of the work fell to me.
-Conducted 75 percent of the research
-Wrote 90 percent of the curriculum, including instruction, quizzes, and so forth
-Designed and organized curriculum with the LMS
Overview and Purpose
Food$ense is a nutrition program sponsored by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) in partnership with Utah State University’s Extension Program. Under the auspices of Food$ense, I was tasked to lead a team of two to design and develop a standardized and sustainable certification program for current and future instructors of Food$ense nutrition curriculum. This program was to replace an antiquated and high-maintenance education module that no longer met the needs of educators or the FDA; it relied primarily on one-to-one mentoring, had no ability to track user participation, and thus could not ensure or certify that instructors were qualified to teach. This certification was important because many of the teachers had never taken nutrition or, if they had, did not know the standards required by the Food Stamps program.
In addition to creating a standardized, high-quality curriculum and creating a means to credibly certify instructors, our program needed to be user friendly and automated, requiring few if any maintenance or support resources.
This project had nationwide implications since Food$ense curriculum is taught in Utah and the majority of the states. In 2015, just one year after we finished our project, there were over 1,000 certified participants in over 40 states. (USU Extension—Food$ense) In Utah, this curriculum is used by certified teachers in the community who teach nutrition classes to food stamp recipients, who often lack basic nutrition education and cooking skills. (Note: The program title Food$ense is used for Utah curriculum; other states often select their own titles even though the curriculum is nearly identical.)
The first step was to develop and design an intensive nutrition curriculum that included topics ranging from biochemistry, nutrition, and biology to cooking techniques and principles that showed instructors how to teach. This step took a lot of critical thinking and an ability to strip down the huge topic of nutrition into its simple and essential components. Much of the curriculum was remodeled, expanded, and updated from the prior curriculum, taking into account current nutrition research. The final product significantly increased the depth and breadth of knowledge available to instructors seeking certification.
After the initial development of the curriculum, I had it reviewed by several professors and dieticians. Drawing upon their keen intellect and knowledge, I was able (through many iterations) to shorten sections of the content while simultaneously adding new topics. My goal was to focus on the essential knowledge that volunteer teachers would need to know when instructing others.
While developing the curriculum I researched learning management systems (LMS), and selected Canvas as our LMS because it could be automated, was interactive, and was easy to use. I liked this platform because the courses could be laid out in a progression and be self-sustainable, with certificates of completion and graduation automatically generated and awarded when participants completed the curriculum and passed the examinations.
According to an email I received from current program directors, as of June 2016, there were nearly 1,600 NNCP graduates. Other states and organizations use this curriculum for their own certifications because they like the quality and completeness of the training. Participants and education directors are pleased with the program, which takes approximately 40 hours to complete.
I enjoyed this project because I had the freedom to design the curriculum, experience the iterative process, and create something that could make an positive impact on nutrition educators and, through them, food stamp recipients.
I worked on a team that provided conflict-resolution consultation to ADORNit, a small craft supply company. We designed a presentation and curriculum to help employees and managers learn conflict-resolution principles and how to put them into practice.
-Research conflict communication principles
-Craft interview questions
-Conduct seven interviews
-Analyze the research and data collected from employees
-Design visual elements for the presentation to ADORNit
ADORNit is a manufacturer of paper crafts, wood décor, and quilting fabric as well as a distributor of unique boutique style items. This design company was founded in 2009 and experienced rapid growth, accompanied with growing pains. The owners wanted a consultation on how to resolve interpersonal conflict. Their goal was to increase employee satisfaction and improve interpersonal communication; they especially wanted to resolve the discord among their employees and managers.
My work for ADORNit was an opportunity to participate in real-world consulting for a local company. I collaborated with a small team of six students who volunteered to tackle this project. Our purpose was to provide conflict-resolution consultation to the company and all 17 of its employees. Due to the confidentiality of the work, I am not able to provide details but have provided highlights.
Research and Preparation
My team and I spent a month researching the theories and principles of conflict communication, a branch of study in the communications field. This research provided the foundation and understanding necessary to consult ADORNit.
My team and I had several discussions with the business owners, trying to ascertain the communication issues ADORNit faced. I, along with one other teammate, crafted the employee interview questions based upon our understanding of those issues. We designed the questions to elicit honest, clear, and valuable feedback from the interviewees. The questions were designed to be open-ended so that individuals could answer in the way that felt comfortable to them. To provide consistency across interviews, we asked the same exact questions to each participant; this helped eliminate bias and inconsistency. We designed the last question to allow interviewees to talk about any hesitations or thoughts they may have had.
Our team conducted 17 interviews. Each of the 17 employees were interviewed individually and away from their work place. I conducted 7 interviews. The purpose of the interviews was to help us understand the difficulties each person faced and obtain their perspectives about what was and was not working within the company.
Analysis and Review
After transcribing the interviews and codifying them, we found six clear themes interwoven throughout the managers’ and employees’ comments. These themes provided a focused direction for our continued research and analysis of the situation during the review process.
Each team member conducted research to better understand how communication principles could address the themes identified from the interviews. In my research, I discussed the themes with professors and experts in the conflict communication field and studied current research. Uncovering the pertinent communication principles took hours and consistent iterations.
After assimilating data and personal research, each team member presented their findings to the team. We critiqued and refined the findings in preparation for the final consultation.
Designing Curriculum and the final consultation
After ascertaining ADORNit’s communication needs, we began our comprehensive creative process. We designed an engaging presentation of our findings and solutions. Our curriculum provided insight to our clients and outlined actions that they could begin immediately.
Our team sought to make the research clean, simple, and engaging for all participants. We designed curriculum to assist our clients in understanding the research, the communication principles, and the actions they could take. The components included the following:
· Personalized book. Our team designed and printed a book that boiled down our findings and recommendations into simple points. The book design incorporated styling elements similar to styles used by the company so that it would feel familiar and welcoming to them.
· Interactive quizzes, games, and learning modules. While we designed the learning modules as a team, I designed the quizzes and games myself, providing them in both hardcopy and digital formats. They were constructed to engage our clients and teach them communication principles that would enable them to resolve their conflicts and move forward with improved skills. These games were personalized, featuring conflict scenarios commonly encountered among the people in ADORNit.
· Visuals. I also designed a Prezi presentation, which we used as the roadmap for the presentation and subsequent discussion with ADORNit employees. You can view it HERE. To help us teach communication principles and illustrate our points, our team used object lessons.
As we developed the curriculum, we sought out reviews and critiques from professors and communication experts on our work. Their feedback led to many iterations of the curriculum and presentation content. This back-and-forth evaluation was among the most valuable portions of the project. Incorporating the feedback allowed us to clarify and refine our thoughts, improve the content, and clarify the message for our clients, making the solutions relevant and immediately applicable with actionable items.
After two months of preparation, we presented the curriculum and our findings to the entire company—owners, management, and staff. Our presentation included ample time for questions and discussion. The proposal was well received by ADORNit, and they began making goals for improvement, which led to the changes they had sought.
My consulting opportunity taught me the importance of thought design when consulting individuals or companies on intangibles such as interpersonal conflict communication. I experienced how the design of thought, the way of expressing and sharing your knowledge with others, is just as important as the design of objects or things.
The creativity needed to take a typically dull research report and develop it into an entertaining game was the most exciting part of the project, because it facilitated a higher level of engagement and learning.
This was one of the most fulfilling projects I have ever participated in because I helped ADORNit improve the design and interaction of their teams by using communication principles and engaging technologies.
Angry Birds: This Little Piggy Went to Market
I evaluated and deconstructed the visual rhetorical elements of Angry Birds.
I planned, implemented, and completed all aspects of this project.
This little piggy went to market
I was challenged to evaluate and deconstruct the visual rhetorical elements of the popular mobile game Angry Birds. I focused on the rhetorical tools of amplification through simplification, representation, condensation, and displacement. The purpose of the project was to encourage me to uncover underlying visual messages or themes at play throughout the work, specifically using color, design and layout.
Before evaluating Angry Birds I read visual and design theory from visual rhetoric experts as well as academic research regarding the psychological effects of color, images, and design on the human mind. Readings included works by Bang, Schill, Struken and Cartwright. I was looking for the social and individual impact the Angry Birds visual design had on those who played the game.
Next, I listed all the archetypal visual attributes found within the game’s images. I did this to gain a grasp of what archetypes were present and to understand how they worked together to influence a player’s self-identification and ideologies. After listing the archetypes and these found throughout the game, I compared my list to the breadth of research to see how my analysis aligned with known and proven theories.
After making my observations I engaged a small test group and asked them to play the game and tell me what they felt when they viewed or interacted with the Angry Bird images and various stylistic designs such as color, geometry, gameplay, and layout.
As I evaluated these design elements I discovered how the game’s design (color, style, archetypes) reinforce how most Americans identify themselves: strong, forceful, and able to beat an evil enemy. The analytical thinking required for the visual analysis of the Angry Birds helped me discover patterns in which we, as Americans, relate to the world.
The process of deconstructing the visual elements of the Angry Birds game made me more aware of my surroundings and how subtly or blatantly design can influence thought, ideas, perceptions, and attitudes.
Feel free to read the paper I wrote about this project, by following this link. A selected bibliography of my readings is included in the paper.
**Images included on this page were screenshots from the game while I played. All Copyrights belong to Rovio Entertainment.
True Blue Pledge
I developed a financial donation program for undergraduate students.
- Interviewed 6 people
- Facilitated 3 focus group meetings
- Analyzed research findings with the USU SAA board.
- Assisted the SAA board in our presentation to the USU Advancement Board.
- Spearheaded, along with one other team member, the development of marketing content, including working with graphic and video designers.
- Interfaced with the USU Admissions Office and the USU Advancement Board to give them the information and resources they needed to help us promote the program.
Research, Analysis, and Reporting
Our SAA board spent three months researching and deliberating reasons why students felt they couldn’t give financially. We sent online surveys to two-thirds of the undergraduate population and received nearly a thousand responses. We conducted a few interviews and held a dozen focus group meetings with students from a variety of backgrounds to discuss the idea of giving back to USU. We discussed when they felt they could contribute financially, why they would want to do so, where they would want their donations to go, and so forth. Our process helped us gain a more complete understanding of the students’ attitudes and desires revealing the gaps in their perceptions.
After analyzing the survey data, interview transcriptions, and meeting notes, we learned that students were reluctant to give because they were poor, didn’t think giving back was important, or had an “I’ll give when I’m older” mentality. In addition, we learned that most students didn’t understand the full cost of their education; they did not realize that the tuition and fees they paid was insufficient to cover all that was required to facilitate their university experience. They did not know the crucial role past donations had played in covering the cost of their own education.
We then shared and discussed our findings with the USU Advancement Board, an administrative board that included the university president, vice presidents, and various student support organizations, and received approval to move forward with the design and implementation of a new donation program.
Our team designed a give-back program for undergraduates and called it the True Blue Pledge, echoing other “True Blue” slogans used throughout campus. We designed it to resolve students’ concerns about giving and to give them the freedom to decide how their donations would be used and by whom. Students could donate to Aggies Helping Aggies (a scholarship program), a class gift, or to a variety of USU programs or organizations.
We developed the True Blue Pledge through many rounds of evaluation and iteration. Each iteration revealed holes or missing factors that were vital to the program’s success. For instance, in one of our first iterations we missed the boat on making the donation system mobile friendly. In another iteration, we realized that while our visuals were important in attracting viewers and users, they were ineffective when content and purpose were not clear.
One board member and I worked with graphic and video designers to develop marketing content and strategy. Marketing tools included physical posters along with digital ads and videos, which were posted on digital marques on the main and satellite campuses and online, including USU websites, Facebook pages, and Instagram accounts. Below are the campaign videos, one of the posters, and the donation form. (Please note: At the time, the links embedded in the videos sent users to the online donation form; currently, the destination has been changed from the original.)
-Above is 1 of the 5 different lawn signs that were around campus.
After all the marketing resources were developed and produced, our board worked with USU administration and various student groups to spread the message about the True Blue Pledge. We sought support from student organizations, USU recruitment personal, and university staff to have a unified launch of this program across the entire university population. My assignment was interfacing with the USU Admissions Office and the USU Advancement Board to give them the information and resources they needed to help us promote the program.
While our board was running the program (from mid-2013 through April 2014), we raised over $280,000 in 9 months from over 7,200 undergraduates. This was an incredible 120 percent increase over the donations from the previous 2 years. The program is still running and finding much success.
Throughout the process I gained insight into how design isn’t a one-step solution but takes time, research, and continual tweaking until the final product is the correct fit. In the end I felt that taking the needed months to organize and design the True Blue Pledge led to a program that was subsequently supported by administrators, students, and staff.
I learned that simplifying the giving process, educating students about the need, and providing a strong sense of purpose among students regarding the importance of giving back to the Utah State University provided significant returns.
As a result of our design and marketing process, the end product was even better and more successful than what I had in mind when we began.
I conducted research into 16 different industries to discover whether the ability to lead is innate or if it can be learned.
-Co-conducted preliminary research to obtain current views and research in the field of leadership study
-Invited over 50 of the 96 industry leaders or experts to participate in the study
-Developed all the survey questions to align with current research methods
-Interviewed 43 leaders or experts
After completing a Leadership and Communications course at USU, I wanted to discover whether the ability to lead is innate or if it can be learned. A fellow student had the same interest, and we collaborated on this research project. All of our work was done on our own time and was reviewed by a mentoring professor.
In our research we sought the perspectives of 96 corporate leaders or their designated experts from around the world. Sixteen different industries were represented in our sample: healthcare (medical doctors and nurses), finance, construction, auto mechanics, service (heating and cooling, Uber, and others), advertising, military (U.S. Marines), economics, primary and secondary educational systems, higher education (universities), sales, engineering, crafting, insurance, business strategy, and retail.
We wanted to gain insights into what industry experts thought about leadership. Did they believe leadership could be taught and, if so, how?
Before beginning the project our mentoring professor challenged us to read published works on the leadership research and write a paper about what we learned. This gave us the knowledge base to effectively design and conduct the research. It also provided me with a framework wherein I could add my own creativity and insight once we had analyzed the research findings.
Before my peer joined me on the project, I developed a set of 14 questions, based on current research methods, to ask the participants. Crafting these questions required review and feedback from my mentoring professor and approval by the Internal Review Board (IRB) who also monitored the questions and research as a whole. These questions were refined further to improve clarity after we had conducted our first three or four interviews.
We sought a wide sampling of leaders and experts, and so we reached out to nearly 100 individuals, with nearly all of them agreeing to participate in our study. As noted above, we interviewed 96 leaders or experts from 16 different industries.
Of those interviewed, half held chief board positions (CEO, CMO, and so forth) and the other half were individuals who had been in the field for more than 15 years and were considered leaders by their peers.
My partner and I individually conducted one-on-one interviews, using the questions I had developed. Interviews were conducted in person wherever possible; only a handful were handled over the phone or via Skype. I interviewed 43 of our participants. The question and answer portion of the interviews lasted 40 to 60 minutes. If a leader or expert believed that leadership could be taught, we asked them how it could be taught in a manner that would prepare undergraduates for the workplace. Afterward, time was allowed for interviewees to share any additional thoughts or insights they had on the subject.
After transcribing the recorded interviews we codified our findings, organizing them by topics and themes, and began our evaluation. Analyzing stacks of data from nearly 100 experts required a deep level of analytical thinking and creativity to piece the messages and ideas together to form cohesive and relevant findings.
We discovered that those leaders and experts who had business degrees overwhelmingly believed that leadership cannot be taught or learned; leadership skills are an innate part of personality.
However, those with all other educational backgrounds believed that leadership is a skill that can be learned and developed. Some suggested that it could be learned through coursework, mentoring, and experience. They proposed developing leadership curriculum in the universities, creating team learning modules, and providing mentoring experiences for students.
Our research laid a foundation for future investigation into ways leadership can be integrated into undergraduate and graduate curriculums. Even with so much research, it was just the first step into determining how to teach it to students. Much more research remains to be done.
Currently, this research project is on pause. We hope to complete and publish our research in the future.
I learned that original research on such a broad topic takes much longer than I had anticipated. I also learned the importance of listening to a large variety of insights and viewpoints.