Oct 9 2014

The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland: Innovative pedagogies and living the dream

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Sometimes, as we navigate the perilous waters of higher education reform and renewal we get sidetracked into debates about detail.  How do we define open? What do the letters in the MOOC acronym really mean? Which systems help us replicate the practices we have entrenched in our teaching rooms?  Despite our best intentions, these sidetracks can sometimes come across as a case of technology leading the debate ahead of pedagogy.  Arguably, this can be rationalised to some extent by the fact that as a sector we have often struggled with and sometimes openly resisted the debates surrounding innovative pedagogies.   This is not to say there has not been a debate in some quarters (and not just amongst the beltway) but I would not feel afraid to say that in most institutions the forms of teaching and learning that were in place decades (centuries?) ago remain dominant and defended or excused in a variety of ways.


The clear intention of the e-Learning and Innovative Pedagogies Conference, held at Pacific University in Oregon was to engage in a process of sharing and significant debate amongst practitioners around these very issues.  With participants from all corners of the globe (Australia, Middle East, US, UK, Asia, Europe, Africa and South America) the discussions were incredibly robust and engaged.  Finding a narrative for HE and for the LSE through this was challenging and rewarding pursuit.  Representing schools, FE, vendors, private trainers and teaching/research intensive universities, the delegates shared experiences, small and large shaped by their own unique engagements with the sector.


Inspired by the work based learning (through assessment rather than recognition) experiments of the University of Wisconsin the theme of flexibility kept reoccurring.  Their programme (called UW flex) allowed people with significant work experience to complete courses using a combination of online competency based resources and rigorous assessment at an accelerated self-pace with flexible entry points, recognising the learning that comes from experience (very similar to the WBL model of Middlesex University).  For me, this idea of flexibility, whether it be in the idea of an empty room, devoid of rows (or square walls), or in the way in which the VLE can be reinterpreted as a tool of interaction not delivery or administration, is critical to our understanding of what can constitute a new pedagogy for the post-digital age.


How much will we let 21st tools shape the way we teach?   These tools have already shaped society (although interestingly this was a twitter free conference).  It was argued in a number of forums that pedagogy must dictate the use of technology.  I have espoused this very line more times than I can remember. However, what happens when the pedagogy won’t bend?  What happens when learning, interaction and engagement don’t fit the way we want to structure teaching and assessment?  This was a significant challenge faced by a number of people at the conference.  Delivering business education in China where many sites are blocked, arts education in Japan (where students are more engaged in their mobiles than their interaction with staff) or trying to teach advertising in Southern California where all the key industry players are in New York present challenges to the way we construct and execute our pedagogy.


I presented a paper based on this blog post which argued that there are a number of disconnects that demand a debate about what constitutes a pedagogy for the post digital age.  These included the way learners identify, acquire and verify knowledge, the way we prepare them to ask the right questions (as opposed to requiring the right answers) and the impact of the increasing variety of spaces that catalyze and fertilise learning (that are located outside the lecture space).   In the light of this paper, and my engagement with the others that I saw over the two days (including two very practical keynotes from within the Pacific University faculty), I kept coming back to flexibility.  Learners will want to engage with our institutions in a variety of ways, requiring us to have both macro approaches to learning informed by modes of agile micro flexibility.  What might this look like at scale? That is the challenge for higher education in this post digital age.  Certainly, some of the more entrepreneurial providers have started to apply a start-up approach to these problems, fracturing the educational offering, tailoring it specific industry contexts and providing it in manageable and viable chunks (once again, the UW Flex model represents one possible future).


In summary, it shouldn’t take a conference for these debates to be seeded.  They should be happening in lunchrooms, staff meetings, student committees and conversations.  They should be central to the way we all talk about teaching and learning.  The greatest outcome this conference could have hoped for was the challenging of established orthodoxy…technology and pedagogy are instruments of change, they are not always sequential and they are not always scaffolded into each other.


Posted by: Posted on by Peter Bryant

Oct 8 2014

Questions for clickers

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At LSE we use the voting system called Turning Point so I went along to the 2014 Turning Point conference in Manchester to find out what other institutions are getting up to with voting technology.

Peer instruction

The keynote speaker was Dr Eric Mazur, Professor of physics at Harvard University.
Unsurprisingly as the developer of peer instruction teaching he was a very engaging lecturer and soon had everyone in the room animatedly discussing physics concepts.  Dr Mazur demonstrated how PRS can be an effective way to get people engaged and excited about learning.  Rather than simply being quizzed students are required to discuss and explain their answers with each other before the question is re-polled.  This builds in time for learners to reflect on the concepts in the lecture and if you frame your questions right, the ability to transfer knowledge from one context to another.  Data from Dr Mazur’s lectures indicates that students are better at learning from each other and even those that originally have the incorrect answer often clarify their thinking when articulating it to others.

Flipping roles – student sourcing questions and answers

One of the most important aspects of using voting in teaching is coming up with good questions.
Dr Simon Lancaster Professor at UEA argued that concept based and challenging questions are essential to get students to invest in the voting process and his talk demonstrated that questions that divide participants and invite debate get the most responses. He urged lecturers to ‘flip roles’ and source the clicker questions and possible answers from students themselves. In addition to asking your own students to suggest questions he recommended ‘PeerWise’ as a free online resource: http://www.peerwise-community.org/

Asking questions in qualitative subjects

A range of ‘PechaKucha’ style presentations by humanities lecturers at University of Manchester gave several examples of academics who are using voting technology even when there isn’t always a ‘right answer’. They found that voting activities helped them to:

See the video with examples from lecturers here: http://www.humanities.manchester.ac.uk/tandl/resources/resource.php?id=88

Team based learning using clickers & scratch-cards

The final session discussed ‘team based learning’ (TBL) that is going on in the University of Bradford. Much like flipping, they have attempted to move the subject knowledge out of the classroom so that contact time can be used to work on problem solving using the course content. They use a purpose built room and rather than lectures or seminars they have one session which is divided into three parts:

Individual preparation + team discussion + class discussion

Self testing using clickers

Students are set preparatory material to review ahead of the class. Students use the clickers to carry out individual tests at their own pace which make sure that they have done the preparation. The advantage of using the clickers is:

  • The results are linked up directly to the VLE so teachers can view the responses as they are submitted and work on feedback on common problems while the students are working on the next task.
  • Students can access their marks and the correct answers almost instantly after the class.
  • It is self-paced so students with learning difficulties can take as long as they want on each question and so far has eliminated the need to make individual arrangements.
  • It minimizes cheating as students sit different versions of the test paper.
  • It encourages students to complete the preparation before class. N.B. These individual scores are summative so marks are all recorded on the VLE and used to calculate the final mark.

Team discussion

  • Students work in groups to discuss the questions and reach a consensus on the solutions – using scratch cards to check their answers and calculate their teams score.
  • N.B Teams have 24 hours to submit an appeal to any question if they believe the content is wrong or the question is poor.
  • The teacher then goes over concepts that were not well understood using the results from the individual testing.

In class activities

  • Teams use the knowledge from the first two exercises to work on significant problems.
  • Every team works on the same activity and then reports back to the whole group with the reasoning for their choice enabling instructor facilitated discussion. ‘Often in justifying their choice , or arguing with a team that selected a different answer, teams achieve deep learning of the concepts in the initial reading and enhanced their ability to apply that knowledge to a problem’.

If you are interested in using voting technology in your classes or lectures please see our website for more details or contact lti.support@lse.ac.uk.

Posted by: Posted on by Geraldine Foley Tagged with: , , , ,

Oct 6 2014

Students and technology – what they use and would like to use


With the freebie and alcohol fuelled excitement and chaos of fresher’s week behind us, LSE’s new students have (hopefully excitedly, potentially groggily) started their first full week.

For many students, studying at LSE will be nothing like any educational experience they have ever encountered. With different uses of technology in further education and other higher education institutions, we were interested in finding out which technologies students already used in their learning, and which technologies they would like to use in their learning at LSE.

So on our stand at Orientation week, we asked students to write down just that. We used the term technology flexibly, and allowed students to come up with their own definition of what technology meant to them.

Here’s how they responded:

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Posted by: Posted on by Arun Karnad

Sep 29 2014

Supporting researchers with information literacy: Czech good practice

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I’ve just attended an Information Literacy seminar held at Charles University in Prague, (founded in 1348, so around 500 years older than LSE) although the meeting was at the more modern Faculty of Social Sciences. I was invited to give the keynote which opened the seminar and to speak about the support for research students we offer in LTI, working with colleagues in LSE Library. The IVIG seminar, which is an information literacy seminar, was organized by the Association of Libraries of Czech Universities, Institute of Information Studies and Librarianship of the Charles University in Prague, and SPRIG Civic Association. I have made my presentation available on Slideshare.

The programme was really interesting and it isn’t that often you get to meet over 60 Czech academic librarians. The group arranged for an interpreter to help me out, as the entire day was (unsurprisingly) in Czech. I had been invited following meeting Hana Landová, Lenka Bělohoubková and Ludmila Ticha last year at the ECIL conference in Istanbul. Their information literacy group has made great progress furthering good practice in the Czech Republic and the seminars they organize are very popular.

The focus of the seminar was supporting PhD students and early career researchers and there were presentations from a wide range of universities. Overall I found the issues they were discussing were very similar to those we experience in the UK, such as how to promote workshops to PhD students and also how to evaluate their effectiveness. The sessions being offered by Czech librarians were quite similar to those we run in LTI and LSE Library: literature searching, managing references, citation analysis, copyright issues. A couple of differences I noticed were several people talked about offering courses to PhD students on the publication process and on writing an academic (or scientific) paper. Courses on the writing process are run by LSE’s Teaching and Learning Centre, but combining this with issues of open access and identifying high impact journals in your field could be really interesting. Petra Dědičová from Brno, University of Technology was one speaker who had a particularly impressive programme of support for PhD students, with a complimentary Moodle course. However, I was also impressed with the use of BYOD (bring your own device) in workshops for PhD students described by Kristýna Paulová from the Czech University of Life Sciences, Prague. They reported no technical problems and this seemed like an excellent idea for a BYOD pilot with LSE students. You can read a longer post about the seminar on my own blog, but I’d like to thank the group for inviting me to Prague for a fascinating event to a beautiful city.

Posted by: Posted on by Jane Secker

Sep 22 2014

Neurodiversity and lecture capture – the student voice

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Last November, Steve Bond and I released the findings of the Neurodiversity and Lecture Capture report, where we surveyed 124 LSE students at all levels to find out their experiences with lecture capture and lecture recordings. To get more insight into the issues raised in the survey, we decided to run focus groups in March with undergraduate and postgraduate students who identified themselves as neurodiverse. Four students participated; two postgraduate (Student A and Student B) and two undergraduate (Student C and Student D). Here’s what they had to say.

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Posted by: Posted on by Arun Karnad Tagged with: , ,

Sep 15 2014

E-assessment Scotland 2014

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On 5 September I attended this one-day event at the University of Dundee, billed as the UK’s “largest conference dedicated to exploring the best examples of e-assessment in the world today”. LSE has an growing interest in e-assessment (which we might define as the use of IT to facilitate assessment processes), with various pilot projects on the go this year.

Total e-assessment

With that in mind, one presentation in Dundee proved a real eye-opener for me. Linda Morris, an academic in University of Dundee’s College of Life Sciences, told us that by 2015 the College will have moved to the point where all assessment, across all 4 years and including final exams, will be done online. Furthermore, this marks the end point of a journey which started a long time ago – in fact they already were using e-assessment for all 1st-year courses by 2003! I felt more than a little embarrassed, to be honest.

The drivers for this change were simple: More students, asking for more feedback, and fewer staff. The paper-based assessment regime was becoming completely unmanageable. A fully-online system means no paper, remote access for markers, progress tracking, and easy distribution of feedback. It is also popular with students, many of whom have fallen out of the habit of writing at length by hand (and whose writing may be barely legible as a result).

Dundee’s system uses a combination of Exam Online for essay questions and QuestionMark Perception for other question types. This system supports all the forms of submission they need, as well as all their marking requirements: blind marking, multiple markers, inline comments, and marking workflow.

Do people like it? Yes. Linda says “once you start down the road of e-assessment, you won’t get anyone to go back”.


Various vendors were on hand to promote their wares: Surpass, Cirrus, QuestionMark and MyProgress, amongst others. However, I found it hard to see what, if anything, these tools would offer us that Moodle does not already provide. In fact, in some cases the feature set seemed much thinner than that of the Moodle quiz tool.


Peter Reed of the University of Liverpool started the day by identifying institutional problems with the introduction of e-assessment. Such a move is often done in a piecemeal manner, perhaps in response to NSS scores, and as a result fails to be transformational. He also pointed to a lack of flexibility in submission practices, which may assume that all submissions are documents, and prevent students from submitting other digital artefacts.

In thinking about e-assessment at the institutional level, he encouraged us to apply Brookfield’s “4 Lenses”. This theory proposes that any teaching and learning activity should be evaluated from four different perspectives: self-reflection, students, literature (i.e. theory and evidence) and peers (i.e. staff).

For example, through the student lens, we should think about the week-on-week burden of assessment. An assessment won’t be an effective measure of student achievement if that student has 3 other, more pressing assessments, in that same week. This can be countered by spreading out the assessment load: instead of a single high-stakes assessments at the end of module, spread out lower-stakes assessments through the term. Similarly, through the peer lens, we need to think about assessment load across different programmes and different years. Where there are multiple assessments from different sources in the same week, administrative staff or markers may be unable to cope.

In the other keynote, Mark Glynn of Dublin City University spoke about “assessment analytics”, proposing that the “click data” that VLEs typically provide are of limited value, and that assessment data is what will provide really the useful analytics. Such analytics may be Descriptive (what happened), Diagnostic (why it happened), Predictive (what’s gonna happen) or Prescriptive (what should happen).

I had a problem with one of his ideas for such analytics: to show students how they had performed in relation to their peers. This would be beneficial to the student, he claimed, because they could tell whether 75% was “good” in the context of the overall marking on their assessment. I found this rather depressing; 75% should mean “good”, regardless of how the other students performed. If it does not, then it means we do not know how to mark properly: the percentage grades we assign have no inherent meaning, and assessment becomes simply a process of sorting students into order of achievement, rather than determining how well they have achieved the objectives of the course. The use of technology to patch up these failures of assessment is not exactly inspiring.


This was a worthwhile conference, with some valuable insights into what other institutions are doing in this area. The day conference was followed by a longer online programme, which is ongoing at the time of writing.


Posted by: Posted on by Steve Bond Tagged with: , ,

Sep 8 2014

Open educational practices benefit us all

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On Thursday, I attended the FOSTER Discovering Open Practices event jointly organised by the libraries at LSE, King’s College London (KCL) and Queen Mary’s College, London (QMUL). The event aimed at promoting open access and open academic practices to early career researchers. It was an eye-opening experience, which showed me how current publication practices affect early career researchers desperate to make their mark in academia.

I was particularly struck by Joe McArthur’s (@mcarthur_joe) presentation. Joe is the Assistant Director for from the Right to Research Coalition, and having recently graduated from UCL, had the frustration of not having access to research fresh in his mind. He  talked about how publishing firms behind prestigious journals often force researchers to hand over the copyright for years of hard work, (80% of which is publicly funded), only to restrict access through paywalls leading to profit margins for Springer and Elsevier which even the likes of Microsoft and Google would be envious of. And the costs seem to keep going up. Joe mentioned that costs have gone up 400% in the last 20 to 30 years, and the average subscription for a health science journal is now $1482 a year. Researchers are not only restricted from accessing vital research but sometimes also forced to turn to illegal file sharing to be able to complete their own research, with possible legal consequences for the researcher.

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Posted by: Posted on by Arun Karnad

Sep 1 2014

Students and smartphones: it’s too late to lead the horse to water, but you can certainly make it learn

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Recently, an article by Tosell et al (2014) titled You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them learn: Smartphone use in higher education has stirred some debate on the topic in email lists and forums in the learning technology world. After giving 24 students iPhones and monitoring their activities using an in-built app and two surveys taken a year apart. The authors found that students felt their iPhones were an unwelcome distraction, contrary to students’ initial belief that smartphones would help in their learning a year later.

The knee-jerk reaction to this finding would be to ban smartphones and devices from the lecture hall and classroom. But with 92% of students reporting to own such a device in our 2013 student survey, that may not be feasible. It’s too late to stop the horse from bolting, and smart devices in lecture theatres and classrooms are here to stay.

Student using her Blackberry mobile phone

92% of students in our 2013 student survey reported owning a smartphone in 2013. Smart devices in the classroom are here to stay. Image copyright: ©2011 LSE/Nigel Stead, all rights reserved.

Banning smart devices from the lecture hall is also not the conclusion Tosell et al come to. The paper itself is a nuanced, well written article, with interesting methods of measurement (albeit with quite a small sample of students without a control group, which the authors do caveat).

What the authors have highlighted, is that providing smart devices to students in an unstructured way and simply expecting students to use these devices for their learning won’t lead to better learning outcomes, and could even be detrimental to learning. This doesn’t seem too surprising, considering Margaryan et al (2011) suggested that even “digital natives” (a contentious term in it’s own right), “…have a limited understanding of how technology may support their learning”. Indeed, White et al (2012) point out that many students gain digital literacy skills, which include using smart devices for learning, through trial and error, without the support of the institution.

Of course, students may not even want to use smartphones for their university work. The authors found that 90% of the apps installed on the iPhones given to students had nothing to do with their courses, and 65% of apps launched were communications or social media apps. Smart devices, smartphones in particular, occupy several important roles in the lives of students, the primary one being the ability to communicate with peers, friends and family. Indeed, a third of students in our own student survey claimed they were uncomfortable with the idea of using their device for university work, highlighting student concerns about managing personal and academic lives in an increasingly connected setting.

Therefore both students and teachers need to evaluate what these devices could bring to them in the classroom. Lecturers could encourage students to use their devices in more positive ways in the classroom, by encouraging the use of smartphones for in-class activities such as voting, fact-checking using the internet, collaboration through social and digital note-taking. Students also need better support and advice from universities on how they could use smartphones and devices for their learning and manage their personal activities.

What’s disputable is that smartphones are simply a distraction, and that students are unable to have a smartphone in class and be able to learn in class. Smartphones and devices are just the latest in a long line of distractions which have diverted students’ attention from the lecture. Ultimately, engaging and accessible teaching and content is what is most likely to stop students from getting distracted in class. What’s more important here is how smartphones and devices could be used in lectures and seminars to engage students better. Tools for engaging students using smart devices already exist, and if harnessed appropriately, smartphones and devices could transform the teaching and learning experience for both lecturers and students, rather than simply be the latest distraction.


Margaryan, A., Littlejohn, A. & Vojt, G. (2011). Are digital natives a myth or reality? University students’ use of digital technologies. Computers and Education, 56, 2, 429–440.

Tossell, A., Kortum, P., Shepard, C., Rahmati, A., Zhong, L. (2014). You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him learn: Smartphone use in higher education. British Journal of Educational Technologydoi: 10.1111/bjet.12176

White, D., Connaway, L. S., Le Cornu, A., & Hood, E. (2012). Digital Visitors and Residents Progress Report (pp. 0–40). Oxford, Charlotte. Retrieved from http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/projects/visitorsandresidentsinterim report.pdf

Posted by: Posted on by Arun Karnad

Aug 28 2014

Good news: Learning technology not rocket science!

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I’ve been a learning technologist since 2002, at the LSE since 2009. Ten years ago I presented a short paper at a conference about the purpose of the learning technologist, because even we as a group didn’t really know. It’s only short and it ends with a suggestion that what we learning technologists should be doing is stamp on people’s toes, and so it is, if not agreeable, still interesting, and still relevant. If you’re in the mood for speculative musings on what learning technology is about, give it a read: ‘What are we for?.

Fast forward ten years and puzzlement as to what we do or what we are for remains. That’s fair enough, after all, if you’re an engineer and you meet someone who tells you they are a dentist, you would also ask “oh, dentist, I see, but what does that mean, I mean what do you actually do?” And so with Learning Technologists. We’re a bit like dentists. Unfathomable. Mysterious.

I’ll try once more to lift the lid on that mystery.

Here’s the good news: what we do is really easy to understand, you just have to be prepared to listen. To prove this, and to allow for different tastes and learning styles, I offer you three different explanations, with the keywords highlighted, so you can skim through.

1. Generic: in short

Here’s a generic overview of what LTI (found on our LTI page):
“Learning Technology and Innovation (LTI) supports staff in the use of technologies to enhance teaching and learning at the London School of Economics. We […] promote the integration and use of technology in teaching and learning by supporting key technologies, through staff development, advice and guidance, research, collaboration and networking.”

Put differently: we provide pedagogical support and guidance to academic teaching staff with a focus on technology.

Or as a question: How can technology help improve your teaching and your students’ learning? We’re here to find out for and with you.

2. Concrete: drilling down

Academic staff (incl GTAs) are our core focus, but in many cases we deal with administrative staff too, especially in dealing with routine queries about setting things up in Moodle, or using TurnItIn and so on. We write materials too, from basic training materials, to guides on how to use educational technologies, to policy and guidance documents on copyright for example. A large part of our work is staff development. We develop and run workshops on the use of educational technologies – each of which will always incorporate theoretical discussions on how these might impact on student learning. We work closely with TLC, and teach about learning theories on the PG Certificate in Higher Education. We do research – you can’t really expect to persuade academics at a research intensive university about the benefits of changing practices, adopting different pedagogical approaches, trying out technologies etc if we didn’t. We read up on what’s new, engage with our colleagues across the UK and further afield. We make connections with interested teachers and persuade them to try new things – that is, we track them down and buy them coffee and have exciting chats and then we hit them over the head with a mallet and force them to do a pilot with us. Maybe with clickers, or iPads, or flipping lectures or eAssessment.

3. Contradictory: we are not

We are not a lending service. So you want to borrow an iPad from us to see what it can do? Of course you can. First of all, we are super approachable and we all tend to say yes rather than no. Nevertheless, there should always be a “using it for teaching” aspect.
We’re not IT training.  While our workshops have elements of ‘hands on how to use technology x’, the main emphasis is on how it impacts on teaching and learning, how best to use the technology in a teaching and learning context. Most of our workshops are discursive.
We are not technical support. Most of us are pretty tech savvy, but all of us focus on impact that technology (as concept) and educational technologies.

See, that wasn’t so hard. And one of these days dentists will be equally well understood.

Posted by: Posted on by Sonja Grussendorf Tagged with: , , ,

Aug 22 2014

Learning to be a learning technologist

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I wouldn’t describe myself as a techy person in fact I’m not techy at all so I did wonder what I had let myself in for when I started my new role as an assistant learning technologist here at LSE.


Although I am new to the LTI department I had already dipped my toe into the world of learning technology in my previous job on LSE100 (the large compulsory interdisciplinary undergraduate course).While working as a course administrator and then course manager for LSE100 I enjoyed working with lecturers and GTA’s to create interactive resources and I discovered that I was interested in using technology to enhance teaching and learning and to explore different approaches to lectures and classes.

So what are my initial impressions after the first few weeks?

  • Obviously I am pleased that I will be working with a group of highly intelligent, funny, and wonderful colleagues : )
  • I like the way my colleagues encourage people (including myself) to move out of their comfort zones and try out new things.
  • I’ve realised that it’s about showing not doing, LTI try to give people the skills to use the technology and solve the problem themselves.
  • I appreciate the fact that the team don’t always agree on what technology works best as different people work in different ways but they all use technology themselves to communicate and work collaboratively.

As I nervously publish my first ever blog post I am starting to realise that I shouldn’t fear technology, you have to engage and experiment to find out what works for you and what doesn’t. It will be a learning process but working with people to find out their needs and requirements is the most crucial step.


Posted by: Posted on by Geraldine Foley