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Gill Marshall's Design Narrative: The Manager's Desk

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Gill Marshall
6 April 2015

The Manager’s Desk

Narrator: My role was as Media Project Manager

Situation: Workplace, office-based. Key actors were a faculty module team and a production media team consisting of academic authors, course manager, myself, editor, designer, interactive developer (among others). Faculty staff were based in a separate building to production staff or were external consultants in other parts of the UK.

The main driver behind the activity was the module chair who had a clear vision of what she wanted the design of the activities to look like.  Our role was to elicit the particular underlying functionality that was needed and make sure that it was usable, accessible and delivered the learning task and outcomes without the technology getting in the way.


  1. The Manager’s Desk (MD) was to be the ‘way in’ for students for involved, problem-based learning activities related to leadership in a healthcare environment.
  2. Students were expected to incorporate several actions without having them spelt out each time.
  3. There was to be one single MD activity per week in the final 4 weeks of the module with each being a standalone activity.
  4. The MD was to simulate a manager’s desk in a busy office with information arriving in a variety of forms that would pose and then provide the resources for solving a problem.
  5. Each activity was to provide students with all the resources they might need to resolve the problem posed without having to link to third party material.
  6. When students open the MD activity for each week they were to be prompted to read and email or listen to a voicemail message or something that would kick-start their enquiry-based learning activity for the week.
  7. There were to be different levels of information required within an activity:
    • The event/task – delivered via email/phone call/text/in person/in a meeting;
    • Associated documents and context (describing the task)
    • Hints – what students might like to think about
    • Going further – additional information for the keen student
    • Feedback/assessment
    • Use of Manager’s Toolkit (another separate development within the same module)


  1. I created a schedule for the different stages of the development, a budget plan and tabled regular progress meetings with all the stakeholders.
  2. I arranged a series of meetings with each author of each of the 4 activities to talk through how they were trying to achieve their learning outcomes.
  3. I held meetings with members of the module team to explore the functionality required behind the activities.
  4. I held various meetings with the production team to pin down the overall design elements and how they would work together.
  5. I created a template grid of the individual elements of the Manager’s Desktop for the authors to complete as a step-by-step pathway through their activity using the different elements.  This turned out to be a key document that forced them to work through each action that a student might take and why.
  6. I insisted that this section of the module should be developmentally tested prior to its release as it was such a large part of the module and the culmination of the student’s work.
  7. I primed the Student Helpdesk by talking them through the activities to see if there were any obvious stumbling blocks for students that they could foresee.
  8. I made sure we created a separate walk-through activity that explained all the functionality and how to use and step through the different items on the desk.

The main obstacle I think was sustaining the involvement of the authors once they had written their initial narrative and keeping the purpose of the use of the technology clear.  It is very easy to create a flashy-looking visually appealing interactive that is actually simpler to deliver as a straightforward narrative, which is far less engaging.  The object of keeping all the student’s interactions within a single HTML activity was to present them with a simulation of how tasks might come at them from all directions in a busy office environment and show how they needed to filter and prioritise the information they were given in order to complete and solve a specific problem.

As with all developments of this kind there are always obstacles relating to time and resource availability and a large interactive development of this kind uses up a lot of developer hours which weren’t necessarily initially planned for.


The most unexpected outcome from my point of view was the lack of student complaints and calls to the helpdesk.  Given that this was quite a radical way to present a whole block’s worth of activities and depended on students engaging with a visual interactive simulation put them under some pressure (one author wanted to include a ticking clock with a time constraint but we thought that would frighten people too much).

From the developmental testers we had positive comments, including:

 ‘I enjoyed using the Managers desk, it was a great way to step into the shoes of a manager and understand what it feels like to be a manager. ‘

 ‘ I liked that the Manager's desk didn't try to cover up how difficult management in health and social care is; it was very transparent, open and honest ... it actually made me feel stressed like I know an actual manager would feel as I felt as though I had so many things I needed to work through.’

 Additional outcomes are that we have an HTML activity with functionality that could be reused in different contexts wrapped in a different graphic skin, and that would mitigate to some extent the initial cost of the development.


Generally this was a very enjoyable set of materials to produce largely because of the collaborative learning that went on in the creation of the design and functionality of all the elements.  It used up a lot of time though apart from the interactive developer’s budget we came in on budget and on schedule.  However the production team felt very pressured at times and would love the luxury of doing a similar development with a lot more time made available in the early stages. I felt that with more prototyping and collaborative involvement with the authors we could have come up with an even better final product.


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Lydia Spenceley
9:12am 8 April 2015

Thanks for this Gill, a very interesting read.  You make  a very interesting point about the 'flashy-looking visually appealing interactive' being more interesting to design than a simple narrative and I find with my learners that they often become more interested in the look of the presentation that they are building rather than the content and I have yet to find a way round this. 

You mention that this approach might be used again in a different way and I think that this has huge potential but I do have one query.  I can see from the comments from your users that they have gained greatly from the experiential learning aspect but how else was this task assessed and how did you decide on how to mark something like this which has a real element of creativity in solving the problem set?

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