Anyone who has used group projects in their teaching knows that they can be a double-edged sword. While they can teach valuable collaboration skills that students will need in their professional and personal lives, they can also falter when students cannot get themselves organized enough to produce a quality product. One reason for failure is that faculty often do not provide enough scaffolding for students to get started. They team students up and give them the outcome requirements but do not provide the tools for organizing group projects.
Faculty can bridge this student knowledge gap and improve team performance by providing teams with project management apps to guide their work. These systems often come with multiple templates and formats to choose from, including those customized for educational projects. Giving students software also allows the instructor to be part of each team to ensure that the team is making progress and all members are participating. Moreover, students will be using project management software when they enter the workforce, and so having them use these systems will better prepare them for the transition from college to work.
While there are a variety of project management apps, Taskade, Trello, and Notion stand out for educational uses:
Taskade is a powerful and easy to-use project management system. The user first sets up a workspace and then builds projects within it. These projects can be designed from scratch or built from one of the hundreds of templates created by other users.
A few features especially deserve mention. First, there are quite a few collaboration functions within the system. A user can invite other users to join a project or work space, write notes to users using the “@” and “#” symbols that students are familiar with from social media, and even have live chats or videoconferences with team members. Users can also link projects together, meaning that you can combine some common elements of projects so that when you make a change in one place, it shows up in all linked places. Second, a project can be viewed in a number of different ways with a click of a button. The default view is a list of tasks that can categorized, assigned to team members, given due dates, tagged with other information, and more. This can be changed to a board view to make the categories appear in boxes (much like Padlet). It can also be changed to an action view that displays the tasks with due dates, comments, a timer, and other information. Third, users can upload documents and even videos, as well as link to an outside calendar like Google Calendar so that their tasks appear with other appointments for a day. Finally, the wide range of temples include many that students might want to use to outside of the class to organize their schedule and tasks. This includes a weekly planner, a bullet journal (a kind of note-to-self list), a personal tracker that can track all of a student’s work, a mind map, and even an org chart.
A good way for an instructor to manage student projects is to set up a work space for the class, pick and customize a template, and then copy the template for each team. Then the instructor can put students into the projects by team. The instructor might even go further by structuring the template with actions and due dates to ensure that student have a realistic plan for completing the work. Plus, the instructor can have students export projects as a PDF to submit for commentary and a grade. Take a look at this overview of Taskade. Also check out the directions for creating a project on the Taskade Help Center.
Trello is a more established app than Taskade and is pitched to the business world. But it is suitable for student projects as well. Its functionality is similar to that of Taskade, the only real differences being in appearance. For instance, the default view is a board, which looks even more like Padlet than Taskade’s board. Trello also has templates to choose from, though even its education templates seem more corporate- and less student project–oriented than Taskade’s. But this might be better for getting students ready for project management in the business world.
Notion is another project management app that differs from both Trello and Taskade in that it is limited to more traditional list views, a bit like SharePoint. In fact, Richard Byrne considers it a cross between a project management and reference wiki app in that it could serve as a good place to aggregate resource contributions from students. Also, there are numerous templates for student personal uses. For instance, there are templates for taking class notes, tracking job applications, calculating a grade in a class, logging course schedules, budgeting, and even managing roommate duties. Another interesting template is the Life Wiki, which is meant to basically manage a person’s life, including tasks, notes, travel plans, goals, reading lists, and even habits (like meditation). The advantage of this system is that it might lead students to become more organized in general.
Project management has advanced far beyond Gantt charts, and having students use project management software for group projects will both improve their performance and give them a leg up when they enter the workforce.