managing and assessing student projects with Trello

To manage team projects in ENGL 329 (Grammar, Style, and Writing), we used the Trello app for iPad and agile development principles. I've been using Trello's web application for awhile now, primarily to manage large-scale projects for the First-Year Writing Program. It's flexible and easy to learn, so I thought it would be great for my students to test out on their iPads.

For the ENGL 329 final project, students work in teams to communicate with the Boise State community about an issue that is important to them for a purpose they determined. Teams were required to consider the appropriate composing environment/medium, and the accompanying rhetorical style, when designing their projects. The issues chosen by the groups included volunteering at an animal shelter, the Komen Race for the Cure, teaching and learning with technology, summer outdoor activity safety, and zombie preparedness.

project management with Trello

Trello screenshot

Trello uses cards, boards, and organizations to plan and manage projects. Each student team created a Trello organization and at least four boards: To Do (or Queue), Doing, Blocked, and Done. Some groups added other boards as holding spaces as well, such as a Contact Info board. Students then add cards to the boards with discrete tasks to be accomplished. Trello allows users to assign cards to one another within the organization, to link cards to Google Drive and/or Dropbox, and to attach documents. They may also comment on the cards. Once they have established their organization, boards, and cards, each team added me to their organization.

agile development & writing projects

I've been toying with the idea of using agile software development principles for team writing projects for some time. Since this not a guide for building new applications, I'll focus on the components that drew me to this set of practices: user stories, responsiveness, and frequent communication. If you'd like to learn more about this approach, I recommend Agile & Iterative Development: A Manager's Guide by Craig Larman. I combed through lots of sites as I prepared to do this, but then I remembered that I like books. So I bought one.

user stories

No doubt, the first thing that I noticed about agile is the reliance on narrative terms. I wanted my writing emphasis students to learn some concrete tools for working in teams. It's not that they couldn't work together. In my experience, writing and rhetoric students at Boise State are kind, energetic, risk-takers, and I had no doubt that they would be able to collaborate effectively. However, as these upper-division students neared graduation, I wanted them to have a set of strategies for working as part of (and managing) teams. Likewise, the idea of the writer is steeped in imagery of the solitary writer. We've already wondered what an author is and taught our first-year writers about metaphorical parlors, so I won't rehash all the ways we're already

I also held brief weekly (stand-up) meetings with each group for the duration of the project to receive updates on their progress on the project.