When the LMS Won’t Budge: Project Management and PBL

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In many ways, a robust LMS is a boon to Project-Based Learning. Many limiters or barriers to PBL center around a teacher having to multitask management of groups needing different resources and support at varying points in time. By shifting many of the resource and check-in steps to an asynchronous/blended model, we can eliminate some of the friction points where multiple groups are vying for attention or need direct intervention. A teacher can load resources and materials into the LMS, for example, which groups can access at the appropriate time. The use of discussion threads and electronic submission can let groups work at their own pace and check-in at major stages as they reach them, while still having some unifying process that each group follows so that the teacher can keep up.

Where the LMS model breaks down for group project management is once groups leave the central “everybody must” stages. Do all groups have the same steps to their project? Should they? If all projects in a class are “on the same rails,” arriving at the same tasks in the same order (albeit at different times), what does this reveal about the degree of student planning and design in the project? From another perspective, if we want students to generate their own project design (with support, of course), and we allow enough freedom in the PBL design for students to envision an authentic outcome, won’t each group come up with a different task list? Here the LMS fails us– while many LMS’s (including Schoology, which we use) allow you to direct assignments to individuals or groups, this is a huge amount of work for teachers to enter an entire class’ worth of project groups and deadlines. To truly reflect a diverse Project-Based environment, we need a better scheduling/task management tool.

Asana is a web-based team management system designed by two ex-Facebook employees. The setup will be familiar to anyone used to task management software, except that Asana is really designed around project groups and teams rather than individual task lists. Users are organized into teams, which can be an entire class. Within that team, users can propose projects, build out task lists, assign them to themselves or other team-members, and comment upon progress. Finally, there’s a master calendar which allows us to see the entire team’s progress at any given point in time.

I’ve been using Asana for several weeks now in 7-8 Digital Media as students are working through individual and group projects. Check out the video below for a brief tour of how I have it set up.

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