lundi 1 décembre 2014

A plea for Task Management standards for Students

I've been pondering this topic for some time now.

With more and more content-management tools available now such as Google Classroom, Showbie, iTunes U and others, teachers are using them more and more tools to send work to their students.

All these tools are independent, and based on your District's philosophy, you may have the choice of the tools you use as a teacher. More forward-thinking environments tend to encourage individualism in teaching practice, but teachers will also avoid using many different tools and tend to regroup around a single tool for this type of task as well.

For example, one school part of a GAFE District might opt for Google Classroom, while some teachers in another school could choose Showbie. Both have their strengths and weaknesses of course. I'm not going to judge which is best here. But the idea is that these tools evolve all the time and teachers will eventually choose the ones which make the most sense for them.

But as we engage students in all these tasks, how are we helping them structure their time? How do we help them decide what to work on and when?

They receive notifications of new work in some cases, or must go to a site to know they have something to do in others. Or maybe they receive emails telling them about work (although this is less and less frequent and many younger students aren't even familiar with email any more). But whatever the means teachers use to distribute work, very little is done to support student's learning of time management skills.

When is the appropriate time to work on one piece of homework? Should I divide this project into sub-tasks? Should the teacher tell students everything they must work on and when it is due or should the student take down all they have to work on? Or a combination of both? And how does a student decide when to work on something or plan ahead their week to ensure all is done in time?

We do not seem to be teaching this to students consistently.

Focusing on the "what", not the "when"

As teachers, when we hand out assignments or any other type of task, our deadlines include enough time for students to be able to go through the work. But with students having to deal with all the different subjects in the curriculum, they are the ones who need to plan ahead and decide when they will work on each piece of work. Which tools are they using to help them decide this? The paper planner? Some other ToDo management tool? In a world of collaborative tools it seems backward to have them handle this without tools built for their reality.

Rich personal lives
Students today live in a world of distractions and procrastination, but we cannot blame everything on these factors. Many are also part of reconfigured families and have to plan where they will be on some weekends and which work they will be tackling on these occasions. Plus, their social lives are richer than ever, many children being part of either a sports club or other activity such as music ensemble, dance courses and such. All great opportunities, but also more time required to be managed.

Parents certainly put in place all sorts of tools nowadays, such as shared calendars to know when things happen. Are we visiting grandma this weekend? Seeing the orthodontist Friday? Don't forget the soccer tournament this Thursday and Friday evenings...

With all this, it makes it more complex for students to plan their work. And I've seen high school students struggle with multiple team projects they must work on outside of school. Finding time to work together is hard.

Time Management Skills
Proper time management has now become a skill for today's modern worker. We have projects, we must plan when we will be working on each aspect of these projects. Work must be distributed over time to allow proper preparation for team meetings or collaborative sessions. If we want our children to learn how to deal with these constraints, we must allow them to develop these skills. And in order to develop the skills, they must be allowed to experiment and fail as well. What happens if I push all this work to the weekend? Oops, forgot about my hockey practice on Saturday and that we're away for the weekend... maybe I should have started earlier.

An overall view
As we struggle with the development of this precious skill,  we must provide tools to help students learn to manage their time. It is too easy to procrastinate if you do not have a clear vision of what is to come and the impact of changing when each task will be tackled. They need a centralized way to see what is upcoming.

Lack of standards
As my team and I work on the future tools we'd like our own children to use, we are struggling with one issue: lack of standards. Many existing platforms are great for assigning tasks and homework, but few tools allow students to have a global view of when these tasks are due and more importantly, when they will choose to work on each one. Few tools give them an overall view of all the tasks, across all the subjects, unless they enter them manually themselves and don't lose track. And even if they do, they lack tools to distribute work over time or to subdivide work into smaller pieces to be accomplished at various stages.

We are trying to deliver a tool to help students with this issue, but requiring teachers to enter information in multiple environments is not readily acceptable. Sure, teachers and students gain from having all the information in one place, and seeing all types of tasks not only "assignments" but any other type such as exams or evaluations which are not tied to specific workflows. Or even to have a global view of all exams in the school so teachers can coordinate their efforts. Having to enter specific elements in one content-management system, and then add it to another is not very productive and certainly something teachers resist doing, with reason.

Would it not be great to have a standard way for these systems to talk to each other on a simple level? Let each keep their strengths, but if they could offer a common hook allowing time management tools to read upcoming tasks and their associated due dates and state, then tools like Cogito could read these in and display them in the timeline or mark them as Done when appropriate.

This way, students would get all their planning information, be able to use more advanced time management tools to choose what to work and when and students and teachers would not have to enter informations multiple times.


As the CEO of Intuitic, I represent Cogito, a student planner for iPad, Chromebook and other web platforms. I'm putting my 25 years of experience (19 of which working for Apple Education)  working with educators in finding ways to implement technology projects in their environment. We've built Cogito in answer to a need to find better time management tools for students and are focused on delivering better tools to develop 21st century skills.