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In some Academy classes, students work on a single project over the course of several weeks—or even over the entire semester. In such classes, you may find it helpful to organize your discussion so that all the assignment submissions from an individual student are grouped together. This approach lets you follow each student’s progress on a project over time. In project-based classes, it is also essential to define certain checkpoints when the entire class will review and critique all the projects. These guidelines shows you how to manage a project-based course, and outline best practices for this type of class management.

See also our Guidelines for Setting-Up a Project-Based Class

Please Note: We are NOT suggesting that this approach is appropriate for all studio class—nor is anyone required to use this class structure, unless your Academic Director mandates it. This is merely a possible alternative way of running a class—with guidelines to make sure things go smoothly.

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Day-to-Day Class Management

  • In each module, each student will post all her project-related work in her individual topic. This allows the instructor to follow the progress of the project over several weeks.
  • Students will post project-related questions in the “Project Questions” topic; the instructor must review and respond to these questions within one business day.
  • In each module, the instructor reviews and posts feedback on the work posted in every individual student  topic, using whatever methods are appropriate.
    • As in any online class, you must respond to students’ questions within one business day.
    • You must post substantive feedback in each student’s project topic in every module. Feedback must be posted no more than five business days (three business days in the summer term) after each student submits his work for a given module.
    • You may or may not choose to grade the work in each module, depending on what’s appropriate for the particular project. If you do plan to grade work-in-progress, you will need to create an assignment topic for each module in which you want to post a grade (or use existing assignment topics, if any). (Learn more: How can I post weekly grades in project-based classes? (from my Inbox, #6))
  • In each module, the instructor will participate actively in the discussion, in the topic set up for that purpose.
    • The potential drawback of this alternative class structure is a lack of interaction among the members of the class; it’s easy for students to focus only on their own projects and their one-on-one interactions with the instructor. As a result, the instructor must make a special effort to energize the discussion, encourage participation, and foster a sense of community among the students.
    • Some instructors use this weekly discussion topic primarily for discussing current work on the project, answering questions and encouraging interaction among the students. 

Critiquing Checkpoints

When a critiquing checkpoint arrives…

  • Students re-post their latest work in the critiquing topic, in accordance with the requirements the instructor has outlined.
  • Everyone in the class—students and instructor—reviews and discusses the projects.
  • The instructor posts grades.

Best Practices

We strongly suggest that instructors also do the following:

  • Exercise care in ordering topics and archive old topics promptly, so that the active discussion is clearly organized and it is always easy for students to see what is current.
  • Remind students regularly of assignment deadlines—either through announcements or by posts in their individual topics. This sort of timekeeping is especially helpful for students, since individual topics don’t close until the project is completed.
  • At the end of each module, post a message in each student’s individual topic to indicate that the deadline for that module’s work has passed. It’s helpful to use a different color to make these posts stand out. This practice helps keep students on track.
  • Require students to clearly label each post in their individual topics to indicate to which module/assignment it pertains (if relevant).
  • From time to time, post your critique of one student’s project-in-progress as an example everyone can learn from. Ask students to discuss the work as part of the module discussion.
  • Provide guidelines/rubrics for giving peer feedback during critiquing checkpoints. Model appropriate critiquing practices and encourage students to talk to one another. For lower-division classes, provide relevant vocabulary and ask students to use this language in their critiques.

Mixed Class Structures

Some classes require a multi-week project in addition to other weekly assignments. In such classes, you may want to use a hybrid approach, combining regular assignment topics with individual student topics for work pertaining to the project—and adapting the rest of these guidelines to the particular needs of your class. The critical elements to include are weekly feedback on projects and a weekly discussion requirement.

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