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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 (or a team of students working collaboratively) 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 set up a project-based class.

See also our Guidelines for Managing Project-Based Classes Online, which outlines best practices for this type of 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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Suggested Set-Up

Create an individual topic for each student or team (see Sample Set-Up, Item #2).
  • For individual student projects: Begin on the “Current Topics” page to create an individual topic for each student. Title the topic with the student’s name.
  • For team projects: If you want to use this approach to manage team projects in your class, first organize students into teams. Then create an individual topic for each team. Title each topic with the names of the team members.
  • In the “topic description” field, provide some basic information about how the project will work and how this topic should be used.
  • Do not associate these topics with a specific module, but set them to open at the start of the semester (or the start of the project) and to close at the end of the semester (or the end of the project).
  • Individual or team project topics must be created at the start of each semester — or as soon as the project begins.

Use assignment topics as needed.

  • If your class uses course topics (topics which are generated automatically by the LMS), use the Instructor Update tool to edit your assignment topics, reminding students that they should post all their project work in their personal topic. Note: In most cases, instructors offer critiques but not grades of work-in-progress. However, if you want to assign work-in-progress grades for each module, you can use the course assignment topics for this purpose.
  • If your class does not use course topics, there is no need to create module-based assignment topics, unless there are additional assignments in the class that are unrelated to the project. Note: If you want to assign work-in-progress grades, you will need to create assignment topics (in Global Topics), in order to have a place to post these grades.
Create a “Project Questions” topic  (see Sample Set-Up, Item #3).

Having a single space where students can post questions about their project helps ensure that you can easily find their questions and quickly address their concerns. This approach allows everyone in the class to learn from your responses and comments, and it keeps you from having to answer the same question multiple times. Instead, questions and answers are posted centrally and can benefit everyone.

  • “Project Questions” topics should be created in “Global Topics” so they may be reused in future semesters.
  • Do not associate this topic with a module, but set its opening date for the start of the semester (or the start of the project) and its closing date for the end of the semester (or the end of the project). 
Create discussion topics (see Sample Set-Up, Item #4)

Project-based classes must have some sort of active discussion throughout the semester. You could have weekly topics posted in each module, or you could meet this criterion through regular discussion and critique of student work.

  • Discussion topics should be created in “Global Topics,” so they may be reused in other semesters.
  • The description of the weekly discussion should including an engaging question for the class to discuss, as well as clear expectations for participation and grading. 
Define one or more  group critique checkpoints for the project and create topics for these (see Sample Set-Up, Item #5).

A “ group critique checkpoint” is a point during the development of a project when the whole class reviews everyone’s work-in-progress. You will create a topic for these peer critiques, and students will re-post their project work-in-progress in the critique topic, according to your instructions. Critiquing checkpoints provide important opportunities for students to engage with—and to learn from—one another.

  • Critique topics should be created in “Global Topics,” and they should be specified as gradable. You must post grades for the projects at every critiquing checkpoint; this is especially important if you do not grade students’ project work each week. (You might find it helpful to schedule a critiquing checkpoint before each progress grading period.)
  • The description of the critique topics must explain your expectations about which work students should re-post for the class to critique and outline any additional requirements (e.g., “include a 1-paragraph statement about your work” OR “make a slideshow of your work” OR “discuss any particular areas in which you’d like to receive feedback from the class”).
  • The description of the critique topics must also clarify how you want students to approach critiquing one another’s work.
  • A peer critique may serve as the discussion topic for the module in which it occurs.
Post a set of guidelines for students, explaining how the class will run (see Sample Set-Up, Item #1).

This is especially important, since most AAU online classes are not run on this model and you cannot assume your students will be familiar with this method of participation and review.

  • Include a schedule with due dates for weekly assignments and critiquing checkpoints. Explain that students should post all their project-related assignments in their individual topics.
  • Explain clearly that students should post all questions about their projects in the “Project Questions” topic, so that you can quickly address their issues and the whole class can benefit from your responses. Require them to read the posts in the “Project Questions” topic regularly, so that they are aware of your responses to questions.
  • Clarify your expectations for peer-critiques. Frequently, instructors specify that students may look at one another’s projects but request that they refrain from commenting on others’ work-in-progress until the critiquing checkpoints.
  • Spell out expectations and grading for discussion participation, which is a required part of their overall course grade. 

Sample Discussion Set-Up for a Project-Based Class

Click image to enlarge.


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