To Become The Owner Of Your Virtual Classroom, ‘Scrum’ It

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So you’re were gently persuaded into online learning for the first time. (Alright, maybe not very gently. But definitely beneficial!) I’m sure you’ve run into lots of people, coworkers, social media personalities and community members who, out of good intention and a genuine desire to help, have thrown all kinds of useful apps, posts, links and tips at you. A maelstrom of resources to help you find your way. Like this one, it’s pretty good!

Hopefully you will come to realize the real issue with online learning. It is not what can’t be done, but all there is to do! A more prescient question becomes: How can you tame the beast?

For some time now, companies and project managers have embraced the “Scrum” approach to work and collaboration. An example of the wide forest of “agile” project management paradigms, this quirky-sounding method has become the standards in many places, perhaps most famously Silicon Valley. But while it does not fit every type of project, it offers several lessons for quick deployment and easy –or rather, agile– learning loop.

Will a little Scrummin’ save your life? Let’s find out!

You might want to ‘Scrum it’ if…

  1. You need to get started fast without having all the information needed
  2. Your project can be modified as you go along, even to the point of “pivoting” to something entirely different than what it was at the beginning
  3. You want to implement new lessons, learnings or insights as fast as possible into the process
  4. You want to create a valuable historical record of knowledge, be it for upcoming projects or the current project itself
  5. You want to make the most of remote learning, allow every member of your team –including your learners, more on that later– find their rhythm, and automate the red tape as much as possible.

Not every project might fit a Scrum framework. (In theory at least, to this day I have not found one that does it.) But if your project does not or you are unable to restructure it, you will likely benefit from implementing it at least in some places, or do so incrementally.

Get started with Scrum right now – Sticky notes up!

The full Scrum approach to project management is a comprehensive and sensible, if at times eyebrow-raising, program. But you don’t need any background reading to start using it. Try it now: If it works for you, and want to know how to take it to the next level, you’ll find all kinds of resources, tweaks and fascinating discussions on the nature of work and productivity.

Your planning begins by building the “Scrum Board,” the one and only project management compass you will ever need from now on.

By default, Scrum does not use nor need deadlines. Instead, it will encourage you to sharpen your “guesstimation” skills as to how long will it take you to accomplish something.


To Become The Owner Of Your Virtual Classroom, 'Scrum' It
  1. On a whiteboard, window, piece of paper, desk or app (Trello or Teamwork would do), draw 4 columns: Backlog, Sprint, Doing, Test and Done.
To Become The Owner Of Your Virtual Classroom, 'Scrum' It
  1. Write your To-Dos. Only one per note. “Creative” types (another word for messy?) like us might do well replacing that column with a “Backlog paperbag.” Make the task as clear as possible. (More about it on the next section.)
To Become The Owner Of Your Virtual Classroom, 'Scrum' It
  1. Don’t forget to add a rounded-up estimate of how long it will take you to get the task done. Keep it simple: 1, 2 or 4 hours. This is focused, dedicated time of pure productiveness. And when it doubt, break the task down.

It’s alright, you will definitely be way off your estimates, at least for the first couple years 🙂 (:


To Become The Owner Of Your Virtual Classroom, 'Scrum' It
  1. Define the length of you “Sprint.” If you’re getting started, a good enough heuristic is to plan your upcoming work week. No more than 30 to 35 hours worth per week, accounting for eventualities, breaks, boss check-ups and other distractions, should be a good starting heuristic.
  2. Plan your upcoming sprint by prioritizing the tasks on your backlog. Your Sprint plan would be the list of prioritized tasks that can fit within the allotted time.
  3. Make the commitment: Your upcoming Sprint will focus on the tasks that “made it” into the Sprint column. You can come up with new, fun, cool, “creative” tasks at any moment. It’s fine. But they go to the Backlog and will wait until the next Sprint. (Over time, you will realize how the “spur of the moment” is not a great criteria for task prioritization.)

Ready, Set, Go!

To Become The Owner Of Your Virtual Classroom, 'Scrum' It
  1. Tackle the tasks in order. Grab the one with the highest priority and put it on the Doing column. Start the clock. Seize it!
  2. The timer must be “pure”: Pause it for any break or break of productivity. After all, you are aiming to have a realistic record of actual time taken doing this task. You might want to learn about focus methods such as Pomodoro (25 min segments of work with 1 minute breaks) or Flow (Unlimited segment, break when you feel you lost focus).
  3. Did you finish your task? Not so fast! Move it to the Test column, then attach some proof or evidence. Include the “Documentation”: Simple steps anyone should be able to follow to take advantage of your work. When the instructions are ready, then you can stop the clock.
  4. Follow the instructions on the Documentation.
To Become The Owner Of Your Virtual Classroom, 'Scrum' It

On the nature of task: Narratives of progress and growth

Maks task as clear as possible, especially if you are working on a team project, or if you are a “creative” type who comes up with hundreds of neat things worth working on, but can’t figure out what on earth you were thinking just a few days back. (Not like I’m talking from experience of anything.)Being good at writing tasks is, in many ways, a craft the Scrum was meant to help you perfect. In work and learning, the Task is a building block, and writing tasks properly amounts to writing the building blocks of a story.A project is the reflection of your (or your organization) values. Let’s get fancy: If you have a sharp Core Value Proposition, your project, and in consequence each of its tasks, should reflect it. Your learning project is the story of how your work made someone’s life better. Each Sprint is a chapter, and each task is a progression over the plot.

Nor users, nor customers: Your students are your team members

There is no mystery about it: Scrum is designed for “Product” creation. It’s true that in some contexts the connotation of the word could be problematic. Let’s keep it simple: It is the proof that the task achieved some value.So is Scrum applicable in learning? I would go as far as claiming few things are as applicable to the learning process as Scrum. Not only tackles several of the challenges you might be facing right now, it is also a sustainable way to move from “prototype” (your attempt at teaching right now) to a “Minimum Valuable Product” that incorporates as much feedback as it can from your learners in a timely manner, to turn it into a sustainable learning and innovation model.

If You might find yourself at odds with: Your learners are your team mates. A key concept in the Scrum practice is the role of “Scrum Master,” which is assigned to someone with sufficient subject matter expertise, but whose responsibilities are no other than to facilitate the work of the rest of the team members. It differs from the Project Manager –in Scrum’s mythology, the “Product Owner”– although it’s very common among small teams for both roles to be assumed by the same person. In short, it might be beneficial and more a “Scrum Teacher” and educate your students on subject matter competencies, as well as on the ways, habits and mindset of evidence-based accomplishments.

Summary Glossary

  • Agile: A designation for iterative and flexible project management approaches where learning can influence the project as it is acquired. (But not mandatory nor guaranteed.)
  • Scrum: A designation for team formation in rugby that made its way into the art of team-based project management.
  • Documentation: The fable in the works of your product.
  • Sprint: The epic ideal of productivity, your ultimate tool for growth, progress, love and world peace.
  • Product Owner: Your learners.
  • Scrum Master Teacher: You, if you choose to embrace it.
  • Task: The building blocks of effective storytelling.

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