For sometime I’ve been using Trello for a number of different purposes, from planning out my own courses to collaborating with fellow instructors. I’ve found it to be an invaluable tool in my own project management process. When COVID-19 hit and forced my program online, I used my background in instructional design and eLearning to create a Trelloboard to assist teachers in organizing and designing their online courses. In this blog post, I describe ways that I used Trello in the hope that instructors and instructional designers might see how they might use this tool in their own course design and collaboration process. I’m also included a Youtube screencast where I provide an overview of my use of Trello as described in this blog post.

Using Trello for Scaffolding Online Course Design

A major challenge that many instructors faced when transitioning to remote learning was that they’d never had proper training or experience in designing online courses. What I and other instructors did during this transition was to share resources on using different online technology tools and ways of using our Blackboard LMS. However, the emergency deployment of these tools was rather haphazard to say the least. My students communicated to me through their weekly online learning journals that there seemed little organization to their remote learning courses and that they often didn’t understand the focus of lessons. In my own ongoing experiences as an online learner taking eLearning courses at Oregon State University, I was and am familiar with what good online course design and delivery looked like. I realized that what I needed was a way to help connect faculty with both the why and the how of online course design.

Prior to developing a Trello resource, I had been creating instructional videos using Panopto and uploading them to a shared Blackboard site that our department set up. But these growing set of resources seemed to grow overwhelming for many instructors and I realized few instructors were probably actually using the resource.

I created a Trelloboard with idea of scaffolding for instructors the steps of designing online instruction, using tools within our LMS and the resources provided by our own university’s center for teaching and learning. I saw the deployment of this Trelloboard as a sort of just-in-time resource for emergency online teaching. In addition to these resources, I used Quality Matter’s Higher Education Course Design rubric and SUNY’s Online Course Quality Review Rubric (OSCQR) to help describe the reasons why these online course design steps were necessary.

Using Trello for Course Collaboration Among Instructors of the Same Course

The other way that I feel Trello can be effectively used is between instructors who are teaching within the same department or teaching a different section of the same course. In the spring semester I was teaching an academic reading and study skills course for undergraduate international students at Saint Louis University. Prior to taking my course online, I’d met with a colleague who was teaching another section of the same course. I approached her with the idea of using Trello as a way for us to share the content creation workload for the course. I shared some resources on getting started with Trello and walked her through how it worked.

As the semester progressed, we began using Trello to share our weekly course plans, our syllabi and the content resources we were creating. When COVID-19 forced us to go online, we split up our work duties further using the Trelloboard. We decided that each week one of us would create a reading skill instructional video using Panopto that corresponded with the week’s reading skill focus. We used Trello to share the embed link so that we could include each others instructional videos in our own Blackboard modules. We also created annotated PDFs of the textbook reading exercises that we shared on Trello and then posted in our Blackboard modules for students to self-check their work.

As the semester of remote teaching progressed we realized we needed to change the format of our reading skills final exam for this new reality of being completely online. Using our Trelloboard along with periodic Zoom meetings and phone calls, we created a higher-order reading skills application exam that went beyond the original multiple choice exam we had used in previous semesters. We basically split up the final summative assessment into two parts: one was more open-ended main idea and detail reading questions; the other used a graphic organizer that required students to use their knowledge of the text structure to complete. These were all skills that we had practiced a number of times in the course, so we agreed that focusing on the applied use of these skills seemed like the best way to assess students. Each one of us used the Trelloboard to post their version of the test and we then commented and gave feedback on how we thought the assessment could be tweaked and refined.

The use of Trello in this case accomplished a number of important aspects of course design and collaboration. First, we cut down the need for meetings and emails by having everything within the Trelloboard. If there was a question or something that needed resolved, I got a notification through the Trello app on my phone and then I could respond within the app and it would be recorded in that same card within the Trelloboard. Second, we were able to be more transparent with what we were doing in our courses so that there was similarity between how we approached our content delivery. For our department, this seemed important so that students were having an equivalent experience between our courses, minus our own individual approaches to teaching. Lastly, the Trelloboard became a valuable resource to designing my weekly modules. Previously I would go between my folders on my computer and my cloud resources. But now having everything in one place made the process of developing my course much more streamlined.

Using Trello for Department Collaboration

The last application of Trello is one that I think may be rather unique within my own teaching context, but it may be relevant to other departments. Our English language program uses a rather unique approach in our curriculum in that it uses an adjunct content-based instruction model. What this means is that one course serves as the primary academic content course, where topics, themes and threads mirror the content of academic disciplines. Writing, reading, vocabulary and grammar skills courses use the content to further develop the use of language skills. For instance, this summer semester I’m teaching an academic research writing course. The content begin covered relates to racism, ethnocentrism & bias, which come up in the intercultural communication textbook assigned in both the reading and content course. To integrate my composition course, I’m asking students to work on a summary response essay project based on readings on these topics.

As one might imagine, collaboration between instructors is crucial in order for this model to work. This collaboration is difficult even during F2F contexts, so once we transitioned online, this became increasingly difficult. During the spring term, I encouraged instructors to use Trello as a way to collaborate. One of the challenges with this was that there needed to be clear expectations among instructors on how we should use this tool. My recommendation was that we share our weekly plans and content. Our problem was that many teachers were still adjusting to the tool and the online teaching environment.

During the current summer session, I’m teaching the same course yet again and using Trello to collaborate in the same manner described above and it seems to be going more smoothly. There are still some teachers who don’t seem to be using it as a way to collaborate, but I think this will change as the term progresses and projects come require more collaboration.

The Takeaway

My takeaway in using this tool is that there needs to be buy in from teachers and some agreement in how it is going to be used within a department. I think from an instructional design perspective, it could be effectively used to facilitate a more scaffolded online course design process.

I’ve always felt that when choosing a tech tool in my own course it is important to consider how it can be used for multiple applications. And I believe that Trello is this type of tool in that it can be used to guide course design, collaborate among instructors and departments and cut down on email communication and meetings. Many IDs and organization use Trello for project management, but for higher education, designing and delivering our courses is one of our continual projects. So during this time when faculty are feeling Zoom fatigued and overwhelmed by emails, why not use a project management tool to lighten the load?

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