Teaching students to schedule project work

Dan Ariely recently had an “Ask-Me-Anything” (AMA) session on Reddit, and one of his experiments he discussed had results that I think directly relates to my experience with student’s final projects in Intro GIS:

[–]bobby_g3 275 points  ago

What has been your favorite social experiment to try on a college campus and which experiment has changed your opinion on a certain topic the most?

[–]danariely[S] 906 points  ago

Probably the vaccination experiment — they took a group of students and gave half of them information about the importance of vaccination, but also gave the other half directions to the health center and asked them to indicate a time in their calendars that they would show up. Amazingly, the information did very little but the map and schedule was very effective at getting people to show up and get vaccinated. For me, this is an important building block — providing people with information is not very useful, and we need to change the environment to facilitate better decision-making.

Instructions for Final Project
Instructions for Final Project

This made me think about how we assign projects to students in class. When I first started teaching Intro GIS, I gave my students some instructions and the deadlines. After a semester or two, I found that giving students the grading rubric as well increased the students’ understanding of the expectations for the project. I also had a wide variety of example projects, which was helpful even from the earliest class days to use as a way to have students experience what GIS can do.

Even though the quality of the projects increased, I still found that most students underestimated the time that it took to complete a project and prepare it. Most students flirt with deadlines and appear to be procrastinators. I don’t think, however, that students are naturally procrastinators – I think it much more likely that they haven’t developed work habits that help them with project work. (For more information, see Charles Duhigg’s the Power of Habit and Dan Ariely’s other work.) Students don’t have a strong experience with project work, and they need a better guide to help them through.

To that end, in addition to instructions and the grading rubric, I’m giving my students a schedule to help guide the project research. It breaks down the steps to working on the project and gives a timeframe to compare their effort against. Looking at the schedule, they can see the next step and judge how much time it will take. They can see if they are ahead of schedule or behind. The schedule front-loads the work as much as possible to try to anticipate problems.

Intro GIS Project ScheduleThis semester, my students are preparing magazine articles that we will attempt to publish. I hope that by giving them this schedule, we’ll see an improvement in the time and effort it takes for the students to get their projects completed.


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