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Web Projects: Forming a Project Team

Forming a Project Team

I wanted my students to work together to help each other through the whole process. This was necessary because the Internet connection in our computer lab was down during the time we were working on this project, and students had to share a few of the office computers, so two or three would sit at a computer to work together. Some students had experience with e-mail, searching on the Internet, the Internet in general, and typing, and some had stronger language skills, so they helped each other as they could. Interestingly, a few years later I tried doing the same project when the Internet in the lab was functioning, and it was not as successful because each student had her/his own computer to work on, and they made many more mistakes than the previous group that we couldn't keep on top of to correct.

-- Diana Satin, ESOL/Computer Teacher at the Jamaica Plain Community Center's Adult Learning Program in Boston, Massachusetts

Whichever model makes sense for you and your students, working as much as possible as part of an identifiable team presents an excellent learning opportunity for everyone involved and adds a sense of cohesiveness and shared mission to the project as a whole. If the process is designed and implemented as a unified team effort, each person will be more likely to have an opportunity to learn from others as the site is being developed.

Whatever the site, it's almost always advantageous to identify exactly who is part of the project team right from the beginning, and to clarify each person's role in the process. Class time needs to be devoted to discussing the interests and expertise of the individuals in the team, and to map that expertise and interest to the expertise required by the project. If you want to try to adopt the roles that are found in real-world Web development, we have outlined the most important of these roles. Because of the high-level vocabulary involved, teachers working with lower-level students may choose not to use these exact terms and definitions with their students, but for any teacher or team leader, it's probably worth understanding these roles as you plan the project.

Clarifying roles and knowing how to interact with a team is very important to the success of the project, both in the classroom and in the real world. If a project begins with loosely defined roles for the entire group, it is much more likely that an important set of tasks will be unaccounted for and the project will hit a snag. Even with a project where each individual member of the class is building a page on his or her own, it may still be useful to identify those roles so that the students can better understand and assess their success in taking them all on.

It is important that you spend time in the class talking about the organization of the project. If the class will work as a group to complete the Web site, students will inevitably take on different roles. It will help everyone if you can define these roles and their responsibilities. Maybe you will have a group of students responsible for photos, a group for editing and another group responsible for designing the pages and uploading them. In this way, you can make each group responsible for discovering the necessary knowledge of their role. The photographers will learn to use the digital camera, download, crop and edit photos. The editors will establish the tone of the Web site, as well as the necessary sections and content for each page. The Web design group will have to learn how to build the pages and upload them to the server. These are just examples and your class could be organized in different ways, but the important thing is to be organized yourself and help students with deadlines and their responsibilities as part of the class.

­ Eric Appleton, Computer and Literacy Teacher at the Fortune Society in New York City

Of course, whether in the classroom or real life, members of the team can play multiple roles. Likewise, it's not necessary for students to fill every role role, either. For example, it may be useful for the teacher, a technical support person (if you have access to one), or an outside volunteer to help with some of the technical aspects of building the site. (This could be a terrific opportunity for technology-savvy members of your local community to get to know some of the members of your class.) Many, if not most, of the professional sites on the Web are built by project teams; only a few members of that team actually write the HTML that produces the pages. The other roles in the process, such as project manager, content developer, and information architect, are equally valid and important, and it's essential that you and your students understand this. You do not need to teach your students to be proficient in HTML in order to build a Web project! You simply need to identify the person(s) who will take on that role.

Teachers often credit the assistance of staff and volunteers as a critical factor in the success of a project. "My husband was kind enough to come to class and teach students how to scan their pictures," said one teacher, "while I helped students with other aspects of their pages. Our school has two lab staff people, a technology coordinator who maintains the hardware, and an assistant computer instructor who assists teachers in the lab. All this assistance, together with classmates helping each other, was necessary to keep the students moving forward on the project. It would have been impossible to complete it successfully without them--or at least quite frustrating."

At the same time, make sure you utilize the talent present in the class. There may already be a student who is tech savvy enough to help you and other students; we have also seen some students develop technology skills quickly and take enough of an interest that they can become "the expert." A teacher may do well to tap this talent.

The complexity of this project demanded various skills and strengths: writing, humor, linear and nonlinear thinking, leadership, research, an understanding of the World Wide Web, consensus building, e-mail, critical thinking, photography, and all aspects of design; and students were given the opportunity to share their talents. One student who understood how to use the cameras demonstrated this for the others. A student who was very efficient and personable was able to effectively lead the class through some decision-making sessions. Some students were diligent and resourceful about gathering various types of information about New York City landmarks. Students who had a strong sense of the navigation and flow of Web sites were able to explain and illustrate this for the students who were not so Web savvy. We all took on the roles of expert and novice, apprentice and master.

--Maura Donnelly,
former adult literacy teacher at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, New York

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Last Updated October 23, 2003