Using Trello in Getting a Master’s Degree

Finish Line In Sight

Tuesday was a big day—no, not because of the election which felt like a surprise twist on Scandal. Tuesday was a big day for me personally because I registered for my final classes at San Jose State University. The Spring 2017 semester isn’t my last semester; I’ll still need to complete my e-portfolio project to complete the MLIS program, but it is the final semester when I’ll be taking classes.
Spring 2017 Trello Board

Trello Board

I’ve used Trello each semester to organize my classes and assignments. To celebrate registering for my final classes I went ahead and set up a new board for Spring 2017. I don’t have much on it right now, just a single card for each of my four classes:

Board Organization

I organize the Trello Board into a list for each class followed by three lists: Next Up, Doing, and Done. For visual interest, and ease of quickly identifying the board, I’ve set a background image.

Each class list starts with a general syllabus card (with an attached cover image representing the class). This card is also where I attached faculty information, and the syllabus once it is available for the class. If the professor has previously taught the course, I may attach the last syllabus.

Trello card example

If necessary, I may attach other documents, and once I know what the major assignments are, create a checklist for those assignments. Trello’s checklists are very useful (and you can have multiple checklists within a single card). Individual items on the checklist may also be converted into cards.

Labels and Due Dates

On each class list, I create cards for Lectures, Readings, Assignments, and Discussions. Sometimes I may also have a couple of other labels, such as Activities, or Resources, but usually, I stick with the four primary labels as well as a label for each course. The example above shows the INFO282-11 label.

Labels enable filtering—so I can filter the view to show only cards for a particular class, or all readings, etc. The color-coding also helps me identify what is going on at a glance.

Likewise, due dates are critical. Most classes have lectures, readings, assignments, and sometimes discussions due every week. By setting due dates on each card, I see what is coming up. Trello also color-codes the due dates on the card as they approach (or pass) the due date.

strongly prefer professors who post all of the course material on day one. Comments such as, ‘you would panic’ if the materials were posted are insulting. Professors don’t need to accept assignments early, and notions of keeping everyone on the ‘same page’ are ridiculous.

Canvas isn’t used effectively by many professors, and it lacks the features and personalization of something like Trello. I prefer to organize the materials on my board so that I can see at a glance what I need to focus on in the days and weeks ahead. I work full time. I have a family. And I’m a full-time student. Not to mention other interests, and basic needs like sleep and exercise, that take up my time. Withholding information only serves to make it more difficult for me to plan and organize my time.

Yes, I had to get that off my chest. I will continue to make that point on the SOTES (Student Opinion of Teaching Effectiveness). Keep it in mind if you decide to go back to school.

Card Movement

Once I stack the deck on each list with the individual cards for each week, I can see right across all my classes what is coming up. Then I make a choice on what I want to work on next and drag those cards to the Next Up list.

I limit how many cards I put on Next Up to three (most of the time). That helps me focus my attention on what I’m doing next. These could be cards from different classes, or all from a single class, depending on time, energy and resources available to tackle the work described by the cards.

From Next Up, I move one to the Doing list. In the beginning, I’ll usually move one more card over to Next Up from the class lists so that I still have three on Next Up.

Then I focus on the single card on the Doing list. When completed, I move it to the Done list and select a new card from the Next Up list. At some point, as the Next Up list is depleted, I decide what’s next and pull more cards from the class lists. In this way, cards move from the classes lists to Next Up, Doing, and Done.

Now and then I’ll have a card on the Doing list that takes more time, and can only be done at a certain time/place, e.g., I may need to use the code editor on my computer, but I’m at work. In that case, I may pull another card over to Doing that I can tackle on a break, such as reading assignments on my Chromebook.

Attachments and Markup

I attach everything to cards. Sample files, reading material, lectures, and instructions. I access Trello on a variety of devices from my computer to my phone and my Chromebook. Attaching everything I need makes it easy to access whatever I need to refer to or read. Typically I compose first drafts in Google Docs and then finish up later in Word.

Trello supports Markup notation in descriptions and checklists, making it easy to embed material and links directly within cards.

Teams

Trello offers extensive support for team collaboration—only I haven’t found any teams at the iSchool comfortable with learning to use Trello in order to take advantage of the features! It’s too bad because Trello would be ideal for groups collaborating on complex projects. Cards may be assigned to team members. It supports commenting and subscription features. With Power-Ups, Trello offers more features and integrations with many other services.

Still Learning

Since starting the program at the iSchool, I have learned new ways to use Trello. I continue to tweak and modify what I am doing. I don’t often use the Trello sticker function, those others may like it. I’ve tried using the custom field power-up to mark a card ‘done’ on the front, but it doesn’t quite do what I’d like. I think I’ll use a label instead.

Though I’m nearing the end of my studies at the iSchool, I intend to continue using Trello in my writing/illustration/publishing efforts. Along with Evernote, Trello remains one of my most used applications.

Author: Ryan M. Williams

Writer and artist, Ryan M. Williams, author of more than twenty novels, writes across a range of genres including fantasy, science fiction, romance, paranormal, and mystery. He holds a Master of Arts from Seton Hill University in writing popular fiction. His short fiction has appeared in anthologies from Pocket Books, WMG Publishing, and in On Spec Magazine. He currently attends San Jose State University, pursuing a Master of Information and Library Science degree.