The responsibilities of a university professor extend far beyond the lecture hall and even further beyond office hours.
Professors collaborate with graduate students, teaching assistants, and other faculty members on planning curriculum, leading research projects, and even writing books. The many moving parts often lead to a gigantic paper trail of coursework, term papers, and emails.
When the COVID-19 pandemic uprooted university professors and students from their campuses in the spring semester of 2020, there wasn’t a whole lot of guidance at first on how to continue courses online and stay in communication with students. Professors and students at the University of Oklahoma (OU) were able to adapt more easily as their worlds did a 180 with the help of technology and cloud-based collaboration tools, including none other than Trello and Dropbox.
Since the two tools integrate together, universities around the world are able to use this combo to reliably store and share files while keeping important information and data secure.
Dr. Jenel Cavazos, Associate Professor of Psychology at OU, is a big advocate of education technology and productive ways of working. Through the Provost’s Advisory Committee on Learning Technologies and the Information Technology Council at OU, she promotes these tools and productivity techniques on campus, and encourages other faculty members to adopt them as well.
Was the impact of a global pandemic a massive disruptor to Dr. Cavazos’ teaching processes? In some ways, of course. But her determination to find solutions prevailed.
“People don’t like uncertainty, and having lists and organized processes are important for feeling like we know where we’re going.”
Luckily, her use of Trello and Dropbox minimized the disruption to how she manages all of her curriculums, research projects, and faculty communication. The lesson learned? Using cloud-based tools to stay organized is a big win in academia and can save professors from a semester full of stress.
From Physical Classrooms To Remote Learning
When the tidal wave of changes from the pandemic surged onto college campuses, faculty and students around the globe had to quickly pack their bags and head home.
“The transition happened so quickly and was very unexpected. There was a lot of work we had to do to change assignments and syllabi, but our existing processes with Trello and Dropbox made it easier to make these revisions with my graduate students and teaching assistants.” - Dr. Cazavos.
In order to stay hyper-organized and prepared, Dr. Cavazos has a Trello board set up for each course she teaches and collaborates on with her graduate students. The Trello board is a combination of an information repository and a project tracker. It’s divided into the following lists:
- Chapter Improvements and Assignment Ideas
- Revisions, Projects, and Updates
- Class Setup
- Working On It
- All Finished! 🎉
Dr. Cavazos communicates and collaborates with her graduate students in Trello cards on the board in order to assign tasks, capture ideas, check in on course progress, and provide feedback as well as opportunities for improvement.
The Dropbox Power-Up in Trello makes it easy for Dr. Cavazos and anyone on her team to access and collaborate on curriculum details, checklists, and reports whenever they need them. Any updates made to the Trello boards are shown in the Dropbox file activity feed as well.
Since Dr. Cavazos is managing the coordination of not only her classes but also the other Introduction to Psychology sections, there are many details, tasks, and people to keep track of throughout the year.
Under the “Class Setup” list, she uses Trello’s Advanced Checklist feature to create detailed to-do lists of everything she and her team of graduate students and teaching assistants needs to accomplish at the beginning of every semester. Within the card and on the checklist, all tasks are assigned an owner and a due date.
She and her team can glance at the cards and checklists to identify who is doing what, and by when. Board users can also view individual checklist items and their due dates within Calendar View for a larger perspective. These cards have become the central area where Dr. Cavazos and her team put their minds together to achieve their goals.
Labels are also used on cards to designate the primary owner of the project and the type of class they are planning—either online or face-to-face. She also uses Card Covers to give context to projects and tasks at a high-level view.
All of the Trello cards are connected to Dropbox with folders and files, ranging from assignments and course evaluations to syllabi and research documentation. Dr. Cavazos uses an OU Intro Psychology Dropbox instance to house all of her course and research information. The intuitive structured files of Dropbox make it easy for her to recognize this information on particular Trello cards and work seamlessly between the two tools.
In Trello, the Dropbox files display as rich thumbnails, so information is easily identifiable without having to click through, as long as only a quick glance is needed for context or check-in on progress.
“Before, we used Microsoft Word to keep track of these projects and details, but it didn’t have the organizational features and flexible workflows that Trello and Dropbox provide. I love how these tools work together since they all have a different purpose, and having them work together is vital to staying organized.” - Dr. Cavazos.
Applying Lessons Learned Thanks To Digital Tools
Anyone outside of academia may envision professors and teachers basking in the sun during summer breaks, but that dream-like picture is often far from the truth.
Dr. Cavazos explains, “The work is never over. Our classes are never finished, and we can always make them better. With research requirements, service work, and many courses, having tools and a process for organization provides this sense of completion. Even if all of these projects are weighing on me, Trello and Dropbox help me feel like I’m making progress and do the next steps without reinventing the wheel.”
Dr. Cavazos applies aspects of agile methodology to her teaching style. She encourages her graduate students to ask students for feedback and ways to improve the courses.
Once she and her team gather this data from students, they then record the information and insights in Dropbox and attach them to Trello cards so they can refer to them when building the next semester’s syllabi and curriculums.
With this system in place, Dr. Cavazos and her team of graduate students and teaching assistants have the same context for what worked and what didn’t in the prior semester. When they finally do take a well deserved break before another semester begins, they can easily refer to their notes and checklists to apply these learnings.
Educate From Anywhere With Trello And Dropbox
Dr. Cavazos’s file management in Dropbox and organized workflows in Trello are a digital dream. By taking a page from her lesson plan, professors and educators around the world can better organize the many moving pieces of coursework, research projects, and teaching all in one place. Trello and Dropbox make the perfect digital tool duo for educators to organize, collaborate, and stay productive, whether they’re teaching on campus or from the comfort of their home.
University professors and educators who embrace these approaches to online productivity and collaboration will reap the rewards of remote learning, especially as it continues to boom.
Want to enable the Dropbox Power-Up for your workflows? Follow these easy steps:
- Go to the Dropbox Power-Up Page
- Select “Add Power-Up”
- From the dropdown list, select the board that you would like to add the Power-Up to
- Boom, you’re done!
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