Scrum in education, changing the classroom

Scrum in education, changing the classroom

I’m a teacher at the Saxion University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. We use scrum in several student projects and this works very well. So this is an article about how scrum is changing education, based on my own experiences. After a short introduction to scrum (so skip first paragraph if you already know scrum). I will give some practical examples of how scrum is used in education, based on my own experiences. Currently many companies use scrum to develop products and services in an iterative way. Scrum is an iterative development method where a product is developed in several short cycles, called sprints. In every sprint a small (working!) part of the entire system is created.

After every sprint  the functionality is demonstrated to all stakeholders (including the customer). Based on their input the ongoing development can be adjusted if needed. This makes it a very flexible method. At the start of software project, it it impossible to determine the exact outcome of the project. During a project many things change, the development team as well as the customer comes to new insights during the project. With scrum a team can embrace change, instead of uneffectively hold on to the plan of ”approach’. But hey, you thought this article was about using scrum in education? Yes it is, keep reading 😉

Why does scrum appeal to students?

In my projects and courses students often work together in projects, creating solutions for real companies. These solutions certainly don’t have to be IT related. It works for every complex product students have to create, where the exact outcome can’t be determined at the start of the project. Most of the time the exact outcome is not clear. Using an adaptable and iterative method like scrum, it is easier for the students to implement changes along the way. And maybe more important; they are encouraged to discover what their customer/teacher wants, when the projects progresses.

Most of the time project duration is 1o weeks, and one sprint takes a week. In these short iterations the students are able to frequently demonstrate partial products to their customer/teacher. With the weekly feedback they can further improve. This is completely different to the approach where students have to write a plan at the start of project, where they describe in detail what they are going to do and what they are going to deliver. Most of the times this is a frustrating approach, because students don’t know the outcome of the project and the outcome is not what they described in their initial plan.

It works for every complex product students have to create

At the start of a sprint (which is a fixed period of 1 to 4 weeks) all tasks to achieve the sprint goal are defined. There are user stories, which are large tasks and they are split into small sprint tasks. These sprint tasks are the tasks the team members are working on daily. For every task the team keeps track of its status (to do, in progress, done) on a scrum board. This is one of the aspects of scrum that make it very useful in education. With the scrum board, there is always an overview of what work still needs to be done, which tasks students are currently working on and what tasks are already finished. This is a very transparent way of working, not only for the students, but also for the teacher(s). My experience is that it gives students the feeling that they are working closer together and have a clearer view what they are working on.

Some practical examples, why scrum in the classroom is great 🙂

In the next few paragraphs I will highlight some scrum elements in different educational settings, from high school to higher education. These practical examples will show the strength of scrum in the classroom!

One of the best elements of scrum is the scrumboard. It always gives a clear overview of the status of a sprint in one glance. Not only is it clear for the students what to do, but also for the teacher. He or she can be easily updated just be being present during a 10 min daily update of the project: the stand-up. This improves communication within the team and makes working together more effective and above all; more fun! Of course there are several challenges in an educational setting.

Students are not working on the project every day and often in different classrooms. This makes it a challenge for every team to have their own physical scrumboard. Using a digital tool scrumboard (like Trello) is an option, but my experience is that this is not good for communication and teamwork. Students keep looking at their screen, instead of communicating with each other. The ideal situation is that they have a dedicated classroom for the entire duration of the project. In this way they can create their own workspace, with a physical scrumboard. Doing standups and giving the teachers an update anytime they want.

That’s what we call the definition of fun!

Using one week sprints also improves the fun in working together. Students have focus during the week on a smaller part of the project, which motivates them to create something workable for the sprint demo at the end of the week. The sprint demo is a very good moment to demonstrate their hard work to the other student teams and to the teachers. This is a weekly ritual and it is fun to see weekly progress. Speaking of fun, the sprint demo’s should of course be fun. That’s what we call the definition of fun! Students usually make it fun taking something to eat&drink and playing games afterwards. This usually creates a great atmosphere and work spirit among the teams.

The retrospective is also an important team meeting, which is a bit more serious. Students discuss how they can improve for the next sprint. Honest feedback to improve is the key. Also creating a work setting where students dare to say what needs to be improved is important.

To sum it up: I have great experiences with scrum in student projects and courses, it gives the students a whole new approach in working together in projects. Of course it’s not the holy grail, but if used in the right setting and with the right attitude, it can make education much more fun!

If you have any questions or want some advice on scrum in an educational setting, please let me know!