A guide to project management in education (with tips)
Project management is a set of skills and methodologies that enables the accomplishment of goals and objectives within existing constraints. Like many other sectors, education has its own projects that benefit from a project management approach. If you're a project management professional interested in working in the education sector, knowing the relevance of your skills and how to apply them can be useful. In this article, we explain what project management in education means, list tips for education-specific project management, discuss how to identify the right tools and list some examples.
What is project management in education?
Project management in education refers to how you can apply the methodologies and skills of project management in education projects. Like many organisations, schools and other educational institutions introduce new projects and have budgetary and other constraints. There are broadly two categories of projects within the education sector. One is project-based learning (PBL), an approach to teaching whereby students complete projects to learn more about a given subject. The other type is a project that benefits or improves the educational institution in some way, such as constructing a new facility.
For project management professionals, the latter type is the most relevant. Here's a list of examples of types of projects you might encounter:
Learning improvement: Educational institutions might implement projects which aim to improve the learning outcomes for students on a given subject. For instance, a school may implement a science learning improvement project with dedicated workshops and better classroom facilities to improve students' understanding of science in practice.
Facilities improvement: Schools have various facilities for providing students with a comprehensive and supportive learning experience. Improving the school's facilities can mean upgrading existing ones or introducing new facilities, such as a new science laboratory or sports field.
Awareness projects: An awareness project often relates to an initiative to help teachers understand various issues. For instance, a school might set up workshops and seminars with outside experts to improve teachers' awareness of the requirements of students with learning disabilities like dyslexia or language processing disorder.
Curriculum implementation: When a school has an update to its curriculum, it may initiate a project to implement this. The task involves assessing existing teaching methods and facilities and integrating the new curriculum, which can involve training teachers, hiring new staff and upgrading facilities.
Adaptation projects: An adaptation project can encompass multiple other types and enables the school to function in a new way. An example of this would be introducing the facilities and skills for teachers to teach and other staff to work remotely when in-person work isn't possible.
Tips for higher education projects
Here are some tips to consider when working on a project within the context of higher education, although these may also be relevant for other educational institutions:
Set the right goals
All effective projects have feasible and desirable goals that guide their work. The type of project usually dictates the goals in question. In an educational setting, the primary beneficiaries of these goals are the students. Even when the goals of the project don't relate directly to students, they still tend to benefit indirectly. For instance, an awareness project for staff has the primary effect of imparting new knowledge to staff. Students benefit from this indirectly because staff are more understanding of some of their unique needs. A good approach to goal-setting is to set SMART goals.
SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. Specific means the goals are clear and identifiable. Measurable means there's some metric or another method for quantifying the results. Achievable means it's possible to reach these goals within existing constraints. Relevant means the goals actually address the issue in question. Time-bound means there's a set deadline within which you want to achieve these goals.
Conduct thorough assessments
An assessment takes place before the implementation of the project and enables you to determine whether the project is worthwhile and feasible. You can use the SMART framework to analyse a project proposal or idea and compare it to the needs of the educational institution in question. Higher education institutions have resource constraints like any other organisation and it's vital these resources address the most pressing demands of the institution. For example, a university that has lower-than-average scores among students might find a learning improvement project more relevant than a new sports field.
Identify the right interested parties
In an institute of higher education like a university or college, the students are going to be interested parties in some way. They're among the primary beneficiaries of the institution's activities, in addition to teaching staff and others. Identifying and analysing the interested parties in a project is necessary for successful implementation. In the case of education, any analysis of interested parties is going to include a section on the students. Next to them are the teachers, who perform the main work of an educational institution. Whenever they're the beneficiaries of a project, the students are likely to benefit too.
There are also some external interested parties. In school-level education, the parents might be more involved. In universities and colleges, local employers and partner organisations also benefit from access to skilled and capable graduates.
Data is a useful resource for both planning and assessing projects. You can use data to identify key challenges when evaluating a project proposal or setting goals. Data can also be useful for quantifying the results of your project, which is the 'M' in SMART. When a project relates to improving outcomes for students, student data is going to be key to this. This can include quantitative data on student scores or qualitative data like surveys of student satisfaction. Visualisation and sharing of data are also key for communicating with stakeholders.
How to select the right tools
If you want to select the right project management tools for educational settings, here are some elements to consider:
1. Enable collaboration
Many projects rely on collaboration in some form. In an educational setting, this might mean people with different skill sets collaborating to reach a common goal. For instance, there might be a project manager, teachers, administrators, external contractors and analysts. For these professionals to all collaborate effectively, it's necessary they understand each other's work and can contribute to project goals. Project management tools that facilitate communication and sharing are very useful in this regard.
2. Make workflows clear
A project can involve multiple workflows that operate in parallel, converge, diverge and lead to specific goals. Project management tools that help you visualise these tasks and their results can help you track progress and help others understand the context of their work within the larger project. Virtual Kanban boards are a good example of this.
3. Track resources
As a project progresses, it can require new resources, stop using existing ones and encounter unexpected demands. A key resource for any project is its budget, with which it acquires most other resources. Tracking expenditures over time and identifying the extent to which current expenditure is over or below the budget can help you manage expectations. It's also useful for assessing the efficiency of project activities, which in turn improves assessments for future projects. Tools that can gather or receive such data over time and present it are very valuable for project managers.
Examples of useful tools
Here are some tools which may be useful for project managers working in the education sector:
Trello: This is a virtual Kanban-style board tool that allows you to organise and arrange tasks with a clear layout. It has an interface that's easy to understand and many of the basic features you'd require.
Basecamp: This project management tool is useful for deadline management and monitoring progress over time. It's also useful for collaboration, enabling various stakeholders to provide their input.
Monday.com: This is a project management platform that centralises files and work-related information, enabling access from various locations simultaneously. It also has a customisable dashboard and automation.
nTask: A project management tool with multiple features, nTask has visuals for tasks and milestones plus to-do lists. It also centralises information for access and features communication tools.
Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
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