Process Thinking and Process Planning
It is not easy to develop a timeline for a project. Indeed, there is an entire field of study and practice devoted to this. Thus, you will likely need to provide your students with some instruction in how to develop a timeline, and some help in developing one.
A timeline is typically divided into chunks, each ending with a milestone. The PBL lesson may be designed so that some work is due (some feedback mechanism is used) at the end of each milestone.
Because time is usually a critical and limited resource for students, it is important to develop a timeline that shows how the time resource will be allocated. When undertaking a multi-day, time limited project, one can analyze the various tasks, estimate how long each will take, and determine the order in which the tasks need to be done. Some aspects of this are easy to do, while others are quite difficult. Thus, for example, it is clear that one cannot do the final desktop publication and printing of a report before the report is written. But, how long does it take to do the final desktop publication and printing of a two page report? A student may be faced by the problem that there is only one printer to serve 25 students, and thus that printing delays are common.
Estimating how long it will take to do something is often very difficult. Contractors of all sorts have to estimate time and materials as they bid on jobs. If they estimate too high, they are apt to be underbid. If they estimate too low, they are apt to get the job but make little or not profit.
You should not expect your students to be good at estimating how long it will take to do various parts of a project. Rather, you should use the situated learning environment of a project to help your students learn how to make such estimates.
Activity: Share some of your own strengths and weaknesses in developing and implementing a timeline for the various activities you carry out as a student or as a teacher. Share your experiences of getting better through experience.
Activity: Discuss in small groups the prognostication and poor timeline planning that you see in some of your students. What do you do about it? If you have good solutions to this problem, please share with the entire workshop audience.
It is often useful to develop a Task/Timeline Chart. The following figure illustrates a project to be carried out over a period of five days. The project consists of five tasks that are to be done sequentially. Thus, Task 1 is to be done on Day 1, Task 2 on Day 2, and so on.
The next figure shows a project that is broken into four major tasks to be done sequentially, but some tasks take more time than others.
The next example shows a project in which some of the tasks can be overlapped. Notice the column that contains the estimate of the total time for each task. Also, "slippage" has been listed in the Task column, and one day is provided for it. The total project is scheduled to be completed in seven days.
The next three figures are a timeline for a three-person team working on the development of a hypermedia stack. The team members are:
Part of the time the team members are working together, and part of the time they work individually. Notice that each team member has an individual task/timeline. If one team member fails to complete a critical task on time, the whole project will fail to be completed on time.
A milestone is a clearly defined measure of accomplishment of a task or sub task. We will illustrate milestones using a simple ICT-assisted PBL example. Suppose that the whole class is engaged in a project to develop a newsletter in which each student will write a short article and there will be a picture of each student included with his/her article. The overall project might be envisioned as follows.
Now, think about the above example in terms of scheduling access to equipment and in developing a detailed timeline. For example, there may be a bottleneck in getting the pictures taken, but picture taking can be spread out over a number of days. You can see that the overall planning task for this project may be rather complex.