By Joanna Wolfe
Whenever I talk to people in industry about what they need from UT graduates, they typically tell me that students need to be able to manage projects. That doesn't typically mean formal project management, but it does involve setting objectives, developing a task list and schedule, delegating, and collaborating with others. Unfortunately, group projects in writing classes typically don't provide mechanisms for helping students to collaborate or plan projects; students are usually thrown into groups and asked to cooperate. So I've put together a standard presentation for my classes focusing on the strategic, tactical, and operational components of project planning; I've asked them to use project management software with common task lists; and I've had them use collaborative software for writing, such as Google Docs or a wiki.
Joanna Wolfe, who received her PhD from the University of Texas not long ago, has gone light years beyond that. I am really thrilled with this book, which introduces students to the basics of project management and collaboration. Based on her work on collaboration for an NSF grant, she has systematized collaboration for students, including several genres such as task schedules, meeting minutes and agendas, project plans, and team charters. She includes diagnostics for discovering students' working styles so they can become aware of how each member prefers to work. She comes up with innovative ways of dealing with low-investment students, such as allowing disinterested students to negotiate up front for a lower grade in return for a lower workload. She describes different methods of collaborative writing, of conflict resolution, of soliciting feedback, of prodding late team members to contribute.
In short, Wolfe has put together what I consider to be an invaluable guide for team projects. The book is thin and she assures us that it could be handled within a two-week class segment. It is supplemented by videos on the book's website. And it can be optionally bundled with other Bedford/St, Martin books at a discount – something that will lead me to reexamine that catalog. I will almost certainly assign this book in some of my future courses.