Yes, Scrum Does Work in Education!

The Practical Use of Scrum in Teaching

7 February 2014


I attended "Give Thanks for Scrum" in Boston in November 2013. In a stroke of luck, Jeff Sutherland gave one of the key presentations, along with Ken Schwaber. The presentation by Jeff was a great review of the state of Agile/Scrum and where we are going in the future. Jeff brought a fascinating set of facts about the use of Scrum in education. The website eduScrum.com, based in the Netherlands, explains the pioneering use of Scrum in schools. The site states that each student knows exactly what they have to do, why they have to do it, and when they have to do it so they can better themselves and also better the teams they are on.

As I drove home from the presentation, I wondered whether the classes I teach part time could benefit from this model. How would adult students take to this new approach? I reviewed the eduScrum website and other material at length over the recent academic break and one day sat down with a blank Powerpoint template and started to align Agile with three somewhat distinct classes.

I first brought the Scrum process to a project management class, assuming it might take some time to get across but that we would work through any kinks in the process. The majority of the students are international. They listened intently when I described the process and the expectations. The work product they were given was to plan a project to build an office building from a picture I gave them. The students broke themselves into teams and the room was on fire. I described how to form sprints, and I threw them a number of curves regarding the specifications. I witnessed a class of bright people who were let loose from the confines of sitting at desks and taking notes from a lecture. What's my role? I still provide lectures, give considerable guidance, and at times jump into teams.

I then wanted to move my initial success to two other classes, financial management and financial accounting. In these classes I was more skeptical that Scrum might not be embraced as it was in the project management class. I'm happy to say that I was wrong in my preconceptions. I provided a more structured introduction to the process and gave a very honest appraisal of the current failings in delivering education today. At the beginning, the students were surprised that a professor would take the risk to approach a class in such a different way. They also readily admitted that they were usually overwhelmed and that the idea of determining their own delivery dates was very appealing.

I continue to work through each week and fine-tune the model I have rolled out to my classes. The students, who were formerly tied to seats and restricted by archaic restrictions, have seen a light and feel empowered.

My parting remark to the students in each class, after Scrum was introduced, was, "You are now free to drive and gain true value from your education. Be bold, because this is your education!"

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