1. Learn what Basecamp can do and what it cannot do.

Basecamp is built to collaborate on projects, structuring communication in a way that naturally fits into any progressive undergraduate classroom and most graduate seminars.

Basecamp isn’t your feature-packed LMS. Instead, Basecamp will get you back to your classroom priorities: documents, projects, and communication. Basecamp doesn’t even have a Gradebook (which makes you realize that you don’t really need one).

Consider reading The Basecamp Guide to Internal Communication. If this workplace communication manifesto gets your juices flowing, keep reading, Basecamp is your people.

Watch this video explaining the basics of Basecamp using podcast production as the example. If you watch that and can’t wrap your head around how you’d facilitate a class using Basecamp, maybe stop here.

Otherwise, sign up for a trial of Basecamp.

Follow Basecamp’s instructions for getting your free teacher account.

Consider how Message boards, To-Dos, Docs & Files, Campfire Chat, and Check-Ins can facilitate project-based learning.

If you’re not already doing project-based learning, hopefully Basecamp can change that!

Decide on a grading schema (more on that later) and post your syllabus as the first document. I do a 50/50 grading method. 50% of the grade is evaluated at the end of the semester based on student contributions in and in Basecamp (“Real-time sometimes, asynchronous most of the time.”). The other 50% is evenly weighted using student grades on 4-5 group projects.

2. Onboard your class.

Send email invites to their college email address. They can set up their Basecamp account later using an email they prefer.

Show the short onboarding video to your class.

Explain the high level outcomes that you expect the students to get from your class and how Basecamp will assist in achieving those learning outcomes.

You need to believe it for yourself before you tell your students, but 18-24 year olds are pretty quick to adopt a new product if you can demonstrate immediate utility, which Basecamp does out of the box. No one is excited to enroll in another Moodle, Canvas, or Blackboard Course. Basecamp will click with them instantly.

3. Assign benchmark reading.

I like to assign Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates in COMS seminars. I’ll use Universal Principles of Design, Revised and Updated: 125 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions, and Teach through Design in a UX class. The key is selecting an achievable complete text assigned between classes.

After everyone has had a chance to read, assign a check-in with a prompt like: “What did you learn from the reading?” A Basecamp check-in (especially if you don’t know it’s coming) usually elicits a fair, measured, but brief response from students.

Daily graded journals in a LMS are too arduous to maintain. Basecamp check ins are just right.

Pro Tip: Start boosting student reflections in real time. The students will see your example in Basecamp immediately and join in.

4. Pick Project Captains

Let the students have some time to reflect on the check-ins of their peers. Then, “may the odds be ever in your favor!”

Ask them to heat-map vote their favorite posts with boosts and emojis.

Cue up a playlist like this one made by a student this semester:

Give students time to work and read working alone, together.

Select the top learnings and appoint those members as team captains for the project team draft.

5. Draft Project Teams

Do not put more people on a team that you’d feel comfortable leading in a design sprint (7-8). For example, I currently have 20 students broken up into 4 groups of 5.

Ask students to respond to a message board exercise posting a short explanation of the talents that they bring to the table as a prospective team member (i.e. “social media savvy” or “Adobe skills,” strong GPA, etc.). This is their draft profile.

I ask the students directly: “If I’m one of the top 4 students in the class right out of the gate, why should I want you on my team?”

Students might feel uncomfortable doing this at first; remind them they are already doing this every day, they’re just not writing it down or making it so direct.

Create Draft Cards on Post-It notes and start your draft!

Use a snake draft method, which simply means that the last selection of the first round also gets the first selection of the subsequent round.

6. Assign Team Projects

I like to use the momentum of the first assigned reading to build the first project. For example, if students reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates are led into a project description that asks them to reflect on the relative power of their college as a character in their life the same way that Howard is central character in Coates book.

Use your Basecamp Education Discount super powers to open individual Basecamps for each of your project teams. Assign roles, asset them in making a to-do list, suggest outside reading, upload suggested reading, participate in their conversations, and guide their project.

7. Competitive Grading Scale

Higher education suffers from a Goldilocks grading syndrome. Faculty can’t give out too many A’s or too few. Everyone seems to take grading very seriously. Faculty often treat grades like objective calculations. Students treat grades like there is nothing else.

I make one thing very clear: In the real world, people lose and they lose publicly. College is place where we should cushion your fall. The worst grade a student can receive on a project based learning assignment is an 80.

With four teams of (5) students, I’ll award the following grades: 80/85/90/95.

The lowest scoring team is immediately broken up to become the captains for the next project draft. With five teams of (4) students, I’ll award: 80/85/90/95/100.

8. Evaluation

All projects should be evaluated by at least three different parties: Me (the professor, also the tiebreaker), peers and at least one external grader.

Students are aware that their project might be shared with a colleague or member of the college staff for evaluation/ranking, made possible by using a simple ordinal-rank grading system.

9. Roll It Back

Congrats! You’ve just managed your first set of class projects in Basecamp. Roll it back and start over. Lowest achieving students are now the new team captains and they are in charge of their own destiny. Nobody gets sandbagged by a group project using this method.

10. Grade Basecamp

If you use a 50/50 grading schema like mine, you’ll need to take stock of all Basecamp asynchronous discussion contributions of each student at the end of each semester. I also do this at least once or twice throughout the semester to check on individual students.

You can do this in Basecamp simply by clicking on the student’s avatar and selecting, “See what _______ has been up to.”

Basecamp keeps you teaching, not grading.