How to Run a University Program on Rock: The Digital Superstart Challenge





Future of Work


Dylan Cromhout is a lecturer at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and a managing director of marketing agency Brand Shepherd. He uses Rock for both: projects at the university as well as marketing agency work.

Throughout this article we share how Dylan coordinates a large student group on Rock. But first, let’s learn more about the university course he runs, named the ‘Digital Superstart Challenge’!

What is the ‘Digital Superstart Challenge’?

How can we make universities more productive for societies? Can we prepare students for real life work environments instead of focusing only on academic research? These are the questions that inspired Dylan to create the ‘Digital Superstart Challenge’ program.

The program is part of the course Marketing Diploma that he teaches at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) which was started in 2010.The project connects around 250 students with approximately 400 small businesses.

The aim of the program is to create a mutually beneficial exchange: students help small businesses improve their online presence, and businesses give them a launchpad to obtain real life marketing skills.

For example, students help create social media pages or update business websites. This gives them hands-on experience and marketing skills for their future careers‘.

Small businesses don’t always have resources to pay for expensive marketing. Luckily, there are many talented students who can learn important skills while helping those small companies.’ - Dylan shares the main idea of the project.

How to manage an educational project with 200+ students without breaking the bank?

In 2021, the program was launched for the first time fully online. Dylan shares that in the beginning it was very challenging and stressful to find tools which would allow him to manage such a big project fully remotely. At first, a Whatsapp group with around 200 students was created.

However, it quickly became clear that there were too many variables and people involved to just facilitate the program on Whatsapp. At that time, Dylan started to search for a WhatsApp alternative. He shares that most of the communication and task management tools he encountered were way too expensive as they charge per user.

The list of options narrowed down even further when Dylan realized that they had to look for a free alternative. ‘Firstly, we wanted to combine Discord for chatting, Todoist for task management and Google Drive for file sharing. These were the only free tools that I could find that could manage more than 100 users easily.’ - says Dylan.

However, shortly after starting to combine those different tools, Dylan discovered  Rock! and because of the affordable pricing as well as tasks and chat being in one place, Dylan decided to give it a go.

Learnings from the first edition of the fully online Digital Superstart Challenge

After testing Rock for a while, Dylan was confident enough that Rock would work for them and decided to introduce it to students. The program was successfully managed and completed on Rock.

Running the program for the first time added some learnings for the future. ‘The main learning from last year - use one space for the whole project. It was way too complicated to have a space per student.’ - shares Dylan.

Rock makes the Digital Superstart Challenge program work because it’s mainly dependent on tasks being completed. Combining messaging with a task management system makes it easier for students and Dylan to communicate and collaborate.

How to manage an educational project on Rock: Detailed workflow on the second edition of the fully online Digital Superstart Challenge

This year, Dylan and his colleague May are running the ‘Digital Superstart Challenge’ on Rock again. Based on learnings from last year they made some workflow changes that make running the course a smoother experience.

Dylan shares the details of his workflow which allows him to manage a project with around 250 students on Rock successfully. Below you can find a detailed step-by-step management flow of the course:

1. One space per project

Dylan and his colleague created a main project space for the ‘Digital Superstart Challenge’ where participating students are added and all the magic happens.

Dylan’s colleague May is assigned as the space admin. Her job is to monitor the space, update relevant information and assure that everything works smoothly.

‘We recommend having one person as the admin of a space with full editing rights. This person can make sure all tasks are neat and everything is going smoothly. You should add students as guests and not members, so that they have limited rights to change things in a space and can’t create or delete tasks. Otherwise, when hundreds of students have editing rights, it can end up messy.’ - Dylan shares.

2. Students fill out a Google Form

Students who participate in the program are asked to go to the ‘Digital Superstart Challenge’ landing page and fill out a Google Form there. They have one week to register.

Once they complete the form, students get an automated email with a link to join Rock. They create their Rock account and get added as guests in the main project space.

A tip from Dylan: Record a short Loom video to show students how to use Rock and share it in the main project space. It will help students to onboard quicker and start using Rock smoothly from the outset!

3. Everything happens in the Tasks mini-app

Dylan and his colleague add all the tasks that are necessary to be completed by students to the Tasks mini-app. They add due dates and detailed descriptions of what students need to do.

‘I also add links to videos which students need to watch to understand the tasks better. Also, I split tasks into different steps with a Checklist, so it's clear for students what exactly needs to be done to complete each task.’ - says Dylan.

General tasks don’t have assignees as they are the same for all students which are in the space. All students can see these tasks on the Calendar view. This way, they are aware of what needs to be done by when.

4. Automated tasks via Zapier

Students who participate at the program are in charge of finding small businesses to work with. Once they find candidates, they send them to a landing page where businesses can register by filling out a Google Form.

The Google Form is connected to Rock via the Zapier integration. Once a business registers, a task is automatically created in the main Rock project space. It occurs in a specific list dedicated to businesses.

All the business details which they fill out while completing the Google Form appear in the task description, so nothing falls through the cracks.

5. Students take over tasks of businesses

Once a task of a new business registration is automatically created, a notification pops up in the space chat. Students are in charge of finding tasks of companies which they acquired.

They use the tasks comment section to claim their businesses. The space admin confirms and assigns the student as an assignee to the task.

6. Business related details are tracked within a task

From now on, everything that is related to a specific business and the student assigned to that business happens within the comments section of the task. If students have questions or need some help regarding a specific business case, they communicate in the comments.

The space admin, May, helps out by answering questions, editing descriptions of tasks accordingly and adding labels.  Everything is structured and all information about each combination of business and student is easy to find.

7. Task labels help to identify students’ progress

A part of the task for students is to invite businesses to join a Facebook group. When students complete it and business owners join that group, students share this information in the comment section of the business task.

The admin checks the comments and adds a label called ‘FB ’in order to identify that this specific business has joined the relevant Facebook group.

Labels indicate which steps students have completed with a specific company, so it gives a good visual representation of where each business stands and how much work a student still needs to do. It also helps us filter tasks based on what has been completed so that we can track progress.

8. Tasks are finished!

Once all relevant labels are collected as well as most important information is up to date, students’ tasks get moved to the next phase. Different lists are used to denote phases.

When all is done, tasks get moved to the ‘Done’ list. This indicates that students completed all the steps with helping businesses to improve their online presence!

Invite businesses to Rock

Rock is being used by software developers, startups, and freelancers because it’s very flexible and customizable. At the moment, around 250 students are involved in the program and update their work on Rock successfully. That relieves Dylan and May from a lot of stress in terms of managing the program.

Dylan shares that it would be great to involve not only students but also businesses on Rock. If businesses would like to continue to work with Dylan’s team after the program, they will be invited to join Rock.‘For now, we only manage our students on Rock.

However, moving forward we would also like to use Rock to engage the businesses we work with. Most of them still use Whatsapp or Facebook for their communication but we would like to introduce them to Rock and show them how easy and structured communication and collaboration can be.’

Some businesses are reluctant to change because they are used to managing their communications on Whatsapp, Slack or Facebook Messenger. However, as the businesses grow, this will become more difficult and chaotic and that’s where Rock will be useful.

Starting educational projects on Rock

Dylan hopes that his experience can help and inspire other educational projects to be executed on Rock.‘I totally recommend using Rock for educational purposes.

You don’t need a huge budget, it has many great features and excellent customer support. I hope people working in education can learn from my experience and adapt my workflow for themselves. So they don’t have to go through a messy trial phase which I had last year.’ - says Dylan.

If you want to implement an educational project on Rock but still have questions, feel free to get in touch with the Rock team.

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