Sep 19, 2012

Trello: An online collaboration platform

I am continuously looking for collaboration tools that are simple to use, that work and are (ahem) not blocked at school. If I could use Google Docs with my students on a regular basis I would probably stop there - Google really has put together quite the user-friendly collaboration experience. As budgets get tighter across the country I would not be surprised to see more districts drop their Microsoft contracts and opt for Google's free suite.

That day has not arrived where I'm at - and unfortunately Google Docs is just not a viable option for during-the-school-day collaboration. But hey - this isn't a post lamenting the lack of Docs for my students - rather I want to share with you a very cool tool I've been using to replace my fix on Docs.
Trello's logo, from
Let me say - a new collaboration platform I've found is even better than Google Docs. If you knew how much I love the Google infrastructure, you'd know how tough it was for me to write that; but this new tool is absolutely that good. For those of you who didn't read the title - I'm talking about Trello. 

What is Trello?

Trello is a collaboration tool that, well, in their own words:
"Trello is a collaboration tool that organizes your projects into boards. In one glance, Trello tells you what's being worked on, who's working on what, and where something is in a process." 
Trello is a monster "to-do" list that you can modify with team-mates. Let's say you wanted to create a new task, assign that task to someone, give it a due date, upload an attachment to it, color code it, vote for it,... that's Trello. Trello was built for project management; specifically it was designed by a company whose business is making project management simpler. (Even more specifically it was designed by FogCreek Software, check them out, for software developers to help them manage their development tasks).

My brother turned me toward Trello a few years ago and I've been using it since for my own software projects. It only recently occurred to me - what if I used this as a collaboration tool for my students? What if I showed my students how to use this tool, a tool which is being used prolifically in the contemporary software industry, and have them build their own projects with it?

Why didn't I think of this before?
The sign up page

How do I get Trello?

When you go to Trello you'll be confronted with the typical sign in or sign up mechanisms. Go ahead and create an account (you can even just sign in with your Google account - and interestingly you can allow your Trello account to talk to your Google Docs account - which is AWESOME. But seriously, this is really cool). 

You'll need an email address - something any effective collaborator should have already - if you don't have an email address I'm calling you out (high school students, this means you). 

Important note - Trello does not work on antiquated browsers. If you're using Internet Explorer, I'm talking to you (and interestingly, so is Germany). I'm using Chrome and Firefox and have no problems. If you get the "browser is not supported" warning, just head over to and download away. 

I've got a Trello Account; now what?

Options on the right
Trello may automatically direct you to a "Welcome Board" - this is your own personal sandbox to play around with and get acquainted with how Trello works. It's fine to play around on the Welcome board, but you'll eventually want to graduate to your own, self-made, boards. To do to that, go back to the main trello page ( 

On the right you should see some options. You can change your profile here, see which organizations you belong to, create a new board, or create a new organization. 

I think it's best to start off with creating a new organization - this will just be your group's presence on Trello. The organization can be public or private and will be used to collect all of the "to-do-lists" you will eventually create. After you've created an organization, create some boards!

The boards...

The meat-and-potatoes of Trello are in the boards. Here you can create custom lists, such as "Today's Assignments" and within each list create individual cards which you can populate with attachments, due dates, check lists, etc.. A student who logs into Trello and visits your "assignments" boards knows exactly what you are doing that day, when it's due, and can download attachments directly from cards.

One of the best features of the boards is the "drag and drop" mechanism of the cards - when you want to move something from "Today's Assignments" to "Past Assignments" just drag it over!  I've been using Trello in developing my calculus course and love the option to just move a "planned" task to a "completed" task with the drag-and-drop of a mouse. 

Drag and Drop - Move a card from one list to another in a snap!
Trello Android App!
I strongly recommend playing around with Trello before using it in your classrooms - but you probably will because it is that great. If you use it for nothing more than a personal "to-do-board' I feel like this will please you still. Perhaps the icing on the cake is that Trello has recently released an Andriod and iPhone app that is quite well polished. Your students will love that as well. 

A wrap up

If you are looking for an effective collaboration tool, check out Trello; it is my favorite (and I'm picky). It really is nothing like anything I've used before and it works, period. 

If you teach a class where students are working on projects together this is a great tool to teach them project management skills. 

Give it a shot!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this information. Glad to know about Trello online collaboration platform. I was searching for this kind of online service for my Project Management. Trello provide very useful services. I like this service most that all information inside the project cannot be destroyed, closed tasks are placed inside a special storage, easily accessible for anyone, who want to restore them. I like your post. Keep sharing.