Basecamp for Teachers

Basecamp is an online team and project management tool, similar to Slack. Both Basecamp and Slack are popular with big and small entities (business, non-profits, schools, etc.) , allowing various modes of communication, task assignment, and file sharing, with each having good mobile apps. C&EN, the official magazine of the American Chemical Society, covered How Slack-ing helps chemists manage their labs. I used Basecamp this summer to to manage my research group’s communication and activities. It was a hit with students and I loved it too!

I set up a Basecamp account and created a basecamp called ‘Burks Lab’ and invited by summer students to join. This basecamp’s home page is below.

basecamp loading page

Each basecamp features a Campfire (instant chat), The Messages Board (longer living announcements), To-Dos (task assignments), Docs & Files, Schedules, Pings (private messages), Automatic Questions (of your choosing, e.g. “What did you do today?”), and a variety of Reports. As administer of the basecamp, I can set-up a variety of campfires and to-do lists by project and/or team. Both myself and students can post messages, chat in campfires, comment on assignments, examine our individual reports or schedules.   My favorite feature is To-Dos for two reasons – it keep both me and the students on-point.

For me, it required that I clearly articulate each task in writing, which forced me to consider each task more deeply then when I simply rattle off “blah blah, then do blah blah and let me know.” Each task is assigned to a user (or more!) and has a due date. The assigned user checks off the task when complete and I get a notification. I review the work, providing feedback as a comment to the To-Do. If more work needed to be done, I would uncheck the assignment and it would go back into the To-Do queue. Each To-do offers me and the student opportunities to communicate extensively about a particular task. They could comment with questions regarding the assignment and to share preliminary results (with attachments). Often, students would suggest additional assignment components.

What about off-the-cuff conversations in the lab or my office that led to a new task or modification of a task? I would summarize and create a new To-Do or edit an existing one. I think using Basecamp in this fashion enhanced task management and team communication. Student liked checking off tasks, getting ‘Applause’ from me on their comments, and see the list of “To-Dones” grow. In Basecamp, students can quickly see what’s on their individual To-Do lists and run reports to see what they’ve done or have on deck. This proved helpful in writing up their weekly reports for Dr. Kopec, in addition to managing their time. Below is an example of Basecamp’s ‘What has someone been up to?” report.

basecamp report

These reports also helped me keep a day-by-day record of team activities, as well as more “big picture” project progression. This is critical for reporting to funding agencies and other entities. Basecamp allows me to manage my team and generate documentation concurrently – a chemist’s dream!

Let’s talk turkey – what does it cost? Absolutely nothing. Teachers get Basecamp for free and teachers get unlimited basecamps. For instance, I can maintain my Burks Lab basecamp and add one for upper division class I am teaching. This program does have limits…

“…can only be used for your classroom work. It can’t be used for personal, professional, or for-profit projects outside of the classroom. We’re on the honor system here, but if we do discover abuses we reserve the right to revoke the account or remove the free status.” (see Teachers get Basecamp for free)

If I wanted to set up a basecamp for working on a grant or paper with colleagues, we’d all have to enroll in a class. I joke! Or do I?


Go-for-Launch Brings Japanese and American Student Teams Together

The first 30 students at Go-For-Launch St. Edward's University, 11 - 13 July 2016.

The first 30 students at Go-For-Launch St. Edward’s University, 11 – 13 July 2016.

St. Edward’s University hosted its inaugural “Go-For-Launch!” event 11 – 13 July 2016.  30 students participated with 15 here as part of the summer program with Asia Pacific University and 15 from Austin-area high schools.

Team Rigel builds their paper tower on Day 1.

Team Rigel builds their paper tower on Day 1.

Astronaut Mike Foreman met with students all three days, answering questions about life in space and the technical challenges associated with conducting experiments on the International Space Station (ISS).

Students formed teams of 5, with no more than 3 international students on any given team.  Monday started with competitions included building a paper tower, selecting a team name, and designing a team mission patch.  By Wednesday, teams had designed an experiment for the International Space Station.

In addition to Astronaut Foreman, Mac McCall (a longtime NASA contractor with Boeing who worked 18 years on ISS projects), Associate Vice President of Global Initiatives Bill Clabby, Visiting Assistant Professor of Physics Paul Walter, Dr. Paul Colosky (Space Physiologist), Dean of Natural Sciences Gary A. Morris, and CEO and Founder of Higher Orbits Michelle Lucas did the judging.

The winning project, designed by a team called, “Ryusei 5,” sought to watch a phytoplankton species (Nannochloropsis) develop on the ISS to determine the impact of the low gravity environment.


We look forward to hosting Go-For-Launch! at St. Edward’s again next summer, 10 – 12 July 2017.  Spread the word!

Winning team, Ryusei 5, with Astronaut Mike Foreman at the inaugural Go-For-Launch! event at St. Edward's University, 11 - 13 July 2016.

Winning team, Ryusei 5, with Astronaut Mike Foreman at the inaugural Go-For-Launch! event at St. Edward’s University, 11 – 13 July 2016.


Event for Students – Reimagining Your Future: Business and Science Students in Laboratory Austin

Topic:             Reimagining your Future: Business and Science Students in Laboratory Austin

Who:  Current NSCI and MSB undergraduate students, facilitated by Bro. Richard Daley, with Dean Nancy Schreiber (MSB) and Dean Gary A. Morris (NSCI).

What:  A brainstorming workshop that empowers business and science students to collaborate with each other and develop the skills necessary to pursue a thriving career in Austin.  The outcome from your conversation will help the Deans identify ways to help you achieve your goals.


• Business students and science students develop collaboration and communications skills between the disciplines
• Learn about the skill sets needed to help fill Austin’s tech talent gap (i.e., how to increase your odds on getting hired in Austin)
Share your ideas for ways St. Edward’s University can help, programmatically or through extra-curricular activities
• Communicate directly with Dean Gary A. Morris (School of Natural Sciences) and Dean Nancy Schreiber (Munday School of Business)

Date:                Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Time:               3:30 pm – 6:30 pm includes dinner
Location:         JBWN 206

NOTE:  Registration is limited to 40 students (20 from MSB and 20 from NSCI).  Register here TODAY!

UPDATE:  As of 9:30 am on Thursday, 21 April, we have only 9 NSCI STUDENTS REGISTERED!  MSB has 20 students registered!  Help us out, NSCI Students!