What is a Sprint?
The concept of a sprint is probably most associated with software design and is becoming increasingly used as a strategy or approach for developing open education resources (OER). The sprint approach can be used in a variety of contexts where a group of people (often cross-disciplinary) comes together to focus on a specific project. In higher education, sprints are emerging as a way to accomplish a shared goal while working across disciplines and on a short timeline. Hackathons can follow a similar process but often have a competitive element.
The sprint methodology involves the following features:
- short timelines and achievable goals
- time-boxed working sessions (usually 2-3 days but can vary according to context and needs)
- a defined outcome (ie. textbook, resource, etc)
- a planning process to develop the sprint process.
- multiple perspectives and skill sets
- identified/agreed roles for participants.
- Collaborative rather than competitive development processes
The principles at the heart of an effective sprint process have been well defined in the literature on agile project management - specifically the values of a scrum - which is a term used to describe a framework within which people can address complex problems. These include 5 values or principles which we think work well as a guide in planning your sprint:
- Focus (staying focused on the goals of the sprint)
- Commitment (committing to the sprint process, timeline and goals)
- Openness (highlighting where help is needed and identifying blocks to progress during the sprint work)
- Respect (All contributors have a purpose and all contributions are valued.)
- Courage (Courage to change direction if called for; courage to open up to new ways of thinking - surfaced by the group)
"A book sprint brings together a group of experts to produce a finished book in 3 to 5 days. No advance preparation by participants is required—the group is guided by a skilled facilitator, from zero to published book. (This includes written content, illustration, and design.) The content of the finished book is high quality and is often made available immediately at the end of the sprint in all major digital formats and print-on-demand." booksprints.net
- Example: *Geography Textbook Sprint
"The basic motivation for an OER sprint is to bring people together to produce a resource that would otherwise not be created. It’s a great way to bring together the skills, energy and enthusiasm of people to collaborate to achieve something they could not achieve on their own." OER Sprint New Zealand. OER Sprints create and remix Open Educational Resources (OERs) for adoption and adaption in education.
In higher education, the value of a sprint is in bringing people together to work on a specific project. A sprint is valued as a method to achieve the following:
- Quickly develop an open resource, textbook, article, code or solve a problem
- Collaborate across roles and expertise - benefit from multidisciplinary approach
- Build capacity across different institutional roles
- Do in order to learn - the process of developing something together (however small) can lay the groundwork for bigger challenges or projects.
- Build trust among a diverse group by working together to create something.
- Break down institutional constraints and barriers.
A Sprint Process
The following section includes a description of how to plan, prepare for, set up and run a sprint. Each section includes a short checklist to guide you through the step. This compiled checklist. This infographic provides an at-a-glance view of the sprint process and the can be printed off as an overall guide.
Even before the sprint begins you will need to set up the right team, develop a goal, resource and questions, decide on the duration of the sprint and set up the logistics such as space.
Develop a Goal
For a sprint to be effective it is important to work together to determine a goal for the sprint. Having a clear goal early will help to create a shared understanding and ensure that people will be attending the sprint with shared expectations. Developing goals for the sprint is something that require considerable attention and detail and this process can be informed by design thinking. You may wish to consider hosting a design session before the sprint to work together to develop common goals.
Decide of the Duration of the Sprint
Determine a length for the sprint. Often open resource sprints are between 2 and 5 days but this really depends on the resource that you need to create. A good rule of thumb is to plan for 6 hour days, although this can be longer.
Determine Your Sprint Team
Roles in a sprint vary depending on the context as do the number of participants. In "How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days" the authors suggest that the ideal number of sprint participants is six, in order to come to decisions about content relatively quickly. To run a sprint effectively requires both a number of content creators and a support team that may include: facilitators, technical support, a librarian, student support. Below are some suggested roles for a successful sprint. Thee following page describes in more detail the tasks, duties for each of the different roles.
Plan the Logistics
For a sprint to be successful you will need to plan out the location, and the required resources.
- Location: Determine a space for the sprint. Try and find a space that is large and has movable seating so that you can use multiple room configurations. The space should have windows as participants will be there for a long period of time and be an an area where you can minimize distractions. Consider a unique or really interesting venue, as the venue itself can help increase sprint engagement. Also try to find a space that is separate from the
- Resources/Materials: What resources will you need for the sprint? As a sprint facilitator you will have very limited time to gather resources during the sprint. In the set-up section we list the key materials to bring into the session.
Determining a Platform
Determining which platform or tool creators will use to write can be a decision made by the group or be suggested by the organizer/facilitator. In general when selecting a tool you will want to find a tool that is easy to create and collaborate with and if needed provided support or training for sprint participants before and/or during the sprint. You will need to decide whether you will want to content to be developed in the platform where you will publishing this. Some of the challenges of having participants work within the same platform that you will publish the resource may include; the time it takes participants to learn a publishing tool; lack of collaborative editing ability; lack of space to provide feedback to each others work. A second approach it too meet the participants where they are at and having them write the content in a platform that they are familiar with such as Google Documents or MS Word. Once the sprint is over or even during the sprint the sprint organizer can assign a learning designer to copy this into the publication platform. The challenge to this approach is that it can be difficult for participants to conceptualize what the resource will look like in its final; from. This can impact how the set up and organize the resource. One way to mitigate this is to include a learning designer within your sprint team to create prototypes of the content that is being created live during the session. Below are a couple examples of different learning platforms that you may use in the sprint for both publication and collaboration.
Suggested Platforms for Open Publishing
Pressbooks: Pressbooks is a book content management system which exports in multiple formats: ebooks, webbooks, print-ready PDF, and various XML flavours. Pressbooks is an excellent platform for creating high quality, open and exportable publications. It has collaboration features including multiple users and permission levels, locked editing if another user is editing a page and collaborative annotation using the Hypothesis plugin. If participants are familiar with the WordPress they will be able to apply this to Pressbooks, as Pressbooks has been developed using the WordPress platform. Pressbooks is available at pressbooks.com and faculty/staff at British Columbia post-secondary institutions can use Pressbooks by registering at pressbooks.bccampus.ca
MediaWiki: MediaWiki is a free server-based software, licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL). It is the platform that is used by Wikipedia and can be used if your institution or organization has installed it on their servers. MediaWiki can be easily edited and participants can use Wiki markup or the visual editor fairly easily. Once created MediaWiki is easy to edit and saves all content revisions. MediaWiki content can be repurposed and embedded in other sites.
Suggested Platforms for Creation
Google Documents: Google Documents is a platform that many participants are familiar with and that has great features for up to 50 real time collaborators including collaborative document writing, commenting, suggested changes and the ability to easily add users and share.
Because you will need the sprint team to work as effectively as possible during the sprint time, careful preparation will ensure that they area able to use the limited time most effectively. Below are some strategies and approaches for helping your team to prepare for the event.
Preparing the team for content
What content knowledge will all members of the team need in order to participate successfully for the sprint? For the content creators they will typically come with a extensive understanding of the subject area they will be developing. However, there may be different perspectives approaches or ideas about the subject area. Having a clear goal and vision for the development of the resource is pairt of approach to preparing the content creators for the sprint. This could also involve meetings before the sprint to discuss these perspective and approaches. During the open case study sprint at UBC the content creators had differing views on what a case study entailed depending on their individual disciplines. The organizers needed to arrange pre-sprint workshops to determine the elements involved in a a case study.
Preparing Open Resources
As described in the section on roles the librarian can gather open resources that can be adapted, revised for the sprint and reference materials related to the content area for citing and referring to during the sprint. If the sprint is focused on developing an open resources, it is valuable to find open resources such as images, videos, media, documents and open courses that can be adopted, adapted and revised during the sprint. Ideally create a list of resources that can be used within the resource or text before the sprint. Work with your librarian to consider the licensing requirements for the resources that you use in the open resource.
The following platforms and search engines are useful to find open resources that are open for use.
- Creative Commons Search (BETA): Aggregates open content from from publicly available repositories of open content
- Creative Commons Search Page: Links to searches for a number of open repositories including, Flikr for images, Pixabay for images, videos and vector diagrams
- Wikimedia Commons: A collection of millions of freely usable media files. This is an excellent resource for technical or discipline specific media and resources.
- The Noun Project: Source for open licensed icons that can be used for resource navigation
- UBC Library Open Resource Portal: UBC Library Guide for finding and using open resources.
Preparing the team for technology
Depending on the software/platform that you select you many need to support your team learning about the software before the sprint begins. This could involve a workshop or sending documentation. You will want to ensure that you have supported your team learning about the technology, or have the creators work with technology that they are comfortable with.
Preparing the team for the process
Before the sprint preparing individuals participating for the sprint process will help ensure that when they attend the session they will know what to expect. Ensuring that each member of the sprint team has blocked off adequate time to actively participate in the sprint is essential. The team will be required to dedicate a significant amount of focused time on the sprint and this may require them to book off the time in their schedule. The team must also understand that they will need to clear off their plates so that they are not trying to complete other work during the sprint time. Presence is essential to running an effective sprint and at this stage of the sprint the team needs to understand what this entails.
It is also useful at this time to provide the team with a simple agenda for the sprint and make them aware that the session will involve a combination of brainstorming, intensive writing, and giving and receiving feedback. Consider providing the sprint team with the following information well in advance of the actual sprint.
3. Set Up
Set up a Style Guide
Although you need to be flexible during the sprint setting up a basic style guide in advance will ensure that the different writers maintain similar tone, citation organization etc. This will save time during the sprint and if done well can increase confidence in the writing team. Developing this style guide can be done in collaboration with the group or you may wish to come up with this as the sprint facilitator.
A style guide should be used when writing an open textbook to ensure that style and formatting is consistent throughout the work. (See Appendix 2: Style Guide.) Style guides usually include citation style as well, i.e. how cited or referenced material should be treated both in the text (in-text) and within the reference list. Commonly used style guides include,
- APA Style [New Tab]. APA (American Psychological Association) style is typically used to cite and style works in the social sciences and education.
- The Chicago Manual of Style Online [New Tab]. Chicago style is most often used to cite and style works in the humanities. This style was developed by the Chicago University Press in 1906. 
- MLA Style Manual [New Tab]. MLA (Modern Language Association of America) style is most frequently used to cite and style works in the literary and humanities fields.
- The Canadian Press Stylebook [New Tab]. The Canadian Press style is the standard for style guide for those working in the media and communications.
Create a Style Sheet by Lauri Aesoph is used under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
Templates and Organization
Providing templates for the content creators can help to develop a more cohesive resource. It can also make the writing process easier by creating a structure that writers can fill out during the session. In the Open Case Study Sprint at the University of British Columbia, the sprint team collaboratively developed a media Wiki template for the Case Study writing. This template was during the sprint - link to example. If you are using, platforms such as Pressbooks you can create information boxes to structure common elements like learning objectives, chapter summaries etc. This can guide the participants as they develop the resource.
During the sprint the facilitator and sprint team will need to have resources that support a variety of group activities. The following list checklist goes over some key items.
Setting Up the Space
Before the sprint you will need to set up the space for the sprint. Consider the goals and the values of the sprint in the set-up. How can you set up a space that will promote focus and intensive writing/creation? How can the space also support collaboration and creativity? The set up of the space can help make a sprint successful or not.
- A space for writing
Setting Up the Room
When setting up the room there are a number of different materials you can use to help support the process. Setting these up around the room can help the facilitator and the sprint team to structure their facilitation; can create shared resource for all of the sprint participants to view and add to; create an archive/record of not only what resource is being created, but also how it is created.
A Kanban board is a tool that is used in agile development to keep track of backlogs, and the progress of tasks from initiation to completion. In resource sprints Kanban boards can be used to indicate what is being worked on, what stage each element of the resource is at, what still needs to be developed, and reviewed. Have participants use sticky notes during the session to keep track of both tasks and processes.
A parking lot is a space for the sprint team to record topics, themes and ideas that are unable to be addressed in the sprint. Use a sheet of flip chart of a large piece of paper and point this out to all of the sprint participants at the outset of the sprint. Facilitators can refer to this when questions/issues come up during the sprint that due to time or resources cannot be dealt with at the time. The parking lot is also can be used to capture ideas going foreword as you create the resource.
As we describe in the next session, ground rules are important to ensure people are comfortable in giving and receiving feedback on their work. Putting up a list of the ground rules that decide together, can help ensure that these are front and centre and can be referred to as needed.
The Grove, a centre for visual facilitation have developed and sell some excellent visual templates to guide participants through sessions. Consider these or developing similar visual organizers to guide participants through the key outcomes, elements and map out the session.
Now that you have gone through the ground work to plan and set up a successful sprint, let's take a look at the process for sprint itself. Depending on the context and goals there are different stages that you can include in a book or resource sprint. We have adapted the structure framework described by D. Berry and M. Dieter.
- Setting the stage
- Concept Mapping: development of themes, concepts, ideas, developing ownership, etc.
- Structuring: creating chapter headings, dividing the work, scoping the book.
- Writing: distributing sections/chapters, writing and discussion, but mostly writing.
- Composition: iterative process of re-structure, checking, discussing, copy editing, and proofing.
In the section below we have unpacked these stages and included activities that can be used to support each stage. Sprint approaches and activities will vary considerably depending on the duration, the length of time and the overall goals.
1. Setting the Stage
Sprints will involve participants working together for a long period of time in a situation that can involve personal dynamic and vulnerability, as participants are involved in sharing their work and receiving feedback. Setting the stage can help to build trust and connection between participants and ensure that they are able to successfully contribute and provide constructive feedback to one another throughout the sprint.
Icebreakers can be used at the outset of the sprint to help to build rapport and connection between participants. They also are a way for sprint participants to learn about each other beyond their roles within the sprint. Although it can be tempting to not include an icebreaker these activities can help ensure the sprints success. Use icebreakers that are aligned with the goal and the processes of the sprint.
Introductions: Introductions can be a powerful way to connect the group. Rather than typical introductions consider questions that move beyond the participants roles or titles at work. For example:
- Where did you grow up?
- Why are you participating in this sprint?
- What do you bring to this group?
Superpowers: Everyone gets 2-3 minutes to share what “super power” they bring to the team. Other members of the team give examples of how this super power could contribute to team success over the few days.
Things we did not know: Each person writes 5 things about themselves about themselves on an index card that the other people in the group will not know. The facilitator collects these cards in a container and then goes around the room and each participant picks a card not their own. The facilitator then goes around the room and has each participant read the 5 interesting things on the card and the other participants guess who the person is.
Group agreements, or working agreements, are simply mutually agreed ‘contracts’ for the way a group choose to interact. They're often manifested in written lists of behaviours, such as “turn mobile phones off” or “raise a hand if you would like to speak”.
Group agreements can be a very useful facilitation tool. They have the potential to head off the vast majority of ‘difficult’ behaviour and domination in any group process. This opens up the way for the quieter voices and the least assertive to play a more active role in the group. But it would be a mistake to think that the group agreement does all that on its own. Negotiating an agreement simply raises the consciousness of the group about issues of group dynamics and participation and needs to be supported by a constant flow of reminders, gentle (and some less gentle) challenges and body language - gesture and facial expression.
Tips for negotiating a successful agreement:
- Ensure the agreement is proposed in practical terms - “what does this tool do for us as a group?” People need to understand what they’re being asked to sign up to. A clear rationale is essential for this.
- See every agreement as negotiating space for those who find the dominant culture difficult to participate in, for whatever reason. Negotiate for full participation. The agreement should answer the question “How will this behaviour make this meeting accessible for all of its participants?” rather than just reinforcing mainstream norms.
- The agreement should list behaviours and not vague concepts. “Encourage participation” is laudable, but vague... ask the group what behaviours will encourage participation and list those instead.
- Get full agreement! Don’t simply read through a proposed list of behaviours for agreement and end with an “is that OK?”, accepting the resulting low murmur as assent.
- Take the time to negotiate the agreement fully at the start. It sends a clear message to the group that you, the facilitator, are serious about participation.
- Use the negotiation process to cement your mandate to facilitate with the group. It’s a 2 step process - “Can you all sign up to these behaviours?” and “Can I have your mandate to support you in behaving this way?”
- Negotiate a culturally appropriate agreement. Not all cultures share the same behavioural norms. One voice speaking at a time might be polite and sensitive group behaviour in one culture. “No interrupting” might be appropriate for an agreement in that context. However another culture might find more animated conversation, with several voices speaking and frequent interruption, the norm.
- Go back to the underlying purpose of the agreement - what do we want to achieve? A safe space for everyone to feel able to contribute, have their voice heard and their point respected? So work from that - it may lead you to behaviours like “No interrupting” but equally it may not.
The concept mapping stage of the sprint is a time to come together to map the process of the sprint out as well as to go over and come up with shared goals for the sprint process and to collaboratively map out the sprint process. By the end of this section of the sprint you will have created a shared understanding of both what you hope to achieve by the end of the sprint and how you will go about completing the sprint. During this time the facilitator will need ensure that all their is group agreement on both the sprint goals and the process.
Goal Setting: Sprints often include activities that facilitate the development of shared goals for the textbook, resources or case studies. By creating a set of shared goals for the resource we can ensure that the group is all developing a cohesive document, text or case study. Examples of approaches to goal setting could include a conversation, a facilitated activity that has participants brainstorm goals and cluster goals on sticky notes or even a using dot voting to determine the goals to focus on.
Brainstorming and Clustering: Participants individually or in pairs to come up with key goals for the sprint based on your overall sprint goals and write these on a post-it note. For example, develop the first three modules of a resource or creating a prototype for a book. They then stick these goals up on a whiteboard or flipchart and as they put them up cluster them according to theme. The facilitator then works through the goals with the group, asking questions such as Is this goal possible within this time? Does this work for the audience who will be using the resource? How might these goals be connected/aligned? What is missing?
Mapping the Process: Collaboratively working together to map out or draw out the process for the sprint helps the facilitator to ensure that the all participants are aware of the sprint process that you will be following. This activity also allows the process, activities to be changed to fit the participants goals and can be referred to throughout sprint checkpoints to ensure that everyone is on task and helps to revise the process as needed as it progresses. One approach to this activity is to start with the end point in mind for the sprint, i.e we will have created a textbook draft. During the UBC Case Study one of the facilitators began with the end point " by the end of the sprint we will have created at least one-case study per discipline, written about 3 case-studies from each of our perspectives." and asked participants "What will it take to get there?" From there as a group we mapped out the checkpoints for each of the two-days and used these throughout the sprint to ensure that everyone was on task adapting these as needed.
Structuring the Content
The next step in a sprint is to start working together to structure the content or resource together. This is an important sprint element because the group can work together to develop a shared structure for the content and collaborate to create an approach and a way of envisioning the overall resource. It also provides the group information about what resources will be required to complete the text or resources. An approach to this often used in textbook sprints is to work to develop a textbook table of contents for the text. In the case study sprint the facilitator stuck one piece of flip chart paper on the wall for each case study heading that were determined together before the sprint. Participants worked individually and wrote down on post it notes and brainstormed how their case study would include each of these elements. Through this activity participants were able to see what each other was planning for their case study. As a debrief the participants were asked what sections they wanted to revise, remove or add to the case study template and we added a learning objective section that the participants included in their case study.
By structuring the content, the facilitators have content blueprint/plan that they can refer back during the writing process and this can also help to create consistency and a shared understanding of the content structure. The facilitator can also use this to create headings, sections or grouping in the writing process.
The facilitator puts the goals for the resource/book on a whiteboard. Each participant works on their own using a small post and writes down specific topics that they feel should be included in the resource. They add each of these post its to the board and as they do this they begin to cluster them. The facilitator has the group stand up and clusters the post it notes together. When the group is satisfied with a particular set of post it notes clusters, the facilitator places a large post it notes above the small cluster of topics and works with the groups to come up with a chapter title for the topics. The facilitator continues this process until the group has come up with a table of contents - and chapter titles for the resource.
At the heart of the sprint process is focused writing time. Once the creators have set goals, completed the initial structuring together the facilitator they write their section of the case study, textbook or resource. In some sprints the creators can work in small groups and collaboratively write, in other contexts each creator works individually to create a section of the content. During the UBC Case Study print each participants worked individually and worked in short 1.5-2 hour intensive writing blocks to create their case studies.
In design sprints and bootcamps there is typically an ideation stage during which participants brainstorm and begin to draft ideas for their chapter or case. Approaches to this can include having participants create a storyboard, write a simple outline or do a quick write activity. As a debrief the facilitator can lead a short feedback with the session group to provide suggestion for early revisions.
Speaking Transcribing: This collaborative writing activity is a good way to get people started in the writing process. Pair up participants and have one of the partner speak while the other one writes down/transcribes. This not only can be a way to deal with writers block it can also build up collaboration between writers. You can extend this approach to have the content creators share their ideas, converse around a topic while one of the facilitators transcribes and asks clarification questions. This approach can be used to create a introduction, conclusion for the resource or to get people in the group writing together.
Feedback and Revision Cycles Although lots of writing time is essential in sprints, this needs to be balanced with time for feedback and revisions. This can be set up as a series of checkpoints set up during the writing process where creators can share what they have completed so far, collect gather feedback from the group and work on revisions. Finding creative ways of having the participants share and respond to each other work can maintain energy and momentum and encourage sharing. Approaches to sharing include lighting talks, short presentation (3-5 minutes) by each participant going over their main points and open discussion time for feedback. During the Sustainability Case Study Sprint, each of the participants wrote a case study about sustainability for their discipline, as a way to develop their case further and receive feedback, they had students reading their case study and giving feedback. They also shared their case study with a faculty member from another discipline who added an section to the case about how a economist, legal expert etc would respond to this case through their disciplinary lens. This provided feedback to the original creator and expanded the overall case itself.
Talk-to-the Text: This activity is described by Duffy & Pell (2013) in their discussion of collaborative writing. After a draft is completed the group works together "making comments in the margins that signal a place where ideas could be collaborated developed or even dropped." The emphasis of this activity is on group writing
Strategic Free Writing: Creators/authors identify areas where they are unclear, stuck or the idea is unformed. Each member of the "individually write in feedback for this section or area"
Forms of publication: Arthur Gill Green an Geography Instructor who participated in the Geography textbook sprint suggest that viewing the text or resource that you develop should be viewed as always in a perpetual draft state. The resource will continue to be adapted and revised after the end of the sprint. With open text and resources there is often a continuous development process. Reminding the writers that the content does not have to be perfected at the end of the sprint can ease stress about a final perfect project, while supporting them to complete the goal of the sprint. So what is the final product that as sprint designers and facilitators that will be completed by the end of the sprint.
Resource Structure, Outline
- What is the goal of the sprint? i.e resource or text.
- How will the resource or text be used and shared?
- Who will be involved in the sprint? See the roles section below.
- What preparation is needed for the participants? This could include technical knowledge, an understanding of the process or identifying key resources required for success.
- What space will be used and how will this space be set up?
- How to Conduct a Paper Sprint (Research Paper)
UBC 2016 Case Study Sprint
- Preparatory Workshop for Case Study Authors: Agenda and Resources.
- Preparatory Session Slides
- Proposed Sprint Agenda
- Case Studies Author Guide
- Student Sprint Documentation
- Planning Meeting(s): Facilitators, Librarian, Technical Lead, Project Lead, Student Lead (if called for)(purpose: plan logistics, map out sprint process, develop a plan, establish roles, identify any necessary resources for the day)
- Preparatory Work: Creators, Facilitators, Librarian, Project Lead, Students (purpose: share readings, resources, goals, review sprint process)
- Sprint Set Up
- Sprint Debrief
- Knapp, J., Zeratsky, J., & Kowitz, B. (2016). Sprint: How to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days.
- "Kanban Board Wikipedia". wikipedia.com.
- Berry & Dieter (2012). "Book Sprinting". Booksprints.net.
- Duffy, William & Pell, John Imagining Co-authorship as Phased Collaboration. In Geller Anne Ellen & Michele Eodice (Ed.), Working with Faculty Writers (1st ed., pp. 246 - 259). Boulder, Colorado: University of Colorado Press