Sal Pelletieri had some bad experiences with group projects both in business school and then later in life as a professor. After asking around a bit, he soon discovered that this negative feeling toward group work was pretty widely held. “Many of the students I spoke to just dreaded group projects,” says Sal. “I figured there must be a better way.” Sal created Enter the Group to enable students and teachers to manage their group projects and classrooms online. “I built the site to make the managing of group projects easier by providing many of the tools they would need in one place. The goal of the site is to make students more efficient in their work and teach them some project management skills along the way,” he says. Project management skills are crucial in so many areas of our lives from dealing with conflict resolution, to developing goals and plans, to leadership and teamwork, Sal believes. “If students can learn this early on, they will get better grades later in their academic lives and will get a jump start when they enter the working world.” Sal has expanded the site to include a Classrooms function, a feature enabling instructors to create online classrooms where students and instructors can continue communicating and learning outside of the conventional classroom. In this interview, enter the mind of Sal Pelletieri to discover a useful learning tool for your projects.
Victor: What does the name mean?
Victor: What is it? Who created it?
Sal: Enter the Group is a platform for people to manage their projects and classrooms online. It’s a free site which provides groups with a way to get organized and communicate. I provided the high level design and ideas for the functions of the site while freelance developers did the programming for me.
Victor: What does it do? What are the benefits?
Sal: The site provides groups with the ability to
-create private pages where groups can safely communicate
-schedule meetings in a shared calendar so no one misses meetings or presentations
-share files used in research and work
-communicate using instant message and shared email
-create polls to get the group’s opinion and make group decisions
-create and manage tasks & assignments
-leave comments on files and message boards so the group can discuss their work
-create pages on topics of interest where you can share links, videos and start discussions
-create to-do lists and blogs
There are also project management tools such as a Project Outline, Project Checklist, Tasks, Status Updates and Lessons Learned form. These project management toolsprovide groups with a structure for defining a project with the Project Outline, breaking it down into pieces using the Tasks features, keeping the group up to date with those Tasks using the Status Updates and finally reflecting on the pro’s and con’s of the project with a Lessons Learned form.
For those using the site to manage a project, the benefits are more efficiently run projects which translate into less wasted time and better end results. There is also a benefit in that teachers can join students’ groups and monitor their development and answer questions. This will help the group avoid the free rider problem, overcome misunderstandings and allow teachers to access students whenever they need to. It will also allow teachers to better grade student projects.
For those using the site to manage a classroom the benefits are enhanced communication and organization which leads to expanded learning, more connection between teacher and students and also fewer problems dumped on teachers since students will have 24/7 access to test schedules, lecture notes and assignment details.
Victor: How is it unique from other similar products/services? What companies do you see as in the same market?
Sal: The site is unique in that it provides tools and advice to tackle group projects. It goes beyond providing productivity tools and offers a project management process. It is also completely free. There are no other companies that I’m aware of that overlap entirely with Enter the Group. There are, however, companies which partially overlap with us. For instance, there are companies which do project management such as Project Basecamp, Grou.ps and Wiggio and companies focused on virtual classrooms such as Edmodo and Schoology. Each of these companies have different features and pricing plans, so they compete on different levels.
Victor: When was it developed? What is something interesting or relevant about its development history?
Sal: The site was developed in 2009/2010. The idea came to me while I was teaching a Corporate Finance class at the University of Winnipeg. I had assigned a group project to my students and it was clear from listening to them that they needed a lot of help in getting organized and dealing with conflict amongst themselves. I decided to develop the site while I working as a hedge fund manager at an asset management company in Los Angeles. The company had many people working simultaneously on financial research projects, but could never seem to get organized. This is when it dawned on me that even well educated people who have been in the workforce for many years were unaware of proper project management processes and that this is a skill which our youth need to be taught right now.
Victor: Where did it originate? Where can you get it now?
Sal: The site was under development while I was living in Los Angeles. It was launched in our current home town of Winnipeg, Canada at the end of October of 2010. The site is available via the internet, 24/7.
Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?
Sal: The site is completely free. There are no free-mium or premium plans, it’s 100% free.
Victor: What are some examples of it in action?
Sal: The site is being used in ways and places I would have never imagined. For example, there’s an English as a Second Language class from eastern Europe using the Classrooms function to chat, create polls to test students on English expressions and share class reading.
Another example is a Jewish group in Canada is using the Projects feature to plan an international conference. Volunteers are using the group to share meeting notes, schedule meetings, and post links and videos of potential speakers.
These are just a couple of examples. The site is currently being used by groups from all over the world.
Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it not for?
Sal: The site is tailored to students, teachers, non-profit organizations, clubs and entrepreneurs. It’s essentially for anyone that needs an easy yet powerful way to manage their projects and/or wants to get more out of their classrooms. It’s also geared for those looking to a free alternative to expensive subscription sites or software. The site is not for corporations looking for something with complex business-oriented capabilities.
Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?
Sal: I believe that education is on the verge of some massive changes. Our current system is clearly antiquated and inadequate for the type of world we live in. I think we must change our beliefs on the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of education. We are not even close to reaching our potential of reaching children and providing them with an environment for intellectual growth.
Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating Enter the Group?
Sal: In my formal education, I can recall a few awful experiences with group projects. These left me feeling that group projects were a waste of time. However, much later in life, I informally studied project management and it just seemed to be so helpful. I realized that this is something that everyone should to learn and yet so few people I’ve met even know this body of knowledge exists. I recently did a lecture for a class of business students and not one of them even knew what project management was. I have to admit that I didn’t stumble across this field until much after graduating from university.
Currently, project management is something practiced by a select few professions such as IT and construction project managers. However, these skills (to varying degrees) are applicable almost anywhere in business and life.
Victor: How does Enter the Group address some of your concerns about education?
Sal: Enter the group provides a method of enhancing project based learning. In a broad sense it helps students learn how to get organized and communicate. These are practical skills which many people in the business world today do not possess. It is also a means of expanding the classroom beyond the brick and mortar of a schoolroom. We have become a global 24/7 society and our education does not begin at 9am and end at 3pm.
Enter the Group provides a framework for people to learn skills that are practical and relevant in today’s society. It pushes groups to follow a systematic process. The educational system focuses too little on learning relevant skills. We must work to change that.
Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?
Sal: I’m very optimistic on the future of education. There are so many bright people and influential organizations pushing new ways of learning and teaching that I’m sure things will eventually change for the better. Unfortunately I think change will come slowly. This is just the reality of any bureaucratic system.
Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of Enter the Group?
Sal: Enter the Group will help educators in many ways. For instance, it will enable students to maximize their project experience so they will learn about the topic at hand and how to manage a project. This means the student gets more out of a group project and is less likely to dump problems on the teacher. Educators can benefit from the Classrooms function since this enables them to contact students easily, inform everyone of tests and assignments and share handouts and readings. It also encourages students to interact with each other by asking questions, commenting on topics and starting online conversations. This takes the learning beyond the lecture and allows students to feel more connected to the topic and their classmates.
Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of Edtech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@VictorRivero.com