I’ve been running the MA in Music Industries (as well as the MA in Music Radio) this year at Birmingham City University. We had our first intake in February, and things really kicked in for the September intake.

From September we’ve also been offering the course as a distance learning programme, which is great because it means that people from anywhere in the world can do the degree without having to move to the UK (or, if they live in the UK, without having to move to Birmingham – though why wouldn’t you want to?).

We are in week eight of the program at the moment, and I have to say that I’m really pleased with how it’s going – particularly the online component, which has been so helpful that the students who are doing the course with attendance are also making use of the materials online to supplement what they’re doing.

The students are also running a blog together, in which they talk about their research, their reflections upon the readings that they’ve been doing, and their critiques of happenings within the music industries.

The point of the blog is to invite others from outside the course – and particularly, within the industry – to get involved, comment, and add their thoughts and reflections as well. Hopefully, in return, the work that the students produce will provide helpful reflection and interesting discussion points for the music industries at large. Go have a look.

One of the most useful things we’ve been using, though, is Planzai.

If you haven’t heard of it, Planzai is an online productivity platform that goes beyond the traditional to-do list. It’s like a project management tool that tells you how to do the things that you want to achieve.

For instance, with the MA programme, we have set at specific times throughout the calendar “Read this article”, “write 1000 words about this topic”, “arrange tutorial”, “write blog post”… and so on.

The tasks only appear as they become relevant, and the students tick them off when they are done.

They are reminded of overdue tasks, sent e-mails each week to let them know what tasks they have coming up, and there’s even a lovely pie chart that shows the proportion of completed tasks, upcoming tasks, urgent tasks, and overdue tasks.

More importantly (and this, I think, is the clever bit), each task can be expanded to reveal the body of text that give specific instructions, links and other information needed to explain exactly how to perform the task and what is specifically expected as an outcome of that task.

From the students’ perspective, it means that everybody knows what they’re up to, what’s expected of them, and how they’re getting along at every point along the way.

From the point of view of someone managing a course, it’s an absolute godsend. You always know where everyone’s at, who’s struggling with the work, and what needs to be done to help people catch up.

I’m an adviser to Planzai (I went over and worked with them not so long ago) and the people behind it are friends of mine in Belfast, so I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to be the first to trial the methodology within an education context.

Now I don’t ever want to do another class without using it.

Of course, Planzai has plenty of other applications than simply running a class. In theory, it could be used to help you do anything at all – or at least anything that has a number of steps, tasks or instructions that you need to know at certain points along the way.

It’s early days for them, but I suspect this is going to be something that a lot of people will want to use. I’m finding the iPhone app particularly helpful…

If you’re curious, you can follow Planzai on Twitter – and if you were interested in doing the MA in Music Industries (or by distance learning) – or indeed, the MA in Music Radio – now would be a good time to think about it: we’re doing another intake in February 2012.