Internal - Faculty & Staff

Group Work

Students are at their best when they are learning from each other. Assign your learners to work in groups on certain projects and assignments. You can have them assess case studies, collaborate on a paper, or create a group presentation. Building in opportunities for your students to work together will help them be more engaged and invested in the coursework.

Using team assignments in an online course can be an excellent way to create community and improve learning. Collaborative learning requires working together toward a common goal. It means that students are responsible for one another’s learning, as well as their own, and that reaching the goal implies that students have helped each other to understand and learn. Online group work helps students develop new approaches to resolving differences. Additionally, group diversity can contribute positively to the learning process. When students are faced with different interpretations, explanations or answers about what they are studying, this forces them to re-think their own viewpoints.

1. Set a Goal

As you incorporate group work into your online course, make sure that it suits the goals of the course and that it makes authentic use of the course material. If you assign a group project simply for the sake of incorporating collaborative learning into your course, you’re probably not going to create an engaging exercise. Choose material or activities that lend themselves to collaboration.

2. Explain Why

Make sure your students understand why you are asking them to participate in an online group project and the underlying learning process. Plan time into the beginning of the project to advise and thoroughly explain to your students about the project.

3. Provide Support

Consider each stage involved in the group work so that you are ready to give support whenever needed.

4. Group Formation Criteria

For group projects, establish project-specific criteria for forming groups/teams.

5. Process then Product

Put an initial emphasis on process for team projects, and as the course progresses, put a growing emphasis on product.

6. Assign Group Leaders

Consider assigning discussion group leaders or project team leaders to facilitate group work. Assigning team leaders is one way to ensure that students receive ample feedback. Make sure that the team leader disseminates information to every member of the team. Part of the responsibility of the team leader should be to report to you frequently on the progress of the team.

7. Plan of Action

At the start of a project, require students to set up/understand their plan of action. Have students address the following organizational issues:

  • How are you going to divide the project so that each team member has a part?
  • Who is going to be responsible for each part?
  • How are you going to communicate during the project?
  • How will members submit their work to the group?
  • What is the deadline for the submissions of individual pieces?
  • Who is going to be responsible for putting the pieces together into one paper/product?
  • How are you going to handle final proofing?
  • What will you do if somebody does not do his or her part or does not meet deadlines?
  • How are you going to go about answering questions that group members might have about the project?

8. Peer Evaluation

Improve participation in group projects through peer evaluation. Set up a formal mechanism so team members can provide feedback about and to each other.

9. Collaboration Project Grades

Collaborative project grades might consist of two elements: the group grade of the product itself, and a an individual grade for participation (based on peer review).

Advantages and Challenges

Advantages
  • Group projects can help students develop a host of skills that are increasingly important in the professional world.
  • Group diversity can contribute positively to the learning process. When students are faced with different interpretations, explanations or answers about what they are studying, this forces them to “re-think” their own viewpoints.
  • Students develop new approaches to resolving differences.
  • Group assignments can be useful when there are a limited number of viable project topics to distribute among students. And they can reduce the number of final products instructors have to grade.
Challenges
  • For students, group work takes more time and energy than individual work, including the time it takes to coordinate schedules, arrange meetings, meet, correspond, make decisions collectively, integrate the contributions of group members, etc.
  • Free riding, when one or more group members leave most or all of the work to a few, more diligent members, may occur. Free riding – if not addressed proactively – tends to erode the long-term motivation of hard-working students.
  • Social loafing, the tendency of group members to exert less effort than they can or should because of the reduced sense of accountability, may occur. Social loafing lowers group productivity.
  • Assessing individual student participation and learning in group projects can be more challenging online.