As we know, not all group work is created equal. Some results in achieving the learning goal; some results in frustration. What elements contribute to successful group activities?
“I could just as easily do this on my own.” If students feel this way, it may be that the project is not suitable for group work. An activity is best completed by a group when it requires many and various viewpoints and resources be consulted. The size of the groups should be small enough so that everyone will have to do their part, but not so small that the work seems overwhelming.
Often the goal of the activity is not to discover a “right” answer, but to come to an understanding of or consensus around an issue. Whatever the goal, describe it clearly and completely so that students know what is expected of them and what the required end product is. Providing a rubric or project checklist can help with this. Also, let students know how they will be held accountable as a contributing group member.
When practical, spread the work out over multiple checkpoints, having parts due along the way. This helps students pace their work and stay accountable. And, your periodic feedback will improve the end product.
It seems like group collaboration should be a breeze in the online classroom. But, students often depend on the asynchronous nature of the classes and find collaboration difficult. Help them by suggesting tools that fit the work they need to do. For example, Google Docs for a written report or Blackboard Collaborate for group meetings or presentations. Your instructional designer can help you with suggestions.
Because groups are composed of individuals, each group will have a different dynamic; however, there are strategies and behaviors that improve teamwork. Providing tips for successful group work to your students may improve their experience.
As the project concludes, have students reflect on the collaborative process. What went well? What didn’t go smoothly? Such reflection will help them in future group work and may identify changes to make to the design of the activity. To gauge the contributions of team members, have students complete peer evaluations.
Bart, M. (2010, September 20). How to Design Effective Online Group Work Activities. Retrieved June 7, 2017, from Faculty Focus.
Digital Classroom Services. (n.d.). Engage and Interact: Preparing Students for Group Work. Retrieved June 7, 2017, from Rutgers Digital Classroom Services.