Choose your Strategy
How can students do a group project online?
The default strategy is for students to meet at the same time using synchronous tools like Blackboard Collaborate Ultra. However, with this strategy, part of their group work time will be spent learning to use the group meeting tool and dealing with device and connectivity issues. Students will also be learning how to build community and establish trust in their virtual teams and dealing with time zone differences and other barriers. This strategy is also entirely dependent on one tool that requires a strong Internet connection for everyone who is attending the meeting.
To make an online group project successful for both the students and the instructor, it’s best if the group project combines synchronous and asynchronous communication and doesn’t rely on a single communication tool. (See What About Synchronous Activities? for definitions of a/synchronous).
Consider this alternative: students are given a scenario where they are working as part of a Community Outreach Committee that decides which charitable organizations to fund on behalf of their company. As part of the scenario, they complete two live group meetings and an individual presentation. Students complete the following:
- Watch Collaborate Ultra tutorials and complete the Collaborate Ultra individual practice assignment. (individual assignment)
- Select meeting roles and begin building team community in a small group discussion. (asynchronous group activity)
- Work in a OneDrive collaborative document to finalize group roles, communication channels, and prepare for the initial live meeting. (asynchronous group activity)
- Participate in the initial live meeting in Collaborate Ultra to finalize their “Project Charter,” which serves as their overall project plan and their agreement with each other and with the instructor that they understand their team roles and deliverables. (synchronous group activity)
- Complete an individual persuasive presentation on a charity/organization they would like their committee to fund. (individual assignment)
- Give their team members feedback on the presentations in a small group discussion. (asynchronous group activity)
- Complete a final live meeting in Collaborate Ultra to make a decision about funding an organization based on the funding criteria set by the team. (synchronous group activity)
This model provides a safety net for both students and the instructor because the project does not rely exclusively on synchronous meetings. Rather, this model integrates individual work and asynchronous group work.
Take a look at your group project and evaluate what parts could be done individually and/or asynchronously, and reserve live meetings only for the activities where students need to make a decision, or where they need practice and experience facilitating live conversation.
Practice the Tools
Because online meeting tools like Collaborate Ultra are not intuitive for students, it’s important to include some low stakes opportunities for practicing the technology.
Students may have joined an online meeting before in a “webinar” format, where there is one-way communication between the presenter and the audience. This format is relatively simple because it typically involves clicking a link to join an online session and adjusting your volume so you can hear the speaker.
If your students are meeting in small groups, two-way communication is required, and the format is more complex. Therefore, students need to learn how to use the communication tools and presentation features for two-way communication during their meeting, such as how to share content or their screen, chat, start the recording, and find the recordings. Therefore, it is critical that students have a low stakes opportunity to practice these skills before they participate in a meeting.
Even with a practice assignment, students will likely still be learning the technology during their first group meeting. Their second group meeting will be much more productive. In addition to a practice assignment, you might consider giving students two chances at a group meeting.
Here are a few other issues to consider as you develop your online group activity:
- What will you do if a student misses one of their group meetings? If it’s a University excused absence, what type of accommodation will you provide? Make your policy clear in your Syllabus.
- Will you attend the meetings live and provide feedback? Or will you require students to record their meeting and submit the recording to an assignment in Canvas? For the latter option, you may want to reference the following Canvas guides:
- You will need to set up Collaborate Ultra rooms so students will have Moderator access (so they have full control over their meeting room, including the ability to record and share content) and the ability to download their recordings. Click here for more information on how to set up a Blackboard Collaborate Ultra room.
- Review Technical Considerations for Collaborate Ultra. If you plan to grade on visuals like non-verbal communication, it’s important to know that you may not have a visual of students in the recordings, so it’s helpful to think about how you may approach this.
- Have a backup plan in mind if synchronous meetings are not working out. If your group assignment already has a mix of asynchronous and synchronous activities, then it is relatively easy for you to provide an accommodation if the live meetings don’t work as planned.
- Design Considerations for Large Group Virtual Meetings - April 14, 2020
- Design Considerations for Small Group Virtual Meetings - April 14, 2020
- Technical Considerations for Collaborate Ultra - April 14, 2020