Tips for Facilitating Online Group Work
Faculty at the August 2008 LEEP Retreat share their advice
- Let students form their own groups. After they have had a chance to get to know each other in the course context, it will be easier for them to select partners they feel they can work with. They will be less likely to complain than if they were assigned group partners by the instructor.
- If the students have the option to meet each other face-to-face at a point early in the program or semester, this is a good time to let them assess potential group partners and discuss topics for a group project.
- The most complaints that can be made about group work typically happen if a student disappears from the course or otherwise stops participating. It is helpful to have a backup plan to help the rest of the group recover if this happens.
- Students generally tend to feel more motivated about group assignments if they can pick topics they are inherently interested in.
- It is helpful to discuss “good practices” for working in groups with your students: teamwork, time management, assigning roles and responsibilities within the group, what to do if ___ happens. Ask them to share their concerns about the idea of group work, and address them together as a class. This can take some of the stress out of the group work experience.
- Convey to students the importance of learning how to collaborate with others for its own sake, rather than simply as a means to an end. Stress the value of teamwork to potential employers: when an employer calls you as the instructor/listed reference for a former student, you will be able to say whether that individual works well in a group dynamic.
- For longer multi-week projects, ask the students to switch to a different group role each week so everyone has the opportunity to experience each role within the group. This can be an interesting learning experience, and equalize the responsibilities.
- Keeping students in the same group for more than one project in the semester can promote continuity and help them know what to expect of future group dynamics by the second project.
- If connectivity, internet speed, and/or time zone differences are not concerns for online students, encourage them to work together in real-time via chat sessions.
- Be aware of your students’ differences as they relate to locations, time zones, and access to offline materials (i.e., local library access for someone located on your campus vs. someone living on an Alaskan island). If you can make materials available to all students online, it will be easier to guarantee their access.
Group Work Assessment
- Ask students to reflect on their group work experience in a journal: have them write about what worked well and what didn’t work well in their groups; even the negative experiences can be useful if they are asked about them in a job interview.
- Make group evaluations a percentage of their participation grade for the assignment: at the end of the project, each group member evaluates the other group members on a scale of 1 to 5 to fulfill this participation grade. Knowing they will be writing about each others’ performance can help prevent irresponsible behavior. For the instructor, it also helps create a truer picture of what really happened within each group, which can take some stress out of the grading process.
- Another group evaluation technique: ask students to evaluate their own individual contributions to the group as some professions would create a bill of hourly labor. This can enhance a sense of individual responsibility and shift the focus of the assignment from the grade itself to the amount of time invested in the project.
- Award students with “good citizenship points” and ask them individually how the group process has gone.