Group work can promote active student learning and increase participation and interaction. In addition to exposing students to different approaches and ways of thinking, working with other students in groups can promote a sense of belonging that reduces the sense of isolation that many students experience in online learning environments. Working together in groups also gives students the opportunity to learn from and teach each other. From a practical standpoint, group work also fosters interpersonal skills highly valued by employers.
When designing group activities it is important to clearly articulate objectives, explicitly define the task, clarify expectations, model high-quality work, and communicate performance criteria. To ensure a positive outcome in group activities, try the following effective practices (adapted from Johnson, Johnson & Smith, 1991).
- Design interdependence – If collaboration is the goal of an activity, structure projects so that students are dependent on one another. The following are a few ways to create interdependence.
- Ensure projects are sufficiently complex that students must draw on one another’s knowledge and skills.
- Create shared goals that can be met through collaboration.
- Limit resources to compel students to share critical information and materials.
- Assign roles within the group that will help facilitate collaboration.
- Devote time to teamwork skills – While most students have worked on group projects before, they still may not have developed effective teamwork skills. Here are a few things that will help students develop these skills.
- Emphasize the practical importance of strong teamwork skills in activity design
- Address negative or inaccurate preconceptions about group work
- Design in structure and guidance to help students plan
- Set interim deadlines
- Establish ground rules
- Foster metacognitive skills
- Incorporate process assessments
- Build in individual accountability – It is possible for a student to work hard in a group and yet fail to understand crucial aspects of the project. In order to gauge whetherindividual students have met the criteria for understanding and mastery, it is important to structureindividual accountability into group work assignments. Here are some ideas for assessing a students level of understanding and toreduce the “free-rider” phenomenon.
- Have individual group members demonstrate their learning via quizzes, independent short papers, weekly journal entries, etc.
- Have individuals provide a summary of the group’s decision making process, a synthesis of lessons learned, or a description of their contributions to the group
Additional Internet resources can be found at:
- Assessing Group Work – Centre for the Study of Higher Education
- Designing Effective Group Activities (PDF document)
- Designing Group Work in Science classrooms (Word document)
- Group Work – University of California Berkeley, Teaching Guide for Graduate Students
- Group Work and Assessment Handbook – The Economics Network
- How to Design Online Effective Group Activities – University of Regina