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May 2013 - Dr. Keith Restine, Associate Director of TLT

The use of groups is one way to reduce the amount of management in a course with regard to number of assignments and grading. With that being said, many faculty have experienced problems of one sort or another with group work in the past. Many students also complain about working in groups. The reality is that if you don't use groups for large DE sections, you are making the decision to handle the individual work in some way. You have to decide if groups are so problematic that you are willing to handle the multitude of individual assignments and responsibilities.

We favor a blend of group and individual assignments and activities. We also favor framing explicit expectations for group work. If you decide to use groups, we are including some help sheets that can be posted in your online course. Students don't automatically know or understand how to work in groups. We hope these resources help you and help your students. You are also welcome to modify these to fit your specific course and teaching style. We will also cover some of the Blackboard tools that allow you to manage these groups.

One rationale for group work is to reduce the amount of individual assignments and Discussion Forum threads. Responding to individual assignments and threads consumes enormous amounts of time. As a simple illustration, if you have 60 students and it takes 3 minutes to respond to one Discussion Thread for each student, you spend 180 minutes (3 hours) doing the activity. If you distribute these students to 12 five person groups and require the group to post one thread, you spend 36 minutes responding to the threads.

Process and Procedures

  1. Establish informal opportunities for collaboration
    • Study groups
    • Explain difficult concepts to each other
    • Peer edit
  2. Plan each stage of the group work
    • Set intermediate benchmarks as progress indicators. This helps with group organization and scheduling. Publish these benchmarks in the syllabus for your course.
  3. Plan how the groups will be formed
    • Random assignment, learning styles, self-selection, permanent groups, and rotating groups
    • 4-6 students per group for most activities
  4. Set goals and objectives for the group. Explain how you expect the group to meet the objectives for the assignment.#
  5. Provide suggestions for general group rules but allow students to create the specific working rules for their group
  6. Explain the grading policy for group work
  7. Provide structure
    • Require a plan of action from each group with details about how is doing what tasks
    • Discuss the plan with the group
  8. Monitor
    • Check in with the groups or require written progress reports
  9. Provide a structure for groups to deal with uncooperative and/or unresponsive members
    • Tell what the group must do to document the group's interventions with the member
    • Carefully explain when the group should inform you about difficulties
    • Carefully explain what your actions will be if documentation is in order

Structuring Assignments for Group Work

  1. Assignments should be detailed and provide structured reporting
  2. Products should be well defined
    • Use models of previous work (with permissions) or hypothetical responses for quality work
  3. Post timelines
  4. Determine method to share group results
    • Use Discussion Forums, posted presentations, or other reporting methods to share with the rest of the class
  5. Closure
    • Use some summary exercise to illustrate key points from various groups

Everyone Thinks They Know How to Work in a Group

  1. Guidelines and rules should promote interdependence rather than independent work within the group
  2. Required reporting allows the group to see problems early in the process
  3. Groups should have guidelines for behavior that all in the group agree upon
  4. Group work must fit the skills and abilities of the group.
  5. Groups must feel that the work is divided fairly among members and that all activities support the product
  6. The group must own their guidelines and division of labor
  7. Group decisions must be supported by the members of the group
  8. Full participation is a requirement

Creating Ground Rules for Groups

Provide a starting point for group rules but require students to amend these to fit the needs of their group.

Insert specific language into your course discussing honesty and truthfulness as a desirable trait for the group. For group members to accept something that they actually disagree with or does not meet their standards is a form of dishonesty. It is important to insert language that helps students realize that groups operate most effectively with open and honest communication. It is also important that you remind students that honesty does not need to be brutal. Stating your opinion can be done tactfully.

PDF Sheets to Use in Your Course

page last updated 4/15/2014 8:32 PM