Successful group work online involves a lot of the same strategies used to make group work successful in a blended mode – it’s just that there are additional tools available to help support each strategy.
There are many different approaches to understanding successful group work, but it’s helpful to distil it down to these three principles:
- Set clear expectations – clearly explain to students what the group work task will involve, how they should participate, and how you will support them.
- Foster group dynamics – make sure that group members have opportunities to bond early and often, and that they have a means to communicate regularly with you and with each other.
- Check in regularly – support students throughout the entire group work process, not just the beginning or end.
Set clear expectations
- Remind students that group work helps develop highly employable soft skills – link students to UTS HELPS: Why Group Work video explainer on benefits of group work.
- Explain group work tasks clearly – if the task can be into discrete sub-tasks, flag this and consider devising specific roles for group members to take. Find out more information on using roles in group work and access further information on guidance for working in groups.
- Create Q&A discussion board for students to post questions about the task.
- Provide clear information about individual contributions versus group output, and evidence of team work and collaboration – you could record a short video screen-sharing the assessment criteria (with an explanation).
- Use relevant, media-rich online materials to design group work activities, such as YouTube videos, podcasts, news articles, and interactive web sites.
- Create a template for students to reflect on their own participation in the group task – perhaps an unmarked survey to get feedback from students on their group work experiences.
Foster group dynamics
- Incorporating non-assessed group work activities gives students experience prior to an assessed group work activity for formative feedback – use discussion boards to facilitate asynchronous, non-assessed group work activities throughout session.
- Limit sizes of groups for exercises to 3-5 people. You can use Canvas to allocate students to groups or ask students to self-select. If using self-sign up for groups, create a discussion board for students to introduce themselves and their interests to help facilitate groups with shared goals e.g. want to work on the same topic.
- Set ground rules for working and communicating – this could involve students discussing group roles and responsibilities, setting a plan for meeting or staying in contact and ensuring that students establish where their group members are located and what time zone.
- Assign or make sure groups assign a leader to be the first contact point for group work status and submission of final work – have students create an online table or template for group members to share contact details.
- Provide guidelines for students to regularly meet to work on group task
- Create a group-only discussion board in Canvas to regularly meet (potentially not in person if they are learning remotely) – how them how to create their own teams in MS Teams and show students how to set up their own Zoom link by first logging in to Zoom, and then customising their personal Zoom link.
- Help students to showcase their work. For Canvas: create an all-class discussion to allow group leaders to post their group’s work. For Zoom: Zoom: use breakout rooms for group work, then as a class allow group leaders to share their screen and talk through what the group produced.
Check in regularly
- Establish mechanisms for you to meet with group or group leader online to discuss the status of group work and any issues that have arisen – set up your Zoom personal link and notify students of ‘office hours’ when you can meet over Zoom or use the Canvas calendar to create an appointment group for students to book meeting slots.
- Explain the resources available to students for negotiating group conflict, and arrange an online meeting with group if conflicts escalate.