Give students time to learn the course platform, classmates, and options for working together
- Before jumping into more complex group assignments and activities, give students time to develop confidence in the basic course learning environment.
- Use early weeks to learn about students’ technology access and work schedules—apply this information to how you decide to group students and assignment requirements. This Inside Higher Ed article offers different scenarios for grouping and assignment design (bonus: it includes a UMW faculty member!).
- Design group assignments from the foundation of all work being managed using asynchronous tools–this may be any student’s reality.
Build cooperative assignments to reduce tension over collaboration
- Design a group project so that individual students have responsibility for stand-alone content components—you can assign the components or groups can decide amongst themselves. Avoid projects where one student can be tasked with researching content and another can ‘just do the PowerPoint’.
- Share how groups you work in (e.g. collaborative research and writing) operate when members may be scattered across the country or world.
- Provide students collaborative space options–don’t assume they know all the tools that may be a good fit. Remind students that you are a part of their collaborative spaces–use those spaces to provide feedback and detect any problems early. This Faculty Focus article provides additional tips for managing group work to minimize tensions and confusion.
Ask students to develop a written charter before beginning group assignments
- Group work misgivings often develop from past experiences where classmates did not follow through on obligations or misunderstandings arose about the group’s function. Provide a template in a shared document space where the group completes:
- A roster with names and preferred contact information
- A meeting or check-in schedule
- Expectations for participation (e.g. how often will we meet? What needs to be brought to each meeting?) and accountability (e.g. how will we handle disagreements? How will we communicate and process if work is not being completed?)
- Group goals for the activity or assignment
- Individual roles and responsibilities with due dates
Break group projects into smaller chunks and consistently check on group progress
- Ask groups to submit project ‘chunks’ over time. These project pieces can include initial plans, drafts, and group reflection on current progress. Product submission over time offers opportunities for feedback as well as a check on group dynamics.
- At each submission, ask students to complete a group evaluation of their team’s work process. This Group Process-Assessment tool (Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Innovation) lets students evaluate the group as a whole, rather than ‘calling out’ individual members. Follow up with the group noting areas of strength or success and facilitate discussion about areas of concern.