One student concern about online courses is the group work. Some students even go out of their way to ask instructors for the opportunity to do a group assignment alone, promising to do all the work that a group would do as an individual. With a well-designed collaborative group assignment, the probability of success of completing the assignment alone would be unrealistic for a student to take on alone.
When you decide to add group assignments to your course, consider the reasons why you are doing so. Is it to make grading easier or is it to teach your students the importance of learning collaboration skills that they will need at some point in their careers? If it is the latter, you will need to make this very clear in your online course. Include information at the beginning of your course about the collaborative project and its important. Timothy Quinn’s article on group work presents that “Inequality, unfairness, interpersonal conflict, bureaucratic hurdles” are all a part of life and students will experience these things at some point in their personal lives or careers. It is important for students to know how to overcome these problems and true collaborative group work is one effective way to teach these important skills.
Once you help your students understand why you are using group work in your course, you must ensure that the group work is truly collaborative. Having students write a paper together does not necessarily require collaboration and can easily be jig-sawed to where the students never have to see each other and come back to put their pieces together. The remainder of this article gives you an example of a group project in which students must collaborate.
A Collaborative Project
To begin, create an assignment in which the students must choose predefined roles in their group. Include criteria for collaboration or the roles in your instructions and grading rubrics. While it may be easy to ask if you can complete a group paper alone, it’s more difficult to split up an assignment in which each role carries the weight of work that can be easily completed by one person, but not so easy that one person can easily take on several roles.
Take for example a group research project with 3-5 students per group. Students can decide on a problem to work on and maybe complete a Six Thinking Hats activity on their issue to demonstrate their understanding of the problem. One or two students in the group could find research articles (maybe 10 or more articles to force them to divvy up the work) related to the problem and write up a short literature review. One student may choose to do this, but a discussion of the literature review and the articles can be a requirement in order to ensure the entire group understands the background literature.
From there you can require that students create a survey to gain information on their own and they must go out and collect survey data about a particular topic from multiple people and places in their community like the library, college campus, and a church community. Require a student in the group to write a Methods section to the paper explaining where they collected all of the data based on where the individual group members collected their data. All students in the group could be required to submit 20 or more completed surveys—depending on the instructor’s preference—and then scan and upload those documents with personal images of the location in which they obtained their survey data.
Another student can take on the role of calculating the results of the data, and writing up the results. Require a final discussion about the data to assist students with writing a conclusion and implications section of their paper. Finally, a student or students from the group could create a presentation of their report in a short 2-5 minute video or narrated PowerPoint.
A group evaluation throughout the project in a reflection or form would help students identify the collaborative skills they are learning by working together.
This kind of group assignment would not only force students to work together and collaborate, but they would also gain valuable life skills they need to be successful in their careers.
For a group project of this magnitude, the instructor needs very detailed instructions and rubrics, as well as a dedicated instructor with solid facilitation skills. Part II of this blog post will cover facilitating group work.