Group work can help engage learners and promote concept application. However, the results of group work sometimes don't meet the standards we'd hoped for as educators or as learners. Here are some best practices for group work that may help yield more effective processes and products (Bart, 2010; Cornell University, n.d.; Jetter & Petersen, n.d.; University of Minnesota, n.d.):
Build a Group Work Culture
Prior to group work, focus on community building
in your course to aid learners' familiarity with and empathy for one another.
Carefully & Thoroughly Introduce the Group Work
Share the rationale: How does this help meet learning outcomes? How does it benefit everyone and help create new skill sets?
Explain assessment methods: Share the grading for product and process at both the group and individual levels.
Provide support: Make sure learners have the knowledge, skills, tools & processes to succeed.
Explore perspectives: Find out why learners may be ambivalent and explain why/how the experience can be different from less successful group work experiences.
Consider Team Formation
Creation: Are these teams self-formed? Are they assigned by the educator randomly or with a preference? What about the characteristics of learners?
Team process: Are there assigned roles? How will that be handled? Should they use protocols like an agenda, communication preferences?
Get started: Remember team development stages (forming, storming, norming, performing, adjourning). Add icebreakers and wrap-up activities to aid forming and adjourning. Get involved as necessary to help them assess progress and resolve differences of opinion.
Encourage Groups to Plan
Discuss collaboration: Complex tasks shouldn’t be done alone. Brainstorming is critical to fostering distinct contributions. Different viewpoints, experiences, and skills should be used.
- Discuss communication: What tools will be used (collaborative editing tools, web conferencing tools, closed group spaces, etc.)? What time/life constraints do group members have (work schedules, extracurriculars, participants in other time zones)?
Discuss progress: Make timelines. Set milestones. Ensure accountability by using these markers.
Types of assessment: You may wish to assess team functioning, individual understanding/contribution, team understanding/contribution, and the process overall.
Assessment as a learning tool: Give learners the chance to learn from each other. Share final output with class and debrief.
Examples of Collaborative Group Work Activities/Products
Bart (2010) writes of three categories of group work activities that are most often effective:
Those with no "right" answer - debates, constructive controversies, research, proposals, design thinking tasks, etc.
Those requiring multiple perspectives - case analysis, current event or cultural studies, think-pair-share or write-pair-share, catch up, peer editing/review, collaborative writing, live/recorded presentations, team-based or problem-based learning, poster presentations, etc.
Those involving too many resources for one person to evaluate – jigsaw activities, resource database compilations, wikis, knowledgebase articles, etc.
Possible Tools for Group Work
CMU offers a variety of instructional technologies
for educators and learners. Likewise, numerous Web 2.0 tools are freely available online to support group work. Examples include:
Doodle: Free, online polling tool to determine times a group can meet
Microsoft OneDrive/Google Drive: Collaborative online documents, spreadsheets, presentations, etc.
Blackboard: Group tools like group formation, group forums, group wikis, group evaluations, group assignment submission, etc.
WebEx or Zoom: Online group chats for presentations or break-out sessions. Though an educator must schedule rooms in advance for WebEx, Zoom can be coordinated by the students.
Web or Mobile Apps: Google Hangouts, Skype, FaceTime, Slack for communication
Conference Calls or 3-Way Calling: Available through some departments & many learners have this capability on their devices and plans, too.
- To see what events we may be offering related to group work, check out our CETL Events Page
- Schedule a time with CETL staff to discuss group work for your course.
Bart, M. (2010). How to design effective online group work activities. Faculty Focus, September.
Cornell University (n.d.). Collaborative learning: Group work.
Jetter, M. & Petersen, C. (n.d.). Successful team projects: Ideas to begin using today. TILT, 2017-2018.
University of Minnesota (n.d.). Teaching teamwork skills and promote positive group dynamics. A Faculty Guide to Team Projects.
Wicks, J. (2017). Best Practices: Online Group Work.