Designing and Implementing Successful Group Work 

What kinds of assignments lend themselves to group work? When is group work likely to be the most appropriate learning activity? How can group work most reliably be assessed? How can group assignments best be organized online? What are some of the procedures, guidelines, and practices that can help ensure more effective group assignments? 

Structuring and planning for group work can help ensure that all students participate and engage with each other, contributing to the tasks and final project.

View the recording of Designing and Implementing Successful Group Work webinar co-hosted by Natasha Nurse-Clarke, Assistant Professor, Nursing, Lehman College.

The “Why” - Designing and Implementing Successful Group Work by Susan Ko, Faculty Development Consultant, Office of Online Education and Clinical Professor, Department of History, Lehman College

 The “How” - Designing and Implementing Successful Group Work by Naliza Sadik, Educational Technologist | Instructional Design, Office of Online Education

 The Faculty Experience - Designing and Implementing Successful Group Work by Natasha Nurse-Clarke, Assistant Professor, Department of Nursing, Lehman College

You can also view the webinar presentation slides and read the overview of the webinar below - prepared by Susan Ko, Faculty Development Consultant, Office of Online Education.

The Why

There are a variety of different activities that can lend themselves to group work. Group work can model and make the connection to real-life work situations, provide added perspectives to a topic or problem, assist in managing a larger class, and help build cohesion and community among students. Activities can vary from case studies to weekly summaries to debate teams, with group presentations, peer reviews, and problem-based learning are all possibilities.

Optimal arrangements for group formation depend on the type of assignment, size of the group, and nature of a class. Some activities may be suitable for a whole class session, whereas others lend themselves to pairs or small groups. A group of 3-10 can be ideal for ongoing discussion, while a well defined group project that requires more collaboration and coordination is best left to a smaller number like 3-4 members. Members of groups can be chosen with an eye to topics, interests, or other criteria like location (for synchronous communication), or can be randomly assigned using Blackboard. Always build in sufficient time for group members to introduce themselves and get to know one another before embarking on their work.

Timing and tasks for group projects should be well defined. Make sure pacing is appropriate for each phase of an activity. If meeting asynchronously online, allow sufficient time to account for students logging in on different schedules. It’s vital to provide clear instructions for where, when, and how student groups will meet and work will be delivered. For hybrid courses, it’s important to distinguish what will be done face to face and what online; for fully online, stipulate what is to happen in real-time vs. asynchronously.

Let students know if and how you will be monitoring group activity, whether periodic, on a regular schedule, or not at all. One option is to have groups keep a weekly log that notes what is being done and who is doing it. Consider how you might incorporate acknowledgement of individual efforts and contributions to the group. Reserving a portion of the grade for individual contribution, factoring in peer and self review of members are all ways to assure students that they are being fairly assessed.

The How

Blackboard makes it easy to create small groups and each group area can have its own set of tools like discussion board, blog, wiki, and other features. Group activities can be set up to be graded or ungraded in Blackboard. Discussion boards provide a means for interacting in discussion, reaching consensus, or constructing the elements of a project. Blogs can serve to host ongoing commentary and reflections. Wikis can provide space for and clearly delineate the parts of a collaborative project. The instructor can set up Blackboard Collaborate Ultra sessions for groups to meet in real time without needing the instructor to be present. It can also be used for groups to present their projects in real-time.

VoiceThread is another option that is ideal for group presentations, with students being able to add their own slides along with video or audio. Such presentations also afford the ability for other students in the class to comment on those presentations.

The Faculty Experience

Natasha Nurse-Clarke shared her experience with group work in her nursing classes. She emphasized that preparation and organization are key to successful group work. She provides an outline and explicit directions for each step of the group work, setting up areas in the Blackboard wiki for each group to organize and plan their work, providing a step-by-step task list and presentation organizer chart along with initial instructions on how to use the wiki.

Dr. Nurse-Clarke has groups then collaborate on producing their presentation slides in Google Slides, and finally, use VoiceThread for their presentations. A rubric is posted to guide and grade student presentations so that groups know exactly what is expected of them.

Dr. Nurse-Clarke emphasized that initiating the group work early in the course, and supplying “starter documents” to quickly get students up and running are instrumental to making sure students know what they need to do, where to do it, and how to proceed.


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