Group Work Online

Group Work Online

Research shows that the collaborative process of group learning provides learners with psycho-social and cognitive benefits, which serve to enhance learning. Group work improves retention, critical thinking, persistence, motivation, satisfaction, engagement, time-on-task, student skills for communication, project management, accountability, peer review, and self-regulation.

How to effectively manage group work in your online course?

Tip 1Assign groups in Blackboard using group function. You may select manual, random, or self-Enrollment for group sets. provide each group with access to the Blackboard collaborative tools which will be needed for the group work.
Tip 2Establish clear expectations about the tasks, timelines and each group member's specific role. Have each group develop and agree on a team contract. Contact the Stearns Center for examples of team contracts.
Tip 3Make group work assessment criteria and grading scheme clear from the start. Include assessments of the overall group product, the team process and each individual's contribution to the team. Contact the Stearns Center for examples of group rubrics.
Tip 4Include peer and self-assessment tools for group members to evaluate their participation in the group work process. Such a tool may be used at checkpoints, as well as at the conclusion of the project. This information may be considered or weighed different in the calculation of the final group project grade.
Tip 5The key to effective group work is for students to "get it", i.e., to see the personal value of the group learning experience particularly the value of engaging in the collaborative process (not just the group product).
Tip 6Make sure that you set clear expectations, clear checkpoint & due dates, and clear grading rubrics.
Tip 7Be available to provide students with guidance and resources; however, let the groups try to work through logistics, problems & conflicts on their own.
Tip 8Make students aware that group work needs more time than individual assignments. Set up groups well in advance. Provide the groups with team-building & communication tools. Have each group designate checkpoints at specific intervals to report on the group process as well as the status of the group product.

Assign Roles to Group Members

  • Have groups establish and agree on roles for each team member.
  • Roles can rotate or remain the same, depending on the duration of the project.
  • Roles can include team leader, scribe, editor, researcher etc., depending upon the group project.

How to encourage non-participants and inactive group members?

Tip 1Have each group establish the norms for the group, including specifying the individual roles & responsibilities, and rules for communication. The group contract sets the expectations for all group members. See Samples of group project tools (including team contracts) at Carnegie-Mellon University's Eberly Center, Teaching Excellence & Education Innovation website.
Tip 2Have the group project proceed in stages, requiring groups and group members to “check-in” at each phase. This will ensure continued communication between group members throughout process.
Tip 3Encourage Students to Resolve Group Problems on Their Own: Have students develop solutions for handling group problems or conflicts, but let them know that you're available to provide guidance, if they find that they cannot move forward due to non-participants.
Tip 4Include peer and self-assessment tool for group members to evaluate their participation in the group work process. Such a tool may be used at specific checkpoints, as well as at the conclusion of the project. This information may be considered or weighed differently in the calculation of the final group project grade.

Best Practices from Mason's Online Faculty

How do you manage group work in your online course?

Clarify Expectations

To set the tone and clarify expectations, I developed a document which I post on Blackboard called "Group Work Ground Rules". In order to allay fears and anxiety, group work is not required each week. I also developed a "Peer Evaluation of Group Members" which they have access to at the beginning of the semester. It is an easy-to-use Likert scale based tool. Group members are evaluated on three main attributes: quality of contributions, engagement, and communication. I use the Discussion Board, File Exchange, and Email tools in Blackboard to facilitate communication among group members.

- Dr. Beverly Middle, DNP, RN, AGCNS-BC, Assistant Professor, School of Nursing (CHHS)

Use Blackboard Collaborate for Group Interactions in Real Time

Building an online community in which students can network and share resources with one another is a primary reason I use Blackboard Collaborate in my synchronous [online] teaching. I create student interactions through the purposeful planning of several distinct areas including student groupings, follow-up questions, whiteboard use, incorporation of breakout rooms, and the incorporation of multiple means of interaction. A student can ask questions in the chat box or mark up a whiteboard slide to demonstrate connections between content while other students are taking notes, or utilizing other media sources. My advice to anyone trying to increase student interaction with both content and peers in Blackboard Collaborate is to purposefully plan each activity to maximize student interaction. Using the graphic organizers from the resource "Making Thinking Visible" (Ritchhart et al. 2011) provided me with several great structures that naturally incorporate group communication and collaboration.

- Dr. Courtney Baker, Assistant Professor, Mathematics, Education Leadership 8 Elementary Education (CEHD)

Use Wikis for Collaborative Group Learning Activities

"Here are my tips:

  • Instruction should be clear, so students know their expectations.
  • Assign each student Q role and provide an individual's task. Then, give students tentative due dates for each task.
  • Provide Q concrete rubric with each criterion for assessment of the final outcomes for students to use as Q guide of quality expectations
  • Get in Wikis often and check each group's progress. Then, send an appreciation & encouragement announcement in the mid way period. (for example, if it is a two-weekgroup work, send the announcement after one week"

- Dr. Yoosun Chung, Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Education (CEHD)

Additional Resources