assigning collaboration: research on best practices for meaningful group work
Provide students with your honest reasoning for assigning group work. Ask them to abandon their preconceptions. Facilitate a conversation about the best ways to approach group work.
Read about team configuration and the process of forming teams from Penn State University.
Google's experiment demonstrates the need for teams to start working together casually; consider creating a short assignment or discussion board question when groups form initially to "break the ice" and get students connecting on a personal level.
Hanna outlines one approach to selecting groups: "Some instructors form groups based on feedback from students about their skills and preferences. After explaining the project requirements, instructors may [ask students to] submit a one minute paper in class indicating their preferred roles in the group and their reasons for selecting this role. In online environments, students could use the discussion forum areas to submit the same information or the instructor may send an electronic survey...After, instructors could divide the groups based on the input they collected from students."
Create logical criteria for making group assignments. If your course is asynchronous, consider removing the common barrier of meetings by forming groups based on availability.
According to Brindley, Walti, and Blaschke, "students who are assigned a group project without an adequate level of readiness and/or guidance may be set up for failure."
Prepare students for the roles in the group. Require a small task at the beginning to make sure everyone understands their role. Guide them through communication. Prompt the team to set ground rules.
According to Kalay, the "characteristics of good creative collaboration are unique tasks, unpredictable results, shared understanding, communication, and joint decision-making."
Gain access and monitor group conversations. Provide structure for and require deliverables throughout the process, not just at the end.
Remember that students may not be aware of the best ways to communicate with each other. Consider providing them with a short list of tools for use in their collaborative efforts.
Provide students with tools to use for collaboration outside the classroom. Talk about methods for resolving conflicts.
Brindley, Walti, and Blaschke reflect: "One proposed method of ensuring learner participation in online collaboration is to demonstrate the value of group learning by assessing both the product and process of group work."
"A large number of partners are using different kinds of peer review methods to strengthen empathy and knowledge exchange in creative project work....At Aalborg, for example, student teams mutually act as consultants, reviewing and commenting on different stages of a project. The design management programme at TAMK uses open blogs, so even the project progress is visible continually to other teams. Another effect of having a public blog is that the team has a common display of the state of the project, which can be discussed with teammates and external partners. This supposedly will lead to a better common understanding of project goals and ideas" (Stockleben).
"Free riders or social loafers in teams can be a source of particular frustration to students. While students can give feedback on team evaluations, having a process in place such as allowing members to 'divorce' themselves from a group has been found to have a strong effect on decreasing free riders" (Johnson).
Create formal methods for teams to provide feedback to each other. Supply clear criteria for behavior so students can meet expectations.
This resource represents the over arching themes covered by current research on the topic of group work in online environments. It is not necessarily comprehensive. If you would like to suggest a resource for inclusion on this page, please email me!
Brindley, Jane E., et al. "Creating Effective Collaborative Learning Groups in an Online Environment." The International Review of Research in open and Distrubuted Learning, vol. 10, no. 3, 2009.
Hanna, Dalia. "Tools for Educators: Strategies and Ideas for Facilitating Online group Work Using Project Management Principles." EDULEARN, 2013.
Holmes, J. "Education Futures: University Grads Don't Make the Grade." Woods Bagot, 2012.
Johnson, Katryna. "Facilitating Cooperative Learning in Online and Blended Courses: An Example from an Integrated Marketing Communications Course." American Journal of Business Education, vol. 6, number 1, January/February, 2013.
Kayal, Y.E. "The Impact of Information Technology on Design Methods, Products, and Practices." Design Studies, vol. 27, issue 3, 2006.
Kurtz, Gila. "Integrating a Facebook Group and a Course Webiste: The Effect of Participation and Perceptions on Learning." American Journal of Distance Education,2014.
Major, Claire Howell. Teaching Online: A Guide to Theory, Research, and Practice. Johns Hopkins UP, 2015.
Online Cl@ssroom. Special Report: Student Collaboration in the Online Classroom. Magna Publication, facultyfocus.com
Stockleben, Bjorn, et al. "Towards a Framework for Creative Online Collaboration: A Research on Challenges and Context." Educational Information Technology, 25 April 2016.
Sull, Errol Craig. "Keeping Teamwork Alive, Motivated, and Enthused!" Online Cl@ssroom.
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