Designing and planning for collaborative group work
Methods of Good Practice
In Strategies for Energizing Large Classes: From Small Groups to Learning Communities, more than 100 faculty using small group activities or working to create student communities in large classes were interviewed on their rationale for using collaborative work in the classroom (MacGregor, Cooper, Smith, Robinson, 2000). Their reasons included:
- promoting cognitive elaboration,
- enhancing critical thinking,
- providing feedback,
- promoting social and emotional development,
- appreciating diversity, and
- reducing student attrition.
Research shows that the manner in which an instructor implements and facilitates a group project has a significant impact on the success of the group project. The list of suggestions below provide methods of good practice for instructors planning to experiment with collaborative group projects. The results of the award program, in conjunction with the literature on group work, provide evidence of how task design, group process facilitation, and technology choice influence the success of the group project.
Ensure the task is worthy of collaborative group work
- Consider the pedagogical challenge.
- Determine whether group work adds value to the task.
- Specify how the group project aligns with the learning objectives of the course.
Design the task carefully
- Identify the types of interactions desired (student-student, student-instructor, student-content).
- Identify the tasks students will need to complete.
- Identify the barriers students might face and/ or where they have struggled in the past.
- Choose technology that aligns with the interactions, tasks, and challenges.
Prepare students for collaboration
- Communicate the rationale for group work including why the challenge is worthy of collaborative group work and how the group project relates to course objectives.
- Help students understand what makes good collaboration.
- Provide students tools to deal with team dynamics.
- Provide students training on the technologies identified for the assignment.
Perform regular assessments of process and product
- Use milestones or check-ins to ensure groups are on the right track.
- Provide students the opportunity to evaluate their group members’ contributions to the project.
- Grade the collaborative process used as well as the results of the collaboration.
- Include group and individual performance in the final grade.
MacGregor, J., Cooper, J., Smith, K., and Robinson, P. (eds.) (2000). Strategies for energizing large classes: From small groups to learning communities. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 81. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.