Students and instructors have a love-hate relationship with collaborative group projects. Group projects have complexities above and beyond individual assignments. However, if designed thoughtfully, group assignments can be an excellent way for students to learn from each other, improve critical thinking, and develop a valuable skill of working together to accomplish more than any one individual would. Incorporating some effective strategies can make all the difference in turning your group work assignments into a success.
- Be Clear about Goals: Early on in the process, clarify the goals of the group work and share this purpose with your students. When students see how the group assignment directly addresses the course learning objectives, they are much more willing to put in the time and effort required to complete it successfully.
- Help Students Prepare for Collaboration: Keep in mind while planning collaborative activities that not everyone is comfortable or has the same expectations when it comes to working in groups. Writing a group contract with your class could be one way to prepare students for group work and prevent potential conflicts.
- Support Equal Participation: To ensure even participation, you may either assign roles to students, or assign portions of the project to each member of the group. To help manage the workflow, it may be a good idea to check in with students periodically during the project to make sure things are running smoothly.
- Have a Plan to Ensure Fair Grading: Consider how group work will be graded so that fairness is accounted for. One option is to allocate individual points that contribute to the final grade. For example, the students could be asked to review some articles and then put together a summary as a group. The individual reviews could have separate points that would be unique to each student, and then the group project could have a combined grade, earned by the entire group.
- Incorporate Reflection: Finally, make sure students have the opportunity to reflect on their group work. This could be done as a separate journal activity or a summary including what students benefited from, if they felt engaged, and what aspects they struggled with. These reflections could be a great resource for instructors to plan future assignments
Group work can be a powerful strategy to engage students and encourage peer support, but it requires thoughtful design choices on the part of the instructor to ensure actual learning takes place. Watch the video by Helen Graves from Byte-sized Canvas to learn about the many benefits of group work for learners as well as instructors.