Facilitating Teams & Group Work

Group work can be a powerful learning tool, but the teams need to be facilitated correctly. If teams don't function well, they can be a source of frustration and anxiety for students and instructors. Below are a few suggestions:

  1. Create small teams: Assign a small number of students (four or five) to a team to help ensure cohesiveness and the ability to communicate readily. One option is to assign teams based on the mix of student abilities and/or interests in the course.
  2. Facilitate a team atmosphere: Often there is a lack of informal interaction online, so you'll want to create opportunities for students to get to know each other - perhaps with an ice-breaker activity. Ideally, students will have some knowledge of each other due to participation in an "introduction" discussion site during the first week of the course.
  3. Provide sufficient time: Realize that it will take longer for online teams to develop cohesion and reach the point of critical thinking, due to the asynchronous format. Build in extra time accordingly for your online team assignment or project.
  4. Provide detailed, explicit instructions: Give your students explicit guidelines and specific objectives for their assignment so the level of confusion is minimized. You might also want to provide specific team roles descriptions, depending on the level of your students' experience.
  5. Set short-term deadlines: Break a large assignment into several small stages (milestones) to allow yourself the ability to check on team progress and keep teams on track. It's a good idea to require team members to share outlines and drafts in the group workspace, where you and other team members can review the material.
  6. Remind students of available tools: Whether you are using only group discussions, or the full range of group-aware tools in your learning management system, be sure you make students aware of what tools are available to them and where to find these tools.