Facilitating group work to enhance student learning.
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The importance of group work
Group work refers to learning experiences in which students work together on the same task. Group work can help build a positive and engaging learning community through peer learning and teaching.
Promoting peer interactions can positively affect learning experiences by preparing students for work beyond the classroom. According to Constructivism, when students work together to solve problems, they construct knowledge together, rather than passively absorbing information. Students learn more effectively working cooperatively in diverse groups as opposed to working exclusively in a heterogeneous class, working in competition with other students, or working alone (Hattie, 2008). Some benefits include:
Collaborating to break apart and solve complex tasks
Deepening understandings and clarifying misconceptions with peer support
Improving 21st century skills such as:
self-regulation and self-reflection
communication and time management
project management and conflict resolution
Advantages and disadvantages
While working collaboratively has the potential to improve student outcomes, it requires the instructor to carefully organize, guide and maintain a positive and productive work environment. Despite the substantial benefits group work offers, there are also disadvantages, especially if not implemented effectively.
Advantages (when done effectively)
Disadvantages (when done ineffectively)
More can be accomplished than working alone
Time wasted waiting on others
Less work than working alone
More work than working alone
Share knowledge and skills
Unequal support of ideas
Equal exchange of information
Conflict over roles and responsibilities
Team commitment and social support is motivating
Unequal participation is demotivating
Supportive and productive collaboration
Lack of productivity and miscommunication
For group work to be successful, you need to thoughtfully plan and organize how it will benefit your students. Group work must be designed to enhance student skills and abilities towards achieving learning outcomes.
The suggestions below will help you design a successful collaborative learning experience for your students. Prior to incorporating group work, take the time to consider strategies that can help avoid potential challenges. Remember to teach effective group work just as you teach content knowledge.
Consider having students create group contracts for high-stakes assignments and complex projects. These are also beneficial when the same group will be working together over an extended period.
Provide students with guidelines or templates to ensure that they address aspects of collaboration that may alleviate future concerns, such as potential problems with effective solutions.
Plan appropriate group composition, size and activity duration. Smaller groups of 3-5 students tend to be more efficient.
Promote positive interdependence where each member of the group feels a sense of respect, accountability and inclusivity. Ask each group to define their expectations, goals, roles and responsibilities.
Establish effective group structures and communication in which students share their knowledge and skills, motivate themselves and others, and respect multiple perspectives or opinions.
Give resources and strategies for project development, team building and conflict resolution.
Assigning tasks that foster genuine teamwork and simulate real-life scenarios can help to prepare students for professional situations that will require collaboration. To design an engaging and community-oriented classroom, it is necessary to create opportunities for students to work together in your course. Students can accomplish this through:
authentic assessments that foster autonomy and demonstrate learning
discussions that foster critical thinking, equity and inclusivity
investigations to analyzing problems and identifying solutions
activities that incorporate active learning
brainstorming to practice divergent thinking and innovation
The following examples provide you opportunities and ideas to integrate group work successfully into your course.
Design projects that allow groups to demonstrate their learning in a variety of methods and modalities. Authentic assessments allow groups and individuals to show what they have learned and how they can transfer this knowledge and apply their new understandings to specific concepts. Construct group work intentionally and align it to the course’s learning outcomes. Here are some examples of group oriented authentic assessments:
Discussions are a great way to build collaboration into your course. Discussions allow students to practice higher order thinking skills in a variety of ways and can help students achieve many types of learning outcomes. Having a structure in place will help ensure that discussions are meaningful, effective and engaging. The benefits of discussions include:
Developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills
Learning to navigate difficult conversations
Strengthening oral communication and active listening
Applying newly learned concepts and skills to authentic contexts
In small groups, students choose a topic of interest, organize the division of labor, select research methods and plan a final product. Students work collaboratively to think critically about their topic, synthesize their research, and present it to the class. Group investigations give students the opportunity to practice and develop essential skills necessary for the real world.
Students work together in small groups to deepen their understanding and clarify misunderstandings. In study groups, students practice sharing their knowledge and applying their learning with support from their peers.
Video that helps you move group work to an online environment.
Assessing group work
In addition to evaluating the group’s output, determine how groups functioned, how individuals contributed to the group itself, as well evaluate both the process and product. This is not always easy, but these general principles can guide you:
Options for assessment
Instructor assessment of group
Instructor assessment of individual group members
Quizzes or individual write ups
Student assessment of group or group members
Student assessment of self
Provide criteria for assessment
Assess process as well as product
Give group feedback and individual feedback when possible
Monitor each group’s progress and address issues that may arise
Overview of the various methods to grade group work successfully and fairly.
Collaboration in online learning
Collaborative online learning activities allow students to support each other by asking critical questions and clarifying misunderstandings. It is through this collaboration that students can learn to listen thoughtfully and value the contributions of their peers. Using appropriate and intuitive technology tools helps create an engaging and supportive learning community. The following are a variety of tools available to connect you with your students and to help your students collaborate with their peers.