Learning to work as part of a team is a valuable life skill, one that students will use time and time again in their post graduation lives. However, many students groan at the prospect of group work. So how can you make team projects less groan-inducing and more appealing in your online courses? And ensure students actually take away some valuable lessons from them?

Here are some tips and tricks you can use to help you better facilitate, evaluate, and promote teamwork in your online courses. 

Explain the Why of Group Work

Often, we’re reluctant to do something without knowing the “why” behind why we’re being asked to do it. Group work is no different. Students need to know why many of their courses include group work. Here are some of the important reasons for group assignments, discussions, and projects. Group work:  

  • Increases interactions and builds relationships
  • Enhances engagement through collaborative learning
    • Promotes accountability and respect
    • Enables peer-to-peer learning
    • Encourages participants to share stories and resources
    • Builds shared knowledge
  • Offers alternative view-points
  • Models social learning
  • Builds learners’ ability to work in groups across time and space – a valued workplace skill

That’s a lot of great stuff and students need to see at least some of those reasons to understand why group work is such an important part of their learning experience.

Set Expectations for Assessments

One of the reasons that many students struggle with group work is because they are unsure of how they’ll be assessed. Many students worry that they may get stuck doing the bulk of the work or be penalized if other groupd members don’t do their part. Here are some tips to help you navigate through this part of group work: 

  • Be clear on what it expected of them and how they will be assessed. Online learners want to know how they will be assessed individually and as part of a group.
  • Develop a grading rubric. This can be both for participating in the work as a whole and for their individual contributions.
  • Bring in peer evaluations. These allow students to give feedback on their group members which alleviates some of the stress of working with peers who contribute less to the project. The knowledge that they will be evaluated by peers can also motivate students to work more collaboratively with their team members.
  • Make sure feedback is constructive. Ask students to provide specific examples of how a teammate could have done more and to keep comments professional and not personal.

Essentially, any group work should give students clear expectations and allow them a way to give feedback on the process.

Select Groups

Groups work best together when there are a mix of students who are willing to take on or who will excel at different roles within the group. If all the students in a group want to be the leader, then more time will be spent fighting over who is leading the team than actually getting things done. Choose group members carefully (as much as you can, especially early in the semester) and pair students together who excel at different kinds of tasks. Unsure of where students should be? Survey them on their preferences. 

Aim for Smaller Groups 

Everyone is busy, so it’s hard for bigger groups to meet up to work together as it can be a logistical nightmare trying to manage a large number of schedules. Aim for around three students per group and stick to odd numbers if possible as this keeps groups from being split on decisions. 

Create a Group Work Space 

It doesn’t matter what tools you use to accomplish this, so much as that it exists and is there for students to use to collaborate and work on their project. You can easily use Blackboard to create a team-specific discussion board or set up Collaborate rooms for each group. You could also use tools like Google docs or Zoom chats. Whatever works for you, so long as your students have a place to meet, share, and store ideas. 

Monitor Your Groups 

While there is a fine line between being too involved and not involved enough, generally it’s a good idea to check in with your student teams on a regular basis rather than waiting for them email you with problems or issues. Offer advice and feedback throughout the team work project, helping students make adjustments that will keep them on the right track. This helps students both produce better work and improve their ability to work well within a team setting.

For additional help and support with team projects in your online course, contact learningtech@cod.edu