Online Group Work

Making Group Work Work

Group work is difficult to get right on or offline. Students have particularly strong reactions to online groupwork. Read Debbie Morrisons post How Not to Design a MOOC for an in-depth view of the things that can go wrong for students doing group activities online. In her post she gives great advice on how to get group work right. In other words, give clear and detailed instructions; describe the purpose of the assignment and why the group project is required rather than individual activity – explaining how the student will benefit from the group activity; and make sure students can use the technical tools required for group work, such as a dedicated discussion space for each group.

A further three posts in in her excellent blog Online Learning Insights are well worth reading:

Assessing Online Group Work

There are many assessment methods suitable for assessing group work. They may be used to assess a range of skills and knowledge and to generate a group mark or an individual mark. The Higher Education Academy’s (HEA) Physical Science Centre offers an excellent primer for assessing group work: Assessing group work: Advice and examples. While their post is aimed at physicl science disciplines, the principles are sound for all disciplines and apply in online or offine activities.

According to the HEA, the assessment of group work is the issue which most concerns academics. Giving the same a group mark  to members of a group rather than an individual mark to each student presents a dilemma because some members of a team contribute more than others. While a group mark mirrors the world of work more closely, as teams generally all share in the success or failure of a project, a student depends on fair assessment of her or his individual learning. The answer to this dilemma is making the assessment methods and criteria  to students clear before they begin group work.

Using a combination of approaches may combine group and individual assessment more equitably; such as students anonymously assess each other’s contributions to the activity and a mark given based on peer assessment. What must be clear, however, is what exactly is being assessed by a given method; for example, is an oral presentation being assessed on content or presentation skills, or both?

Recieving and providing feedback to their peers, helps students gain a better appreciation of the skills being developed as well as how to work effectively as a group; especially if they have to assess their peers on the same criteria with which they will be assessed.

Some of the methods that can be used for assessing group work are:

  • Individual report or assignment
  • Group report or assignment
  • Observation and interview
  • Oral presentation
  • Poster presentations
  • Peer assessment of contribution to the group

The HEA Primer gives the pros and cons of each method, as well as the procedure for each method.

Simple Group Work and Assessment Examples

Simple group exercises which require little intervention from the teacher can help to encourage members of a group to work together and link what they do online to the face to face element of your course. These can be a simple, but effective, ways to link the research students do outside a face to face setting to what they do when they are together in a seminar or workshop. Use the groups tool to provide spaces for learners to communicate and collaborate and for them to evidence their participation in group collaboration and learning.

Case Study: Complex Group Work and Assessment

In my course Facilitating Online Learning and Collaboration class, we study how to set up, manage and assess group work by participating in a fairly complex online exercise. See below for the brief and assessment procedure: