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Designing Group Work Assignments

Designing Group Work Assignments

28 June, 2016

To begin with, think about the course learning outcomes and how group work might address them.

Then consider how groups will be ordered, how student learning and group processes will be supported, and how students will be assessed, if at all.

Short in-class activities may take less planning, but it is still vital to consider how the process will play out in a classroom situation.

How will you introduce the activity? How much time is required? How will you debrief as a group? For in-class collaborative activities, focus on asking effective questions that engage students in the types of learning you are trying to stimulate.

For more involved projects that take place over a longer period of time and for which students will be graded, plan each stage of the group work.
How will groups be formed? Letting students to form their own groups will likely result in unequal groupings. If possible, arrange groups by skills and/or backgrounds. For example, ask students to rate their comfort/ability level on a number of skills (research, background knowledge of course topics, work experience, etc.) and try to arrange groups that involves “experts” in different areas. Another possibility is to do a preliminary assessment; and then based on the results, purposefully make groups that blend abilities.
How will you make sure that students are productive? Set aside time early in the semester to enable icebreakers and team-building activities. Consider using class time for group work to eliminate students having to coordinate meeting times outside of class. Much of the group work can be done collaboratively online, again, lessening the challenge of coordination.

What technology might assist the group work? If technology use is required (e.g. wikis), you will need to integrate learning activities around the use of the technology. At the beginning, do a low stakes activity that helps students become familiar with the technology. If other types of technology can facilitate the group work processes, guide students in its use.
What can the students do? Select assignment topics or tasks that are related to the real world, and can be connected to students’ lives. For example, have students try to analyze and solve a current local or international issues. Have students finish tasks that involve using and developing skills that they will likely use in their future professional lives, such as writing a proposal or collaborating online. Here are some other considerations for creating effective group work activities:

Break a larger assignment into smaller pieces and set multiple deadlines to make sure that students work toward reaching milestones throughout the process rather than pulling it all together at the last minute.

Integrate peer review at each milestone to encourage self-awareness and to ensure ongoing feedback.

Tie in-class activities and lectures to the group assignment. For example, in class sessions, provide clues that assist students in their group projects.

Be sure to explain how students will be assessed and use a rubric to communicate these expectations.