Online Blogucation
17Oct/120

Work in Groups? I’d rather drink poison!

When the subject of group work is broached in any classroom regardless of modality (face-to-face, hybrid/blended or fully online), the response from instructors and students alike is: “No way! I hate group work!” It is easy to understand why instructors, as a general rule, do not like group work. Most of us were stuck with poorly designed group work projects in all level of our education. The complaints (from students and instructors alike) include one person doing all the work, others not doing their part, difficulty in scheduling time to work together, confusion around earning a grade and confusion around tracking participation and effort. If we opened up the comments, I bet we could add many more.

If there is so much dissension from participants and assignment makers alike, why assign group projects? For me, the answer is easy. While I abhorred group work as a student, I realize, as an educator but more specifically as a functioning employed person, that I am assigned projects to be completed in partners or groups quite often in my adult life. So just like eating green beans (a vegetable I do not enjoy eating but realize as an adult that there is nutrition to be derived from a bite or two), group work has value and in small doses, it is worthwhile.

When I first started teaching, I tried to be a better instructor by assigning group work with very specific tasks and criteria. I included rubrics for rating collaborative work skills. I tried to create projects that, when each member did their part, came together in a complete mulch-faceted way but if someone dropped the ball, the rest could stand independently without penalty. All of these criteria contributed to more effective projects, more participation by all and less stress for the students because they would not pass or fail based on someone's busy schedule or lack of participation. So for starters, I recommend considering the above suggestions if you are someone who sees the value in group projects but has been frustrated with the process or product in the past.

So where do we go from there? At this point, in 2012, very few instructors do not have access to an online option for the courses he/she is teaching. Buy clomid and hybrid instructors already take advantage of these tool but most face-to-face instructors also have an eCompanion or some form of online environment available as well. Investigating the group functionality in the LMS you are using may make the process of implementing a successful group project a little bit easier. Since my expertise lies in LearningStudio, I can speak to those tools but most online environments include some group functionality.

So after I’ve designed my perfect group project, I make it even more exceptional by staging this project using the group functionality available online. Students can use the chat feature to not only meet and talk about the project and the roles but the chat can be assigned only to the groups. A log created from the chat can be used for accountability or review of details. The Doc Sharing tool has group folders created so students can work through the steps of the project (idea formation, draft, revisions, final project) in a collaborative space that only then can see (and the instructor). Again, documentation of process and participation can be gleaned from this opportunity. Outside of the LMS, final project format can be created in one of many free Web 2.0 tools so all can participate in the creation process. When the project includes editing a video on my personal software, the opportunity to share the work load is diminished but when a free online tool is used, all can participate in building the final product.

I certainly do not have all the answers but I think I’ve found a way to make it work. Constant revision to include feedback from the students helps as well. I don’t think it will ever be a perfect process but I know I have improved my efforts from the time a student called me on a Saturday afternoon to say that their project, due Monday, was going to be late because Connor just got arrested. I haven’t had any other students arrested for group work so far so I must be doing something right.

Pamela Kachka
Academic Trainer & Consultant, Teaching & Learning Group

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