Getting Started with Designing Group Work Assignments
First, think about the course learning outcomes and how group work might address them. Then consider how groups will be organized, how student learning and group processes will be supported, and how students will be evaluated, if at all.
Short in-class activities may take less planning, but it is still important 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 encourage.
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?
Allowing students to form their own groups will likely result in uneven 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 include “experts” in different areas. Another possibility is to do a preliminary assessment and then based on the results, purposefully create groups that blend abilities.
How Will you Ensure that Students are Productive?
Set aside time early in the semester to allow for 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 difficulty of coordination. See more on how to manage groups in the next question.
What Technology Might Assist the Group Work?
If technology use is required, you will need to incorporate 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?
Choose 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 problem. Or have students complete 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 ensure that students work toward reaching milestones throughout the process rather than pulling it all together at the last minute.
- Incorporate peer assessments at each milestone to encourage self-awareness and to ensure ongoing feedback.
- Tie in-class activities and lectures to the group assignment. For example, during class sessions, provide clues that will assist students in their group projects.
- Be sure to explain how students will be evaluated and use a rubric to communicate these expectations. See more on how to evaluate group work in Getting Started with Evaluating Group Work.