A lot of students shudder at the thought of group assignments, and with good reason. A poorly-designed group assignment can be painful for the students involved and for the instructor. That being said, well-designed and properly scaffolded group activities have numerous positive effects on student learning. In a quality collaborative learning activity, students develop a deeper student understanding of course content as they learn from and teach their peers. Additionally, these activities can foster a sense of community between students and make academic dishonesty much less likely, as the group setting adds a built-in network of accountability. In terms of academic rigor, group assignments don’t necessarily need to be easier than individual exercises, but students shouldn’t be unequally yoked when they work collaboratively. One way to circumvent this issue is to have teams develop a group charter, like this example group charter (Word document)created by Kate Farley (UWGB) in which students decide on their roles and commitments before beginning a project.
UW-Extension has created a helpful guide that provides more detailed suggestions on how to design group activities, which are summarized below:
- Provide purpose. Make sure students know why they are doing the project and why it’s important that they work in groups.
- Provide support. Make sure students have the tools they need (technological and otherwise) to complete the project.
- Set ground rules with clearly defined milestones and timelines. If you allow students to create the ground rules and milestones for their own group, they are more likely to take ownership of the project and ensure the schedule is doable for them.
- Provide opportunities for peer and self-evaluation: Evaluation and reflection helps students effectively hold themselves and each other accountable for the results of their collaboration.
If you’re familiar with the concept these features might sound an awful lot like the teaching with transparency framework. If that concept is unfamiliar to you, you can learn more about it here.