Up and Running with Remote Group Work

A Case for Group Work

Group work can elicit negative reactions from instructors and students alike. Often enough, students groan about doing it and instructors dread grading it. The process is ripe for communication breakdowns resulting in stress from both perspectives. On top of this, the digital learning environment tends to compound these issues. Why then is group work so prevalent?

The answer is that, when done well, group activities help foster engagement and build relationships. Collaborative work helps students develop important skills like effectively articulating ideas, active listening, and cooperation with peers. Collaborative assignments correlate strongly with student success positioning them as one of eight high-impact practices identified by the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Making group work a worthwhile experience for students requires extra consideration and planning, but the positive gains are worth the effort.

Designing Group Work for Student Success

How can we design collaborative activities that are a quality learning experience for students? Scaffolding makes sure students are confident in their understanding of and ability to execute the activity. UW-Extension has created a helpful guide on facilitating group work that outlines three key suggestions to get you started. First, be sure students understand the purpose of the activity, in terms of what they are supposed to learn from it and why it is a group activity. Second, provide support so students have the necessary tools and training to collaborate. You are clear how and when students are to collaborate or provide suggestions. You ensure students understand how to use the needed technologies. Finally, providing opportunities for peer- and self-evaluation can alleviate frustrations of unequal workload by having students evaluate their own and their peers’ contributions. As challenges arise, guide groups toward solutions that are flexible but fair to all members. When embarking on group projects, be prepared to provide students with guidance about what to do when someone on the team is not meeting the group’s expectations.

One example of this as you design your group projects is to ask yourself whether it’s important students meet synchronously. If so, how might you design the project for students with caregiving responsibilities or with full-time or “off hours” work schedules? These students may not be able to meet as regularly or at the same time as other students. See below for how this might play into assessing the group project. You might also consider whether all students need to hold the same role within the group, or if their collective project be split up based on group roles.

Consider how the group dynamics can impact student experiences. Helping students come up with a plan for group work and methods of holding one another accountable promotes an inclusive and equitable learning environment. Consider any of these tools to help your students coordinate these efforts:

Assessing Group Work

Equitable, specific, and transparent grading are crucial to group-work success. The Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence of Carnegie Mellon University has a great resource on how to assess group work, including samples. This resource breaks grading group work down into three areas. First, assess group work based on both individual and group learning and performance. Include an individual assessment component to motivate all students to contribute and help them to feel their individual efforts are recognized. Also assess the process along with the product. What skills are you hoping students develop by working in groups? Your choice of assessment should point to these skills. One way to meet this need is to have students complete reflective team, peer, or individual evaluations as described above. Finally, outline your assessment criteria and grading scheme upfront. Students should have clear expectations of how you will assess them. Include percentages for team vs. individual components and product vs. process components as they relate to the total project grade.

Tools for Working Collaboratively

Picking the right tool among a plethora of what is available is an important step. First, consider how you would like students to collaborate for the activity. Is it important that students talk or chat synchronously, asynchronously, or both? Will students share files?

The following suggestions include the main collaboration tools supported at UWGB. Click to expand the sections for the various tools below.

If you are interested in learning more about any of these tools, consider scheduling a consultation with a CATL member.

Canvas discussions are one option for student collaboration. Operating much like an online forum, discussions are best suited for asynchronous communication, meaning students can post and reply to messages at any time, in any order. If you have groups set up in Canvas, you can create group discussions in which group members can only see one another’s posts. You can also adjust your course settings so that students can create their own discussion threads as well.

If you’ve never seen VoiceThread, imagine a PowerPoint presentation in which students can leave audio, video, and text comments on every slide. It is a great tool for virtual presentations, as students can pre-record narration for slides and then embed their projects in Canvas pages, discussions, etc. to share with the rest of the class. Keep in mind however that it may take students longer to grow comfortable with VoiceThread than a tool like Canvas discussions or Office 365, which they may already be familiar with using.

Office 365 refers to the online Microsoft Office Suite, including Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. Students can work collaboratively and asynchronously on projects using online document versions of any of these software, which updates changes in nearly real time. Microsoft Office 365 has partial integration with Canvas, allowing students to set up and share Office documents from within Canvas using the Collaborations feature. Students will have to log in to Office 365 through their Canvas course before they can use most features of Canvas and Office 365 integration.

Collaborate Ultra is one of two web conferencing tools supported by the university, the other being Teams. Collaborate Ultra has full integration with Canvas, meaning students can access meetings and recordings from within a Canvas course. As such, it is generally easy to for students to access and use. One downside to Collaborate Ultra is that it is a purely synchronous meeting tool, so students will have to coordinate their schedules or find other ways of including members that may not be able to attend a live meeting.

Microsoft Teams is a collaboration tool that combines web conferencing, synchronous and asynchronous text communications (in the form of chat and posts), and shared, collaborative file space. Students can create a new team in MS Teams for their group project or operate in a channel of an existing class team. Microsoft Teams also has partial integration with Canvas, meaning students and instructors can create and share Teams meeting links within the New Rich Content Editor of Canvas (in pages, announcements, discussions, etc.).

Putting It into Practice

When we ask students to work collaboratively, it’s important we reveal the “hidden curriculum” by building in the steps they should take to be a successful team. As a starting point, asking students to answer these questions helps clarify the work of the group:

  • “Who’s on the team?”
  • “What are your tasks as a group?”
  • “How will you communicate?” (Asynchronously? Synchronously?)
  • “How will you ensure everyone can meet the deadlines you set?”
  • “If or When someone misses a meeting, how will you ensure that everyone has access to the information they’ll need to help you all complete the project on time?”
  • “When will you give each other feedback before you turn in the final assignment?”

For a ‘bare bones’ group assignment, take the above considerations on designing and assessing groupwork into account and create a worksheet for the student groups to fill out together. Create a Canvas group assignment to collect those agreements, assign it some points that will be a part of the whole project grade, and set the deadline for turning it in early so that students establish their plan early enough for it to benefit their group. Scaffolded activities that give students enough structure and agency is a delicate balance, but these kinds of guided worksheets and steps can help students focus their energy on the project, assignment, or task once everyone is on the same page.

Let’s keep the conversation going!

Do you have some tried and tested strategies for helping students coordinate and complete group work online? Send them our way by emailing: CATL@uwgb.edu or comment below!

Presentation: Creating A More Welcoming Classroom (Feb. 22)

Join presenters Miriam Brabham, Cindy L. Johnson, and Mai J. Lo Lee Monday, February 22, 2021 from 3-4 p.m. to learn about “Creating A More Welcoming Classroom” from the staff of the Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs (MESA) who advise and aid in the academic success of undergraduate students of multi-ethnic backgrounds and multicultural students.

Register here by Feb. 19, 2021.

Follow-up Resources for Academic Integrity Panel & Workshop

Many thanks to our panelists Bill Dirienzo, Nichole LaGrow, and Mark Olkowski for leading a conversation around academic integrity for our campus. Below are some clips from the panel that helped steer our discussion—feel free to comment below or join us in the Solidarity Café.

Videos segments from the panel

Resources to Follow Up on Panel Conversation:

Since we had quite a few questions about online proctoring services, we wanted to follow up with some links to articles about proctoring tools and the artificial intelligence programs many of these companies use to verify student’s identity and flag certain behaviors. 

Here is some research around using proctoring tools a method for mitigating academic dishonesty and cheating in online and in-person assessments—though these sources also provide plenty of alternatives to using proctoring services as well. 

Here is the PowerPoint presentation (in PDF format) including some links out to resources.

Academic-Integrity-Panel

Here is a crowd-sourced collection of some strategies our attendees explored that seek to decrease one of the dimensions in the "academic misconduct" triangle.

If you’re interested in learning more about the resources that helped inform this panel and workshop, please check those out here: https://blog.uwgb.edu/catl/1209-academic-integrity/  

"Test pattern" bars and text covering an LCD screen.

Using Video Responsibly

Article by Scott Berg

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” If that saying is true and one second of video is 30 pictures, then it could be said that a minute of video is worth 1.8 million words! While it is not likely that students glean that much meaning as a video flashes onto their screen, there’s no denying the great power of the moving picture for conveying information and demonstrating technique. But, to repurpose another saying, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Harnessing the power of video in your courses comes with a cost. These days, it’s possible to quickly and cheaply produce video content on nearly any device, but video carries it’s high cost in the data, bandwidth, and hardware requirements necessary for students to access or produce their own. Because video is resource-hungry, it’s important to provide alternative paths for your students in addition to video options. This article aims to describe why it is important to keep this “cost” of video in mind and suggest some strategies you can implement to ensure that your course content is accessible to all students. 

The slings and arrows of outrageous file sizes 

Video files are huge! To help demonstrate how large videos files are in comparison to other types of web content, I ran an experiment. I returned to “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but considered it through the lens of file size instead of knowledge conveyance. I started with 1,000 words and generated a text document containing 1,000 words of Lorem Ipsum. Next, I took the old saying too literally and took a screenshot of those same 1,000 words on my screen and saved it as an image file. Next, I decided to make a video of myself reading 1,000 words using the Kaltura webcam recorder. In a move that will call into question both my scientific and humanities bona fides, I realized that I cannot read Latin, so, for my video dictation, I swapped the 1,000 words of Lorem Ipsum with four consecutive readings of the first 250 words of Hamlet’s soliloquy. The last step of my experiment was to use a free program called VLC to extract the audio from my video recording to create an MP3 audio file. After each step of the experiment I recorded the size of the resulting file. 

Here are my results: 

File Type  Size (Kilobytes)  times larger than text  N downloadable w/ 1GB data 
Text (TXT)  6.58  N/A  159,358 
Image (PNG)  209.07  32  5,015 
Audio (MP3)  4,693.88  713  223 
Video (MP4)  17,327.98  2,633  60 

As you can see, each file type is roughly an order of magnitude larger than the one that precedes it. The 5-minute video recording of me reading 1,000 words of Hamlet is a whopping 2,633 times larger than the 1,000-word text file, 83 times larger than the image file, and nearly 4 times larger than the audio file. Another way to frame this data is to think about how many of each file type could be downloaded with one gigabyte (GB) of cellular data, which is the limited amount of data I thriftily pay for each month with my cellphone plan. My monthly data would be exhausted after watching the video 60 times. I could listen to the audio recording over 200 times, view the picture over 5,000 times, and load the text file nearly 160,000 times in a month without exceeding my data plan! Hopefully, this comparison illustrates just how much larger video files are than pages made up of text and images. My experiment even used perhaps what is a best-case scenario for video files, as Kaltura was able to compress my video’s size to be about 5 times smaller than the raw video file during playback! The results obtained from using a higher-quality or less-efficiently compressed video in this experiment would have been even more evocative. 

Having your cake 🍰 and eating it too 🍴

So, is all this intended to scare you away from using video in your courses? No! Video is a great instructional tool! A September 2020 survey of students who completed the UWGB Impact MBA online bootcamp revealed that 69% of 13 respondents preferred course presentation types that included video. Instead of arguing against using video, I have chosen to demonstrate video’s demanding file sizes to argue that you should use it responsibly by taking steps to ensure that lessons and assessments are accessible for all students, and not just those with easy access to unmetered broadband internet. In a survey of UWGB students conducted in May 2020, when asked to describe the technology the they had to complete their coursework since UWGB shifted to remote instruction, 20% of respondents reported that they had regular access to a computer but not high-speed internet. That’s a significant segment of our student population who would struggle to keep up in a course that used video as the sole medium of instruction. Providing additional lower-bandwidth (i.e. text-based) means to access course lessons can help the students who have wound up on the wrong side of the digital divide achieve positive outcomes. 

A pie chart showing the results of the UWGB Impact MBA online bootcamp survey.
Results of the “Presentation Types” question on the UWGB Impact MBA online bootcamp survey.

Beyond accommodating students with limited internet access, providing additional ways for students to access lessons beyond watching videos will help them learn on-the-go whenever they have a quick opportunity to study on their smartphone. Text-based lesson alternatives can help a student study while away from a solid Wi-Fi connection at home, traveling, or in a break room at work. Another reason to provided additional alternatives to video learning materials is that not all students share the same learning preferences. This practice of providing multiple paths for a learner to access and consume a lesson is one of the central recommendations of the universal design for learning (UDL) framework. UDL revolves around the idea that courses should be designed so that all learners can access and participate in learning opportunities. While universal design is often thought of solely as an accommodation for learners with disabilities, according to Thomas J. Tobin, a leading proponent of UDL, “Universal design goes beyond just assisting those with disabilities and offers benefits for everyone involved in the online learning environment.”

Tobin illustrates the benefits of using UDL in your course design by imagining a lesson where “students can start by watching a short video clip of their professor, print out the text-only version while they are working on an assignment, and then watch the video again with captions turned on while they are studying after the kids have gone to bed” (Source: “Universal Design in Courses: Beyond Disabilities” from the book Planning and Designing Your College Course).

Using video responsibly by incorporating these principles of UDL will not only lessen the effects of the digital divide in your course, it can keep your students engaged in course materials and help them make use of every opportunity they have to study and keep up in your course. 

+1 for captioning 

Retrofitting UDL principles into an existing course can seem like a daunting challenge, but there are some relatively easy and enriching techniques you can use to add additional paths to your video lessons. In his article, “Reaching all learners through their phones and universal design for learning,” Tobin writes that, instead of being overwhelmed by the consideration of every possible alternative format that could be added to each element and interaction in a course, instructors can adopt a “plus one” mindset to identify a single alternate format for multimedia that can be consistently provided throughout a course. The “plus one” mentality can help divide the work of adding UDL design principles to your courses into manageable chunks. 

One potential “plus one” to focus on in your courses using video would be to add closed captions to your videos. Within the Canvas course at UWGB, machine-generated captions can be quickly added to videos created with or uploaded to the Kaltura My Media service at no additional cost to you or the University. The procedure to add these captions to a video can be completed in under a minute and requires only a handful of clicks within Canvas. While the machine generated captions won’t be 100% accurate, even imperfect captions can help your students with their note-taking and comprehension. Whenever you have the time to work on it, the captioning files can be edited via the intuitive captioning editor that is built-in to the Kaltura service to make them 100% accurate and suitable to fill a potential future need for disability accommodations. 

Captioning your Kaltura My Media videos has become even more powerful with a recent addition to the My Media service in Canvas. UW-System has released a new “Transcript” video player that can be used to easily insert a searchable, printable, and downloadable text transcript underneath your videos when they are embedded in Canvas. The transcript video player automatically generates its transcript from your video’s captioning file, so, if your My Media video is captioned, embedding it with the transcript player is easily done through the advanced video embed options. The transcript player makes it simple for your students to download a text version of your video lesson and take it with them on-the-go to study offline. 

Beyond captioning 

Providing captions and transcriptions are far from the only ways to “plus one” your video content and provide additional paths for your students to access and be engaged by course content; podcast-like audio-only versions of course lectures cut down on screen time. You can provide them for students to learn during a commute. A collection of available articles on a lecture topic could provide yet another means for students to engage with a topic. There is also more to using video responsibly than providing alternatives to video content.

Based off of our knowledge of supportingstudies, CATL has long recommended creating videos that are not… long. Another video “responsibility” is to produce multiple short (under 10-minute) videos instead of one long lecture-length video. That strategy helps with the internet bandwidth concern by keeping individual video file sizes down, but it also helps combat the attention and retention problems seen with long videos. Using multiple short videos also provides the opportunity to sprinkle interactions between videos. Imagine creating a Canvas module for a lesson that contains five short videos (with transcriptions) and placing formative quizzes and/or discussion opportunities between them. You can even add interactions right to the video playback experience by using the Kaltura Quiz tool (or, for Fall 2020, by taking part in our pilot of PlayPosit, a new interactive video platform—just ask CATL to join!). Whether added to the videos themselves or included in the structure of a module, those interactive breaks can help your students stay interested in a lesson and help prevent an “ugh, another video!?” feeling. 

We’d like to hear from you

So, do you think you are using video responsibly in your courses? If so, what strategies are you using? If you suspect your video use is an area for growth, what ideas do you have make your use of video more responsible? Do you use tools other than Kaltura for video? What features can you use to help make your courses accessible for all students? What resources would you like CATL to provide? What other ideas do you have for implementing UDL principles in the design of your course content and assessments? Please sound off in the comments or share your questions and ideas in our Solidarity Café.

Until then, as you harness the great power of video in your courses, please remember to wield it with great responsibility! 

A sign pointing one way to "awesome" and the other to "less awesome"

Collecting Mid-Semester Feedback from Your Students

We want to hear from you…

How have you collected feedback from students at mid-semester? Do you have some advice to share about how to increase student engagement with the process? What has been effective when you do make changes? Have you found students are responsive to those changes you are able to implement? 

For those of you who’ve done self-reflective work with students—have you found certain techniques (like those below) particularly effective? Are there others we’re missing? We’re sure of it—please share!

Feel free to drop a public comment below, or, if you’d prefer a closed conversation with colleagues (on this topic or any other), UW-Green Bay instructors and staff can join us in the Solidarity Café.

… and we’re here to help!

Have you been wondering if the ways you’re engaging your students in the first half of the semester have been effective from the student perspective? Collecting feedback from your students is a great way to find out! To do this we have a few models that may provide useful insight into how you can help students meet the course learning outcomes.  

Why might you wish to collect feedback now? 

This semester is unique, so you may find that what you’ve done in the past isn’t hitting its mark—gathering feedback at mid-semester allows instructors to: 

  • make sure that course lessons connected with students 
  • find out where students need support 
  • discover the impact of instructional changes you’ve made this semester before summative course evaluations 
  • uncover changes that you may yet want to make for this semester 
  • avoid surprises in end-of-semester evaluations 

What are some of the best practices for collecting feedback from students, mid-semester? 

CATL interviewed Kris Vespia, Associate Professor in the Psychology department to answer this questionAdditionally, Todd Dresser reviews how to create a survey within Canvas. 

How should I ask students for this kind of feedback? 

We have a few models and sample surveys you can download and import into your Canvas courses. Surveys in Canvas are a special kind of “quiz” that has unique options available. If you’re unsure how to import Canvas resources into your class, see these instructions. For information on how to retrieve survey results in Canvas, see this resource. 

Feedback focus groups 

CATL is currently refining a process that allows for instructors to benefit from feedback generated through a small group discussionThis process involves a neutral third party, a CATL staff member, conducting a form of a focus group with students. This would likely take 15-20 minutes. The feedback from the students is then synthesized and communicated to the instructor. 

Process adapted from Northeastern University’s Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning Through Research 

The steps in this process are: 

  1. The instructor and CATL staff member meet virtually to discuss goals and agree on questions for the session. 
  2. The consultant visits the class or a group of students from the class virtually. The instructor introduces the CATL staff member and explains that they have asked them to gather feedback, then leaves the virtual meeting. 
  3. Students are asked to compile responses to one question. For large classes, students are divided into small groups. The groups then report out while the CATL staff member records responses. This process is repeated for each question. 
  4. The CATL staff member synthesizes the feedback and reports back to the instructor. Themay discuss how the data can inform teaching practices at this point. 

The benefits of this process include: 

  • The feedback is being gathered by a neutral third party, which may encourage honesty among students. 
  • The consultant can help you shape the questions asked of students and interpret results. 

If you’re interested in piloting feedback focus groups, or would like more information about designing or implementing mid-semester evaluations, please email CATL@UWGB.EDU. 

Helping students self-reflect 

Mid-semester is also a time in which you can help your students critically self-reflect on their own actions for their performance at this point in the course. Here are some questions to help frame the ways you’d like students to think metacognitively about their choices throughout the semester: 

  • What do students have the ability to change going forward in the course?  
  • Where might students improve their time management? 
  • Might there be a place for peer-to-peer feedback that could help build community and increase personal responsibility? 
  • What types of assessments might students need to better prepare in order to be successful in the course?  

Borrowed Strategies 

What are some strategies you can provide to students to help them get back on track? Self-reflection, metacognitive exercises, and exam debriefings are a few of the strategies that other teaching and learning centers have created resources around: 

For any of these methods, you could create an assignment that doesn’t count towards the final grade or could be an opportunity for extra credit. Here’s how to set up extra credit in a Canvas course.