Group work in an e-course

Planning and preparing for group work

Group work requires thorough preparation. Before starting work, you have to prepare and make available to students:

  • instructions for creating groups
  • instructions for using group work tools
  • substantive instructions (assignment description, discussion topic, project description, problem description)
  • instructions for submission of group work
  • assessment criteria and participation requirements

Students can be divided into groups in various ways. Generally, the optimum group size is 3–5 people. If possible, learners could choose a group for themselves: either according to other members of the group or according to the assignment (if different groups have different assignments). Naturally, the teacher may divide learners into groups.

Before the activity, also the arrangement of group work needs to be considered.

  • each group member works individually, and thereafter the work of all members is combined and submitted together as a group
  • the whole group works on and edits the same file together
  • different roles can be given to learners (or they will divide the roles themselves) – different assignments (for example, one is a moderator, the other searches for materials, the third writes, etc.)

To conveniently assess the activity and creation of the members of the group, the teacher may ask learners to write their names at the paragraphs or, at the end of the assignment, ask them to analyse and assess their contribution.

Examples for group work:

  • The private group forum is used where the group members post their ideas about the problem. At the end, one of the group members makes a summary of the posts and submits it on behalf of the group.
  • Group members write their ideas using the group work tool into a shared file. At the end, one of the group members makes a summary of the opinions, showing the name of the author in brackets at the opinions and comments.

The teacher’s task is to select suitable technical solutions for group work, and giving clear criteria for participation in and assessment of group work. Teachers should also monitor and guide the process of group work and give feedback.

The positive aspects in group work:

  • more responsibility is laid on learners
  • the quality of work is improved (joint creation)
  • active communication (creates a learning community)
  • enhanced peer support and coaching
  • developing group work skills
  • teacher’s workload is reduced to some extent

Certain problems may emerge in online group work:

  • inactive participants – regroup the learners: leave out passive participants or create a separate group of them
  • teachers cannot “see” all group activities (learners may also use other means of communication) – set group work requirements/criteria; it helps if students have to assess each other
  • unequal distribution of work in a group – let the students assess their own work and provide clear instructions what is expected from each learner in the group
  • the group does not activate (poor moderation) – ask a member of the group to moderate, monitor and encourage the group yourself, do not use group work right at the beginning of the course
  • too much time spent on organising the work – create a group yourself, if necessary, and share tasks
  • learners cannot get feedback – you cannot presume that the group can manage everything themselves
  • the group is too heterogeneous (members do not work together well) – let students self-enrol into groups
  • there are too many or too few students in the group – the optimum number is 3–5
  • unclear instructions – monitor students and, if necessary, specify, guide them
  • joining the group work later – enrol them into a smaller group, create a separate group of learners who arrive later, let them do an assignment individually (could be announced earlier!)
  • learners do not pay attention to instructions – emphasise at the beginning of the group work what to read and where
  • overactivity of students – give extra tasks (moderation, making summaries)
  • technical problems – use tried-out devices, plan time at the beginning for testing the equipment, write instructions
  • learners cannot plan their time – give intermediate deadlines