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Effective Group Work

Overview: Employers frequently tell educators that "students need to be trained in the skills of the workplace." One of the most important of these skills is how to work towards a common goal alongside a diverse and not always equally skilled group of people. Why do our best students so often hate group assignments? Generally, it's because they feel that they could work better on their own, or that they have anxiety about incomplete control over the quality of the final product. Good students often complain about lack of accountability in group work and fear that they will have to carry the weight of the whole group in order to get a good grade. However, studies show that group work is more effective at increasing student understanding than traditional lecture, so it's worth it. How, as teachers, can we address some of the common concerns and make group work more effective?

group work

Image source: https://www.quietrev.com/group-work-that-works/

Diversify Roles: Students don't all contribute in the same ways, and students don't all enjoy every part of the project. That's ok. One of the benefits of group work is that you can generally find someone who likes or at least is willing to do a particular part of the job. For a group project, here are some of the job duties that could be broken out by interest and personality type. Groups of about five students work well.

    1. Organizer/Planner: generally someone charismatic who others will follow, the organizer/planner doesn't dictate but builds consensus and determines the course of action, identifies the roles and responsibilities of the group members, ensures the work is getting done, and that the group buys in on the direction of the project. A good organizer doesn't just direct the work, but helps out where there is greatest need.
    2. Data Collector/Scribe: a details person who is process oriented, organized, efficient, and accurate. This person will take notes, record data being collected, summarize the input from group members, document workflows.
    3. Data Analyst/Troubleshooter: this person is a critical thinker who interprets the data, determines the big picture conclusions with input from the group, identifies inconsistencies or flaws in the logic, and works to find the answers.
    4. Graphic Artist/Data Visualizer: this person is more artistic and design driven, takes information and conveys it in an intuitive and attractive form, makes compelling graphs, charts, visuals from the available data.
    5. Presenter/Spokesperson: this person is outgoing, articulate, has a solid understanding of the work of the group, and can synthesize and express it in a convincing and appealing way.

Create Accountability: Ultimately, the grade of the project is the grade that will be assigned to the group members, but there can be qualifiers on that general statement. Since you're going to be checking on the work before the final submission or presentation, you will have the opportunity to ensure that everyone is pulling their own weight or fulfilling their obligations. If the final product is uneven, you may choose to weight the grade of an individual based partially on that person's role, and how well that part of the overall project came out. If things become really problematic with the group dynamics, you can allow the group to divide or lose members who will then have to do the entire project on their own. Make minimal accommodations with regard to workload or lost time, since this would be a choice they agree to, and is a consequence of their inability to work together. Finally, you can allow each group member to self- and peer-evaluate the contributions of each member, and you can also have groups self- and peer-evaluate the final products.

Encourage Reflection: Sometimes, group dynamics can make this challenging, but it can be done. One thing that can be effective is to require self-evaluation and private peer evaluation of the group members. Students tend to be very forthcoming about interactions within the group and about the contributions and effort levels of the various group members, particularly since these peer evals are done privately. In addition to peer evals of the group members, I like to provide students with a rubric and work samples from previous years, and have students evaluate both their own project and the projects of other groups. I reserve the right to throw out the self-review if it seems biased, but I like to include it because students sometimes provide information about the group dynamic that I had not observed, and they tend to be quite honest in their self-reflections. I set the percentages below so that an exceptional effort earns an A, a very good earns a B, and a needs improvement earns a D. Percentages could be changed or more categories could be added as needed.

Groupwork Grading Rubric Needs Improvement

Very Good

Exceptional

Leadership: did the group member help determine the project's direction or build consensus?

15% 20% 25%

Effort: did the group member pull his/her weight, and make a significant contribution?

15% 20% 25%

Creativity: did the group member come up with any good ideas or suggest good solutions to problems?

15% 20% 25%

Cooperation: did the group member work well with the rest of the group or help resolve conflicts?

15% 20% 25%

Sample ballot for private self-eval and peer-eval of group members.

groups iconBb Learn Groups:

Many activities in Blackboard can be assigned to student groups. Activities that support group work include File Exchange, Discussions, Assignments, Blogs, Wikis, Journals, Collaborate Ultra sessions. The instructor decides which of these tools are available to students. More info and an overview video from Blackboard Help...

1. From the Course Management Control Panel in the left sidebar, select Users and Groups and click on Groups.

course menu

2. Choose Single Group or Group Set (multiple groups), and decide how you want students to enroll in the group(s). Group enrollment options are set by the instructor, and include self-enrollment (through a sign-up sheet), random enrollment (by the system), or manually (assigned by instructor). If the instructor allows it, students can also create and manage enrollment in their own groups.

3. Once you've set up your groups, you can change settings from the pull-down menu.

group options

4. You can manage group membership after the initial setup, from this screen.

group enrollment

5. Grading of Group Work is done from the Grade Center/Needs Grading. View this support page from Blackboard for more information.

gdrive iconGoogle Apps for Education:

Overview: Watch this video or review this tutorial for an overview of Google Apps for Education. Google has developed a collection of web-based tools that are similar to the Microsoft Office suite, but with some added benefits. Here are some of the common Microsoft Office tools and their Google equivalents.

Category   Microsoft Product   Google Equivalent
Word Processor   Microsoft Word   Google Docs
Spreadsheet   Microsoft Excel   Google Sheets
Presentation   Microsoft PowerPoint   Google Slides
Database   Microsoft Access   Google Forms/Surveys
Mail   Microsoft Outlook   Google Mail & Calendar
File Storage   Microsoft Sharepoint   Google Drive

Benefits:

Access: Go to gdrive.nau.edu and log in with your NAU user id (abc12@nau.edu) and password. Click the New + button to start creating documents. To share with others, click the Share button inside a document, and enter their user id in the form abc12@nau.edu. You can look up a person's user id at my-old.nau.edu in the People Search box. Click [Expand All] to view the user id.

Faculty/Staff Notes: While your students will already have an NAU Google account, you will need to request one. Request an NAU Google account here. If you already have one, the page will let you know. Once it is created, your Exchange e-mail will remain firstname.lastname@nau.edu, but e-mail sent to abc12@nau.edu will now go to your NAU GMail account. A quick way to get the names and user ids of all your students is from the Bb Learn Grade Center. If you have a personal Google account, you can continue to use it, but just check the upper right corner of the screen to see which account you're currently logged in under. Click the icon to switch accounts or add a new one.