7 Tips for Using Group Work, Remotely

Group work can be highly effective in the remote teaching context.  It is more important than ever to use strategies that require interaction among students.  In groups, they can check their understanding with peers and develop a sense of belonging that helps engage and motivate.

Tip 1:  Be clear on purpose and process.  Make it crystal clear to everyone what the learning goals or outcomes are for group work.  Provide students with clear descriptions and criteria that will be used to determine grades.

Tip 2:  Set up the groups for students.  You may need to survey students or ask them to submit information by email or discussion boards to allow for intentional grouping.  You could set the groups based on a preferred meeting time or preferred delivery date of the group project; diverse perspectives or experiences; self-assessed strengths for group projects; shared topic interests; or preferred type of project deliverable.  We recommend 5 members, plus or minus 2.  See more tips for group composition here.

Tip 3:  Make expectations explicit for students.   Resources on netiquette will help in terms of appropriate behaviour and ways of interacting.  Set some process goals up for students at the outset.  For example, state that you expect students to get to know each other, to include all members of the group in the decisions and work, to benefit from the peer connection and collaboration, to agree on meeting times in advance, to distribute work evenly, to meet the due dates, and so on.  Each group might be able to add your list in a team contract based on their discussion about how they want to work together (an excellent early activity).

Tip 4:  Support group processes.  Indicate the kinds of feedback and support you can and will provide if groups ask.  Give students a clear path for asking for help when they get stuck in terms of group dynamics or uneven contribution.  Let students know when they should involve you and what they can expect you to do.  If there are steps you want them to take before they reach out to you, outline these for them clearly.  Asking students to do a mid-project team assessment and, if needed, require a reset plan.  See more on supporting groups here.

Tip 5:  Require progress updates.  Project management is challenging.  When groups stick to their timelines, it prevents conflict and uneven contribution.  Set some interim targets for groups to help students develop the skills and meet the learning goals.   Ask for submissions like a team contract, meeting agendas and minutes, mid-project meeting with you, or 1-page progress reports.  

Tip 6:  Keep the tech simple; keep it to a few tools.  Require students to use tools for meeting and collaborating that are university-supported.  For meetings, students can get support for using Zoom. Did you know each student has their own Zoom room?  Did you know students can record their meetings?  For collaborating on documents, students can get support for using OneDrive . If you want to check in with groups in meetings or through their documents, this is better for you as well.

Tip 7:  Get students interacting with the criteria you will use for grading, early.  Provide students with rubrics so that they know what you want—do this on the first day. Checklists for contents of reports or other deliverables can also help. Consider having groups exchange project deliverables in draft form and have them use the rubric/checklist to give each other feedback prior to the final due date.  For more on assessment of group work, see another link (several have been provided in this post) from the Eberly Centre at Carnegie Melon University “Solve a Teaching Problem” site.