Online Teaching Blog

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Collaborative Group Assignments

Collaborative Group Assignments

by Nicole Dhanraj, PhD, MS
January 07, 2019

Preparing students for today’s workplace.

One strategy for effective teaching is to prepare students to evaluate and address real world situations with the knowledge that is imparted. With the rapid proliferation of technology and the economic focus on globalization, organizations are establishing cross-functional teams where staff members are situated around the globe or hired from various corners of the world. Therefore, it is important that instructors facilitate developing the skills necessary to be prepare students to collaborate successfully in such group environments. This preparation is not only for workplace readiness but also more importantly, to help students understand how to engage and work effectively with a diverse workforce. Two key skills to facilitate such workplace readiness are problem solving, and the ability to interact with other people through understanding the nuances of communication. Faculty can help students build these skills with the use of collaborative group assignments.

Shunning collaborative work in the learning environment

Whether students are in face-to-face, online, or blended learning environment, faculty should not neglect the value of creating collaborative assignments nor should they consider not implementing collaborative assignments because it can be a challenge. These group assignments are typically shunned or not considered a favorite due to complaints from students regarding mutual schedules, students having limited time outside the class, a general disinterest in working within groups, not conducive to the learning environment, differences in skills or commitment levels to name a few. Some benefits of implementing group assignments include, learning from others, problem solving, increased motivation and increased understanding of the content. As a means of supporting faculty’s continued success in teaching, especially online, faculty should not devalue the importance of establishing online cooperative groups to accomplish assignments.

Considerations for collaborative group assignment implementation

Before group assignments are established, it is imperative that faculty determines the assignment’s objective. Is the objective it to give them a taste of the new age workplace reality? Is the goal to equip students with the skills and experience essential for communicating with each other effectively while working in groups? Or is the goal to ensure a well done assignment?

After determining the objective, the next step is to determine the grouping strategy. Will you place students with similar abilities, character, learning styles, interests, or significant professional differences? As you choose a strategy, keep in mind potential pitfalls of using a particular strategy. For example while choosing students of similar abilities may foster equal contribution, there may be some idea stagnation, as students’ thinking may not be stretched outside of their own knowledge/realities. In addition, for those students that share similar character traits, they may not experience interpersonal conflict because the group dynamic is homogeneous and may not reflect real world workplace heterogenecity.

Once the group strategy is determined, next you will assign students to groups. Once in their respective groups, you can guide your students to using various collaborative tools to simulate real life experiences. Some tools to consider adding to your academic arsenal include google drive, Piazza, Padlet, WikiSpace Classroom, WhatsApp groups and audio or video conferencing applications like Zoom or Skype. You can research the tools further to determine those that will be most beneficial for your class context. Keep in mind, while some students are technology fanatics, other students will prefer traditional methods including a face-to-face group meetings.

The next step is to determine how much involvement you want with the groups. While students appreciate clarity, if your goal is to integrate lessons with real world experience, then it will not be in the student’s best interest to “spoon feed” as a means to support success. However, you can ask for progress reports, provide suggestions, and mediate concerns as they arise.

The last step in implementing group assignments is determining how the group’s performance will be evaluated. You can consider an assignment grade that will not only evaluate the assignment content/quality outcome but the process the group used to collaborate to finish the assignment as well as a peer evaluation, which encourages peer accountability.

Final thoughts

Faculty should reconsider their views on implementing collaborative group assignments for students in higher education. There is a risk of negative group-work experience. However, the experience if facilitated correctly, that is, with appropriate objectives and the right amount of guidance from the instructor, coupled with fair evaluation tools, such group assignments can lead to rich learning experiences for higher education students.

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About the Author

Nicole DhanraDr. Dhanraj received her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from St Martin’s University and her Master’s in International Relations, graduating magna cum laude from Troy State University. She earned her doctorate with an emphasis in Organizational Management from Capella University.

Currently, when she is not saving the world one x-ray at a time, she spends her time as a researcher, writer, and an educator. She is dedicated to issues such poverty, entrepreneurship, environment sustainability, leadership, personal and business finance, women affairs and higher education growth. With her philosophy of knowledge is power, she seeks to empower others through her presentations and articles on topics related to these issues.