Nov 10 2010
Tips for Group Work
When you assign several students to produce a major assignment together you will have to consider not only the quality of the task they complete but also the effectiveness of their interaction. If one of your course objectives is that students will learn to work together with colleagues, then teach them how. The steps are the same as for teaching and grading discussion:
Provide criteria and instructions.
Provide opportunities for practice and feedback.
Here are some suggestions for guiding group processes:
Begin with instructions and guidelines for group work. Address the ways in which groups could go astray.
Construct a rubric by which the groups will be evaluated.
Have groups compose and sign a written agreement, at the beginning of their work together, that details what behaviors they will all be responsible for (for example, being on time for meetings, completing their share of the work by certain deadlines, communicating regularly with other group members) and what they each will do (Mary will research this part; John will research this part; Ling-Chi will produce the first full draft; Jamal will edit the draft).
Ask the group to appoint people to certain roles: record keeper, convener, and others.
Ask the group to give frequent feedback to you and to each other. At the end of each meeting, whether online or face-to-face, group members can write to one another what they thought was successful about the group meeting and what they thought needed improvement. Responses can be shared with you, and you can step in quickly if the group is struggling.
Ask a recorder to post or submit to you a record of the group's activities. When did they get together? Who was present? What did each person do? What progress was made? What problems arose, and how did the group address them? What, if anything, do they need from you?
Schedule a face-to-face or synchronous online meeting with each group at intervals to check the group's progress and interaction. At these meeting, anyone who feels another group member is not doing his or her share should say so right there in the group so the issue can be discussed while you can facilitate.
Linking teaching, learning, and grading. Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment in College, by Barbara E. Walvoord and Virginia Johnson Anderson. Copyright 2010 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
If you would like samples of rubrics, progress report templates, or peer evaluation forms, or to borrow a copy of the book Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment in College, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.
Barbara Millis, Ph.D.
Director, Teaching and Learning Center
University of Texas at San Antonio