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Assessment: Tips for planning group work

Introduction

Effective group projects foster learning through active student participation, developing competencies such as collaboration, communication, and planning, all skills that are needed for future careers and are consistent with Camosun’s Mission and Values.   However, anyone who has worked with student teams as part of their courses can attest to the challenges associated with this learning structure.

Tips for planning group work

  1. Establish clear learning outcomesSince group work not only deepens course technical knowledge but also builds team skills, clear learning objectives for team skill development should be developed.  Check the learning outcomes of the course you are working with to ensure consistency of the team learning outcomes with the course learning outcomes. See Appendix A for an example of such learning outcomes.

  1. Identify possible group projects for your course.   Working collaboratively, your students can tackle complex issues or problems and produce a collective outcome that is beyond what students may be able to achieve individually.  As a result, you want to consider whether the proposed group activity is challenging or complex enough that it requires group work. Will the project require true collaboration? Is there any reason why the assignment should not be collaborative?

  1. Consider how the group work will be assessed.  Since group work not only delivers a final outcome, such as a report, but also develops team skills, you want to plan how the group project will be assessed and relate it to the learning outcomes for the course.  See section on tips for Group Assessment.  

  1. Fostering team skills.  Team projects provide students with the opportunity to develop critical skills such as communication, negotiation, conflict resolution, collaboration, leadership, and project and time management.  To develop and assess team skills with your students, it is important that you model and foster them in class.  There are many resources to help you with your planning – see the Additional Resources for Fostering Team Skills for tips.

  1. Decide how many students per group.  Research (Fay, 2000; Wheelan, 2009) generally recommends group sizes of 3-5 students to balance the needs for diversity, productivity, active participation, and cohesion as well as to support effective group assessment.  However, a smaller size may be appropriate especially for courses early in your program in which students lack group work experience.

  1. Decide how to select the groups.  Teams that are coordinated with the instructor’s guidance generally outperform randomly-selected and student-selected teams (Michaelson, Watson & Black, 1989).  A modified self-select approach, such as providing criteria for forming teams (i.e. balance of gender, age, cultural background, etc.) or a hybrid approach, such students identifying two students whom they would like to work with and their preferences for group work and topics, could help you assign groups with their preferences in mind.  When forming teams, it is often useful to have students identify if they are available for one hour before or after a class.  Scheduling can be a problem with group work so it is best to solve it up-front as part of the team selection.  Also see Appendix B for two sample methods for managing team selection. 

  1. Working with diverse teams.  Diversification in the classroom is an opportunity to incorporate broader perspectives into teamwork and reflect the increase in diversity in working environments.  Intercultural teamwork provides many benefits such as increasing problem solving and critical thinking to providing a sense of belonging to developing effective communication and conflict management skills and just becoming more aware of culture . Diversity in the classroom is, however, a bit of a paradox where diverse views increase transformational learning potential but ALSO increase barriers to understanding each other.  Embracing diversity in teams requires the instructor to help bridge those differences using empathy and connection within the classroom.  Key aspects to consider as an instructor include:
    1. Being intentional or transparent about diversity in teams and creating diverse teams. Students need to know the value of creating diverse teams.
    2. Creating a safe environment to build emphatic connection such as asking for teams to look at what draws them together (same tastes, same goals in school, same food favorites, etc.) so that teams can find a shared identify
    3. Scaffold the assignment to increase successful participation and learning. In this practice, create ground rules and allow teams to practice resolving conflict, to reflect of the development in the team, and to keep learning.
    4. Be mindful of how grades are tied together.  Ensure that you have peer evaluations and self evaluations to guide behavior and help with reflection and learning around the diversity in the team.