Group work and presentations can encourage active learning, collaboration, and a sense of community among students. But already in in-person classes this could also require a fair amount of planning – of both instructors and students. In a recent lunchtime seminar, Jack Kenigsberg (English, Rockowitz Writing Center) and Sarah Byosiere (Psychology) shared their tips and tricks and the tech tools they use to successfully manage group work and presentations in their online courses – many of which will still work when you return to in-person teaching.
Low-stakes weekly group homework (Google Forms, Blackboard Groups, Google Docs)
Jack Kenigsberg teaches a linguistics course fully asynchronously. Each week students collaborate on a series of homework questions related to the course material. In previous classes, this was their “group project,” but the students’ enthusiasm for the assignment noticeably increased when Jack “rebranded” it as weekly “group homework.” This is how Jack designed the assignment and coordinates the work.
At the beginning of the semester, students fill out an introductory survey (a Google Form), which includes questions about their preferred times to meet for group work. Jack then creates groups based on the students’ preferences on Blackboard with the Groups function. Jack makes the weekly homework available as a Google Doc template. The study groups meet on their own time (using whatever meeting tool they prefer), and submit one assignment as a group by the deadline on Blackboard. Since this is a Blackboard group assignment, the answer key is released, via adaptive release, when one group member submits their answers. Jack also gives feedback on each group submission, which is visible to all members of the group. After they have the opportunity to view the answer key and see Jack’s feedback, each student answers a series of reflective questions about their work that week. Students work together this way for the entire semester.
- No to “group projects.” Yes to “weekly group homework” and “study groups.”
- Create groups with similar availability.
- Create templates of assignments (for instance, in Google Doc). Groups make their own copies.
- Release the answer key after submission (less grading!) and metacognitive questions (which will give you a good sense of how things are going!)
High-stakes final group presentations (Padlet)
Sarah Byosiere redesigned a beloved group assignment in her human animal interaction class for the online version of the course. Instead of in-class group presentations, students worked together on online presentations on Padlet, a sort of virtual “bulletin board” that can display text, images, video, audio, and more. This is how Sarah structured the process.
Sarah created a main Padlet board with the instructions and ten presentation topics, and shared it with students about a month before the final due date. First, the students picked a topic/group and provided their preferred email address. The following weeks they worked on their presentations, following the clear instructions Sarah provided. Students then provided peer feedback to two other groups, using this peer feedback rubric. Sarah graded the ten group presentations and students were individually graded on the peer feedback. She also collected the peer responses (submitted via Blackboard) in one Word doc per group and shared them with the students via Blackboard. On the Padlet students could see the final presentations of all the groups. (The Padlet here linked includes the instructions, the rubrics, and three group presentations.)
- Provide clear instructions about the assignment (with a rubric and some examples, if possible) and about the tool (use existing instructions from the tool creators or colleagues – no need to write these yourself!)
- Ask students to share their preferred email address to facilitate contact between group members
- Dedicate some class time (during a synchronous session) to let groups check in with each other
- Introduce the tool students will use for the presentations early on in the semester in different (low-stakes) assignments so that they already have some familiarity with it
Managing group work and shared writing in synchronous and asychronous class sessions (Google Docs, Google Slides, Blackboard Wikis)
In a previous lunchtime seminar, Laura Baecher (Curriculum and Teaching) shared her tips and tricks on how to use Google Docs, Google Slides, and Blackboard Wikis for collaborate student writing.