Are effective group work assignments possible?

How often have you heard things like: “Oh no, not another group assignment!” from students? Or from faculty, “Why don’t group projects go the way I intend?”

We know that valuable transferable job skills are learned during group work and students can learn from each other and develop the skills they need to practice. Planning ahead and getting the groups functioning well over the span of a longer assignment is the key to success.

Here are 5 tips to help you get successful group work assignments going in your class so that students enjoy participating in them  and you enjoy giving them:

  1. Link your course learning outcomes to the group work assignment. This helps students understand the purpose of the group work. They know they aren’t doing group work just to do it.
  2. Provide very clear directions for each task of the assignment. And allow some choice, if possible, on topics or options for the presentation at the end.
  3. Ask each group to do a resume for the overall assignment.   (For an example, download this Resume Template from the Carnegie Mellon Eberly Center). After the group resume, have them define and assign roles for the tasks they need to accomplish during each meeting session. This can be either in-class or outside of class. (Download Group Work Roles [.doc] from the Eberly Center)
  4. Use self and group assessment/feedback throughout the assignment. This is key to knowing if the groups are functioning well or if they need an intervention. (Template downloads from the Eberly Center: Group Work Self Evaluation [.docx] and Sample Self Evaluation Form  [.docx]
  5. To ensure fair grading of all group members, give both a group grade and an individual grade and include this within the points structure for the assignment. Assign due dates and points for each increment of the assignment.

Group work assignments can be engaging and fun for students and for faculty. It’s great to see what the students come up with for results. So, be creative and clear with the assignment options, allow for assessments along the way toward the final product and enjoy the process.

References:

Sample Group Project Tools” Carnegie Mellon Eberly Center
Using cooperative learning groups effectively” Vanderbilt Center for Teaching

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