Collaborative Online Small Group Work

Suggestions that work!

When designing collaborative learning activities consider these:

  • How big are the small groups? The nature of the activity should determine group size.
  • Are the students prepared to work in small groups? Make students aware from the beginning of the class that they will be doing this kind of activity. You may want to model the activity for students at the beginning of the course so they become comfortable with it.
  • Are you letting students choose their own groups? In an online course unless you manage it extremely well, it could take them the whole term for students to get themselves into groups. I recommend assigning groups... you can ask the students questions in the beginning of the course, if the groups would be better organized by common interest... Also, don't assign groups as the students enter the course, otherwise you will have all the early bird overachievers in the first group.
  • Is your online group activity well explained in terms of instructions and expectations? Do students know what to do, when, what you expect, and how you will evaluate student work? Ambiguity may be amplified in an online course. Model the activity necessary skills by utilizing"warm-up" activities to get team members to know each other.If your students report difficulty finding the appropriate activity, enhanced explanatory documentation may be indicated.
  • Create a page in the module that gives them links right to the page you want them to go to initiate the activity. Make one link for each group of students. Be redundant with your explanations. If your students are used to following the course linearly and you then ask them to go to another spot in the course to do an activity, it may throw them some confusion resulting in decreased participation... if a collaborative activity is not turning out as you expected, it likely needs more instruction, explanation, and direction.
  • Is the objective of the group activity clear? Have discreet milestones been identified? Are time frames associated with each activity been identified? Is there a required outcome or output for the group/activity? Have evaluation criteria been outlined? How will the work of individual team members be evaluated? What constitutes successful completion of the activity? If one student ends up doing all the work for the group, then it was obviously not a well-designed activity. Are directions and locations built into the course to organize, contain, and display the group’s work and final output? How will the activity wrap-up?
  • Avoid making too many assumptions about group work. Groups need design and direction to succeed. Do students have adequate cooperative skills to accomplish the activity? Can they achieve the complex tasks required? They need practice leading up to complex group work... Can they coordinate their work with the others in the group? Do they know each other? The instructor must design the activity, manage the activity, and monitor it for each individual to teach them how to successfully interact in a team/group activity.Learning is social in nature and online learning environments can be designed to reflect and capitalize up on the social nature of learning. Community can play a critical role in building and sustaining productive online learning and satisfying online teaching and learning experiences.

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