In this final article in the series we look at how you can support students to engage effectively in group tasks. In Part 1 we mentioned some of the benefits of groupwork for students; not only can it enable them to consolidate their learning and construct an enriched joint understanding, it can have benefits in terms of their sense of belonging and wellbeing. But teachers often report that students struggle to engage, and things can fall apart when some students don’t appear to be pulling their weight whilst others appear to dominate. In this article we propose some ways that you can increase students’ empowerment to take part effectively in groupwork.
Appropriately size groups
If groups are too small they can lose momentum and one or two people not engaging can have an impact. For discussion forums, larger groups will potentially generate a livelier discussion. If groups are too large, they can become unwieldy especially for project work – unless tightly structured with assigned roles.
Provide clear tasks and instructions
It sounds obvious but it’s a good idea to double check that guidance about what actions and outcomes are required is really clear and available to students throughout the activity. Make sure students know how to access and use any online tools they need to complete the activity, pointing them in the direction of guidance where necessary.
Be specific about timescales
In small breakout group activities, be clear how long students have to achieve what you’ve asked of them and send a reminder part-way through. You can set the timer in Teams breakout rooms which will display the time remaining to students. For longer group projects, as well as a final deadline, set milestones and what should be achieved by each. Or encourage students to set their own goals and milestones that you could approve.
Set ground rules and expectations
Having ground rules and expectations, including how they should work together and what your role will be as the teacher, can really help students to feel more confident as they’ll know exactly what’s expected. If you can involve students in collaboratively creating ground rules they may be more likely to get on board with them. This can be done at the beginning of the year to apply to any group work you’ll do as part of your sessions, or for longer group projects, it could be one of the introductory activities.
Ensure access to online tools
Check that all students are correctly enrolled in groups and can access the tools they need – any issues can be raised through support services provided by CELT or ITMS.
If students are clear about their role within a group they may be more likely to step up and take responsibility. You can allocate roles, or encourage the group to do this. In a discussion forum, members could manage each thread for example. For a longer project, students could apply for roles to practise application and interview skills.
You want to give students freedom and autonomy within their groups, but it can be helpful to check in at intervals to make sure all is OK and to provide feedback and encouragement. Agree with students how you will do this and how they can get support between times.
Teach relevant skills and encourage reflection.
If students will need particular skills to work effectively together, can you build some awareness of this in ahead of the task? For example, what does good teamwork look like? How do you deal with members who dominate or those who don’t get involved? For larger projects incorporate a fun ‘team building’ exercise at the start. If students need to reflect on the group task as part of an assessment, which can be a great way for them to recognise the transferable skills they’ve developed, teach them some reflection models or provide a structured reflection question or template.
We hope you have found this three-part series on groupwork and collaboration useful. If you’d like further support with using digital tools to support groupwork in your module, contact the CELT Enhancing Learning through Technology Project Officer for your faculty or if you are not part of a faculty you can find contact details for our central support team on this page.