Ohio University

Search within:

Digital Toolbox: Managing Student Group Work

by Patrick Mose, Audra Anjum, and Jeff Kuhn from the Office of Instructional Innovation 

At a Glance

Group projects can help students develop a host of skills that are increasingly important in the professional world. Positive group experience has been proven to contribute to student learning, retention, and overall college success (Caruso & Woolley, 2008; Mannix & Neale, 2005; Tinto, 1998). However, managing group assignments can come with complexities that go beyond individual work.

Why should students produce deliverables in groups?

Alison Burke, a professor at Southern Oregon University, outlines several benefits to group work:

  • Groups draw from a greater well of resources and information because each member brings a variety of backgrounds and experiences.
  • Groups stimulate creativity. Students can build on one another's ideas when problem-solving rather than relying on just one's own perspective.
  • Students remember group activities and discussions better. Research indicates a tendency to learn and retain more in group settings (Barkley, Cross & Major, 2005; Davis, 1993).
  • Students gain a better understanding of themselves. Feedback during group assignments can provide students insight into how they interact with others.
  • Decisions made by students help yield greater satisfaction. Group problem solving bolsters student participation and enforces a sense of commitment to the solution versus working alone.
  • Teamwork is highly valued by employers. Strong interpersonal skills are highly valued by employers.

Producing students’ deliverables

  • Use VoiceThread when you want to engage students with highly interactive group work activities with many alternative modes of commenting and presenting (text, audio, video, images, PDFs, etc.). [jump to section]
  • Use Microsoft Teams to create a highly inclusive and comprehensive engaging environment with a variety of inbuilt Teams collaboration tools (sharing, storage, whiteboard, text chat, audio, video). [jump to section]
  • Use wikis when you want to build a community of collaboration and learning where you need students to build a vast compilation of information that serves as a repository of some kind. [jump to section]
  • Use blogs and journals for activities that are reflective in nature, activities that require the construction of thoughts, and responses to other participants’ thoughts. Blogs and journals encourage students to clearly express their ideas. [jump to section]

 

Which tools should students use to present group assignments?

Tool 1: VoiceThread

VoiceThread is a web application that allows users to create and share presentations. VoiceThread also makes presentations interactive by allowing students to add comments or ask questions at specific points of the presentation. Comments can be in voice, video, or text format.

Considerations for use: Instructors can create presentations or assign students to create collaborative presentations. The links below provide guidance on setting up Blackboard groups and adding VoiceThread as an assignment option. 

To get started: 

Assignment Ideas for VoiceThread

  • Presentations using PowerPoint or adding narration to other document types 
  • Demos/show & tell 
  • Storytelling 
  • Reflections   
  • Peer & content review  
  • Portfolios 
  • Group or individual VoiceThreads 
  • Introductions

 

Tool 2: Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams is a hub for teamwork and provides an opportunity to connect and work together in groups. Teams enables group members to:

​​​Grouping students in Teams:

  1. Option 1: Breakout rooms - You can use breakout rooms to separate students and group participants into mini-meetings or groups manually or at random. Only the meeting organizer can create breakout rooms. 
  2. Option 2: Channels - One way to group students in Teams is by creating a channel. Channels are dedicated areas within a team and can be used to keep conversations organized by topics, groups, projects, disciplines, and more. 

Assignments in Teams

Though OHIO IT recommends using Blackboard to manage student work, you can also use Microsoft Teams to create and manage assignments. Assignments integrate with the following tools: 

  • OneDrive
  • PowerPoint
  • Word
  • Excel
  • OneNote Class Notebook 
    • Class Notebooks are integrated environments for taking lecture notes, developing study materials, organizing materials, collecting research materials for groups, or project-based learning (PBL).  
    • Similarly, a group can utilize OneNote to manage findings, commentary, and make the presentation by leveraging standardized templates that can be edited by multiple users simultaneously. 

 

Tool 3: Blackboard Wikis

Blackboard wikis are collaborative tools within Blackboard that allow users to create, add to, or modify course-related materials. Once created, a wiki page can be edited by any user within the Blackboard course.

Why use wikis for group work?

  • Encourage student collaboration that leverages the strengths of each student 
  • Increase network building, trust, and negotiation skills 
  • Foster the co-construction of knowledge in the classroom 
  • Provide support and prompt feedback 
  • Provide a centralized location for class information; one that can be easily searched and updated 
  • Encourage reflective thinking by providing space for students to update, amend, and expand on class topics 

Tips for a successful experience

  • Provide explicit instructions and clear expectations 
  • Build in time for practice by starting with simple assignments and building up to large collaborative group projects 
  • Publish due dates for projects 
  • Assign roles to members of the group in order to execute group deliverables successfully 
  • Make decisions or discuss with students on how their work will be assessed. An instructor may attach or create a rubric or assessment instructions to guide students. 

Assignment ideas for wikis

  • Use a wiki page to collaborate in research, case studies, or online class projects 
  • Use it as an “ice-breaker.” Have each student interview another student, write a brief biography, then post that to a class bio wiki. 
  • Present findings. You may choose to use wikis in class to communicate findings on a case for each assignment or group. This is good for receiving feedback from peers and instructors. 
  • Post student PowerPoint presentations to a central wiki page. You can guide students to create or augment a knowledge base, study guide, or help guide for the class. Each student can be assigned or choose a topic for which they will become the “expert.” 
  • Build a course notebook. Assign one or two students to take notes during each class then post notes to a wiki. 
  • Have students create a class expanded bibliography or resource wiki where each student posts one or more articles or resources, then writes a brief description or informative summary of the item. 
  • Create a wiki space for each student to write their individual research paper or major project. They can use the space for drafts and for the final product. 
  • Topic or assignment claim list. Post a list of topics or a schedule to a wiki page and have students sign up for their chosen topic or time slot by adding their names next to it.

 

Tool 4: Blackboard blogs and journals

Blogs and journals are a great way for students to interact with each other by posting and commenting on each other’s work.

Assignment ideas for blogs

A blog is short for ‘web log’ and is considered a shared online diary. Blackboard blogs yield the following deliverables:

  • Peer-to-peer teaching and support through reflective writing and collection of research resources. Students can help refine other’s work through commenting on drafts, and with the instructor’s guidance, students can execute final drafts.  
  • Demonstrating knowledge and comprehension through commentary on subjects and/or arguments with supporting evidence can be well presented as deliverables in blogs and journals. During presentations students should post links, articles, or media that relates to their relevant topics. 
    • To show mastery among peers, students may be asked to interpret their findings on topics and present information to their classmates.  
  • Coordinating group work or ‘group blogs’ can be used as an assignment deliverable to share resources, questions, and drafts for a group project. Progress can be recorded within the group while tracking individual task responsibilities. 

Assignment ideas for journals

A journal is intended to be used as a personal space for self-reflection or private communication with the instructor. Blackboard journals can be used in the following ways: 

  • Pre-class summary/question quick write, i.e., posting a one-sentence summary of the topic covered in class and question(s) related to the topic.
  • Research projects; to record their progress, post resources, questions or answers being developed, amount of writing done, drafts, etc.
  • Personal reflection on course topics, projects, etc.

References

Burke, A. (2011). Group work: How to use groups effectively. Journal of Effective Teaching, 11(2), 87-95.

Barkley, C., Cross, K. P., & Major, C. H. (2005). Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty.

Caruso, H. M., & Woolley, A. W. (2008). Harnessing the power of emergent interdependence to promote diverse team collaboration. Diversity and groups, 11, 245-266.

Mannix, E., & Neale, M. A. (2005). What differences make a difference? The promise and reality of diverse teams in organizations. Psychological science in the public interest, 6(2), 31-55.

Tinto, V. (1998, May). Learning communities: Building gateways to student success. In The National Teaching and Learning Forum (Vol. 7, No. 4, pp. 1-11)