According to a 2006 study of employers and recent college graduates, one of the most important skills for potential new hires is the abibility to work in teams while also demonstrating a good work ethic. As faculty, how can you help students learn how to work collaboratively and still respect your discipline’s understandings of intellectual property? You can begin by clearly communicating your expectations for how collaboration will proceed and how the product of those collaborations will be authored.
While essential to the success of many projects, student collaboration is not appropriate in all circumstances. Before deciding whether or not to assign group work activities, ask yourself:
What are the goals or desired learning outcomes of this assignment and how will group work affect those goals?
Structuring Group Activities
Once you've decided to allow group work for a paritcular assignment, you will need to consider the following questions:
How will groups be formed?
Groups can be formed a variety of ways. Students can select their own teammates or teams can be chosen by the professor. As a faculty member you may choose to assign groups at random or use a more personalized approach, sorting students by skills, background, or content knowledge.
What will the timeline look like for this project?
While setting a final deadline for a group project is important, it can also be valuable to set various "checkpoints" throughout the process. You may choose to have students set their own group timeline or establish an assortment of smaller deadlines before the project's conclusion (e.g. require multiple drafts).
What methods will you use to ensure group member accountability?
Managing the skills and work methods of multiple individuals at once can be difficult. Consider how you will ensure that all students remain accountable to other group members and the project as a whole. One method is to encourage groups to create a team contract and establish work roles early in the process. Carnegie Mellon University provides sample documents you might consider adapting for your own courses.
What tools will the group use to communicate with each other?
Good communication is a key component to successful group work. Think about how you would like students to communicate with other team members throughout the process. For example, you may want to require students to work with one another within myCourses so that there is a record of each student's individual contribution.
Will students be graded individually or as a group?
Consider how you will grade a group project once it is complete. You may choose to assign the same grade to all group members or evaluate each team member individually. Make sure your plans for evaluation are clearly communicated to your students at the start of the assignment.
How will you collect feedback about the group and its individual members?
It is important to collect feedback from group members on individual team members, as well as the group dynamics as a whole. Providing a clear rubric for both the product and the process will help set expectations, while using a peer and self-assessment tool can be valuable for collecting feedback from the team.
Collaborative Peer Review
Peer review is a process by which students, in pairs or groups, exchange papers and serve as each other’s first reader, responding not as an instructor might, but as a peer who has been working through the same assignment. When done well, peer review can provide students with excellent opportunities for higher level thinking.
For more information on using peer review in your classes, please see:
- Jamsen, K. (2015). Making peer review work. Retrieved from University of Wisconsin-Madison website: https://writing.wisc.edu/wac/node/78
For information on discussing academic integrity with your students, please see our page on Talking About Academic Integrity.
- Collaborative Learning: Group Work, Cornell University, 2016
- Helping Students Understand the Benefits of Study Groups, Faculty Focus, Maryellen Weimer, 2013
- Problem-Based Learning, Speaking of Teaching, 2001
- Small-Group Work, Rochester Institute of Technology, n.d.
- Team-Based Learning Collaborative, 2016
- Using Group Projects Effectively, Carnegie Mellon University, 2015
- Surviving Group Projects, University of Minnesota, 2014
- Collaboration: When You Can and When You Can't Work with Others, University of California-Davis, 2006