Group work is challenging for many students in a face-to-face class. When you add the extra layers of complication from technology and asynchronous communication, it is not surprising that some faculty simply avoid assigning group work in an online class. However, group work provides students with opportunities to connect with one another, lessening the isolation often felt in online classes.
The Groups tool in Canvas allows for multiple levels of group work if you would like to start small or go big. At the basic level, students can be assigned to smaller groups simply for discussion. When classes are large it can be cumbersome to have whole-class discussions so breaking students up into smaller discussion groups, either randomly of by interest area, can produce better dialogue. Still within the realm of participation, these discussion groups can also be tasked with coming to consensus on a problem or question and reporting out to the whole class.
Group assignments such as papers, presentations, or cases can benefit from the Group space Canvas creates for each student group. Groups automatically have a space to discuss, share files, and collaborate which you can access but other student groups cannot. For more on using Canvas to manage student groups, see the Groups section in the Canvas Instructor Guide.
Group work can be made easier for both students and faculty if expectations and norms are set in advance. Providing netiquette rules, a rubric for participation, peer evaluation, and attaching points to positive group interaction will motivate most students to participate at a meaningful level especially if the group assignment is relevant and authentic. It also helps to start group work after the first few weeks in the semester to allow students time to acclimate to the course and get to know each other through introductions. Both Buhdai (2016) and Chang and Kang (2016) recommend keeping groups small and odd-numbered. In addition, Buhdai also recommends intentionally creating teams, setting clear expectations for individual contributions, and monitoring the online group space to catch issues before they escalate.
In Canvas, when you set up an assignment as a group assignment you have the option of giving all students the same grade or grading each student individually. If you want to give everyone the same grade on the assignment but adjust for participation there are a couple of common ways to do that. The cleanest way is to set the group assignment to give all students the same grades so that you only have to provide feedback in one place where all group members can see it, and then add a second assignment or quiz where students rate their group members on a provided rubric. You can either set the main assignment to be worth a smaller number of points (say 10%-15% less) and make the participation peer evaluation worth that number of points or you can set the main assignment to be the original number of points and the participation peer evaluation to be worth 0 so anything you add for participation is effectively extra credit. Note that you can give students negative points on assignments, which, in this case, would effectively dock points from the group assignment. If students do an acceptable job participating with their group they would receive no modifier but students who went beyond expectation would receive a bonus and those who did not participate would be docked points.
As far as a participation rubric, these can be as simple or as complex as you’d like them to be. They range from something as basic as:
Rate your team members (including yourself) on a scale of 1 to 10 on
- Quality of participation
- Quantity of participation
- Timeliness of participation
- Out of 100 points possible assign a number of points to each participant in your group (including yourself) indicating the quality of their participation in the project.
To something more complex such as this rubric from Carnegie Mellon . Other sample rubrics and peer evaluation forms are available from the Carnegie Mellon Eberly Center on Teaching Excellence .
Chang and Kang (2016) describe and address the challenges facing group work online , specifically looking at aspects such as group size, responsibility, coordination, structure, and leadership. One way to address the common challenge of lack of commitment and responsibility by some group members is to structure the assignment as cooperative group work instead of collaborative group work. Working cooperatively, students are engaged with and responsible for separate parts of the project. The instructor can define the individual tasks and work products and then let the group choose who does what or assign individual tasks to specific students.
An additional option is to assign functional roles to students in groups with responsibility for certain process-oriented tasks. Roles such as starter, elaborator, source-searcher, theoretician, questioner, devil’s advocate, moderator, and wrapper are common to discussion-based and case study projects. Assigning roles in advance allows students to develop group cohesion and feelings of responsibility sooner and decreases the amount of time it takes groups to coordinate who is doing what, allowing them to get started on actual task-focused work faster.
The following three-part series on online group work from Online Learning Insights briefly explains several effective strategies for using group work in online classes.
- Five Elements that Promote Learner Collaboration and Group Work in Online Courses ;
- Five Essential Skills Instructors Need to Facilitate Online Group Work & Collaboration ; and
- Student Perceptions of Online Group Work: What They Really Think and How to Make it Work
When teaching on campus it’s not uncommon to have attendance or participation factor into a course grade. It’s fairly straightforward – students show up for class, they pay attention, they may speak up in a class discussion or work in a small group. You give them a grade at the end of the semester.
Online classes with no synchronous components can be trickier. Depending on the size of the class and the course content, some instructors may substitute a quiz over the reading or video for the week for attendance. Others may use small group discussions focusing on a question, case, or problem where each group must report out their solution. Others may use small group or full class discussions to delve deeper into the materials and help students make connections to their lives and the world around them.
While participation and engagement are crucial for learning, when that participation becomes fixed in a text form, grading quality and level of participation can be a challenge. Rubrics for discussions can be an effective way of setting everyone’s expectations for participation and making participation grades more transparent by benchmarking quantity of posts, originality and quality or posts, and responsiveness to peers.
Here are some example rubrics to help you think about what you might write for your own class.
- General Grading Rubric for Class Discussion
- Online Learning Insights
- Rubric from Modeling and Assessing Online Discussions for Faculty Development presentation at Mid-Atlantic Regional Educause Conference
- Rubric from Rutgers University
- Bart, M (2010). How to design effective online group work activities . Faculty Focus.
- Torosyan, R. (2011). Time management reminders that boost efficiency and peace of mind. Faculty Focus.
- Lunney, M., & Sammarco, A. (2009). Scoring rubric for grading students’ participation in online discussions CIN: Computers, Informatics, Nursing, 27(1), 26-31.
- Morrison, D. (2012). How-to facilitate robust online discussions . Online Learning Insights.
- Rovai, A. P. (2007). Facilitating online discussions effectively The Internet and Higher Education, 10. 77-88
The content found here was designed by Indiana University and adapted for use by the Institute for Faculty Development at Vanguard University. This material is offered under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike license and should be considered under this license unless otherwise noted. The original content was imported from “Designing and Teaching for Impact in Online Courses” from within Canvas Commons.