Group Work

In this post I have a several resources on managing group work for both classroom and online instruction. While I’m not a fan of using technology simply for the sake of using something “cool”, the productivity value of collaborative documents can certainly make life easier for students completing their work. When it comes time to grade, these same technology tools can allow faculty to see a log of who contributed, how often each student communicated, or how much feedback and revision was provided by each student. (For those who prefer regular check-ins, technology tools provide a unique vantage point which allows faculty to address issues of group discord as they begin to crop up.)

Team Contract

Years ago I was introduced to the “Team Contract” and have been using it in my courses ever since. Whether I was teaching in the classroom or completely online, my team contract looked much the same year to year. Not only do my students use the team contract to split up the work and determine how each person contributes, but my contract walks students through the decision making process on how they will communicate, how files will be exchanged, what tools and technologies they will use, how often they will meet, and what times of day it is OK to call, text or message.  The contract can be modified at any time during the semester, so long as everyone signs off on it again and the contract is presented to me. A Google Doc is a good place for the contract because it can be referred to quickly, edited at any time, and all changes are tracked with a time stamp.

Managing Group Work

One of my favorite books is Collaborating Online: Learning together in community by Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt. Below are some themes from their book on managing group work. While the book focuses on “collaborating online”, the advice is useful for those teaching in the traditional classroom as today’s students will likely work and communicate with online, cloud-based tools.

Set the Stage

  • Provide clear instructions and an agenda
  • Suggest milestone dates on when each phase of the project should be complete

Create the Environment

  • List suggested tools and techniques for students to browse when filling out their contracts
  • Provide some standard areas for documentation of progress

Model the Process

  • Use the same tools for class communication and collaboration as you suggested for group communication and collaboration
  • Ask students to share their input on low-stakes areas of the course and collaborate with your students

Guide the Process

  • Check in regularly and intervene early if necessary 
  • Collect drafts, logs, or progress reports and provide regular feedback

Evaluate the Process

  • Peer Assessment
  • and Self Assessment (should be reflective descriptions of contributions rather than a points-based rubric)

Source and Suggested Reading:
Palloff, Rena M.; Pratt, Keith (2010). Collaborating online: Learning together in community. Jossey-Bass. (Available as an eBook from ZSR Library)


Group Discord

In a recent issue of Online Classroom, John Orlando provides advice on what to do when students are not pulling their weight within a group. Utilizing technology might be one way to curb this issue early on.

Tips for Addressing Loafing in Group Projects

Group work is a valuable learning device that teaches teamwork skills which students will use no matter what profession they enter. It is perhaps even more valuable in online classes, as more and more organizations are using distributed employees who need to coordinate their work from a distance. (Read More – WFU Login Required)

  • Citation from this article: Synnott, K. (2016). Guides to reducing social loafing in group projects: Faculty development. Journal of Higher Education Management 31 (1), pp. 211–221. (Available here)

A Solution to the Free Rider Problem in Group Activities

Group activities are an excellent way to improve student learning in an online course. But they invariably raise the free-rider problem—the student who does not contribute his or her fair share of the effort. This is particularly bothersome to students when there is one group grade for all members of a group. (Read More – WFU Login Required)

  • Citation from this article: Lewis, K. (2006). Evaluation of Online Group Activities: Intra-Group Member Peer Evaluation, 22nd Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning, Madison, Wis.  (Available here)


Reminder! The ZSR Library provides subscription access to The Teaching Professor and Online Cl@ssroom.


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