Having students work in groups is an effective teaching strategy. It gives students the opportunity to practice formulating and expressing ideas, evaluating the ideas of others, building consensus, and other collaborative skills applicable to both the classroom and the workplace. It gives instructors the opportunity to challenge students with more complex and authentic assessments that more accurately gauge their achievement of course learning objectives. It also reduces the number of submissions an instructor must grade and ideally, they are of higher quality than individual work. On the downside, group assignments take more planning and time to properly design and deploy in Canvas. Let’s review some of the best practices to consider for group assignments in Canvas.

Why make an assignment a group activity?
  Reduce Number of Student Submission to Grade: If you are just looking to reduce the number of submissions you must grade that’s fine, but there are upfront costs. First and foremost, you will need to ensure your students have the skills required to make groupwork a positive learning activity and not an exercise in frustration for all concerned.
  Develop Student Collaboration Skills: If developing collaboration skills is a course objective, then so much the better. If not, you’ll need to evaluate whether committing learning time and effort away from the core of your course is worth the benefits of group work. For a major course assignment like a capstone project, developing group work skills in your students may be time well spent.

How will you grade the group submission?
  All Group Members Receive the Same Grade: This is fastest, but not always equitable.
  Group Members Graded Individually: If you do this, you’ll need to determine how well each student contributed to the group submission. This can be accomplished simply by having each group member identify their portion of the submission.  Alternately, you can have group members rate their peers.
    Peer Evaluation: This will require that you ensure your students can do a fair and accurate peer evaluation and how much weight that evaluation will count towards a student’s assessment. You’ll need to decide how often students evaluate their group peers. If it is only when the final product is submitted, students are denied the chance to respond to the feedback they receive. Periodic peer assessment will benefit your students more than a single review, but it will complicate your grading. You may even want to consider the quality of the peer evaluations a student does in their performance assessment.  Check out this Self and Peer Evaluation Tool for Group Work

How will handle group enrollment?
Canvas Random Enrollment: Having Canvas create the group membership is easiest and fastest but can create less than optimum groups.
  Student Self-Enrollment: Letting the students self-enroll can create problems with peer assessment if friends enroll in the same group.
  Manual Enrollment: When instructors manually create group membership, they can create groups with complementary skills and experience. Of course, instructors need to get to know their students first with something like a skills survey or an introduction forum.
Fixed or static groups? If you’ve got multiple group assignments in your course, you can have the same groups of students work together on all of them. This has the advantage of students getting to know each other well and build effective working relationships. On the other hand, changing the members in the group gives students the opportunity to get to know more of their classmates well and experience more diversity in their learning. The Group Set feature in Canvas makes mixing up your groups easier to manage.

Group work is not something to be ventured into lightly. Just because “everyone else is doing it” doesn’t mean group work is right for your course. There are definite advantages to using group work, but there are always challenges associated with higher-level learning opportunities. You should consider whether the time investment associated with developing group assignments, preparing your students for group work, and setting up the groups in Canvas will pay dividends in improved student learning. You may decide that your subject matter is not well suited for group work or that your students will not benefit sufficiently to make group work worthwhile.

If you’d liked to talk about group work with a member of the Coulter Faculty Common, click here to schedule a consultation.

Canvas Group Work and Collaboration 02.2020. (n.d.). Google Docs. Retrieved March 23, 2021, from https://docs.google.com/document/d/1sAlBPafDCYN6SOSVz-3PUQFt5VkrtNskUd63m2mmT8A/edit?usp=sharing&usp=embed_facebook
Collaborative Learning. (n.d.). [Higher Education]. Cornell University Center for Teaching Innovation. Retrieved June 21, 2021, from https://teaching.cornell.edu/teaching-resources/engaging-students/collaborative-learning
Forslund Frykedal, K., & Hammar Chiriac, E. (2018). Student Collaboration in Group Work: Inclusion as Participation. International Journal of Disability, Development & Education, 65(2), 183–198. https://doi.org/10.1080/1034912X.2017.1363381
Why work in Groups? (n.d.). University of Birmingham. Retrieved September 20, 2021, from https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/metallurgy-materials/about/cases/group-work/why.aspx