Group Assignments – Are they worth the hassle?

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

Groups in Canvas

Faculty will be pleased to know that Canvas has a Groups function, just as Blackboard did, and is more functional and flexible. 

Faculty can create a variety of groups (e.g. a working group, study group, or project group), and can even allow students to self-sign up, as they could in Blackboard. Groups can be created manually (with the teacher choosing members) or automatically (where group memberships are randomly created based on the number of groups specified). 

Group management 

Faculty can move students from one group with a simple drag and drop movement over their name on the screen. Leaders can also be assigned to each group and are easily managed on-screen. 

Once the groups are created, assignments are designated as group assignments in a different area of Canvas. Grades for those assignments can be assigned to everyone in a group (protecting individual integrity of work), or the “same grade” for all students in a group. A simple checkbox toggles that function.  

How does this align to Canvas training materials?

Canvas logoPriming the Canvas: Module 6 “Structuring the Course”

 


Additional Resources: 

Our next article will highlight the Discussions in Canvasvisit Canvas Blog to see all our Canvas articles. 

Microsoft Resources for Teaching with Office 365

Microsoft Resources for Teaching with Office 365

As more schools begin to make the transition to distance learning and online classrooms, we want to help. Microsoft has created resources, training, and how-to guides that we hope will help educators and their classrooms make this transition.

To help support you during this time, we’ve created a support page for O365 with the information Microsoft has provided.

Microsoft Education is committed to helping all teachers, students, and staff stay engaged and focused on learning. Creating an online classroom is an important step in moving to a remote learning experience. Free for schools, Microsoft Teams, provides a secure online classroom that brings together classroom management features, collaborative workspaces like OneNote Class Notebook, and virtual face-to-face connections in a single digital hub that keeps students engaged.

Information included are Microsoft’s top resources on distance learningWeb Pages with tools to connect remotely, Microsoft Teams quick start guide for EDU (PDF). Webinars designed for educators, Blog posts, and Free Training, 

 These resources have been provided by the Microsoft Corporation and are included in this post for the convenience of WCU faculty who want to use Office 365 to facilitate online learning.

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Ready to take group assignments to the next level?

“Group work!” 

The mere phrase elicits dread in the heart of almost high performing college student and many time spells frustration for the faculty who know its potential benefits but wonder why it is so hard to get this important teaching tool to work right.

Dr. Maurice Phipps

Dr. Maurice Phipps

Professor Emeritus, Parks and Recreation Management

Dr. Maurice Phipps, faculty emeritus for Western Carolina University has developed a guidebook for teachers and students to rediscover the value and the joy of cooperative learning.

“Cooperative Learning is a highly effective method of instruction and students trained in effective group skills are valued in the workplace but groups can be dreaded without some assurance that group skills and group processing are properly taught and applied.” – Maurice Phipps

He has simplified the challenge of group work by using the five elements of Cooperative Learning, which he says must all be present in order for students to form a high performing cooperative learning community. He breaks down group work into concepts, skills and roles, and tactics and strategies.

What does cooperative learning look like?

  • Positive interdependence (ways to ensure students work together)
  • Individual accountability (making sure all students are learning)
  • Face-to-face interaction (many ways to interact)
  • Interpersonal and small-group skills (to enable effective group functioning)

The Group Book

Dr. Phipps cowrote and published The Group Book: Effective Skills for Cooperative Groups as a reference manual for teachers and students to use in bringing together the necessary pieces.

Faculty can use it as a workbook for students (e.g. study p.5-10 and come into class prepared to practice the skill).

Or they can review it themselves and deploy the strategies as needed.

Some teachers give it to students to help them take ownership of their group learning and solve the kinds of 21st century problems they will encounter throughout the rest of their life.

 

Why?

  • Faculty who want to use this, do it because they want their students to learn soft skills (that combine with technical skills) for student success.
  • Compared with other dynamic group learning methods (e.g. team-based learning), cooperative learning is flexible and adaptable to any learning environment.
  • The only way to enable high-functioning student groups in your classroom is to equip students with group processing and group skills while setting a context for them to succeed.

Want to learn more?

  • Read more about Cooperative Learning using the resources below.
  • Keep an eye out for upcoming events hosted by the CFC for Excellence in Teaching and Learning that may include a workshop hosted by Dr. Phipps on the art of facilitating group work.
  • Dr Phipps is also hosting a regular faculty discussion for WCU faculty on the benefits, challenges, and strategies of group work. Please send him a message for more details.
  • Schedule an appointment with one of our educational developers to see how you can implement this unique learning design.
  • Don’t forget to pick up a copy of “The Group Book: Effective Skills for Cooperative Groups” online or at the Coulter Faculty Commons for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.

Resources

Scaling Up Your Courses

“Scaling up Courses”
Anastasia Salter

http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/scaling-up-courses/61512

Has your class size grown? It seems like just a few more students should not matter but often it does. Our Profhacker friends at the Chronicle of Higher Education offer some recommendations for how to adjust when your class gets “scaled up”.


Tips:

  1. Eliminate assignments that have a low return investment
    1. It’s more beneficial to provide meaningful feedback on fewer, necessary assignments
    2. If some assignments are indisposable, they can be switched to participation grades
  2. Consider peer-review for assessment of early stage assignments where and when possible
    1. While detailed feedback for the students is ideal, it can consume time that could be spent on giving vital feedback on large assignments
    2. Course management tools can also be beneficial in addition to providing in-class time for peer review
  3. Examine the benefits of individual versus group projects
    1. The decision between the two is significant, but individual projects can be more time-consuming to grade and give feedback
    2. Group projects also present their own set of issues such as uneven contribution and participation and missing group members
  4. Anticipate questions and provide supplementary materials
    1. A challenging aspect of having a large class size is the continual routine of answering constant emails with questions from students
      1. Take questions at the end of the class
      2. Possibly provide a FAQ portion on the syllabus or for each assignment
    2. Streamline grading and rubrics where appropriate
      1. Pre-written comments for general problems that students run into saves time and energy
      2. This leaves more time for comments and feedback on the crucial and unique parts of students’ work and for future improvements they can make