Working in groups can be a very positive experience for students; it allows them to take ownership of their learning, and they become active rather than passive learners. In addition to gaining a deeper understanding of the subject at hand, the interaction that students have with their peers is equally valuable. Students have the potential to develop life-long learning skills including critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making abilities, as well as social skills such as effective communication, negotiation, and conflict resolution. Instructors may help ensure the success of group work by following some of these simple guidelines:
- Establish clear expectations of participation by group members.
- Specify the roles and responsibilities needed within each group and have students delegate them.
- Have group members assess each other at various times throughout the project/activity.
- Periodically check to monitor group progress.
- Use rubrics to assess both group and individual contributions.
For more on student collaborative work, see Barbara Gross Davis, Tools for Teaching, Jossey-Bass, 2001.)
Instructors at JHU who have the option to use Blackboard (course management system), can create an online space for students to work collaboratively. The Groups Tool in Blackboard is a convenient way for instructors to create subsets of students for collaborative activity. Once created, group members have access to a number of communication and collaboration tools within Blackboard, as determined by the instructor. These tools include: a group discussion board, blog, wiki, journal, email tool, chat tool, a file exchange tool, and a task list. The instructor has access to all group tools at all times. This allows him/her to monitor each group’s activity as needed. The blog, wiki, and journal tools have the option of being graded; they are connected to the Blackboard grade center, so any grades entered are automatically transferred and recorded in the grade center. Within these tools there is the option to grade each member of the group individually or grade the group as a whole. Blackboard groups can be created one at a time, or as a set. Members of groups are selected manually, with the instructor choosing students from a pre-populated list, or by using the self-enroll option, where students use a sign-up sheet to enroll themselves into a group. There is also a ‘random enrollment’ feature (if creating a group set), where Blackboard will randomly assign students to groups. This feature is often helpful in large lecture courses.
For more detailed information about using the Blackboard Groups Tool, please see the Groups Tool tutorial.
Amy Brusini, Course Management Training Specialist Center for Educational Resources
Image Source: Screen shot: Blackboard.