Designing tasks for groups

Designing groupworkWell-designed collaborative tasks allow students to demonstrate their understanding, extend their knowledge, practice their communication skills and develop a sense of belonging in their peer group.

  • Consider choosing questions/problems that students can personally relate to.
  • Groupwork becomes more meaningful when students benefit from what has been learnt in groups also in their individual assignments.
  • Consider incorporating individual accountability. Individual preparation for the group task should be transparent to other group-members and the teaching team.
  • Groups are good for identifying problems, formulating strategies, and making decisions. These make great group task outputs.
  • Making a specific decision is the most challenging type of group task. Groups are less challenged when asked to rank options and even less again when asked to list possible choices.
  • Encourage high interaction. Setting a specific choice for groups increases in-group interaction. Setting the same task for all groups increases class interaction.
  • Facilitate external comparison between groups for greater class engagement through class discussion.
  • Plan for feedback opportunities during groupwork process.

Why

Our memory allows us to work with only 5 new concepts at a time. Designing tasks around experiences and knowledge students already have allows for cognitive capacity to focus on learning new material.

Students are often time poor and direct their time and efforts towards tasks with the biggest return for their investment. Nesting assessed tasks so that they feed off each other generates motivation and interest for working in groups.

Students reasonably ask: why work in groups if they can do the job better and quicker on their own? Group tasks will not ignite their motivation unless they see benefits from working together collaboratively to achieve a learning outcome. Learning groupwork skills alone is rarely motivating enough.

Groups want to find out how they compared in relation to their peers, and if their answer was correct/appropriate. Public unpacking and feedback increases the effectiveness of groupwork as groups learn from each other.

Examples

Types of tasks students may find it easy to relate to:

  • framing the questions around products/companies students identify with,
  • including work-based scenarios students may have encountered,
  • requiring country specific understanding to engage international students,
  • make a controversial statement about something topical, or
  • linking groupwork tasks explicitly with compulsory reading and other UoS components (lectures/assessments).

Ways to encourage individual accountability in group tasks:

  • In long term groups, tasks could be coupled with individual assignments (e.g. quiz, short paper, reading notes), which provide a foundation for the group task.
  • In ad hoc groups, members could be asked to interpret material presented in class first individually/pairs and then as a group.

Comparison and feedback can be facilitated:

  • by adopting simultaneous reporting in class followed by a class discussion.
  • through online discussion boards with students commenting on work of other groups.
  • by taking a model group answer to share with class, and identifying a high-performing group.

Further resources