Four students sitting around a table working and laughing.

Group work

Group work is an essential part of the learning experience for many University students. It can be challenging at times but can also prove a rewarding experience as working together in an online environment creates opportunities to work in new, innovative ways. These tips will help you create and manage an effective groupwork experience for your students.

A group of people working on laptops around a large table.

1. Give opportunities to fail

Group work is difficult! Students don’t always start university having done a lot of group work, so it's a good idea to start with simple, formative, and unassessed group activities and provide support throughout. Give clear instructions and expectations as some students may experience social communication challenges or anxiety. You should avoid one-off assessed pieces of group work and try to integrate it across your module or even throughout the whole programme. If doing online synchronous sessions, consider splitting people into breakout groups to work on a topic and then bring people back to the main session later on.

2. Form diverse groups

If you are expecting the group to work on a larger task, consider assigning roles within the group, such as a facilitator to help keep things on track and make sure everyone has their chance to speak in meetings as well as a notetaker to document decisions and actions. There are various ways of selecting groups, you could set pre-formed or random groups in Moodle or let them form their own groupings. Remember to make the groups big enough so that 1-2 students not contributing doesn't cause overload on everyone else. When using breakout rooms in Teams, you can randomly assign people to breakout rooms or assign individuals to specific breakout rooms. See Course Administration in Moodle online course to learn more about groups and grouping.

Some people working on laptops around a white table and looking at a large monitor.
Moodle marking guide.

3. Assess the right things

Summative assessment can be a source of anxiety in group work, so be clear on what you intend to assess and how it will recognise different contributions from group members. Are you assessing the outcome of group work or the process of working as a group, or both? You might want to assess the whole group or individuals.

Consider getting students involved in creating the marking criteria so they feel more engaged in the process. You might want to use Peer moderation in Moodle. Students can also collaborate on documents in Teams or on Moodle.

You may need to consider alternative assessment's for disabled students e.g. extra written work instead of an oral presentation if this is difficult due to a disability.

4. But they didn't contribute!

Consider using Teams or a Microsoft Form to have regular check-in's with the groups to ensure there aren't any issues. You could use the Peer Assessment activity in Moodle to moderate grades based on student feedback.

Two women going over notes in an office.
A man texting in a restaurant.

5. Use online platforms

It’s not always possible for a group to meet in person, if students in a group are based in different parts of the world, it may be difficult to arrange time to work on the project together. Consider setting up an online space where students can meet. If you have a Teams space for your module, you could create private channels for each group. If your course uses Moodle, you could setup group discussion forums. Don’t forget that students can also setup their own Teams spaces, there’s lots of guidance on Microsoft Teams to help with this.

6. Be inclusive and accessible

Online group work can encourage contributions from disabled or part time students and allows time for students, whose first language isn't English, to formulate their ideas. However, it can also be particularly difficult for some students - particularly those with social communication challenges or anxiety. Make sure to consult a student's ILSP for further detail. See the Accessibility expectations in the Accessibility guide for further information.

A big neon saying saying Hola.

Case Study - Group work: Considering the process beyond the product Accordion