Ideas for online group work

I’m in the process of putting together some tips to help tutors set up online learning activities. This post considers ways of introducing online group work.

Q. What are the advantages of online group work?

Image courtesy of flickr user @gavinkeech

A. Providing opportunities for students to collaborate online can significantly extend their opportunities to learn. Students now entering university are often comfortable with communicating online, and constructing a collaborative online learning task can help them develop a range of skills including:

    literacy and grammar
    appropriate online etiquette and language
    team work
    critical thinking

Q. What sort of activities could I create?

Small-group blogs

Blogs are normally associated with individual learning activities, but they are also able to support group work. One example is to divide students into small groups and allocate a blog to each group, and in addition to creating a final presentation ask them to record all the research, inspiration and discussion that happened along the way. The blog provides a linear folio of research and ideas that both the students and the tutor can access in order to track the progress of the project.

Students can use ‘tags’ to organise their blog posts and indicate the ones that they would like the tutor to mark. Asking students to tag the blog posts that they would like to submit for final review obliges them to critically reflect on the work they have generated before selecting items to be submitted. In addition, tagging can help with the assessment of each group blog as it prevents the tutor from having to scroll through the whole blog looking for tne final pieces of content.

Whole-class blogs and discussion boards

Setting weekly discussion tasks is an effective way of encouraging students to collaborate in between taught sessions. For example, at the end of a session you can set a question for your students to discuss based on what has been covered so far, or on a topic that you want them to research. This question is posted on a class blog or discussion board. The following taught session then begins with a discussion of the content that students have uploaded.

Another variation on this activity is to set up two or three blogs / discussion boards and to post a different question on each. Students’ homework is to write a short summary against each of the questions, and their responses are then used as a basis for discussion at the beginning of the next taught session.

Group mind-mapping with Prezi

Prezi is usually used as an alternative to Powerpoint, but it is also a good tool for supporting visual collaboration. Similar to the group blog activity, students work in small groups and are each allocated a Prezi. Each group is asked to gather visual research on a given topic and upload it to their Prezi workspace.

Using the comments feature, students are then asked to comment on and critique the research of other groups. Tutors can also provide targeted formative feedback on each group’s work-in-progress and share additional links that they might find useful.

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