Group work is essential in helping students to prepare for the workforce as the process of working in groups equip students with the necessary communication and team building skills . It is important for instructors to plan and design group work carefully to assist students throughout the group work process. This guide provides instructors with some useful tips on designing and managing group work which are organised into 3 stages as shown in the graphic above.
- Stage 1: Designing Group Work
Forming student groups
Instructors may allow students to form their own groups or to assign students into groups. The advantage of student self-formed groups is reducing time to get to know one another as students are already acquainted . Some instructors may prefer allocating students to groups to ensure heterogeneity. Assignment of students can be done randomly, or based on certain considerations, such as learning outcomes, qualities of students such as their academic background, race, gender etc.. This will help instructors to maintain the heterogeneity and form balanced groups.
Having only 2 students to a group may limit ideas and insights due to the lack of people being involved. On the other hand, having a large group makes it difficult for every member to constantly contribute due to the lack of participation opportunities . It is suggested assigning 4-5 students to the group as the most ideal group size . On the other hand, having 3-4 students to the group might be more suitable . Ultimately, it is up to the instructor to select an appropriate group size depending on the demands of the group work.
Designated group roles can be instructor-determined or established by students. Having group roles ensures smooth and effective group processes and help to reduce problems that may arise in a group setting e.g., uncooperative students, assertive students and misunderstanding of workload distribution among students . Research has shown that assigning roles in group work have mitigated distraction, allowed more opportunities for student to participate, lesser occurrence of “social loafing” and propel students to learn more . Here are some possible group roles designations :
Group Role Description Facilitator Setting the agenda and objectives of group meetings, reiterating decisions and discussions made and ensure ground rules are adhered to. Note taker Keeping track of all the discussions and task delegations. Timekeeper Ensuring that the group spend the right amount of time on a particular task. Progress tracker Checking in with all the group members on their progress and sort any potential problems should the task needs more time to be worked on. Editor Compiling all the works together and ensure coherence and consistency in the overall group work. Presenter Collating the main points discussed in group meetings to present it to the class or instructors. Devil’s advocate Producing questions/opinions/views that differs with the group to promote thorough discussions/ debate. Priority Delegator Ensuring the group spend an appropriate amount of time for each task. Wildcard Standing in any missing role due to unavailability of other group members.
Designing productive group work
Instructors must be aware of the considerations of designing group work to ensure a proper collaborative environment for students. Instructors must take the initiative to inform students of how to go about working in groups  (Download the infographic [PNG File, 1.2MB] below).
- Stage 2: Managing Group Work
Monitoring and assisting student groups
Here are some ways how instructors can assist groups in achieving their learning objectives:
Instruct students to log a weekly journal/ report denoting their progress or to present what they have done for the past week — individually or as a group. Some online tools that instructors can consider include ELearn Journal, Padlet, Google Docs.
Additionally, the report can consist of information such as the group discussions’ main points, the group meetings’ attendance, and the plan for upcoming weeks . This will help instructors to understand each member’s participation. Instructors can then provide constructive feedback to the group and/or individual team members.
Some examples of feedback are the progress of the group, what the group did well, what can the group improve . Verbal feedback can be given through consultations or written feedback based on the group or the reflection journal/ peer evaluations that have been submitted.
Decide on a common mode of communication within students and with the instructor. Ensure students in the same group are aware of how to contact one another and to plan how they should work together . They may utilize online communication tools such as SMU Timetable Bot (Telegram), Outlook Calendar, when2meet, Slack, Calendly to coordinate their schedules.
Instructors must inform students how they can reach their instructor should an issue occurs . Instructors must also keep track of groups prematurely and reach out to students to ensure that it is not too late to solve the problems that the groups might be having .
Recommend website resources and provide links to class activities. Instructors may inform students of resources such as logs, websites, research journals, articles that might be useful for students to use and refer to for their group work .
For example, instructors may share with students the links to the Kahoot/ Wooclap quizzes that have been used in class activities. Instructors may also upload solution slides onto eLearn or make use of discussion forums e.g., eLearn, Piazza for students to clarify their doubts.
Instructors and students may also refer to the Teaching & Learning Survival Tools: User Guides & FAQs for more information.
Identifying challenges in group work and how to address them
Here are some usual challenges that students might face when working together for a group work and the strategies that may help to mitigate the issues:
Common Challenges Strategies Additional time and effort that a group work needs e.g., synchronise schedules, making consensus as a group, or compiling of individual tasks together.
- Assign group roles to help the group function effectively.
- Utilize online tools to help manage schedules
- Inform students of any parts of the group work that requires more time into.
Free riders who are not motivated to do any of the tasks.
- Implement an individual grading component on top of group grades.
- Conduct peer evaluations in the middle of the project to detect any potential free riding.
- Establish the responsibilities and expectations of each member clearly.
Conflicts among group members which can cause lack of participation among group members.
- Allow students to practice conflict-resolution skills such as roleplaying conflict scenarios.
- Get teams to decide on goals for the project at the start to align interests.
- Instructors may assist students in resolving conflict through being a mediator to help reach an agreement.
Students may tend to agree with one another to avoid conflict (Groupthink).
- Conduct brainstorming sessions to ensure each member contributes his/her ideas and insights as points of discussion during group meetings.
- Implementing a time limit for every individual participation in group discussions.
- Share past projects done by seniors for students to refer to.
- Stage 3: Assessing Group Work
Brief students on assessment criteria and grading scheme
Be clear in communicating the assessment criteria to ensure student are aware of the standard they are expected to meet . This is also to avoid a frequent issue in group work where frustrations happened among students due to the misconception of how they are being graded .
Evaluating group processes
Instructors can consider using reflection reports to gain a better understanding of the processes (e.g., producing ideas, delegating tasks impartially, being respectful with one another etc.) to grade them . Students can be both evaluated as a group and individually. Some examples include team evaluations where each student will appraise the overall collaboration of the team, peer evaluations where each student will appraise each other’s quality of work and self-evaluations where each student will reflect on his or her contributions towards the group work. Instructors may consider exploring CATME Tool to assess group work.
Instructors are encouraged to adhere to the University’s grading guidelines in designing the grading scheme for group work. More information can be found in the Teaching@SMU Handbook Handbook(SMU login required).
Here are some resources (e.g., grading Class Participation, Assignment, Presentation, Project, Peer Evaluation) that instructors may use for assessments:
Group Evaluation Individual Evaluation
- University of Cornell - Sample Group work rubric
- University of Regina - Group Work Rubric
- Houston Independent School District - Rubrics for evaluating group work, individual and group presentations, class participation
- Grading templates contributed by other SMU instructors
- Boston University School of Public Health - PH 712: Rubric for Assessment of Individual Team Member’s Team Working Skills
- Northwestern University - Self and Peer Evaluations of Group Project MSED 467
- University Teaching & Learning Commons - Quick Peer Evaluation Form, Group Self Evaluation Checklist, Cooperative Learning Rubric, Peer Evaluation Form, Progress Assessment, Cooperative Learning Self Evaluation
- RCampus - Peer Evaluation: Group Work
- Bacon. D. R., Stewart, K.A., & Silver, W.S. (1999). Lessons from the best and worst student team experiences: How a teacher can make the difference. Journal of Management Education, 23(5), 4670488. doi: 10.1177/105256299912300503
- Burke, A. (2011). Group Work: How to Use Groups Effectively. The Journal of Effective Teaching, 11(2), 87-95. https://uncw.edu/jet/articles/vol11_2/burke.pdf
- California State University San Marcos (n.d.). Group Work and Roles. https://www.csusm.edu/iits/services/ats/idesign/cougarcourses/guides/groups-best-practices/index.html
- Carnegie Mellon University (n.d. a) What are the challenges of group work and how can I address them? https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/design/instructionalstrategies/groupprojects/challenges.html
- Carnegie Mellon University (n.d. b) How can I assess group work? https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/design/instructionalstrategies/groupprojects/assess.html
- Carnegie Mellon University (n.d. c) How can I monitor groups? https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/design/instructionalstrategies/groupprojects/monitor.html
- Csernica, J., Hanyka, M., Hyde, D., Shooter, S., Toole, M., & Vigeant, M. (2002). Practical guide to teamwork, version 1.1. College of Engineering, Bucknell University
- Davis, B. G. (1993). Tools for Teaching. Jossey-Bass Inc., San Francisco: California.
- Connery, B. A. (1988) Group Work and Collaborative Writing. Teaching at Davis, 14(1), p. 2-4. (Publication of the Teaching Resources Center, University of California at Davis)
- De Meyst, K., Grenier, J. (2021). Assigning Roles to Increase the Effectiveness of Group Work https://www.scholarlyteacher.com/post/assigning-roles-to-increase-the-effectiveness-of-group-work
- Iowa State University (n.d.) Common Group Work Challenges and Solutions https://www.celt.iastate.edu/teaching/effective-teaching-practices/group-work/common-group-work-challenges-and-solutions/
- The University of Queensland (n.d.) Resolving group work issues https://my.uq.edu.au/information-and-services/student-support/study-skills/group-work/resolving-group-work-issues#0
- University of Birmingham. (n.d.) Why work in Groups? https://birmingham.ac.uk/schools/metallurgy-materials/about/cases/group-work/why.aspx
- University of Greenwich (n.d.) Assessing Group Work https://www.gre.ac.uk/learning-teaching/assessment/assessment/practice/assessing-group-work
- UNSW Sydney (n.d. a). Guide to Group Work. https://www.student.unsw.edu.au/groupwork
- UNSW Sydney (n.d. b). Facilitating and Monitoring Group Work. https://www.teaching.unsw.edu.au/facilitating-and-monitoring-group-work
- University of Waterloo (n.d.) Implementing Group Work in the Classroom https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/alternatives-lecturing/group-work/implementing-group-work-classroom
- University of Massachusetts Amherst (n.d.) How Do I Design Successful Group Work and Collaborative Assignments https://www.umass.edu/ctl/resources/how-do-i/how-do-i-design-successful-group-work-and-collaborative-assignments