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Centre for Academic Development

Organising group work remotely

Not all remote learning activities have to be overseen by you as the teacher. A learning platform and other digital tools offer good opportunities for students to build knowledge together and to document their learning. Group work may seem like a worn concept, but the fact is that there is often a boost of creativity in the learning process when the members in a group have to complete an assignment or solve a problem together. In fact, it is in these situations that one plus one may very well equal three – or even more.

Digital group work may take different formats. Some promote collaborative learning, where students work together to develop new knowledge. For instance, a group of students may delve deeper into a specific topic, subsequently presenting their findings to other students. Other group work are characterised by cooperative learning. Working in smaller groups, students help each other to find a solution to a problem or to understand a certain mental operation. For group work focusing on team-based learning, the goal is for students to define a task as a group and to find a way to make use of the competencies of all members in solving that task. Finally, group work characterised by problem-based learning, is, as the name suggests, based on a problem that the students together have to find a solution to by retrieving information, determining what in that information is relevant, and applying that to the problem that they have been set to solve.

When organising group work remotely, it is important to define objectives and scope. In other words, as the teacher you should describe what the group is expected to deliver and what the work process should be. It may also be a good idea to encourage the group members to agree among themselves how to organise their work. Not knowing what applies easily creates uncertainties and may well lead to misunderstandings. Conflicts in digital learning environments are more often caused by people not being clear in their communication than them disagreeing on something.

Remote group work can be organised in different ways. Learning platforms offer the possibility to create project rooms where the groups can discuss their assignment or problem in a designated forum, as well as store and work on joint documents, images and videos. You should also encourage students to meet face-to-face online. Especially the planning phase of a remote group project tends to be long and drawn-out when group members are unable to talk directly with one another.

Tips for choosing digital tools

  • Clear objectives, scope and instructions for the group work should preferably be posted on the course site in Blackboard, for instance as a short video. See instructions on how to use Kaltura and Blackboard to record and publish instructional videos.
  • Students can have group discussion in either a discussion forum or using audio and video. See tools for digital meetings in Zoom and Blackboard Collaborate (The website is in Swedish, but the videos on the site have subtitles in English).

When organising remote online group work – remember:

  • to consider what type of digital group work the students should do. What are the arguments for using audio and video? What are the arguments against?
  • to clearly define the objectives and scope of the digital group project. How can you make it easier for the students to quickly get going and to organise their work in a way that will work for everybody?
  • to encourage students to communicate with one another on a regular basis, using audio and video. If it is not possible to communicate using audio and video, are there any other ways for you to help the students to move past any questions they may have and solve any problems that may occur during the project?