Teamwork and collaboration are active learning strategies in which students work and learn together in small groups to accomplish shared goals. Effective teamwork and collaboration are considered important to the students’ learning process. Working in teams assists students in developing their problem solving, communication, and critical thinking skills, and allows them the opportunity to work with and learn from their peers. However, the online environment presents unique challenges for many online instructors who use teamwork. The resources below offer information for faculty about getting started with instructional groups, designing group assignments, and using groups successfully.
How to Design Team Projects
Different Types of Teamwork
Team projects could be used to build a learning community. You can use group discussions, group presentations, and group sharing activities in your course. When you design the team projects, think about the following components: 1) the team projects should be aligned with the learning objectives. The topics you provide to your students should be interrelated to the learning objectives. 2) The team project is complex and beyond the individual work, so students can divide the task to each member. 3) It is important to provide clear expectations for the team projects. 4) It is recommended to design authentic team projects that provide the real-world scenarios to engage students to apply what they have learned into the assignments.
In the online environment, you could put students in the zoom breakout rooms to ask them to work on a collaborative project. In the hybrid course, you can change this into an asynchronous online group discussion. Some ideas for the team projects could be:
- Role playing
- Group Presentations
Team Size Recommendations
Based on Bean (1996), three to five students as a team seems to work effectively in an online environment. Small group size makes students easier to collaborate and facilitate. It also can maximize the involvement of the projects.
Timing of Project Submission Process
Start the team project at a manageable level. For the complicated team project, it is recommended to organize the projects into several stages. Identify the milestone deadlines and provide students with the feedback to make sure they are on the right track. For example, for a team research presentation, you may consider making the project as four stages: 1) the team introduction, 2) proposal for the team research project, 3) final team research project and 4) the team presentation.
Strategies for Effective Teamwork and Collaboration
- Set guidelines or norms for student-student interactions and student-instructor interactions during teamwork.
- Facilitate communication with team members. At the beginning of the semester, ask team members to exchange contact information and preferred ways to communicate. Providing them with resources or reviewing communication skills may also be helpful.
- Help students assign team roles. Students can be assigned to specific roles by instructors or be allowed to choose by themselves. Either way, students should be clear about their roles within the teams.
- Monitor group progress through observation, check-ins, and suggest resources that can be useful to groups. View this checklist for managing and supporting groups to help you manage and support student groups.
- Require periodic progress reports. To monitor how effectively team members are working together on a project, ask students to submit a progress report periodically. The report may include the time log or contributions of each member.
- Provide students with the necessary resources to succeed.
Facilitating Online Group Presentations
Now that students have done the work, how should they present their learning? In an online learning modality, group presentations can be tricky. Ultimately, there are two options for facilitating online group presentations: a synchronous presentation, or an asynchronous presentation.
- Synchronous Presentations
- Groups present live via Zoom to the rest of the class
- Create a presentation schedule ahead of class time so groups know when they will be presenting.
- Asynchronous Presentations
- Groups pre-record their presentation and share it with the class. Peers can watch other group’s presentations and leave feedback.
Evaluating Online Teamwork
Teamwork and collaboration involve students working together one-on-one or in small groups. When evaluating teamwork, there are two things to evaluate: the final product of the teamwork and student participation. Typically, an instructor will assess teamwork based on the final project instead of evaluating contributions from each student. However, students in the online environment frequently express concern that not all members contribute equally when working in groups.
Therefore, developing a transparent assessment process that evaluates both individual and team-based learning can encourage student collaboration. Some of the strategies to effectively assess teamwork involve using student self-evaluation and peer evaluation. Using the combination of individual assessment and team project assessment can provide the instructor with valuable information on how teams function and how to provide feedback and grading.
Here are some strategies to effectively assess online teamwork:
- Assessing the Final Product: When assessing the final product, it’s important to take into account the final product and the individual contributions of the team members. In this instance, it’s helpful to evaluate the process by having students document and submit tasks and timelines throughout their time working together. Additionally, utilizing rubrics to evaluate teamwork (sample rubric for statistics project) helps make the grading process more transparent.
- Assessing Student Participation: To assess student participation effectively, it’s important to include opportunities for self and peer evaluation. To engage students in self-evaluation, it’s advised to provide prompts to help students analyze their experience (prompt example 1) (prompt example 2). When asking students to evaluate their peers, typically a form response or other ranking worksheet (worksheet example 1) (worksheet example 2) (worksheet example 3) is helpful.
Tools to Support Teamwork
Google Drive is a helpful resource to collaborate with group members on documents and presentations. When using Google Drive, creating a shared folder is the best way to coordinate with team members and work together on resources for a project. You can learn more about using Google Drive by viewing the ITDS Google Drive Training, taking a look at the ITDS Google resource page, or visiting our Collaborations page in our Canvas Faculty Orientation.
Groups in Canvas are a subset of a course with a course-like environment. Groups include their own discussion space, calendar, and collaborative tools; it’s a fantastic space for teams in a course to work together. Groups come with some advantages for an instructor as well. For example, creating a group discussion assignment will create an identical discussion topic for each group and allow students to converse more intimately with each other. Additionally, creating a group assignment will allow instructors to quickly score all members of a group at the same time. Learn more about Canvas Groups by visiting the Canvas Faculty Orientation Groups page.
There are many tools students can use to enhance collaboration and teamwork across learning modalities.
In the brainstorming and planning stage of teamwork, students can utilize mind mapping as a strategy to organize their thoughts and resources. There are multiple available free online mind mapping tools for students to use, or if teaching F2F, students can create a physical mind map on paper.
Padlet can be used as a space for teams to share resources and leave feedback for one another. Students have the ability to embed various types of media and link out to files as necessary. Alternatively, it can also be used as a space for teams to share their final products with one another and elicit feedback and comments.
When students are ready to present their findings, they can utilize Voicethread to create an asynchronous presentation. Team members can upload their presentation materials, and then add voice or video commentary for each “slide” of their presentation. Voicethread can also be used as a virtual gallery of final project submissions and students can view and give feedback to peers’ work.
- Catme Smarter Teamwork. (2022). Purdue University. Retrieved from: https://info.catme.org/.
- Cornell University. (2022). Getting Started with Establishing Ground Rules. Center for Teaching Innovation.
- Figueira, A, & Leal, H. (2013). An online tool to manage and assess collaborative group work.
- Michaelson, L.K., Fink, L.D., & Knight, A. (1997). Designing Effective Group Activities: Lessons for Classroom Teaching and Faculty Development. To Improve the Academy, 385. 373-397.
- Morrison, D. (2012). 5 Tools and Strategies that Support Group Collaboration Online. Online Learning Insights.
- Roseth, C., Akcaoglu, M., & Zellner, A. (2013). Blending synchronous face-to-face and computer-supported cooperative learning in a hybrid doctoral Seminar. TechTrends, 57(3), 54–59.
- Thomson, S. (2014). 6 Online Collaboration Tools and Strategies For Boosting Learning. Elearning Industry.
- UNSW Sydney. (2020). Facilitating and Monitoring Group Work. UNSW Sydney Teaching. https://www.teaching.unsw.edu.au/facilitating-and-monitoring-group-work
- UNSW Sydney. (2020). Develop Students’ Group Work Skills. UNSW Sydney Teaching. https://www.teaching.unsw.edu.au/develop-students-group-work-skills