We understand the value of group writing projects and presentations. We also know how stressful many students find doing them. Here are some tips, based on pedagogical research on how to design effective collaborative experiences for students, that we would like to offer.
Assigning Groups (or Not)
Here are some questions to consider.
- What is your goal in assigning groups?
- Do you think it would benefit the class to have them pick their own groups? Or would it be a detriment?
If you do allow students to pick their own groups, encourage them to go outside their comfort zone. Working with a new group of people has the potential to introduce students to new ideas for their project that might be more effective than the ones they already know or that they and their friends already agree upon.
It’s all in the timing.
- Students should be given adequate notice of projects and submission dates.
- Especially if you are assigning groups, allot some class time for students to plan (at least enough time to plan a more formal meeting).
- Mandatory check-ins are always a good way of keeping the group on track and on time.
- Group evaluations should be comprehensive and actually count towards an individual’s grade.
Creating a project that hinges on interdependence is key. A project that is designed with the possibility for one person to do a majority of the work will likely lead to one person doing a majority of the work.
Recommend that students create a team structure: a team leader who regulates deadlines and coordinates team meetings; a team liaison who contacts the professor with any and all questions from the group.
Making a “So What?”
Attempt to create a common goal apart from the final product that explains why it matters in the real world. Be specific in explaining how this project will foster career/personal skills like communication, conflict management and problem solving.
- Requiring time sheets for each meeting is a great way to keep everyone accountable for their part of the project.
- A short reflection paper will provide better insight on the group dynamic, where they excelled and where members fell short.
- Asking students to rate each other on various topics such as preparedness, contribution, cooperation and amicability could be helpful in factoring individual project and participation grades.
Encourage your students to utilize the Writing Center! We are happy to help with individual contributions to a group project–and with the whole. Note that we strongly encourage all writers who contributed to the document be present for the tutorial. If only one group member attends the tutorial, we will only work on the part of the project that that group member composed.