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Teaching Tuesdays: Making Learner-to-Learner Connections: Group Activities Online

The P3 Collaboratory is pleased to continue “Teaching Tuesdays,” our summer weekly series centered around best practices for remote instruction and teaching effectiveness.

Engaging your students in group work always involves a few logistical challenges, but it can be one of the most grounding and meaningful parts of a course. The same is true for online coursework. Group work in an online context both humanizes and connects your students, helping to offset the often lonely process of studying at a distance. Group projects can motivate students to entertain new viewpoints, deepen their investment in course dynamics and materials, and help students develop collaborative skills that can be carried with them into their post-degree careers.

That said, online student groups (especially in these uncertain times) can be difficult to manage, facilitate, and assess.How should instructors approach group work – both “in-class” group exercises and longer form group projects – in a way that creates accountability, affords flexibility, and feels doable within a remote model of learning?This post will briefly cover some ways that you can organize your course roster into smaller groups of students, either synchronously or asynchronously, in order to allow for increased levels of collaboration and learner-to-learner discussion.

If you are offering synchronous meetings in your online course, there are several ways you can divide your students into small groups using RU-N supported web conference software. Just as in your face-to-face classroom you might encourage peer interaction using think-pair-share, fishbowl, or jigsaw exercises, synchronous online instructors can use the breakout rooms functions embedded in your chosen learning management platforms (“LMS,” e.g. Blackboard, Canvas, etc.) to help orchestrate online versions of those techniques. In asynchronous courses, discussion boards, Google documents, and Group/Collaboration subpages of your LMS can utilized be as shared spaces for groups to post reports, respond to prompts in working pairs or teams, or participate in peer-review assignments. The following tutorials are helpful for thinking through online adaptations for some common group work techniques.

For longer term group projects or working teams, especially when instructors would like the group composition to remain consistent, most LMS have features that allow you to pre-assign groups or to let students to create their own groups. Given the increased volitivity of everyone’s schedules during Covid19, instructors may want to encourage the formation of groups along overlapping availability (e.g. prefers to meet during morning, afternoon, evening) and/or preferred mode of communication (e.g. phone, text, email, web conference) as well as other more traditional considerations such a shared research interests.

Developing group activities and projects in your online courses is a great way to increase student-to-student communication, peer accountability, as well as individual investment in your classes, and we hope this brief entry has demonstrated some ways that student groups can be structured in an online environment. If the logistical or technological elements or facilitating group work online feel overwhelming right now, don’t worry: There is a substantial number of campus supports and, of course, a massive online community of educators, edtech specialists, and instructional designers there to help you figure out the best way forward for your class.

Resources and References:

As always, a snapshot of the synchronous Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) workshops being offered this coming week (July 29- Aug 4). Visit the links to register!

Don’t forget that TLT also has an extensive learning library of tutorials including a three-part series on “Fostering Student Interaction and Engagement.”

Finally, we’re PLEASED TO SHARE that the Academics for Black Survival and Wellness training that we blogged about previously will be available again in August. Check out the Academics 4 Black Lives website for registration details and training schedule. Note that there are separate training tracks for non-Black and Black academics. Registration for either version of this training is still free although donations are welcome.

Brought to you by the P3 Collaboratory for Pedagogy, Professional Development, and Publicly-Engaged Scholarship at Rutgers University-Newark

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