Best practices: Supporting effective group work using Moodle™ Tools

Well-designed groups can make a world of difference in the quality of the learning climate. But in order for student group participation to be successful students and instructors must honor the process of team learning. This article shares ideas for supporting the group learning process using Moodle™ tools.

Planning

Rather than allowing students to wander through the group learning process on their own plan for group work ahead of time with consideration for scaffolded learning and organic growth. Also allowing students to have a say in who they work with or what they work on builds on the precepts of constructivist learning.

Groups need to work as a cohesive whole creating their own culture rather than relying on relationships formed outside of the group. The Choice activity is a great tool for assigning group memberships.

When allowing students to self-select into groups limits can be placed on each option available within the activity. Once that number is reached students will no longer be able to select that option and your groups will form accordingly.

Another way to use the Choice activity is to gauge pre-existing knowledge and then create groups to maximize learning. For example in creating the prosecution and defense teams for a mock trial present a snapshot of the case and ask students to weigh in on guilt or innocence. Then assign them to work for the opposite team to create a more in-depth learning experience.

As a best practice we encourage you when either assigning students to groups or allowing them to choose their own groups to do so blindly by setting the Choice activity’s Publish results option to Show results to students only after the choice is closed.

Setting the stage

Using both their academic backgrounds and non-academic learning experiences encourage students to examine their best and worst group experiences in a reflective writing activity using anonymous posting within a General Use forum. Ask students if they have concerns about the group work they will be expected to do encourage them to post their questions about group roles and discuss instances in which group work may fall apart. Creating a safe environment for open dialogue focused on these experiences increases accountability with members of the groups.

Focus on the process

As either small groups or whole class ask students to discuss the best approaches to handling “difficult” students e.g. dominant student silent student noisy student. The Wiki can capture final consensus and also allow students to grow their social contract as they move on with their project. It also allows you a space for class expectations like a syllabus office hours etc.

“Production for consumption” or producing work that is publicly displayed is a great motivator for many students. Consider sharing the final products of group work with the entire class using a Wiki or a Glossary (depending on the assignment) and teach students how to provide meaningful critique.

Work with students to create a group evaluation form (or adapt one found on the Internet or from a textbook). By including students in the development of the assessment you increase buy-in and help clarify your expectations. The process is as valuable as the final assessment therefore consider positive group interactions cooperation and constructive critiques of other groups’ products criterion in grading the project.

Making it work

Now that the plan is in place and the stage is set for success consider the following tips and best practices:

If you are going to hold students accountable for learning in groups take the time to teach students how to work in groups.

Don’t try to squeeze group work in to a few weeks. Groups need time develop. If you don’t have time in your course to support groups don’t use them.

Hold students accountable for their comments negative or otherwise and encourage collaboration by creating public feedback opportunities for the group through a Forum or scheduled Chat session.

Start with positive feedback. Students are hesitant to criticize one another so in the first round of feedback ask them to tell each other (and you) at least one positive contribution that each group member has made to the group. Then you can ask for constructive criticism which builds skills and attitudes rather than tearing apart the groups.

Groups that are well-planned and teacher supported make make all the difference in the learning experience. By using a variety of activities in Moodle™ you can lay the groundwork for student success. For more information on the tools identified here visit the Open LMS ’ Visual Tutorials below.

Happy Moodling!

~Tara and April

Carl

Carl

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