Group work is an essential part of many courses because of its usefulness in preparing students for the workplace and in creating a sense of community, but many students disdain it or have difficulty with it. Are there strategies that we as teachers could put in place to assist students in becoming more successful with group work? Yes, there are, and here are a few of them. Allow students to engage in a way that works best for them for some that might be face-to-face. At critical junctures, students will have to use one method to present, but creating the work along the way allowing them to work as they feel most comfortable allows them some choices. This provides for multiple means of engagement, a key aspect of UDL. Allow students to do some smaller projects along the way that will then contribute to the larger project. Whenever students work in class or outside class in person or virtually be sure to provide them with flip charts, markers, and whiteboards either physically or virtually. For more information, please refer to the guide, Designing Group Work with Universal Design for Learning.
Secondly, get organized and assign each student a role in the group or encourage the student leader to assign them. Several roles exist among them are leader, organizer, editor, researcher, writer, troubleshooter, presenter, or if not producing a text-based project videographer or podcaster. By organizing and assigning a role to each member of the group or team you set the expectation that all members will be required to contribute to the assignment(s) making it less likely that students will slack off and not contribute equally. Those assuming the roles can be considered experts in that area that other members go to for assistance. More information on roles may be found in the guide, Working Effectively in Groups .
Lastly, be prepared for difficulties that may arise. For example, scheduling is a quite common issue with group work, but by encouraging students to recognize that others might have a different schedule or more responsibilities this issue might be better understood and addressed. Students should be encouraged to meet virtually, if possible, but do not eliminate the opportunity for students to meet face-to-face as some students do better face-to-face than virtually. To give everyone a voice and for Universal Design for Learning (UDL) purposes, students should take turns setting the venue and time of the meeting with a limited role in this process for the instructor. Groupthink is also quite common as well. Encouraging students to think critically about ideas and offer alternatives as needed allows them to better analyze all member’s contributions and draw on the combined knowledge of the group. Again, more information may be found at the links mentioned above.
Overall, group work does not have to make students nervous or feel like they will do all the work while others will not. As educators, we just must provide some ground rules and design group work assignments just as we do all our assignments with UDL principles in mind.
Metropolitan State University of Denver. (2020). SIP 11.8, designing group work with Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved February 24, 2022 from https://sites.msudenver.edu/sips/11-8-designing-group-work-with-universal-design-for-learning/
University of Waterloo, Student Success Center. (n.d.). Working effectively in groups tip sheet. Retrieved March 2, 2022 from https://uwaterloo.ca/student-success/sites/ca.student-success/files/uploads/files/TipSheet_GroupWork_0.pdf.
Janice Poston, Ed.D, MSLS
Bellarmine University, Faculty Development Center—Instructional Developer