Wednesday, November 16, 2011

November 16, 2011

Good Morning Online Instructors,

This week's and next week's blog posts are going to be dedicated to offering some research findings, some tips, and some observations your fellow colleagues shared in their "Facilitating Online Groups" instructor training courses this quarter.  The great insights gained from the training sessions can benefit all of us as online instructors.

First of all, the following article is one I shared with all participants in the training course.  I received several positive comments about how much the instructors liked the article that I wanted to share it with all of you:
Collaborative Learning for the Digital Age

Now, to some of the great insights your fellow instructors shared in terms of being effective online group project facilitators:
  • From the beginning of the project, instructors should take an active role in each group project by helping groups define project goals and objectives.  This doesn't mean the instructor should define these for the group; rather, the instructor should facilitate the process by making it a requirement for groups to engage in this step whether through a discussion board or some other means (graded or non-graded in nature).
  • In addition to the group project's goals and objectives being defined, having each team create a Team Charter or set of rules to abide by helps to have all team members have a say and be on the same page.  (Specific standards for participation and consequences for non-participation can be clearly laid out here, making it easier to address non-participation issues later on.)
  • Instructors should create touch points throughout the group project where instructors can "check" in on the progress to see how things are progressing and "assess" in some fashion throughout.  This also teaches students how to effectively manage group work in the future.
  • A great strategy to help individual groups and group members take more control and ownership of their work and progress is to assign and rotate the group leader role.  This person, which can and should change throughout the process, can help to keep the group on track and "monitor" overall progress.
  • Research has revealed that student selected groups tend to be more harmonious, so this is something to consider when organizing groups.  
  • Research has also shown that students take their work and specifically their writing more seriously when it is evaluated by  peers rather than teachers.  This offers strong support for group work and the group peer review process on writing projects.
  • While this probably seems obvious, it is something we often forget to really evaluate when creating and facilitating online group projects:  Make sure the project is a Group necessary project.  By verifying that student understanding of the course content and objectives are more effectively met by group collaboration you are creating justification for group work.
Next week I will be focusing on some points raised in terms of group work assessment, so please be watching for that post too.

I hope you find these tips useful and I encourage you to implement them into your courses by altering the way you may currently facilitate group projects or by giving group projects a try in the future.

If you have any questions please let me know.

Heather Thomton-Stockman
Online Instructional Specialist

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