Lesson 5: Education case study
EDUC 520: Instructor reflections
By Dr. Barbara Brown, PhD and Dr. Christy Thomas, EdD
Through our experiences teaching EDUC 520, we’ve noticed the challenges students have working in groups of four to five to co-design an interdisciplinary unit and we have tried a variety of strategies to support student learning during group work.
Before the course starts, we identify the desired results and make sure learning outcomes for the group work are described in the course outline and aligned with the associated rubric (assessment). At the beginning of the course, we communicate what the learning task is and provide the criteria for students so they know what they are aiming for and how they will be assessed. We create and share a rubric with the criteria for students, so they have this target.
We then take time during synchronous classes to organize the groups by having students pitch ideas (dependent on topic/course) and then forming a group with other students who have a similar interest. Following this, we have the newly formed groups develop a contract to determine their terms for working together. We encourage students to discuss how they plan to communicate with each other, to compare their schedules to determine the best times to work together outside of class and determine roles and responsibilities for the group work.
During the term, we embed time during synchronous classes for students to work in their groups and create frequent opportunities for feedback. We meet with each group during class to address questions and provide feedback. We also create opportunities for peer feedback activities where groups use the criteria provided at the beginning of the course to provide feedback. We have found that peer feedback helps students monitor their progress and figure out their next steps to improve their work. We also encourage individuals to self-assess using the same criteria and to reflect on their individual contributions to the group task. As instructors, this helps us see where the gaps are in the student learning and which groups or individuals need additional support. Students learn about the importance of reflection and feedback and how this helps them figure out how their group is doing in working together.
We encourage students to discuss how they plan to communicate with each other, to compare their schedules to determine the best times to work together outside of class and determine roles and responsibilities for the group work.
Barbara Brown and Christy Thomas
Our advice is to provide time in class for group work. Start with group activities requiring a short duration (e.g., small groups work on an activity during the class using breakout rooms during a synchronous session). Gradually work towards establishing group activities that require longer durations. For these types of group activities, have students create group contracts. Review the contracts with students and discuss their plan A if everything proceeds as planned and plan B if adjustments are needed. Create activities to solicit feedback from peers and instructors for group work that will take place over a longer duration. Remind students that group work is challenging and it’s okay to reach out for help if the group is struggling. Learning how to collaborate and persevere through the challenges is an important part of working in groups and developing high quality products. As we reflected on the ways we design group activities, we noted that we aim for classes that are student centered with an emphasis on collaboration to maximize student-student and student-instructor interactions and interdependence among group members.
D2L groups can be created, with associated dropbox folders and discussion topics, using the D2L Group Set-Up Wizard. Setting up D2L groups, with associated dropbox folders and discussion topics, is a process that takes a few minutes and which requires completing several sequential steps.
How Dr. Barb Brown uses a backward design process to inform the design of group activities or team projects in her online classes.
Create a rubric for your online team project
Plan how you are going to use technology to facilitate online teamwork