Effective Teaching Practices

Online Group Work

Forming GroupsGroup ActivitiesAssessing and Evaluating Groups

One way to create strong social presence in your course is to create an atmosphere that allows students to work together. There are several ways students can work together online; and several ways you can support them in their learning.

Benefits and Challenges of Online Discussions



Helps students develop important skills such as time management, problem solving, and leadership.
Many students do not know how to work effectively in an online group and will need to be taught this skill.

Supports social presence and collaboration in an online course.
Working in a group takes a fair amount of time.

Can increase course participation.

Conflicts can be more difficult to resolve in an online environment.

Forming Groups

There are many ways to form groups. Here are a few ideas for how to creatively form groups in your online class:

  • Randomly. Canvas can randomly assign students to a group.
  • Allowing students to sign up with their own group.
  • With a deck of cards. Using a standard deck of playing cards, students can be arranged into groups by suit or numbers (even, odd, same numbers).
  • By personality style. Students have complementary personalities. They can take a quick personality assessment and groups can be formed with these varying personalities. This is especially helpful with long-term projects.

Group Activities

There are several factors to take into account when creating group assignments. One needs to think about group size, the time it will take to complete an assignment, how to ensure the groups are productive, what to do with problem groups, and the list continues.

For more information, see Tanya Joosten's blog post (Interim Director at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee Learning Technology Center) on Developing small group activities for online and blended courses.

Also, check out the Collaborate Learning: Group Work page from Cornell University's Center for Teaching Excellence.

A few examples of activities that work well for group work in the online environment include:

  • Case studies
  • Online debates
  • Role playing
  • Peer review

Assessing and Evaluating Groups

Assessing and evaluating groups and group work can be challenging: with multiple things to think about. Thought must be paid to the final group product - but also participation in the group process. The following are a few ideas:

Assessing a group product

  • A final case report
  • A video presentation (a music video, newscast, narrated PowerPoint)
  • A webpage, wiki, or blog
  • A short story

Evaluating the group process

  • Peer evaluation
  • Self evaluation
  • Team evaluation