Group work is one of the educational strategies, that if employed well, can promote collaboration and participation amongst students. Group work can also nurture a more active and deeper learning experience and can provide lecturers with valuable insights into the way students understand particular topics and or concepts. In addition to exposing students to different approaches and ways of thinking, working with other students in groups can promote a sense of belonging that combats the anonymity and isolation that many students experience at a large campus. You can find futher references and an in depth guide on group work strategies and further references using the Teaching Guide devised by University of California Berkeley.
Whilst we know that some students may be hesitant to participate in group work for a number of reasons, it might help them to know that groups can be in some ways be more effective in devising solutions then the lonesome individual (Barkley et al., 2004; Cooper et al., 2003). Working together in groups also gives students the opportunity to learn from and teach each other (Mazur, 2001). Classroom research has shown that students often learn better from each other than they do from a lecturer (Barkley et al. 2005, 16–20).
It is for these reasons that some schools and programmes will be interested to know that Moodle can provide you with various options in which to group your students. You can assign tutors and students to one or more groups within a module. Groups are defined at module level and you then set the group mode (No groups, visible groups, separate groups) for each activity.
There are various tools in Moodle that could be used to engage students in group work and these are:
- Discussion forums; examples could include online debate, preparation for group project/presentation or online role-play
- Chat; examples could include brainstorming and/or decision making
- Wikis; could include collaborative authoring, team based assignment with role allocations
- Glossaries; could include team compilation of entries, critiques of definitions etc.
Groups can be either automatically created (good for large groups) or, if you or your students have already decided the groups, they can be manually created (good for creating small groups) by adding students one-by-one.
For large groups you can either randomly assign students to groups, or you can bulk upload specific students to specific groups using a spreadsheet. For specific group creation instructions please go to the site.
In my search I have also come across various other resources to help you think through group based tasks in your module and they are listed below in the references.
Barkley, E., et al. (2005). Collaborative Learning Techniques. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Sarkisian, E. (1997) Working in Groups. Harvard University: Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. [available online] http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/html/icb.topic58474/wigintro.html [accessed on 16.08.2013]
The HEA guide on Group-work [available online] http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resources/detail/internationalisation/ISL_Group_Work [accessed on 16.08.2013]
Mazur, E & Crouch, C.H (2001) Peer Instruction: Ten years of experience and results [available online] http://newfaculty.mst.edu/media/campussupport/newfaculty/documents/MazurActiveLearning.pdf [accessed on 15.08.13]