Collaborative Assignments and Projects
Collaborative assignments and projects are group learning experiences with specific goals or end-products that students achieve or create together to master one or more learning outcomes. The Association of American Colleges and Universities (n.d., para. 7) describes collaborative assignments and projects as a high impact practice because it “combines two key goals: learning to work and solve problems in the company of others, and sharpening one's own understanding by listening seriously to the insights of others, especially those with different backgrounds and life experiences. Approaches range from study groups within a course, to team-based assignments and writing, to cooperative projects and research.”
While there are many benefits to collaborative work, it is important to note that success requires more than just creating the groups. Here are some guidelines and tips to consider when facilitating group work in your courses.
Facilitating Group Work Effectively
Preparing for Group Work
- Identify learning outcomes that a collaborative assignment or project would help students achieve.
- Determine how you want to form the groups. For bigger assignments or projects, letting students form their own teams may result in inequalities and inefficiencies. Distribute high-performing and low-performing students evenly, when appropriate.
- Create a rubric to evaluate individual contributions, the group's end product and/or other aspects of the collaborative process. Make sure participation is a large enough percentage of the grade to discourage social loafing. You may want to include a peer assessment component as well.
- Use online tools, such as a Google Drive, as collaboration spaces for students to do their work—drafts, final versions or both. Set up discussion forums for students to communicate with their teammates.
Examples of Collaborative Group Projects
- Jigsaw group project: To facilitate a jigsaw collaborative project activity, break the class into groups and assign roles or responsibilities (e.g., complete a specific part of the project). First, students work with peers who have the same role or responsibility to determine together how they want to accomplish their assigned task(s). Note: there can be variation amongst the groups—i.e., they may have the same roles, but each group may represent a different organization, country, time period, etc. Then, students return to their groups and put their respective portions of the project together.
- Group stakeholder map exercise: Individually or in small groups, assign students different roles from a case or scenario (e.g., Civil War roles might include slaves, slave owners, abolitionists, government officials and soldiers from Northern and Southern armies, etc.). In response to a prompt (e.g., "How would you define the goals of your stakeholder group after X happened?"), have students write ideas from their stakeholder perspectives, using Post-it notepads and markers. While they do this, draw a concept map on the board with the prompt in the middle and bubbles for each role you assigned. Then ask them to bring their individual Post-its to the whiteboard and place them around the bubble for their role. As a group, you can use whiteboard markers to show connections between ideas. You can use an online tool, such as CMap, to conduct the same collaborative exercise outside the classroom.
References and Additional Resources
Association of American Colleges and Universities. (n.d.). High-Impact Educational Practices.
Barkley, E.F.; Cross, P.K.; and Major, C.H. (2004). Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Carnegie Mellon. (n.d.). Using Group Projects Effectively.
Sackett, E. (2017). How to Incorporate Effective Team-Based Learning into Any Course
Yost, W. (2011). Before You Assign Another Group Project…Six Keys to Creating Effective Group Assignments. CSUN Teaching Strategies.
Dr. Kevin Kelly, Lecturer at San Francisco State University
July 31, 2020