Group work in an online environment

By Johanna Westwood (Learning Technologist) and Boris Ceranic (Lecturer Built Environment)

While studying remotely, it is more important than ever to ensure we build in opportunities that encourage whole-cohort learning through active learning and collaboration. This can help encourage a sense of belonging in the virtual space. Tasks which require group interaction and collaboration provide students with the opportunity to reflect upon the multiple perspectives of others, which can help to increase social inclusion and promote deeper learning. While studying remotely, it is important to ensure we build these opportunities in for our students. Boris Ceranic, Lecturer (Built Environment), shares his example of how he has developed group work in the online environment.

Week 1 Ice breaker – A virtual groups “Design Team” project meeting with 5 mins personal introductions to each other.  In this session we all get to know each other and establish key expectations.  Thereafter, the Design Teams meetings must happen every week. I facilitate one meeting per week as a Project Lead and the Project Manager facilitates the rest.  This gives all students an ample opportunity to take an active role in online space, but also to socialise and chat less formally. This is followed by another 5 weeks of group work.

Approach: Personally, in design-based modules such as this one, I encourage a more practice-based approach when working with the groups.  This is how we do it in the practice and what they will have to do when they find employment after the completion of their studies. Hence, instead of calling them groups I refer to them as Design Teams.  Each Design Team has to choose the Project Manager, rotating the role on a weekly basis so that every member gets an opportunity to manage. It is their responsibility to organise the work planned for that week, write Design Team meeting minutes and upload to One Drive, together with ensuring that other team members have uploaded key documents, research and design work too.  I become a Project Lead; facilitator, advisor, trouble shooter and ultimate decision maker, if required. The Project Manager reports to me on the progress, together with the rest of team members, on a regular weekly basis.

Lessons learnt:  Importance of organising a high level plan and ensuring that students take an active role in online space, with strong element of peer group learning and facilitating.  Also,  using group work as a tool to enable students to socialise online, develop a sense of belonging and get to know each other.