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We Can Work Together: Managing Group Work Online for Collaboration, Assessment, and Life-Long Learning Skills

Lujean Baab (Virginia Tech, USA)
Session Information
November 20, 2013 - 2:15pm
K-12 Online Education
Areas of Special Interest: 
K-12 Online Education
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Institutional Level: 
Multiple Levels
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Extended Information Session
Southern Hemisphere 3
Session Duration: 
80 Minutes
Information Session 4 & 5 (combined)
Virtual Session
Best in Track

Group work online can address student participation and online assessment. We can do it if we do it right

Extended Abstract

Introduction: While important, requiring students to collaborate on project based learning in small groups online impedes flexibility and raises issues of level of contribution, grading, etc. These projects are difficult to design, manage, and assess. Additionally, group work can arguably be the best response to those skeptical of distance learning because cheating and authentication of student contribution. This session offers strategies and practices to address the challenges of student collaboration and group work online and provides the results of over two years of implementing group projects in online education for K-12 teachers. The purpose is was to share proven techniques for the use of collaborative group work as an option for teaching online so as to address the issues of reduced student-student interaction, collaboration and group knowledge creation in online learning. Also, the research investigated the value of project-based, collaborative group work as a response to the challenge of academic integrity, verification of test-taker, and the potential for cheating on assessments in online learning.

Background: Students choose online courses for convenience and flexibility and are often told that online students must be responsible for their own learning online. This can translate into a solitary learning experience consisting primarily of reading, responding to discussions and writing papers. We know that collaborative, project-based group work is an effective and desirable learning experience but managing online group work not only impedes flexibility but also raises questions of just how to accomplish this, which tools to use, and how to use them. This is in addition to the traditional challenges to group work such as how to assemble groups, determining individual levels of contribution, project management, and grading.

While project-based learning is desirable, challenges often deter its use in online courses. Successful project-based learning is dependent upon well-designed instructional activities. To put this to the test, research-based strategies were employed to design a collaborative, project-based assignment for groups of three to five students that accounted for 50% of the grade for an online teacher education course focused on the analysis of emerging technologies. Students used collaborative technology tools to complete a joint paper and presentation on an emerging technology and to teach one lesson on that emergence. Students reported their concerns and responded to discussions on the experience. They were also completed peer assessments and self-assessments of their contribution to the group project and the experience overall. 
A unique approach to grading not only the project but also the level and quality of participation was designed and implemented over two years in courses taught to over 40 graduate students in a teacher education program.

Data Collection: Qualitative data was collected through student discussion and assignment submissions. In addition to assignment elements, team members submitted a peer-review of the contributions and attitudes of team members in a confidential submission to be compared with aself-evaluation. Students participated in discussions about the process and the assignment elements and could choose to do so anonymously. Discussions were conducted both in small groups and with the full class. Emails to the instructor were encouraged and utilized to comment on the project and process. Several web conference sessions were held and observations of those also contributed data. Two surveys were also utilized to collect data, one issued just after assignment was made and directions were reviewed and one after the completion of the project.

The group work assignment was utilized in a graduate level teacher education course focusing on distance education and emerging technology. Student groups were assigned randomly and students could not change groups once assigned. In order for the group to function, roles and responsibilities must be determined. It is important that these were not assigned but negotiated by group members. Before starting group work, students were required to determine the role of each member within the group as defined in the assignment.

Analysis and Results: Thematic analysis of qualitative data was categorized and analyzed in the areas student attitudes prior to, during, and after the activities, the concerns raised by students, evidence of response to or resolution of those concerns, changes in attitudes, perceived value of the activities, perceived value of the approach and design of activities and indications of perceived personal growth in skills and ability to work collaboratively online in the future.

Results show students had high levels of anxiety over the concept of group activity based upon concerns about member contribution, ability to resolve conflicts, personal responsibility, time management and sharing of graded work. Member contribution was graded negatively not only for lack of participation but also for a level of participation that did notAllow others to contribute equally. This was a difficult concept for many who preferred to take charge, do the work and not rely on others' to contribute. This indicated a lack of understanding of what it means to collaborate. There was also concern over the negotiation of roles and responsibilities. However, negotiation of resolution to conflicts required instructor intervention only three times over the period of this study.

Results show attitudes and perceptions changed as students learned to work together, to support and prod each other to contribute and participate, and to view the outcome as jointly owned. Students were candid and honest in their evaluation of their participation as they knew other members would submit an evaluation of that participation as well. Most importantly, students indicated that the collaborative project-based approach was a valuable learning experience and that they felt better prepared for collaborative online work.

Goals: Project-based learningAllows students to develop and apply collaborative online learning skills for life-long learning. The goal of this session is to share strategies and design of this project-based small group collaborative assignment that was successful both in student achievement of learning objectives and in developing skills for online collaborative work. The design principles and assessment strategies utilized can be adopted for other courses K-12 online learning. Participants will obtain the details, research results and have the opportunity to discuss the process and collaborate to data from further practice and research.

Lead Presenter

Lujean Baab, Ed.D. – Dr. Baab hold a B.A. in English, an M.A. in Educational Communications, and an Ed.Ed. in Educational Technology. She has been involved in distance and online learning as faculty and administrator for over 15 years with teaching and research focus on assessment, assistive technologies, group work, teaching and learning styles and fostering classroom community in online courses. She has served as the Director of Distance Learning for a community college, the Director of Graduate Programs in Education for a private university and now serves as the Senior Director for Networked Learning and Design Strategies, a unit of TLOS (Technology-enhanced Learning and Online Strategies) at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA.