Group work is a great way to promote active learning and collaboration. Yet, one of the biggest complaints I hear from students about group work is that one student does all the work and the other group members still get the credit and the good grade. Additional feedback I got from one of my more mature students is that when she worked in a group she never really felt like she had to "get" the content or how to do the work, which is definitely NOT what you want to hear as a teacher! Because of this feedback I've tweaked my group projects and started utilizing Canvas in slightly different ways that I think promote more individual investment in the group project and allow me to better assess the individuals in the group.
The first thing I did was make better use of group discussions! This involved using them to have students share their group resources, work, information, etc. Pretty much anything they would have normally put in an email I asked for them to include on the discussion. This way I could easily see which students were being an active member of the group and the quality of their individual work. I also used this to assign an individual grade for different parts of the project. Example: I have a group discussion where students have to find relevant web-sites & resources for their group project. By doing it in a discussion I can clearly see which students have participated and evaluate the quality of their work - individually. Yet, it still helps with the group project as a whole as well.
Another thing I use for all group projects is Google Collaborations. In the past this was just Google Doc's, but thanks to the recent updates my students can now easily share and collaborate in Canvas on Google Sheets and Presentations. I use Collaborations to allow all group members to work on the document at once. This is good because you don't have the problem of only one student typing the responses in for all group members. In addition, if the students are working on it outside of class then the other students can see what the student has done and add to it in real time. This is compared to passing a file around and getting confused about which version is the most recent and wanting to work on the project, but not having the most current/updated version.
Beyond these tools in Canvas, pedagogically I've started to include individual parts within most if not all of my larger group assignments. Example: For my Statistics class I had for each group, each student in the group had to collect data from 50 people (so individual participation within the group). Then the group had to analyze their data, but to include an individual component to it I told them that each student had to analyze a different part of the data, which they put their name by (so I could see who did what). They then combined the individual analysis into the overall analysis for the group project and wrote a single overall group conclusion to their work. This required each individual student to directly play a role in collecting the data and analyzing it, which in turn ensures they are invested in the project and should have a better understanding of the process and the results. It also allows me as the Instructor to grade Individual students and the group as a whole.
The last thing I've implemented is pretty straightforward, I ask students to explain what role/work they did on the project. For this I have students explain what they did to help with the group project, so what role did they serve and how did they help with the group. I have them add this to the end of the assignment where the other group members can see - I find this helps to keep them honest because they know the other group members know what they did... or didn't do!
Overall these changes make me feel a lot better about the grades students get for the group projects, the students seem to "get" what's going on more than in the past, and I get a lot fewer complaints from students! It's far from perfect and requires more grading and time on my part, yet I think I'm on the right path and will continue to tweak/adjust as needed!
Kona Jones is Director of the Teaching & Learning Center and Faculty Academy Coordinator at Richland Community College in Decatur, IL. She is responsible for the assessment of online courses and initiatives, providing instructional design and pedagogical support to faculty, development of faculty and student technology training materials, and overseeing faculty professional development. She serves as a technology resource for the College as well as an adjunct instructor of statistics. Her particular passion is student retention in online courses and more specifically on assessing how different initiatives can improve student retention. She has a M.S. degree in Quantitative and Cognitive Psychology, Undergraduate degrees in Biology, Psychology, & History, and is ABD in Curriculum & Instruction.