time to evaluate May 11

A Solution to the Free Rider Problem in Group Activities

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Group activities are an excellent way to improve student learning in an online course. But they invariably raise the free-rider problem—the student who does not contribute his or her fair share of the effort. This is particularly bothersome to students when there is one group grade for all members of a group. While there is a real-world value to giving a group grade since many activities in life are evaluated on a team basis, there is an issue of fairness in the students’ minds. This leaves the faculty member with the unenviable choice of using a group grade and having to deal with student complaints about free riders, or using an individual grade and being unable to accurately distinguish one student’s contribution from another. Kadriye O. Lewis, professor of Pediatrics at the UKMC School of Medicine, came up with a solution by creating an “Intra-Group Member Peer and Self-Evaluation” to assess individual performance.

Dr. Lewis uses a variety of small group activities in her classes that involve one or two weeks of work each, with the results posted to a discussion board area for class deliberation. Groups are scrambled every few weeks in order to give students a chance to work with others. At the end of each group activity, all group members fill out an evaluation on every other group member’s participation. Each student answers a variety of questions about the other students on a traditional Likert scale from Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree. The topics include:

  • Keeping abreast of group progress
  • Sharing ideas
  • Completing tasks on time
  • Attending meetings
  • Demonstrating respect for others
  • Contributing to group discussions

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online student May 4

Designing Group-Based Learning Activities

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For a while in my online teaching career, I’d been reluctant to use group learning techniques with my students. My students are primarily undergraduate majors who have been out of school for a while and generally need more hand-holding (or so I thought). What I’ve learned after many years online is that even though my students work individually, they also work collectively as a group. In fact, my wonderful students often initiate working in teams when discussing issues in the forums, studying for the midterm, and giving each other advice for tackling the final project. I realized that group learning was already being used in my courses, so I concluded that I could expose my students to group-based learning activities and assignments that would benefit them in the long run.

When designing group-based activities, an instructor should consider these areas:

1) Group formation (how the groups are formed)
2) Group roles (assigning leaders and other roles)
3) Group conflicts (dealing with issues and conflicts)

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Online student working on computer January 13

How to Make Online Group Projects More Effective

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When we look at the value of collaborative group work, the research is clear: group work is beneficial to learning. It improves retention, critical thinking, persistence, motivation, satisfaction, engagement, time on-task, and the list goes on and on.

Now, these benefits are not unique to the online classroom. Collaborative group work is valuable whether you’re sitting in a face-to-face classroom or in an online classroom. But it’s important to remember that some of these benefits are uniquely suited for the online classroom.

Think for a minute about students in an online course. Most of them are sitting at home, maybe at work. They’re alone at a computer. It’s just them and the monitor. It’s not the most engaging atmosphere.

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Male student on laptop April 20, 2015

Five Steps to Improving Online Group Work Assignments

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Online Group Projects – Yikes! You can hear the moans and groans of students echoing through your computer monitors as you start the first week of your online course. The reasons for requiring a group project vary from one discipline to another, but there are educational and career motives for requiring group projects. Students will have an opportunity to develop team skills, improve communication skills, and leverage their own personal interests and experiences to contribute to a group project.





December 9, 2010

Using Wikis for Collaborative Learning

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If you are looking for ways to facilitate collaboration among students, consider using a wiki—a website that contains pages that can be easily created and edited by multiple users. Several characteristics of Wikis make them excellent choices for projects that involve brainstorming and research and that require a final report, says Rhonda Ficek, director of instructional technology services at Minnesota State University Moorhead.



April 5, 2010

Considerations for Your Wiki Projects

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Wiki technologies are being used by many instructors and students as an effective tool for a variety of collaborative projects, such as composing group papers, creating a rich knowledge base, managing projects efficiently, and forming virtual communities. The benefits of using wiki tools include ease of use and collaboration, good instructor control, and anytime/anywhere accessibility.