Positive group experiences have been shown to contribute to student learning and engagement (National Survey of Student Engagement, 2006). Impromptu group discussion or brainstorming can provide such positive experiences, but more complex projects need to be planned and scaffolded. This can include gathering information on student interests or experience, to form groups with a common topic or a range of experience; allocating specific times in the class or homework schedule for group work to be done; and providing an outline of steps or stages each group should move through in their project, such as research, organization of material, drafting, and presentation of results.
You may notice the importance, in this description, of time and space for groups to work! Creating positive group experiences also requires finding resources that provide students with physical and online spaces for collaboration. The LSA Media Center offers physical collaborative work spaces for student groups, including collaboration rooms, each of which accommodates from four to six students. These rooms are outfitted with large monitors, whiteboards, and common computing software tools and are an ideal environment for group meetings, project planning, or other collaborative work. Canvas Groups provide a similar but virtual collaborative space in the form of a mini-course-site where group members can work and share materials. Instructors can easily access these sites to check in with teams throughout the project. Additionally, instructors can designate certain assignments as group assignments, with the capability of assessing students individually or as a group.
Sometimes, the collaborative experience you want your students to have is more one-to-one, though. One tool that can be useful for increasing student connections with course content and one another individually is Perusall, a social annotation tool. Perusall enables students to collaboratively annotate PDFs of readings, presentation slides, or images. Perusall can encourage students to help others by answering their questions, and to upvote good questions or comments to draw the attention of their classmates and instructor to important ideas.
To discuss incorporating group or collaborative experiences into your course with an instructional consultant, contact the LTC at LSATechnologyServices@umich.edu.
Citation: National Survey of Student Engagement Report. (2006).