Online Collaboration and Group Work Activities

How To Conduct Group Work and Online Collaboration In An Online Class

Summarized from Online Collaboration: Learning Together in Community By Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt

Purpose: It brings students together to support the learning of each member of the group. It fosters creativity and critical thinking. Deeper levels of knowledge are achieved.

Collaboration uses the constructivist approach to learning which involves the constructing of knowledge through the process of working with others instead the acquiring of knowledge through direct instruction.

To begin, collaboration reduces feelings of isolation and increases social presence. The “Read and discuss” online classes are no longer the best way to deliver content. Materials that promote interactivity such as multimedia elements help create active learning online.

It is important to distinguish between Interaction and Interactivity. Interaction is contact between class members and instructors. Interactivity is the use of multimedia material to create active, engaging learning environment that promotes the sharing of ideas within the class.


When conducting a group work activity, provide explanation of the importance and reasons for including collaborative activities in the online class. This can reduce resistance and increase success in the activity.

Dyads: There is less resistance to collaborative work assignments when the learner is expected to work with only one other person. A gradual shift to larger group work can happen later by pairing dyads into a group of four.


Also, a sense of community needs to exist for collaboration to occur. The instructor is critical in creating this.

Networking between students happens in face to face classes and must happen in an online class also. Instructors sometimes forget this element and plunge students into group work without giving them a chance to get to know each other.

The following are roles of the Instructor during collaborative activities:

Set the stage– by explaining importance and set clear guidelines for completion

Create the environment by setting “rules of engagement”

Model the process of good collaborative behavior. One way is to allow students to negotiate some of the parameters with which they will work with one another.

Guide the process by letting the students know in advance how the instructor intends to be involved in the process. This gives students a sense of confidence needed to move forward because they know what to expect.

Evaluate the process by giving students the opportunity to debrief the experience. Have the students regularly document their perceptions of the contributions they are making to the exchange of ideas. This allow them to learn the conditions that make discussion successful.

At the end of the activity, include a student self-assessment and assessment of their group members.

Some collaborative activities benefit from the teams creating a Team Charter that includes:

  • The purpose of the group, the deliverables, operating guidelines.
  • Teams must come up with a decision-making strategy to reduce conflict.

The instructor needs to clearly define group roles to reduce conflict.

If a group member does not fulfill the agreement, the instructor will follow up with the learner to remind the learner of the agree-upon responsibilities.

Team Development

Teams go through stages of development.

The stages of team development are:

The normative stage is when group members get to know each other.

Unity Stage or problem-solving stage when the group comes together to do work.

Conflict stage– when disagreement must be worked through to avoid “group think” mentality when everyone agrees to something just to avoid conflict. Group think mentality causes lower quality results and dissatisfied members.

The action phase is characterized by group harmony and productivity.

Termination phase is when the group ends its work.

Time must be given for groups to work through these phases. Instead of allowing only a week for a group to work on one small project, give them three weeks to work on a larger multi-step project with progressive deadlines for revised products.


Assessment of Collaborative work should include rubrics. The activities and assessment must align with the learning objectives. This reduces student dissatisfaction by providing evaluative material that is objective and quantifiable.

When asking students to provide feedback to their peers, the instructor should make it clear that it be constructive and encourage improvement. Rubrics with guidelines on how to provide peer feedback can be helpful to students.

Information about assessment and evaluation should be built into the course guidelines and communicated to the students at the beginning of the course to prepare students for their responsibilities for providing constructive feedback to their peers.

Types of Activities

Types of collaborative activities:

  • Role playing-students play different roles in ethical dilemma situations.
  • Simulations- students directly apply computer coding skills.
  • Case studies-instructor provides cases from the professional field or students bring cases from their work.