Facilitating Group Work Using Online Collaboration Tools

Instructional technologies can enhance the ability of student teams to collaborate effectively, increasing access and efficiency by reducing spatial and temporal barriers to teamwork. Similarly, technology may provide novel, efficient, and effective means for instructors to monitor and provide feedback on group projects.

Possible Instructional Uses:       

  • Managing, sharing and collaborating on large files associated with group projects
  • Major group projects in courses can require students to generate, organize and collaborate on many and/or large computer files, especially when projects involve the use of video.
  • CyBox is a cloud-based file storage and sharing service explicitly designed for collaboration.
  • Improving group process and decision making
  • Group decision making is a critical component of teamwork, especially when projects require students to evaluate competing ideas.
  • Instructors can shift decision making from face-to-face discussions to synchronous, text-based online discussions, during which team members are geographically dispersed.
  • Students can simultaneously access project materials pre-loaded into CyBox and negotiate decisions at preordained times using the commenting features.
  • Enhancing small group discussions during lectures
  • Small group discussions can be effective modes of active learning during lectures, whether groups are  pre-assigned or based simply on where they happen to sit.
  • First, they record and archive the artifacts of learning activities (e.g., brainstorming activities, discussion of readings, or concept mapping activities), so that students may revisit and study the core aspects of activities or discussions that may otherwise be ephemeral. Second, they allow instructors to easily monitor and provide feedback on the progress of groups, far more efficiently and effectively than is possible when circulating throughout a classroom and interrupting group conversations.  Consequently, instructors can be better prepared to effectively and efficiently conduct a debrief of group discussions.
  • Team-building through peer evaluation
  • Peer evaluations are an important method of assessment when using groupwork in a class. Peer evaluation can be useful both to provide formative feedback to improve group dynamics throughout a project as well as to assess individual student’s contributions and to adjust grades accordingly.
  • Facilitating synchronous online group interactions outside of class

Centrally Supported Tools: 

Additional Tools: 

Tips for Using Online Collaboration Tools  

Sharing files via online collaboration tools:         

Sharing files with students can be tedious and time consuming if one has to manually manage who has access to the files. At Iowa State, instructors can share files easily by creating a course group folder in CyBox. Students can log in to without having to log into separate accounts for these tools.

Setting up a BoxNote in CyBox for small group discussions

When many people edit a document simultaneously, it can be overwhelming, both to the users and the technology.  To prevent overwhelming users, create place holders in the document for individuals or groups to write (headings or page breaks) or create multiple documents (i.e., each group has it’s own document or five groups maximum share a document). To avoid performance issues, it’s best to have fewer than 40 individuals viewing and editing a document.  If you are using one document for all groups in a large class, you may want to nominate one scribe for each group.

Keep Accessibility in Mind 

Many online collaboration tools are not readily accessible to students with disabilities, particularly to those students visual or physical impairments.  Instructors should be prepared to offer reasonable accommodations to such students so that they may participate fully in course activities.

Information adapted from:

Facilitating Group Work Using Online Collaboration Tools. Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, University of Michigan