Saturday, May 7, 2011

Creating Virtual Groups

It's funny that Jeremy writes about creating virtual groups/pairs in his blog because that's an issue I've been struggling with this past week. I created a Group Article assignment in which each of 6 groups was assigned a different article to read. Each member of each group was then assigned a separate task (1) summarize the article, 2) evaluate the sources used, 3) choose two important quotations, and 4) write two discussion questions) and post their work on FB. I then paired the groups and asked students to read what their paired group had written (so they can learn about a second article) and respond to one of the discussion questions.

I think the assignment itself worked out really well, offering possible research sources for their upcoming essay, modeling how to analyze and evaluate a source, etc., and most students did impressive work. But, some have not done their assignments. Normally this would only affect that student's grade but pairing them the way I did means that some students cannot do their homework until other students post theirs.

I resolved this temporarily by letting students switch their paired groups to one whose work is complete. And, of course, this can happen with live peer review, too. How many times have I carefully crafted student groups only to have absence, lateness, and/or unpreparedness interfere? In a way, doing this online makes it easier in that they have the whole weekend to post their work, not just a one- or two-hour class session. Also, students can look around at what other groups are doing and I was able to switch groups fairly easily. But, it's been a bit clunky and I would welcome suggestions for future implementation of this sort of assignment.


  1. It almost seems like whenever we do the grouped/paired exercises there should be a "Slacker Clause" that the diligent student(s) in the group/pair can exercise/invoke in the case of being shackled to a slacker. This should be done publicly so that shame plays its role. [Or am I being too Scarlet Lettery here?]

  2. I am going to experiment with a new configuration for online group work using Google Docs next Monday . It may help some of the issues posted here. It may be the best way to deal with personality issues also--as in the case of my students right now, some of whom are eyeing other classmates with a bit of wariness...

  3. @ J.C: I am a bit ambivalent about the potential of peer pressure that the public online environment offers...

    On the one hand, it is important for students to learn to be responsible toward their classmates/group. On the other hand, the idea of chastisement by group worries me. I have to think more about why. Keep ya posted.

  4. Not a solution, but a work-around: you could ask your students to post their work a day in advance of what would otherwise be your functional deadline. You'd then have some lead time to see for yourself which students have slacked and send a friendly reminder as an intervention. The problem of student responsibility would persist, but the group would be less likely to suffer because of the delinquent few.

  5. Thanks for your thoughts, everyone. For the record, I gave them a Friday noon deadline for the first piece of the assignment and a Sunday noon deadline for the responses to that assignment. I was therefore able to send "friendly" reminders on Friday afternoon and Saturday before finally letting students switch groups. Some of the slackers did step up and post their work but some didn't.

    I'm curious to hear about X's experiment. Do tell!