Group Activities in Bioscience
Group activities provide rich learning opportunities for students to engage with course content and interact with each other. Working collaboratively also contributes to students’ team-building, leadership, management and communication skills.
In an online environment, student interaction and collaboration not only leads to a deeper learning experience but also contributes to building a sense of community. Tu and Corry (2003) state that collaborative learning has the potential to:
“maximize their own learning and the learning of each group member”, “engage students in knowledge sharing, inspiring one another, depending upon one another, and applying active social interaction”, and “enrich learners’ critical thinking, information exchange, and knowledge generating processes”.
Group activities range from informal small group exercises and discussions to highly structured projects. Examples of collaborative online activities that may be useful for bioscience education include researching information, investigations, problem solving, assignments, projects, brainstorming, concept mapping, discussion of questions or readings, and case studies. Activities that are fun, interesting, relevant, real-life, topical or stimulate debate are more likely to encourage student participation. A balance of individual activities and group activities (small and large group), can therefore help create a dynamic learning experience.
Careful planning and preparation of any group activity is necessary to meet the learning objectives, and motivate learners to interact and participate. Palloff and Pratt (2005) identify that the instructor is responsible for providing a clear structure and guidelines for completing an activity, including familiarizing students with group processes and the online tools they will be using, as well as modeling collaborative behaviour. During the activity the instructor should monitor and guide the process but not take control of the activity. It is more beneficial for the instructor to facilitate the process from the sidelines, encouraging the group to lead themselves and take responsibility for successfully completing the activity. At the end of the process the instructor should evaluate its success.
There are several important factors to consider and be aware of with group work. Is the work to be assessed and how will each participant’s contribution be determined (eg peer assessment, self-assessment, grading rubric)? Non-contributing participants, personal conflict between group members, and unequal effort are other problems that may be encountered.
There are several online tools listed below that enable students to work together in a group, either in real time (synchronous) or at different times (asynchronous). Remember to allocate sufficient time for participants to contribute to asynchronous activities. Several of the tools here are more often used asynchronously but can be used for synchronous work if students are connected by telephone or skype.
- email or discussion board (eg Blackboard’s discussion board) – asynchronous
- wiki (eg WikiEducator or wikispaces) – asynchronous
- concept mapping tool (eg Gliffy or bubbl.us) – asynchronous
- online conferencing tool (eg Elluminate) - synchronous (provides voice, text and web links)
Examples of Group Activities
Please help to build this collection of group activities by contributing information, ideas and examples that bioscience educators will be able to use. Once you are logged in, you can 'edit' the material by clicking the button at the top of the page or on the right-side of each section. Or you may like to start or contribute to a 'discussion' by clicking this button located at the top of the page.
This provides an opportunity for students (working in pairs or small groups) to explore, interpret and evaluate one (or more) online resources on a particular topic, and then post a clear and concise written summary back to their class via a discussion board or wiki. Others in the class may then respond with a question or comment for the writers. Reviewing information and sharing it with others enables students to gain skills in critiquing and presenting information, and offers an opportunity to explore a topic in more detail, extend beyond the course content to related topics, consider new ideas or be exposed to different perspectives.
Brainstorming is a useful collaborative activity for generating a large number of ideas or possible solutions to a problem. Small groups of 4 – 5 appear to be most effective as they allow each person the opportunity to contribute. During a brainstorming session the focus is usually on the quantity of ideas, accepting any suggestions (no matter how unusual or strange), and avoiding any criticism or judgment of ideas as they are offered. At the end of the session, the ideas can be reviewed to see the range of responses expressed, or evaluated against specific criteria to determine the best responses.
Biology_in_elementary_schools is the product of a course for elementary educators at Saint Michael's College in Vermont USA. The Wikieducator content is the product of the first run of the course and will be built upon here in 2008. To see the history of the project and how the students and instructor worked to build the ideas it may be worth visiting the wikia site where the students developed their ideas.
Tu, C-H. & Corry, M. (2003). Building Active Online Interaction via a Collaborative Learning Community. In: Distance Education: What Works Well (ed: Michael Corry, and Chih-Hsiung Tu) The Haworth Press, Inc. Available at: http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~etc-c/etc599DE/readings/Tu-2003-BuildInteraction.pdf
OnlineLearning.net. Working with small groups in an online classroom. Available at: http://www.onlinelearning.net/instructorcommunity/workingwithgroups.html?s=026.x010o9718.101c212790
Palloff, R.M. & Pratt, K. (2005) Learning Together in Community: Collaboration Online. University of Wisconsin 20th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning. Available at: http://www.uwex.edu/disted/conference/Resource_library/proceedings/04_1127.pdf