Group Project Introduction

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Group Project Introduction

Don't bore me. If you are going to stand up and lecture me from your yellowing notes, put it on a disk, and I will take it home and read it on my time. Use an electronic forum or presentation- music, video, computer-based tutorials, visual peripherals - not just lecture.

This set of lessons is intended to be used either alone or as part of a larger course. It was developed to help faculty design and implement group projects as an online collaborative activity

Collaborative learning projects must be designed to ensure that participants are able to come together as a team, work through the tasks, and produce a group deliverable. It is important that everyone participate in this active learning experience. At the completion of the project, all participants should have had to assume new roles and responsibilities, develop collaboration skills and use online technologies to achieve these goals.


  • Is there a role for group projects in online teaching and learning?
  • What tools and methods can be used in the online environment to contribute to a successful learning experience that is as good or better than on-campus group projects?
  • What can happen/be done in an online collaborative project that is not possible or practical in an on-campus collaboration?


  • Prepare instructors to prepare students to participate in online group projects
  • Apply techniques and teaching strategies for collaborative learning to online group projects
  • Observe the interactions/discussions of students working in small groups on group projects.
  • Discover and analyze the components of student interactivity that contribute to successful completion of the project


First and foremost, collaborative learning and online group projects offer students the opportunity to engage in a broad range of skill building activities that are required for life. These are:

  • good communication skills
  • ability to learn independently
  • social skills
  • teamwork skills
  • ability to adapt to changing circumstances
  • thinking skills
  • knowledge navigation

Online collaborative group projects are "great bang for the buck" - well defined, comprehensive set of activities that provide students will a rich learning experience that includes so many important skills.


This is a example of an online group project and includes instructions, links and teaching tips (California Social Studies, Grades 4, 8 and 11)

The goal of this online project is to teach students basic geographic and research skills. More importantly, it raises student awareness of the importance of each community and neighborhood as they record the history of houses and neighborhoods around them. Although designed for middle schools, all ages may participate by building and publishing webpages.


The reading and resources listed address issues of preparing for online collaboration and group project activities as important contributions to learner-centered, constructionist, active learning.


  • Review samples of project preparation packets
  • Prepare project preparation packet materials for your proposed project activities


  • Review the comments on Preparation in the discussion area and add your thoughts to the discussion, guided by the questions in the Discussion description.
  • Comment on the readings in the appropriate discussion topic. Respond to the comments of two other contributors.


  • C is for content. The content must be there. Our professors are content specialists, so that is good.
  • O is for organizing. You can go into a classroom and bounce around a bit and still accomplish some teaching. But online, there must be an organization in place. Sequential, planned, organization.
  • P is for presentation. You can laugh, make jokes and present in a classroom, but can you do this online? Yes. But it is different.
  • R is for rapport. You may have that eye contact in the classroom, but how are you going to build rapport online? Some people can, and some cannot.
  • I is for interactivity. You have to know how to build student to student, teacher to student interaction online. This is very different from the face-to-face class.
  • Finally, A is for assessment. How are you going to assess your online students? Will they build a portfolio, be tested, take part in practice tests?

COLLABORATION - A definition

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, collaborate, collaboration, collaborative are all derived from Late Latin collaboratus, past participle of collaborate - to labor together, from Latin com- + laborare to labor meaning "to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor" or "to cooperate with an agency or instrumentality with which one is not immediately connected." Both definitions are very applicable to collaboration in online learning.

Sharing of ideas in discussion groups is a form of collaboration, but to get the full benefit of collaboration in online learning, the learners need to accomplish a task or participate in an active learning experience. The learners' efforts need to be focused on a specific activity, such as designing an assessment rubric or producing a report. There needs to be a framework or process that participants understand and follow to form the group community and work to complete the project objectives. Levin & Cervantes (1999) identify the underlying concern with online collaborative projects this way, "Unless participants are aware of the ways in which these interactions unfold, they may be disappointed in their expectations about the timing or nature of interactions." We will examine examples of collaborative group projects and some of the factors that contribute to their success.

Establishing guidelines for the process of collaborating will help students gain insight into expectations of collaborative group projects. Outlining the specific tasks associated with the work of the project will ensure that all participants are prepared to contribute actively. There are many descriptions of collaborative group project guidelines in the literature. Riel's (1993) 5 Steps in a Learning Circle include forming the Learning Circle, planning the Learning Circle projects, exchanging work on the projects, creating the publication, and evaluating the process.

Harris (1995) describes 8 Steps in Organizing Telecollaborative projects. The steps are: choose the curricular goal(s), choose the activity's structure, explore examples of other online projects, determine the details of the project, invite telecollaborators, form the telecollaborative group, communicate, and create closure. Waugh, Levin, & Smith (1994) examine six stages in the network project life cycle: proposal, refinement, organization, pursuit, wrap-up, and publication. While there are differences, there are many similarities among these guidelines. The primary focus of each is to define a process for the project and communicate the expectations to the collaborative project participants.

The work of the group is not confined to any particular type of project, so long as there is a product or deliverable, a time frame and a group of members. How these elements come together is not as important as how they interact.

Many students do not like group projects. Online group projects are perceived as even more challenging than on-campus group projects. More structure, planning and individual commitment are required online. Some of the concerns include dealing with problems of distribution of work, project planning, and work product dependencies (I can't do my part until A finishes his part and we are running out of time).

The guidelines are based on interviews with several online instructors about the nature of group work in online learning. Included are a list of best practices as well as a list of issues to be resolved to raise the interest and success of students required to participate in online group projects.

The key questions raised about online group projects are summarized here. These are addressed in the sections that follow.

  • How does group project work fit into your course? Are you satisfied with the results of group projects? Are students learning as much or more than they would working alone on other assignments?
  • Does online group project work change the students understanding and application of material used in the online group project?
  • What are some of the "housekeeping" tasks that must be considered for preparing students for online group projects? What specific direction are students given before and during the project? How formal is the structure of the project work? Who determines how the group will organize itself and its work? How important is this structure and direction to the success of the project team?

In general, group projects need to be considered in the overall instructional plan for usefulness, timeliness and instructional quality.


Collaborative Learning Model described by Reid et al. (1989), there are five phases for designing instruction for collaborative learning:

  • engagement
  • exploration
  • transformation
  • presentation
  • reflection

These phases correspond to the steps for layout and accomplishing the group project work. Taken together, these two models provide a strong framework for the group project activities. The group project model for student work is based on Riel's (1993) 5 Steps in a Learning Circle which include

  • forming the Learning Circle [engagement]
  • planning the Learning Circle projects [exploration]
  • exchanging work on the projects [transformation]
  • creating the publication [presentation]
  • evaluating the process [reflection]

However, before students can be assigned a group project, there is considerable instructor preparation to make the learning experience successful and achieve the desired learning outcomes. Instructor preparation may include ?? performing needs assessment, learning outcomes, choosing project topics, defining �

Students need to be prepared before they go off and work in their groups on their assigned projects. The amount of preparation will depend on the learners' readiness - experience, maturity. Learner preparation may include setting expectations, describing the project, communicating specific instructions, defining requirements, identifying resources available$134