User:Vtaylor/Group projects/Instructor Preparation

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Instructor Preparation

The Preparation stage covers all the work from deciding to consider including an online group project or collaboration activity in your course design through high level planning. Specifics for project kick-off and student work are covered in subsequent modules.


  • What is your first thought when someone announces that you are going to be working on a project? What are we going to do? Who else is going to be on the project team? Who is in charge? How long will it take?
  • What are some other questions that immediately come to mind?


  • Understand the role of preparation in a successful group project experience.
  • Explore some of the key factors contributing to student preparation for group project activities


  • Design Principles
  • Suitable projects
  • Task / activity instructions
  • Deliverable / product description / requirements
  • Assessment / evaluation criteria
  • Preparation of lesson and materials - checklists, directions, tools


Group work observations - CIS89A Spring 2002

Groups of 5-6 students teamed up to create an online tutorial consisting of 3-6 web pages to teach an HTML concept or function. The tutorial should also demonstrate all the HTML functions covered in the class. Students could pick their group members and the tutorial topic. Several students asked to be assigned to a group. There were 4 groups. Each group gave a final presentation to showcase their work. The list below describes some of the issues that came up during the group project portion of this class. Comments on resolution are included.

  • Organization - Self appointed leader, not everyone happy with process for defining deliverable, groups worked out the problems without instructor intervention
  • Process - Outline, planning revised several times to get consensus
  • Sharing, cooperation - effective
  • Communication - primarily via email
  • Presentation - varied by group, 1 presenter presented everything for the whole project including work of other team members, some teams had each member present own work with one person introducing each in turn, some presentations focused on product rather than process
  • Work division - not equal but generally equitable, no complaints about non-participation, some grumbling about late contributions, recognition by team members for extra effort and commitment of specific individuals
  • Quality of product - Very high, better than any individual - complete, attractive, included all elements of assignment
  • Requests for help - requests for clarification of project, one personality "problem" described in email necessitated reminder of need for respect and inclusion of contributions from all team members to final project requirements



  • Review proposed students activities for suitability for online work
  • Collect and catalog materials to be used by students in the online collaboration and group activities
  • Instructional design. Apply established principles of instructional design, including: (a) conducting a pre-instructional analysis of the learners' characteristics and goals and the resources and barriers in the learning environment; (b) identifying desired learning outcomes; (c) selecting and deploying learning activities and technologies that best lend themselves to learner achievement of course outcomes; and (d) determining methods of authentic learner assessment in achieving specified course outcomes.
  • Practice and feedback. Provide learners with opportunities to practice learned behaviors and receive corrective feedback with regard to their performances.
  • Authentic assessment. Apply principles of authentic assessment in diagnostic, formative, and summative contexts. In other words, measure learners' entry levels as they relate to course objectives, check for progress along the way, and measure their achievement of the objectives with criterion-referenced measurement instruments at the end of the instructional process.
  • Communication protocol. Establish appropriate communication patterns and guidelines, model desired communication patterns, demonstrate use of distance education technologies for communication and interaction, and reward assertive and constructive learner communications


  • Post a comment or question to the Instructor Preparation discussion. Respond to two previous posts with a comment or follow-on question.


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.

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 collaborators
  • form the collaborative group
  • communicate
  • create closure

Waugh, Levin, & Smith (1994) examine six stages in the network project life cycle:

  • Proposal
  • Refinement
  • Organization
  • Pursuit
  • Wrap-up
  • Publication

Wiggins and McTighe:

  • perspective
  • empathy
  • self-knowledge
  • an enduring understanding

Before You Begin...

Collaborative online group project activities should be challenging, interesting, and relevant; require a short time to complete; and be appropriate to the participants' backgrounds

  • 4-6 participants
  • opportunity to learn from each other
  • involve everyone
  • create a sense of team work
  • provide for a variety of viewpoints

As with any other lesson or activity, collaborative online group project activities must be planned and students must be prepared to complete the activity successfully.

  • Define Goal and Objectives - these are traditional lesson planning framework and methods e.g. "Goal - Students will work collaboratively in groups to prepare a multi-page web tutorial."
  • Define Assignment / Activity to achieve the goals and objectives - the online group project activity relates directly to the lesson plan e.g., "Produce a multi-page web lesson including examples for the assigned HTML topic demonstrating use of HTML tags and attributes covered in class" [synthesis][interpret]
  • Develop Lesson Course Notes
    • Relevance of the module to the student - use everything that we covered in class to build tutorial web site, teach someone else about assigned topic, teaching reinforces own understanding
    • Fits into the big picture - e.g., this is how professional web developers and instructional designers work
    • Logical guidelines and/or clear model for competent performance - rubric, examples of previous class projects, examples on the web
    • "How to" - specific guidelines for this project, reference guidelines for more general group projects
    • Clarification of understanding - different understandings (often tacit) of learning, training, competency and capability held by participants need to be made explicit
    • Monitor, mentor, facilitate group collaboration and project work
    • Specific alternatives that address diverse learning styles - alternative presentations - text, graphics, perhaps audio or video if available.
  • Define meta-learning process � learning about learning � must be managed by those responsible for the development and operation of learning programs.

Prepare students to work in groups

  • Create groups or cohorts - assign students to groups by drawing a number, counting off, using group formation in course management system or allow students to form groups of choice - both methods work and it is not clear if one produces "better" results than the other.
  • Introduce group project and describe the project requirements - objectives, deliverable (product, output), learning outcome, content suggestions [knowledge]
  • Outline the collaborative process - mechanics, expectations, roles and responsibilities - details, organization, conflict resolution, instructor support [comprehension][explain]
  • Review "tools" available - discussion, chat, email, publishing space
  • Provide directions - provide written instructions - general instructions, time limits, problem, participant roles, questions for group discussions
  • Discuss evaluation rubric [perspective]
  • Create project contracts - students agree to terms and conditions, task ownership, remedies

Tasks Suited to Collaboration

When planning a collaborative project, it is important that the task is one that can benefit from collaboration, traditional or electronic. In general, collaborative tasks are those that require multiple skill sets and points of view to complete. The task needs to be bigger and more complex than an individual can complete on their own in the time allotted. The task must be one that can be agreed to by all participants. The work needs to be broken into sub-tasks that can be performed by team members. If possible these sub-tasks need to be somewhat independent so different team members can do the tasks in parallel. If there is some conclusion or finding, it is helpful to have several participants draft, review and revise this portion of the product or report. Multi-faceted tasks are often good choices for collaborative development.

Defined Focus

A well-defined focus for the conversation helps learners contribute constructively. The focus of the collaboration may be a specific activity, product, or common goal, which is clearly defined in terms of objectives, format, deliverables, timeframe, even participants' roles and responsibilities. It could be designing a product, producing a paper, or coming up with a solution to a problem. This works better than open sharing and discussion. There is a danger of being too open-ended and amorphous. For many learners working online and collaboratively may be new experiences. Working collaboratively online will be a significant challenge. Having a more defined focus for the collaboration helps participants contribute constructively.

Collaborative Culture

"Among potential participants, collaboration should already be valued and viewed as important. The best results come when participants have had experience working collaboratively, whether or not that experience is on the computer." (Grudin 1994) Working collaboratively is not a universally required learning skill. Many students, online or not, continue to be rewarded for independent contributions. In some environments, there is competition among students for grades and even for the right to stay in a course. These students may actively resist cooperating and working collaboratively, as that might hurt their chances to beat the competition. Fortunately, most students understand the underlying importance of working together for some mutual goal. However, it may be appropriate to encourage collaborative behavior and promote the benefits of working collaboratively.

  • evaluate a task to determine if it actually lends itself to a team approach. If students can do the task just as well on their own, why should they work in a group?
  • provide enough structure and support for teams to complete the task independently and successfully. Is the structure and support in the form of clearly stated, written, and illustrated, or recorded (audio, video) instructions, rather than in the form of your constant intervention?
  • structure the task so that all members of a team must be involved to successfully complete the task. Limit supplies so that teammates must share them. Require one product from each team. Provide different information to each member of the team. Require that all members share the information to complete the task.
  • require teammates to assume some level of responsibility for the understanding and performance of others on their team
  • allow for teams to assess their effectiveness at working together as a team.
  • select jobs that will promote team interdependence.
  • clearly describe the responsibilities of each job and review the descriptions as necessary
  • monitor whether students are effectively performing their assigned jobs?
  • The larger the team, the less each student can interact with the other students and the more it takes for each student to contribute to the work of the team.

Problem Solving Projects

Problem solving is the name given to one of the major categories in the taxonomy. Examples of seven kinds of classroom activities that fall within this group:

  • Interactive process writing
  • Information searches
  • Parallel problem solving
  • Sequential creations
  • Simulations
  • Social action projects
  • Virtual gatherings

"Educational Telecomputing Activities; Problem Solving Projects,"May 1995, The Computing Teacher, Learning and Leading with Technology magazine.

Information Collection

Information collection is the name given to one of the major categories in the taxonomy. Examples of five kinds of classroom activities that fall within this group:

  • Database creation
  • Online Publishing
  • Information exchanges
  • Pooled data analysis
  • Virtual Field Trips

"Educational Telecomputing Projects: Information Collections," April 1995, The Computing Teacher, Learning and Leading with Technology magazine.

Strategies for Teaching at a Distance

Realistically assess the amount of content that can be effectively delivered in the course. Because of the logistics involved, presenting content at a distance is usually more time consuming than presenting the same content in a traditional classroom.

Be aware that student participants will have different learning styles. Some will learn easily in group settings, while others will excel when working independently.

Diversify and pace course activities. Intersperse content presentations with discussions and student-centered exercises.

Humanize the course by focusing on the students, not the delivery system.

Use locally relevant case studies and examples as often as possible to assist students in understanding and applying course content. Typically, the earlier in the course this is done, the better.

Be concise. Use short, cohesive statements and ask direct questions, realizing that technical linkages might increase the time it takes for students to respond.

Develop strategies for student reinforcement, review, repetition, and remediation. Towards this end, one-on-one phone discussions, email and/or messaging communication can be especially effective.

Make detailed comments on written assignments, referring to additional sources for supplementary information. Return assignments without delay, using fax or electronic mail, if practical.

Collaborative Learning best practices


  • Write clear objectives.
  • Design questions that elicit on-topic responses that will guide the Forum Discussion to desired learning outcomes. Develop Forum topic questions that are clear, concise, and directly related to the material at hand (Beaudin, 1999).
  • Recognize and appreciate different learning styles.
  • Make material relevant to student experiences.


  • Encourage participation. In addition to tying a grade to participation, there are various methods to help students participate in the process (ice breakers, friendly reminders, well designed questions, small group pairing, feedback, follow-up questions and so on).
  • Provide gentle and FREQUENT guidance and encouragement. This learning tool requires nurturing because positive reinforcement can motivate the students to go deeper and further with the material than they might have in a face-to-face classroom (Palloff & Pratt, 1999). All students benefit from constructive feedback. If there is a chance a student may take feedback the wrong way contact the student individually or keep the statement general to all students.
  • Create an icebreaker activity using the Discussion Board tool. Simply jumping into the course material without this creates an atmosphere that is dry and sterile, devoid of any sense that there are people engaged here.(IBID, 1999). This might be as simple as requesting students to share with the class a bit about themselves and their interests.
  • Make activities relevant and interesting. Constructivist learning occurs when students can create meaning through the connection of personal experiences and new knowledge gained.
  • Create an open, honest and objective atmosphere.
  • Be aware of group dynamics and strategies to overcome conflict situations. Tuckman and Jacobs's classic stages of Forming, Storming,and Norming are often observable in the online environment and can lead to great educational opportunities. Educate your own students on group norms and roles and empower them to learn from the dynamics of their group experience.
  • Allow students to each lead a discussion.
  • Provide frequent feedback. Do not wait until the end of the semester to let students know how they are doing with their participation in the discussions.Send private emails to students, respond to some individual threads and post general threads letting them know how they are doing as a whole.
  • Find unifying threads and summarize in each Forum.
  • Do not respond too quickly or too slowly to student comments and questions. Your contribution as facilitator should serve to expand ideas and compliment student postings not dominate the discussion. Many times students will answer each others questions. At the same time, if you fail to contribute to the discussions on a regular basis or leave a student's comments or questions hanging, you might be giving the impression that the instructor does not care, or is not doing their job as facilitator.
  • Overly long threads will kill the momentum of a discussion.
  • Model desired behavior because your contributions are an important way to illustrate your expectations for quality of thread and the quantity of postings.


  • Provide structure. The discussion may veer off topic from time to time and you will need to guide it back on topic. A structured environment can help students stay on topic (although, some off topic veering is healthy to the discourse).
  • Provide clear directions and expectations of how students are expected to contribute to the Discussion Forum and how it will be evaluated. Provide clear objectives. Explain your expectations for what types of responses you are looking for and how often students should post. Explain in detail what it means to contribute in a meaningful way, i.e., if you expect students to respond to peer posts, how often you expect contributions, what is an unacceptable response etc..
  • Create multiple Forums. Don't squeeze every topic or activity into one Forum. Organize discussion Forums by topic, activity, group project, or chronologically, i.e., Week One, Week Two. Create the Forums in advance and time them to be available when ready.
  • Create a beginning and end point for discussion topics. Organization and flow are essential, especially in a condensed term. Contain a topic to a limited duration in time. For example, Week One Forum would begin on Monday and end on Sunday night. One to two week timeframes seem to work in a condensed term (8 to 12 week terms).
  • Within each Forum, title the different threads by topic and structure the threads to allow easy topic reference (don't have all topics in one thread). Create new threads when needed. Make sure students post within that topic. If title threads are mislabeled, edit accordingly.
  • Grade on the quality of the work in addition to the quantity of postings.


  • Be sensitive to student technical problems. Provide information on who to contact for technical support.
  • Determine student comfort with courseware.
  • Clearly state backup plans when students run into technical problems and cannot connect with course or classmates.$128