7 Facilitating group work

While some courses require more group work than others, the shortness of time that students can effectively pay attention to lecture-only delivery through video conferencing should prompt all educators to consider enlivening and enriching the learning through group work. KPU conferencing tools have some excellent features that can be utilized for group work activities, such as breakout rooms in BigBlueButton (BBB) and Zoom.

The key to effective facilitation of online group work is to be clear with the expectations and instructions and inform students how the activity or assignment connects to the course learning outcomes. Providing context and guidelines increases collective understanding. However, it is important to remember that it can be challenging for many people to start talking and sharing their thoughts with others. For this reason, it is critical to be clear that the relationship is functional rather than adding the unspoken pressure of developing personal relationships. For example, assigning students to specific roles, like note-taker, or designating discussion starters as each class begins, highlights student responsibility in the learning process and encourages engagement while reducing personal pressure.

Instructors should decide how to group the students carefully, will they be randomly assigned by the software using breakout rooms? Or will students choose their groups? Each of these choices can have positive and negative aspects in terms of impact. For example, having students choose their own groups can lead to feelings of exclusion if friends choose friends, but perhaps the task could use the help of familiarity and thus that possibility of exclusion must be managed. Knowing and articulating why you have chosen the method you have will help students feel confident in the process and encourage participation.

If using breakout spaces, an instructor can move between rooms as an instigator, moderator, or listen to the group dialogue. Instructors should be clear with the method they plan on using to join groups. Alternately, instructors should provide direction on how students can contact the instructor during the breakout sessions.

If designed thoughtfully, facilitating group work can expose students to multiple perspectives, improve understanding of course concepts, and help students navigate personalities and dynamics expected in real-world contexts.

The creation of groups should support meeting the learning outcomes and once established, the choice of methods and tools will be clarified.


Infographic providing best practices for facilitating group work using conferencing tools
Infographic: Groupwork best practices


Davidson, C., & Katopodis, C. (2020, Oct 28). 8 Ways to Improve Group Work Online. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/10/28/advice-how-successfully-guide-students-group-work-online-opinionĀ 


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Conferencing Tools for Teaching & Learning: Best practices Copyright © 2020 by KPU Teaching & Learning Commons: Lisa Gedak & Chris Ryan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book