University of Vermont

Center for Teaching and Learning

Group Tool

While Blackboard offers a variety of collaborative Web 2.0 tools in its "Groups" environment, we know that group project success depends on more than just good technology. Students fare best when they're taught how to successfully work together in groups. On this page, you'll find resources for how to create group areas in Blackboard as well as practical tips for helping student be successful with group work.

Overview of the Technology:

Blackboard allows you to create groups, which are essentially areas in the course that provide collaborative tools to discrete groups of students. Instructors can create single groups or group sets and select which tools to make available in them, such as a discussion board, blog, wiki, and journal, a file exchange area and email functionality. Instructors and TAs can choose to place students in particular groups (manual enrollment), have them enrolled randomly by Blackboard, or allow them to self-enroll. Instructors and TAs also have access to all groups for oversight or assessment.

Resources — the Nuts and Bolts of Creating Groups in Bb:

Considerations for Collaborative Assignments:

While collaborative work has great potential to engage students more actively in the learning process, we know that sometimes group work assignments end in frustration for students. Providing them with strategies, structure and skills for working together will mitigate the problems they encounter. And while assessment of group work can be challenging if student contributions are grossly unequal, Blackboard tools can help to make fair assessment easier.

First, consider whether there is a clear value added by making the work group-based. Do the goals or objectives for your course include learning teamwork skills?

Below are some ideas for teaching students how to do team-based work.
It can be helpful to devote class time to the following preparation activities:

  1. Using a prototype, model for them how to plan backwards from the final outcome and deadline, to plot out the milestone goals for the project. Then, show them how to break down these milestone goals into identifiable tasks to create a project schedule. Provide them with a handout of this project schedule prototype for reference.
  2. Define the potential roles and the skills and responsibilities associated with them. Some examples are leader (or coordinator), editor, secretary, researcher, interviewer, writer(s), designer or webmaster, and public presenter(s). Students may have multiple roles or rotate some of them for each task.
  3. Set clear expectations for how or where you want their final work to be produced—e.g. Oral presentation, Word document, Powerpoint, Website, or Blackboard Wiki—and make sure they define amongst themselves where, in their Blackboard group space, they will share their work and collaborate with each other.
  4. For accountability, set up a "progress journal" in each group space and require students to make a brief weekly entry documenting their project-related work for that week, including goals, efforts, and accomplishments, as well as time on task. Tell them you will be reviewing them and factoring them into the grading.
  5. Considering holding a class brainstorm session about why group work skills matter and what makes for good collaboration. Together, create a list that should ultimately stress respect, reliability and timeliness.

Resources on Best Practices:

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