About the feature
In early 2019 we released a feature for closed courses (such as Degrees, Microcredentials and Programs) to incorporate group work into their courses. The core features are:
- Group allocation
- Setting tasks / group workspace and discussion
- Personal reflection
- Group showcase / presentation back to all other learners
Group work can be difficult, some learners participate more than others and a previous experience can stifle the likelihood of learner engagement. We wanted to build the four stages to enable learners working together in ways that are aimed at increasing the chances for interaction,* to make the process visible and as valuable as the output itself. Building on social learning principles; we built a workspace for learners to come together over a set task and for each group member’s contribution to add value to the overall output of the group.
The course team provides support for each group’s work by assigning Mentors who can facilitate; monitoring and intervening as needed into the groups during the timeframe set for each task.
Pedagogy and best practice
Group work should be designed to foster more active involvement and responsibility, shifting from any potential passive experience.** The contributions / workspace is intentionally designed to capture the “utterances, texts and diagrams that are produced during collaboration” which is used by learners to display their understanding”.*** That is the basis for successful collaboration”. We also wanted to be sure learning was visible to other groups (via the showcase) and the course team who help prevent negative group experiences by closely monitoring group work, intervening as appropriate.****
The types of group tasks set will vary between cohorts and course topics, however there are ten recommendations (adapted from Brindley, Walti, Blaschke 2009)***** to consider when designing group tasks:
- Transparency of expectations - purpose and expectations
- Clear instructions - the task, timelines, and desired outcome are described in detail
- Appropriate group work - ensure value in working together vs independently
- Meaning-making/relevance - opportunity to apply principles and knowledge
- Motivate participation - individual success is dependent upon group success.
- Readiness of learners - ensure learners have sufficient experience before the task
- Timing - groups are formed early to show membership and learner’s planning.
- Respect for learner autonomy - learners can choose their approach
- Monitoring and feedback - task and discussion supported by mentors.
- Time for the task - accommodate varying schedules and time zones.
Considering these recommendations will help lead Learning Designers and Subject Matter Experts / Academics in the right direction when incorporating group tasks into your course:
Setup and guidance
Groups are set up via Learning Manager
There are three new course steps that can be used:
Group task - group workspace to see the task and work together
Personal reflection - for learners to considered their experiences
Group showcase - automatically presents group work to the cohort
Note: Currently (Feb 2020) all three Group Steps must be added by a FutureLearn Partnership Manager - please contact yours for more information or to set up. This is while the new feature is still marked as in development.
Group task / workspace
This step is required in order to set the task for learners and to provide each group a shared workspace and discussion area to work on the task and liaise with each other, and the mentor via the social tools. Use the deadline to set a date/time when all groups’ contributions will be visible via the Showcase step. Ensure you try to follow the 10 recommendations above for setup of the group task!
Educators / Mentors can
- Set / define group tasks
- Add a deadline
- @mention all / any learners
- See other group members (and if they have marked as complete)
- Submit, edit and delete contributions to a shared workspace
- Comment, like, reply, @mention in private group discussion
- Mark as Complete
- Facilitators / Mentors can encourage and support via discussion
This step is optional.
Personal reflections are due some improvements - at the moment they provide a space for learners to comment on their participation in the group and how their contribution lined up with those of their group. The future plan is to make this an active discussion with the Mentor but for now, the learner only has a space for private notes to themselves. You may wish to not use this step until the feature is improved and this guidance will be revised (Feb 2020)
- Set a reflection topic for learners
(Future versions will support Course Team feedback)
- Reflect on the group task
- Comment on their personal experience of working in a group.
- Private to the individual learner
The showcase is the space where all learners will be able to explore / view every other group’s contributions. This is similar to the presentations that might happen in an on-campus class. Each showcase is linked to a Group Task during setup - so a single course run might have one or more group tasks and each task has an associated showcase. You may also want to introduce a gap between Task and Showcase; to allow learners time to work on the tasks and to add any additional learning to support them.
The showcase shows all contributions from the Task / workspace but it does not identify the learner nor does it show any of the discussions from the task / workspace.
- Reuse the Task to remind learners of the context / purpose.
- Automatically shows the ‘submission’ / ‘submitted’ date
- preview how their work will be shared.
- automatically see the output from all other groups.
- Provides a space for being open about how groups approached the task via social tools.
For detailed instructions about how to set up small collaborative groups and assign specific Learners to these groups, please see here.
Accessed via Course Creator any member of the course team can visit Facilitation > Small group tasks to see the tools available to help manage and support group tasks,
This dashboard is useful for mentors who are monitoring multiple groups as this is the best way to navigate to the different groups they are supporting.
Educators / Mentors can:
- Access a list of all groups (does not need Learning Manager permission to see this screen)
- Links to view each group workspace
- Due date for task
- Mentor(s) assigned to group
- Learners (and allocation to groups)
- # of contributions made per group
- # of comments made per group
- # of completions for each group
Your feedback improves the feature
This new feature is currently used in degrees and microcredentials by a number of partners. While it is new it was still built to be fully functional - nothing is 'broken'. As time passes we are collecting feedback from users so that we can better understand the strengths and limitations. Alongside other product development requirements we will revisit certain features (such as group allocation, personal reflection or how contributions are made by learners) and update them.
The more feedback we have from educators and learners, the more informed we can be. If you are planning to use these features we would welcome the chance to run an evaluation on the impact it had in your courses.
* Pierre Dillenbourg. What do you mean by collaborative learning?. P. Dillenbourg. Collaborative- learning: Cognitive and Computational Approaches., Oxford: Elsevier, pp.1-19, 1999.
** Odom, S., Glenn, B., Sanner, S. and Cannella, K.A., 2009. Group Peer Review as an Active Learning Strategy in a Research Course. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 21(1), pp.108-117.
*** Stahl, G., Koschmann, T.D. and Suthers, D.D., 2006. Computer-supported collaborative learning. na.Vancouver
**** Rovai, A.P., 2004. A constructivist approach to online college learning. The internet and higher Education, 7(2), pp.79-93. Vancouver
***** Brindley, J. E., Walti, C., & Blaschke, L. M. (2009, June). Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning,10(3).