Best Practices | Online Collaboration Assignments


Emphasizing Collaborative Skills

One student concern about online courses is the group work. Some students even go out of their way to ask instructors for the opportunity to do a group assignment alone, promising to do all the work that a group would do as an individual. With a well-designed collaborative group assignment, the probability of successfully completing the assignment as an individual would be unrealistic for a student to take on alone.


When you decide to add group assignments to your course, consider the reasons why you are doing so. Is it to make grading easier, or is it to challenge your students to learn important collaboration skills that they will need at some point in their careers? If it is the latter, you will need to make this very clear in your online course. Include information at the beginning of your course about the collaborative project, its purpose, and its significance.


Once you help your students understand why you are using group work in your course, you must ensure that the group work is truly collaborative. For example, having students write a paper together does not necessarily require collaboration. Many group assignments can easily be divided to where the students never have to confer, compromise, or solve problems together to create a final product. The following example showcases a group project in which students must collaborate.


Collaboration Project Example

To begin, create an assignment in which the students must choose predefined roles in their group. Include criteria for collaboration or the roles in your instructions and grading rubrics. While it may be easy to ask if you can complete a group paper alone, it’s more difficult to split up an assignment in which each role carries the weight of work that can be easily completed by one person, but not so easily that one person can take on several roles.


Consider a group research project with 3-5 students per group. Students can decide on a problem to research and maybe complete a Six Thinking Hats activity on their issue to demonstrate their understanding of the problem. One or two students in the group could find research articles (maybe 10 or more articles to encourage them to divide the work) related to the problem and construct a short literature review. One student may choose to do this, but a discussion of the literature review and the articles can be a requirement to ensure the entire group understands the background literature.


From there, you can require students to create a survey to gain information. They then must go out and collect survey data about a particular topic from multiple people and places in their community - including the library, college campus, or church community. Require a student in the group to write a Methods section in the paper explaining where they collected all of the data based on where the individual group members collected their data. All students in the group could be required to submit 20 or more completed surveys—depending on the instructor’s preference—and then scan and upload those documents with personal images of the location in which they obtained their survey data.


Another student can take on the role of calculating the results of the data, and constructing a written report of the results. Require a final discussion about the data to assist students with writing Conclusion and Implications sections of their paper. Finally, a student or students from the group could create a presentation of their report in a short 2-5 minute video or narrated PowerPoint.


Assigning reflective discussions or evaluative forms throughout the project would help students identify and analyze the collaborative skills they learn by working together as a group.


This kind of group assignment would not only force students to work together and collaborate, but they would also gain valuable life skills to apply later in their careers.


A group project of this magnitude calls for a dedicated instructor with solid facilitation skills, thorough instructions, and detailed rubrics to evaluate student progress and performance.


In Practice

Canvas optimizes student collaboration by enabling groups established in People to communicate through their own group-designed sites within Canvas - complete with pages like Announcements, Discussions, Files, and Conferences (Dice, 2014). Canvas also enhances collaborative efforts by offering Google Doc integration in Collaborations.


To promote collaboration in Canvas, try these strategies:

  • Assign groups in People to enable students to manage their project materials and correspondence through their own group-designated Canvas sites.
  • Have groups present an artifact - image, concept map, or slide - in Conferences to explain and apply a concept or skill.
  • Ask students to post 1-2 minute videos showcasing their major projects in Discussions, and have students provide feedback to their classmates.
  • Create a wiki by integrating a Google Doc in Collaborations for students to compile resources relevant to course topics.

(Excerpt taken from Best Practices Online: Engaging Students in Canvas article.)


Additional Resources

For more ideas on implementing collaboration assignments, check out 6 Online Collaboration Tools and Strategies for Boosting Learning.


Dice, M, Jr. (2014, November 13). Groups in Canvas. The Canvas Post. Retrieved from