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Writing Instruction Support: Navigating Group Projects

Navigating Group Projects or How to Support a Collaborative Process

Based on Writing Instruction Opportunities WOW session on April 27 2009

Presenters: Tara Perry (Communication), Sylvia Tag, (Library), Robert Kjesrud, Jaima Lindell and Jake Herman (Writing Center)

Challenges of Doing Group Projects:

  • Varying levels of interest, investment, and engagement with topics
  • Varying levels of skill in working as part of a team
  • Scheduling difficulties
  • Lack of clarity on purpose of group work generally and of assigned project in particular
  • Lack of clarity on roles within a group
  • Lack of clarity on how to coordinate/integrate project pieces into a coherent final product
  • Unequal division of labor
  • Inadequate support or structure for resolving conflicts/communication breakdowns
  • Poor technological support for collaborative writing
  • Faulty assessment/grading procedures

A Dozen Promising Practices for Successfully Navigating Group Projects:

  1. Provide process for scheduling early including building in class time for doing group project.
  2. Allow choices for project topics to ensure individual buy in.
  3. Articulate a clear purpose for group project and talk about anticipated results
  4. Inventory group members’ teamwork strengths/goals; use to compose teams/build a sense of team.
  5. Develop a shared contract or team plan.
  6. Stage the project into manageable pieces and employ frequent progress reports/check ins.
  7. Give *space* for development of teams including providing for some ungraded pieces.
  8. Incorporate team-building activities into regular classroom activities.
  9. Provide a structure and a process for negotiating differences and equalizing the workload, including providing for consequences - for example, see Perry’s “firing policy.”
  10. If group gets stuck in resolving differences, consult with Writing Center Assistants.  Best to schedule a group conference.
  11. Explore and use groupware technology such as Google Docs or wikis.
  12. Develop an evaluation scheme that allows for assessment of individual work that does not rely totally on collective performance; include a place for self-assessment.