Tips for Effective Group Collaboration in Blackboard

Last Updated: Aug 14, 2014 10:54PM PDT
The built-in groups tools available in Blackboard make it possible for students to easily engage in online discussion, share files, chat, and email. However, simply placing students in groups in Blackboard and enabling these available tools is no guarantee that students will engage in meaningful group collaborations. What are the most efficient and effective uses of the Blackboard group tools?

Below is a list of tips and recommended best practices for fostering effective group collaborations using Blackboard. 

Forming Groups

  1. Clarify the purpose for groups in your course
    Clearly define why you will be using online groups in your course. Perhaps include in the course syllabus the purpose and goals for the group activities. The more detailed you can be in your rationale and description of group activities up front, the better.
  2. Pick the size of your groups
    It's important to consider how large or small your groups should be. Groups that are either too large or too small may encounter issues. While there's no one suggested group size for all contexts, make sure that groups sizes allow for everyone to actively contribute and yet not require only one or two members to carry the load if a member drops the course and/or there is a "free loader" in the group.
  3. Decide how you will assign students to groups
    Will you randomly assign students to groups or will students have input in choosing their groups? If students are in a cohort or have some affinity to one another prior to your class, you may want to provide students the opportunity to share their preferences for who they work with in their groups. Creating a "Forming Groups" discussion forum at the beginning of the course, you can provide a space where students can post their group assignment preferences. Set a deadline for when preferences must be posted. The following is an example of the instructions that could be included in the description of this forum:

    We'll be separating into 4-5 teams groups for this class for the PROJECT NAME that you'll begin working on during Module x. If you have any specific preferences as to what group members you'd like to work with, please post your preferences here by Fri, Month Day and the instructor will accommodate as many preferences as possible. Each group will consist of 3-4 members. Use this forum to begin networking with your classmates and work to form the group you'll be working with.
  4. Design groups to take advantage of student strengths/experiences
    Ask students to identify any particular experience or skill they have that may be an asset to a group. For example, in a foreign language course, it would help for each group to have a student who has visited a country that speaks that language. By focusing on assets, you can make students feel like they are valuable to their group. This both increases the group's effectiveness and increases participation of individual members.

Configuring Groups

  1. Use generic group names initially when configuring in Blackboard
    While you may wish to allow groups to come up with their own unique name for their group, initially, create your groups with generic names such as "Group A, Group B, etc." Then later, once groups select names, the group names in Blackboard can easily be updated. If updating, keep the initial generic group name for clarity, such as: "Team Rad (formerly Group A)"
  2. Include the first name and first initial of last name in group description
    While entering names in the group description does not add the members to the group, it does make it helpful to see at a quick glance who is a member of each group.
  3. Enable all group features
    If you are unsure of whether team members will need all available group collaboration features or not, enable them all. You can always choose to disable features if needed later.
  4. Enroll yourself as a member in each group
    Even though you as the instructor have access to all groups, it often is helpful to also enroll yourself as a member in each of the groups. If you use group membership rules for controlling access to materials, by being a member to each group, you can easily access all content restricted to groups without clicking "Edit View"
  5. Add "Groups" link in course navigation menu for easy student access
    Students by default access their group spaces in Blackboard by clicking "Communication" in the course navigation men, then clicking "Group Pages." To make it easier for students to quickly access their groups, add a tool link in the course navigation menu directly to the groups tool.
  6. Create discussion forums for each milestone of group discussion
    Especially if students will be expected to participate in regular asynchronous group discussions in Blackboard, create separate forums for each stage of discussion. Once forums are created in one group, copy them to the other groups to replicate the forum structure in all groups.
  7. Create Wimba Classrooms for each group & restrict access to corresponding group members using Adaptive Release
    To provide group members with an online space for synchronous collaborations including the use of audio and video, create a Wimba Classroom for each group. Create a folder for Group Collaborations and then post links to each of the group Wimba rooms. Then, use Adaptive Release membership rules to hide links to the rooms so that students only see the link for the room of their group. Finally, hide the Wimba Classroom main link from students in "Communication" so that they can't find their way into other groups' rooms.
  8. Encourage students to use other collaborative tools if they wish, but require that a summary of progress each week be posted in the group discussion board
    If students wish to use some other collaborative tool, provide them the freedom to do so. But, ask that they post a transcript or summary of their collaborations each week to the group discussion board in Blackboard.

Establishing Group Expectations

  1. Be clear in your expectations for participation
    Clearly communicate to students your expectations for their participation in their groups.
  2. Break group project into milestones due at different stages of the course
    If groups are working together on a project, break the process of the project down into sequential stages to be completed.
  3. Ask members to develop a group "charter" and agree to their own expectations
    As the first milestone of the project, consider requiring students to formulate a group charter whereby they specify the "rules" for the group and subsequently agree to them.
  4. Specify suggested roles that members can assume
    Provide a list of suggested roles that members can assume. The purpose for the groups will determine to a large extent the types of roles that would be most helpful to the overall success of the group.

Monitoring Group Progress

  1. Have student peer-assess each other's participation a several stages of the course
    Include opportunities to peer-assess one another's contributions. This could be facilitated via through a quiz in Blackboard that is not included in Grade Center score calculations. Such a quiz would include short answer questions, whereby students are asked to enter the name of each team member and rate their participation for the milestone. Also included should be an place for students to enter comments regarding each member. Obviously, only the instructor can see this information.
  2. At least weekly, peek in group discussion board to review discussion contributions there
    Regular check-in on group discussions to get a pulse on the level and frequency of postings
  3. Email group members at several key stages of the course to check-in and ensure that time progress is being made
    Touch-base with groups at each milestone to share overall feedback on group progress as well as to maintain instructor presence in the course.

Assessing Group Work

  1. Provide clear rubrics for how groups will be assessed
    In addition to providing clear expectations for participation, as include criteria for how groups will be assessed.
  2. Assess in stages rather than just a final deliverable
    Break assessment of project into milestones to provide more timely feedback and help guide overall progress.
  3. Be prepared for free-riders
    If and when you learn of members who didn't actively contribute, be prepared to respond fairly in your assessments.
  4. Assess both the group and individual contributions
    Whenever possible, provide feedback regarding both individual and group contributions.