Designing Group Work

Group work can be very challenging for faculty and students, but with proper planning it can increase quality student interaction and participation in your course. Meaningful group work assessments ask students to draw on their full range of skills, abilities, educational backgrounds and experiences. In addition, group work encourages students to practice the exchange of ideas through innovative thinking, decision-making, and identifying and solving problems as a team.

Group work can have a negative reputation, especially in online courses, due to times there was a lack of precise, concise, or thorough instructions; unclear grading criteria; confusing or missing participation guidelines; and a multitude of logistical problems (time zones, tech capabilities, material access, etc.). With intentional design and clear planning, group work can account for these challenges and offer students a high-quality and engaging learning experience. 

Select an Assessment

When selecting an assessment for group work, ask yourself, “What does this activity ask learners to do?” The answer to this question will help you determine whether or not the assessment is a good choice for group work. For example, if your goal is for students to foster their critical-thinking skills, select an activity that requires the cognitive application of concepts to unfamiliar situations, analysis, problem-solving, synthesis, evaluation, or questioning the premise of the problem itself. These assessment types are a better fit for group work than an activity that requires only recall or the comprehension of facts.

The best assessments for engaging groups are open-ended and have no single correct answer or are controversial and require a variety of perspectives and viewpoints. To promote higher-level thinking, the assessment should challenge students to engage in analyzing, evaluating, synthesizing, and/or questioning a problem’s premise or assumptions. 


  • Assessments easily accomplished individually
  • Assessments easily subdivided to individuals without collaboration
  • Assessments with a singular product or no scaffolding.
  • Lengthy written assessments


  • Debates or research on controversial issues
  • Analysis of current events
  • Cultural comparisons
  • Case studies that seek out solutions
  • Authentic, real-world experiences

Design Considerations

In order to avoid common group work mistakes, take these design considerations into account after selecting an assessment you want to use as a group work experience.


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