Set a Group Work Culture Early
Begin the semester with a small group project. You will be able to observe the groups, and discover where leadership is strong, and where real needs for support exist. It helps reduce the anxiety students may experience about meeting others and fitting in. It also sets the tone that you expect collaboration and group work with all other students from the outset.
Begin with Instructor Created Groups
This will ensure no person is left out in the group making process, and allow students to meet and interact with each other.
If you create your groups using eConestoga or another randomization process, consider inviting students to let you know if there are reasons they need to change groups. Previous bad experiences may exist, especially among upper year students. You do not want to risk putting a student into a potentially unsafe situation or poisoned learning environment.
Smaller Groups Work Better
Limit the number of students in a group to 2-3. The larger the group the more challenging and time-consuming it is to manage for the participants. Larger groups can also be less rich learning opportunities, as they do not afford the chance for all members to be hear in the discussion. They also do not mimic real life work expectations - presentations and written products are seldom done in large groups in most workplaces.
Create Groups Thoughtfully
Create mixed-ability groupings, based on the strengths and needs of your learners. Mixed groupings is one of the most effective learning environments for students. Consider placing a mixture of extrovert and introverts,strong communicators and quiet studiers, high energy and low energy, participators and non-participators in each group. Avoid assigning group members by previous academic history (such as grades etc.). Pair a shy person with a trusted friend in their group, to encourage their sense of belonging and willingness to participate.
Consider Allowing Student Choice
Students may prefer to do the same volume of work alone, and may learn more and demonstrate the outcomes more effectively this way. There is no research to prove that doing group projects builds future work skills, though group projects can enhance learning opportunities.
Invite students to see you confidentially if there are challenges. Where possible, encourage students to go to each other with concerns. Be willing to mediate conflict, if necessary. Many employees have extensive training in such areas but still need advice on working with a particular team member. You mandated the group work and can help manage it via pre-set processes and consultations as needed.
If a complaint arises, ask group members to email you separately with their impressions of the group processes and products to date and any concerns. Maintain their confidentiality. Students may have to work together for years to come depending on their program.
If you need to disband a group, you will likely need to revise the due date so that the individual students have a reasonable amount of time to complete the work.