Collaboration is important in the learning process. It raises the level of motivation among students and encourages critical thinking, as it requires students to find common ways to deal with a specific task or a problem, to approach the process of solving a problem through individual and collaborative work, to present and critically discuss the results and to synthesize and generalize the results.
Almost always when there is a group of people they exchange opinions, create new ideas and gain new skills. Group work supports learning e.g. solving problems - better memorising and retaining knowledge, more productivity - creating complex concepts and reasoning, transferring knowledge - creating definitions together, listening and analysis of arguments - expressing opinions, explaining one’s point of view - negotiating meanings. But it also shapes emotions through improving interpersonal relations, stronger support for individuals, ascribing success or failure to the tasks, more curiosity, increased motivation, more engagement in learning. “Operational” skills are also developed through group work (role division in a group, setting deadlines, meeting deadlines, ensuring that the tasks are completed, etc.). Typical group exercises include, for example, creating a financial plan, preparing a recommendation or report, as well as setting the rules for collaboration etc.
Because group work skills are increasingly important in professional careers, methods that are based on cooperation (offline and online) will allow for developing key “group” skills that are also connected to extended learning. As the Internet is also a social network, it might be worth using the opportunities it provides for developing additional competences.
To ensure the success of group-work-based exercises it is important to equip the members of the group with knowledge about group processes and mechanisms, and to thoroughly design the activities, materials and technologies in the e-learning environment.
When designing group exercises it is important to take into account group dynamics:
Stage 1. Group formation: members of the group are positively disposed towards the new form of work, although there may still be some uneasy feelings about the “newness”. Many new questions appear about the manner of work, tasks, expectations, and evaluation, etc. The group dedicates most of its energy to working out the rules of cooperation, and a contract will later appear (more about that below). There is no focus on the content of the task or exercise.
Stage 2. Difficulties and pressure: at this stage the group starts working towards achieving the objectives and may also want to verify them (e.g. whether they are too or insufficiently ambitious). There is a risk of frustration and conflict, as well as a need to reformulate and critically evaluate the first assumptions. This may lead to establishing and/or verifying the rules and norms.
Stage 3. Stabilisation: group work is beginning to take shape, group members are engaged in work, they discuss and exchange opinions, and they feel that they are getting closer to achieving the objectives. At this stage the group has mastered the mechanism of cooperation and thanks to that productivity is much higher.
Stage 4. Continuous progress: satisfaction is the dominant feeling. Group members are aware of the strong and weak points of their work but at the same time they feel that achieved results are more than the sum of individual efforts. The roles in a group are more fluent and differences between participants are perceived as a factor stimulating productivity.
Stage 5. Finish and presentation of the outcomes: during this stage the group members make the final review of their achievements. It may be accompanied by the feeling of satisfaction or failure, so the level of engagement in the final stages of work can be various. At this stage each group member should be aware of what they have learned.
For the moderator, designing exercises and, above all, planning reasonable responses at each stage of the group work, are essential actions for achieving the desired didactic objective. One of the methods of organising group work is to create a group contract (rules of operation in a group decided by its members). During the design of an e-tivity we stressed the element of interaction between the participants, which is meant to generate a sense of participation in a group. The moderator’s task is always to create a friendly work environment; sometimes this means planning deadlines or dividing roles if the group can’t cope with it. Group e-tivities can involve:
- case studies, analysis of the situation, product design,
- identification of roles in a group,
- conducting joint research, evaluation,
- making a joint decision, working out a solution,
- creating a list of tasks, activities, procedures,
- presenting the outcomes together,