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Features of Successful Group Work in Online and Physical Courses



This study examined multiple factors that influence the effectiveness and success of group work and measured those effects in multiple categories. The author outlines the six factors considered (briefly explained below) and explains how each affects group work in terms of outcome, student satisfaction, and collaboration.

  1. Physical vs Virtual Group Work - This depends on if the class is taught face to face or online. Students interact and communicate differently depending on what medium of communication is used, which can affect the success of a project.
  2. Anonymous vs. Non-Anonymous Groups - When virtual group work is being used, the option of anonymity becomes a possibility. This may further influence how students communicate and interact. 
  3. Divergent vs Convergent Discussions - A divergent task is one where more than one correct answer is possible. A convergent task is one where one answer is correct and the students must find that answer. 
  4. Large vs Small Groups - For this study, three group sizes were used: Small groups of 2, medium groups of 3-5, and large groups of more than 6. In general, in larger groups there is more cumulative knowledge to draw on, but each participant does less of the overall work.
  5. Homogeneity vs Heterogeneity of Groups - This refers to the sorting of students based on similar academic ability vs. the randomization of groups.
  6. Peer Assessment vs Instructor Assessment - Peer assesment is when an instructor allows students to evaluate the contributions of each member of the group. The study examines peer only assessment, instructor only assessment, and the mixed assessment of both peers and the instructor.

Results: The results of each individual factor suggested that small groups, instructor assesment, homogeneous groups, convergent tasks, and physical groups leading to higher outcomes and satisfaction, but not always leading to more collaboration. The more interesting results come when examining the interactions between the different factors. 

Virtual courses led to better outcomes and more students’ satisfaction when the assignment was divergent and the groups were heterogeneous, with the added bonus of heterogeneous groups having a higher level of collaboration.

Mode of group work (virtual vs physical) and group size also showed a significant interaction. In virtual environment, larger groups performed better, were more satisfied, and collaborated more in comparison with small groups.

Another significant interaction was found between the type of task (convergent vs divergent) and homogeneity of groups. On convergent tasks, homogeneous groups performed better and were more satisfied than heterogeneous groups. However, on divergent tasks, the heterogamous groups performed higher and were more satisfied than homogenous groups. No significant interaction was observed between these two variables in terms of students’ level of collaboration.

Finally, there was a significant interaction between the task type and group size. As shown in the last rows of Table 2, on convergent tasks, small groups performed higher and collaborated more than large groups. However, on divergent tasks, large groups performed better, were more satisfied, and collaborated more than did small groups. 

Key Points

  • This study evaluated six factors that influenced group work by three different criteria
  • The most divisive factors were the type of group (physical or virtual) and the type of task (convergent or divergent), with both changing the effectiveness of the other factors.

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