Discussion

Facilitating Group Projects Remotely

I have LOVED Code.org's detailed adaptations for distance learners (synch and asynch). They have made my job as an online CS teacher much easier this year than it had been for the last 3. But there has been one feature of their curriculum that I completely disagree with: their approach to extended group projects for remote classrooms both CS Discoveries and CS Principles.

For both curricula there are a few extended group projects that could take several weeks (I'm thinking of the CSD's Unit 4: Design Prototype Project and AP CSP's Unit 10 Innovation Simulation at the moment). The standard accommodation for asynchronous distance learners are to create modified projects with modified guides and rubrics and to avoid the required collaboration and final presentation.

I think we should encourage the group projects, collaboration and presentations ESPECIALLY in asynchronous online classrooms. 

Being able to communicate, collaborate and produce great work across distances and time zones is one of those soft skills that I intend to strengthen in my students. I know plenty of adults who do it as part of their jobs and have even pre-pandemic. Especially in computer science, professionals rarely work on "independent projects." Nor do professionals collaborate face to face with peers at the same time each day.

I recognize that attempting group projects remotely is extremely challenging. And I have incredibly motivated students (and supportive parents). But I think I have some good suggestions for succeeding at group projects online without adapting them all to independent work. Here's what has worked for me:

1. The week before a group project begins, I assign students into their groups and give them the task of establishing contact and making a plan with their team.  (This Kickoff assignment is really background work during a week where they're wrapping up another unit, taking a test, etc... This doesn't take much time and effort, but students need that week to wait for email responses. Without it, many teams fall behind during the first real work week).  Here's my modified Innovation Simulation Team Agreement adapted from Code.org's App Design Kickoff for CSD. I emphasize that most of this project's challenge will be in coordinating with their teams and they will spend a LOT of time waiting for email replies. We try to mitigate that waiting with weekly deliverables for individuals and teams. We plan ahead for times they can meet or ways they can collaborate successfully without meeting. AND if they cannot get in contact and make a plan with all members of their team during this kickoff week, they should contact me so I can help.

2. We have synchronous Zoom class meetings once a week for those who can make it (recorded for those who can't). During these meetings, I check-in with the groups. I ask them what's working well and to share strategies that has helped their group to succeed. The sharing of these ideas helps other teams (and gives me ideas for the future). Students have used so many methods to connect including: Google Hangouts, Skype, Zoom, Discord, weekly deadlines for group documents, "reply all" emails, time zone converters, and Doodle polls. I also like the reporting out on successes because I think it's so easy as students and teachers to focus on our deficits--we're always looking ahead for our next challenge when looking back and reflecting on our accomplishments can give us the confidence and strategies necessary to progress.

3. I allow for flexibility in project outcomes to meet the needs of my groups. Some groups end up presenting their projects during our weekly Zoom meetings. Others record their individual contributes and stitch them together in a video to share asynchronously. Others collaboratively create group Google slides presentation and then individually record themselves presenting the whole presentation. My approach is to give ideas on how they can collaborate and report out rather than dictating how they must. As long as they meet my rubric requirements, they can be creative on how.

4. I develop rubrics that require both individual and group accountability. We've all been in groups where we end up doing all the work and still have to share our grades with the slackers and procrastinators.... I intentionally create rubrics where team points can get students a B at best and then they need their individual contributes to reach that A grade that they've all come to expect. And I explain this intention to students right in the beginning of the assignments.

5. I have a final teamwork survey for all students to complete and submit to me. I ask them who worked well collaboratively, who the group leaders were, and who they'd like to work with again. I also ask them if the team faced any struggles and how they overcame them. This helps me to evaluate students, but, more importantly, I've found it gives the students some closure to the project. Those who have been frustrated and need to vent have a way to tell me without "tattling." It helps me see how I can support those who couldn't connect with their groups too. I assign this survey for a few "completion" points--everyone who takes the survey gets the points regardless of their answers.

 

This is a TON of information, and yet, I think I've barely scratched the surface on how I help my students to succeed on group projects asynchronously online. If you have other strategies or helpful resources, I'd love to hear from you too! Comment below!

Comments

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Profile picture for user shhsTeacher
Submitted by Myra Deister on Sat, 04/10/2021 - 18:58

Thank you so much for your suggestions.  I rotate groups for each project and the students complete a couple of team building/building relationship exercises before the project begins.  I have also found that if I break a project up into stages and the students submit at that point it has cut down on procrastination.  I award completion points unless the students are off base then I add audio feedback comments and they have an opportunity to resubmit.

I will definitely try out some of your recommendations!

In reply to by Myra Deister

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Profile picture for user Rclang1
Submitted by Rebekah Lang on Sun, 04/11/2021 - 11:12

Agreed--chunking assignments and giving completion grades helps keep students on track--online and remotely!

What do you use for audio feedback? Tell me more! It seems like a great way for you to say a lot without too much typing. I generally leave bulleted comments when they're off track or needing a nudge towards other ideas. I've used the Screencastify extension too for quick visual clips for Code.org work especially.