Groupwork Goodies and Gripes
Blackboard Learn provides several tools that are group-friendly to offer an experience where students can communicate between their own members of a group.
This article will continue to develop as the University of Windsor campus community provides examples and issues they have encountered using the group tools. To add a best practice you've used with group work in your course, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the specifics of the situation, including course topic, discipline, the number of students, what worked, what didn't and what you might change for the next time. If you are encountering an issue with any of the group work tools, please submit a Service Request so the LMS Team can address the issue.
You can enrol students in groups in three ways using the Blackboard Learn Groups functionality. Students can't unenroll themselves from groups.
- Manual Enrol allows you to assign each student in your course to a group. Manual enrollment is available for both single groups and group sets.
- Random Enrol is available for group sets only. It automatically distributes students into groups based on your settings for maximum members per group or the total number of groups. Random distribution applies only to students who are currently enrolled in your course. You can enrol additional students manually.
- Self-Enrol allows students to add themselves to a group with a sign-up sheet. Self-enrollment is an option available for both single groups and group sets.
More on creating groups in the Creating Groups Blackboard Learn Help article. Also, don't forget to click the "More Help" link at the top of the page you are working on for detailed descriptions of the functions on the page. This short video (5:26) details how to set up a group or set of groups with the self-enrol option. This can be used for students to select groups they wish to belong to, or even for instructors to offer a sign-up sheet for various purposes
Auto Groups are a set of groups which appear in every Blackboard course that you teach at the University of Windsor. A distinct group will be created automatically for every SIS course section which has been associated with your Blackboard course. When students add or drop a course section in SIS, they will automatically be added to (or removed from) the respective group in Blackboard. Auto Groups allow instructors to use Blackboard's "group-enabled" features on a section-by-section basis (e.g., for section-based grading, assignments, discussion forums, etc.). More on using this feature in the Auto Groups Wiki article.
Several tools are available for instructors to select for their student groups to use in their course site including:
- Group Blog: Members of a group can add entries and comments to the group blog to share ideas. You can grade group blogs.
- Group Discussion Board: Members of a group can communicate as a group, as well as create and manage their own forums.
- Email: Use the group email tool for quick and efficient communication among group members.
- File Exchange: You and group members can use this tool to upload documents to the group area, and delete files, regardless of who added them. This tool is only available to groups.
- Group Journal: Members of a group can share their thoughts with each other and communicate with you. You can grade group journals.
- Group Tasks: Members of a group can define and separate the workload into tasks and distribute the list to the entire group. Each task has a status and a due date to help keep members on track. Group members can view the group assigned tasks in the group tasks tool or in the course tasks tool. You and other course members won't see tasks for groups they aren't enrolled in when viewing the course tasks tool.
- Group Wiki: Use group wikis to create a collaborative space for group members to view, contribute, and edit content. You can grade group wikis.
Students can benefit by their group having specific tools dedicated only to the group members by being able to email only their particular members to keep abreast of work expected. Also, having the File Exchange option enables groups to transfer materials back and forth between various group members without affecting the rest of the class. Group discussions are vital for developing an interactive opportunity for active learning. Blogs and Journals can help with reflective learning opportunities. Tasks can help manage the workload for the group and the Wiki can be a place for collaborative documents. Additional helpful tools for groups include the Smart View option that can be used in the Grade Centre to narrow a class list down to a specific group for grading. Group assignments can be created where one member of the group uploads the document from the group. Instructors can grade the group assignment with one screen which also allows for individual differences in grade if necessary. Instructors can also send reminders from the Grade Centre to students and members of groups who have missing coursework.
Instructors have found some issues when using the Groups tools that may not always have a fix.
- Discussion Copying - Rubric and Due Dates - One such issue is a known issue (Article No.: 000038799) with the copying function to try and streamline setting up discussion groups for a large class. It has been found that when trying to copy a group Discussion Forum that has a rubric and a due date associated with it, that those two properties are not maintained when copying. Unfortunately, there is no fix or patch for that problem and it will require instructors to create a due date and associate a rubric for each group Discussion being prepared.
- Merged Sections into One Site - If you have set up groups in your site and you have merged more than one section into that site, you may have to monitor group member allocation if you are planning in-class group work. More than one section in a site enables a larger pool of students to be allocated to a group, but they may not be meeting at the same day/time as other group members. There is no way to automate group member selection if you choose self-enrol or automatic member selection. The best choice here is to monitor and adjust manually, or manually allocate group members yourself based on their section number.