What are best practices for designing group projects?
What is true for individual assignments holds true for group assignments: it is important to clearly articulate your objectives, explicitly define the task, clarify your expectations, model high-quality work, and communicate performance criteria.
But group work has complexities above and beyond individual work. To ensure a positive outcome, try some of these effective practices (adapted from Johnson, Johnson & Smith, 1991) or come talk to us at the Eberly Center.
While some instructors don’t mind if students divvy up tasks and work separately, others expect a higher degree of collaboration. If collaboration is your goal, structure the project so that students are dependent on one another. Here are a few ways to create interdependence:
|Ensure projects are sufficiently complex that students must draw on one another’s knowledge and skills.||In one course on game design, group assignments require students to create playable games that incorporate technical (e.g., programming) and design skills. To complete the assignment successfully, students from different disciplines must draw on one another’s strengths.|
|Create shared goals that can only be met through collaboration.||In one engineering course, teams compete against one another to design a boat (assessed on various dimensions such as stability and speed) by applying engineering principles and working within budgetary and material constraints. The fun and intensity of a public competition encourages the team to work closely together to create the best design possible.|
|Limit resources to compel students to share critical information and materials.||In a short-term project for an architectural design course, the instructor provides student groups with a set of materials (e.g., tape, cardboard, string) and assigns them the task of building a structure that conforms to particular design parameters using only these materials. Because students have limited resources, they cannot divide tasks but must strategize and work together.|
|Assign roles (.doc) within the group that will help facilitate collaboration.||In a semester-long research project for a history course, the instructor assigns students distinct roles within their groups: one student is responsible for initiating and sustaining communication with the rest of the group, another with coordinating schedules and organizing meetings, another with recording ideas generated and decisions made at meetings, and a fourth with keeping the group on task and cracking the whip when deadlines are approaching. The instructor rotates students through these roles, so that they each get practice performing each function.|
Devote time specifically to teamwork skills
Don’t assume students already know how to work in groups! While most students have worked on group projects before, they still may not have developed effective teamwork skills. By the same token, the teamwork skills they learned in one context (say on a soccer team or in a theatrical production) may not be directly applicable to another (e.g., a design project involving an external client.)
To work successfully in groups, students need to learn how to work with others to do things they might only know how to do individually, for example to...
- assess the nature and difficulty of a task
- break the task down into steps or stages
- plan a strategy
- manage time
Students also need to know how to handle issues that only arise in groups, for example, to:
- explain their ideas to others
- listen to alternative ideas and perspectives
- reach consensus
- delegate responsibilities
- coordinate efforts
- resolve conflicts
- integrate the contributions of multiple team members
Here are a few things you can do both to help students develop these skills and to see their value in professional life.
|Emphasize the practical importance of strong teamwork skills.||Explain the value of teamwork skills in (and outside) the workplace by offering real-world examples of how teams function and illustrating what can go wrong when teamwork skills are weak. One instructor asks students to generate a list of skills they believe employers look for. Often students answer this question with a set of domain-specific skills, such as drafting or computer programming. The instructor then contrasts their answers with the answers given by actual employers, who often focus on domain-general process skills such as “the ability to communicate clearly” and “the ability to work with others”. This activity serves to reinforce the process goals for group work assignments.|
|Address negative or inaccurate preconceptions about group work.||If students haven’t taken group projects seriously in previous courses or if their experiences were negative, it may affect how they approach assignments in your course. Consider asking them to list positive and negative aspects of groups based on their previous experiences and then to brainstorm strategies for preventing or mitigating potentially negative aspects of group work. Also explain how you have structured your assignment to minimize problems (such as the free-rider phenomenon) they may have encountered in the past.|
|Provide structure and guidance to help students plan.||Model the process of planning for a complex task by explaining how you would approach a similar task. Build time into the project schedule that is specifically devoted to planning.|
|Set interim deadlines.||Break the project down into steps or stages and set deadlines for interim deliverables, e.g., a project proposal, timeline, bibliography, first draft. In addition to setting interim deadlines, give students a rough sense of how long various steps of the project are likely to take and warn them about matters they will need to attend to earlier than they might expect.|
|Establish ground rules.||Create ground rules for group behavior or ask students to do so themselves. Group ground rules can include things such as: return e-mails from group members within 24 hours; come to meetings on time and prepared; meet deadlines; listen to what your teammates have to say; respond to one another’s comments politely but honestly; be constructive; criticize ideas, not people. You might then ask students to formally agree to these ground rules by signing a group learning contract (Barkley, Cross & Major, 2005). Find sample team contracts here…|
|Teach and reinforce conflict-resolution skills.||Disagreements within groups can provide valuable opportunities for students to develop both better teamwork skills and better end products (Thompson, 2004). But conflict can also erode motivation. To help students handle disagreements and tensions productively, provide language they can use to voice objections and preferences constructively and reinforce listening skills. Structured role-playing can also be helpful: present students with a hypothetical source of tension (e.g., a domineering personality, a slacker, cultural differences in communication style) before real tensions arise and then ask them to work toward a resolution, improvising dialogue and actions. Role-playing conflict-resolution in advance can help students recognize similar issues when they arise and respond to them creatively and appropriately.|
|Alert students to common pitfalls.||Point out potential pitfalls of team projects and/or your particular assignment. Common pitfalls may include underestimating the amount of time required to schedule meetings, coordinating access to labs, computer clusters, or studio space, getting research materials from Interlibrary Loan, obtaining IRB permission for research interviews, mailing reports to external clients, preparing presentations, revising reports, etc.|
|Foster metacognitive skills.|
Encourage students to assess their own strengths and weaknesses (e.g., tendency to procrastinate, openness to criticism, strong oral communication skills) and to consider how these traits could potentially affect group dynamics. One instructor gives students a self-assessment survey and lets group members compare their answers. Find sample self-assessments here...
He then asks: What mechanisms could your group put in place to capitalize on these strengths and compensate for these weaknesses? Answers generated include setting hard deadlines (if a number of group members are procrastinators), developing a system of turn-taking to make sure that everyone has the chance to speak (if there are shy group members), using flow charts to represent the task (for group members with a visual orientation or weak language skills), etc.
|Incorporate process assessments.||Ask students to periodically evaluate their own or others’ contributions to the group in relation to a set of process goals, such as respectfully listening to and considering opposing views or a minority opinion, effectively managing conflict around differences in ideas or approaches, keeping the group on track during and between meetings, promptness in meeting deadlines, etc. Then give groups a chance to generate strategies for improving their group processes.|
Build in individual accountability
It is possible for a student to work hard in a group and yet fail to understand crucial aspects of the project. In order to gauge whether individual students have met your criteria for understanding and mastery, it is important to structure individual accountability into your group work assignments.
In other words, in addition to evaluating the work of the group as a whole, ask individual group members to demonstrate their learning via quizzes, independent write-ups, weekly journal entries, etc. Not only does this help you monitor student learning, it helps to prevent the “free-rider” phenomenon. Students are considerably less likely to leave all the work to more responsible classmates if they know their individual performance will affect their grade.
To create individual accountability, some instructors combine a group project with an individual quiz on relevant material. Others base part of the total project grade on a group product (e.g., report, presentation, design, paper) and part on an individual submission. The individual portion might consist of a summary of the group’s decision-making process, a synthesis of lessons learned, a description of the individual student’s contributions to the group, etc.
One statistics instructor assigns student groups the task of presenting, synthesizing, and evaluating a set of articles on a particular topic. It is important to him that every group member have a firm grasp of the complete set of readings, even if they individually only present one or two. Thus, he builds individual accountability into the project by warning students in advance that he will ask each of them questions about the readings they did not present. This helps to ensure that students read the full set of articles, and not just the readings they present.
Barkley, E.F., Cross, K.P., and Major, C.H. (2005). Collaborative learning techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Johnson, D.W., Johnson, R., & Smith, K. (1998). Active learning: Cooperation in the college classroom. Edina, MN: Interaction Book Company.
Thompson, L.L. (2004). Making the team: A guide for managers. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.
If you want to add something extra to your report or essay, then an attractive cover page can help. Not only can it bring flair to your document but it is useful at the same time. A cover page introduces the paper to your audience with a title, author, date, and brief summary.
As we’ve previously explainedHow to Easily Make an Attractive Cover Page in Microsoft WordHow to Easily Make an Attractive Cover Page in Microsoft WordDo you believe in first impressions? The cover page is the first thing people will see of your word document. We show you how you can make that first impression a great one.Read More, this is the first impression your readers get and provides the big picture of what the document contains. So, if you are ready to complete your business or educational paper with a cover page, here are several terrific Microsoft Word templates.
Templates for Business Reports and Texts
1. Business Cover Page Median Theme
This nice Median themed template from Microsoft Word not only gives you an eye-catching cover page, but helps you start your report too. The cover page includes a spot for a photo, for example of your business location, a product or service, or your company logo. Then, just add the date and an optional subtitle along with a summary of the contents.
The second page of the template provides headings, subheadings, paragraphs, and a quote section. For a cover page template that goes a little further to assist you with your documentHow to Create Professional Reports and Documents in Microsoft WordHow to Create Professional Reports and Documents in Microsoft WordThis guide examines the elements of a professional report and reviews the structuring, styling, and finalizing of your document in Microsoft Word.Read More, this option from Microsoft Office is a great choice.
2. Business Cover Page Essential Design
Also from Microsoft Office, this similar one gives you a cover page and report template in one. The cover page has a much larger photograph area. So, if your business can benefit from a bigger visual, such as a design, marketing, or graphics company, this is a terrific template. You can pop in the report title, subtitle, and abstract like the other template.
The template’s next page carries over the same black, white, and red color scheme and offers a sidebar for highlighting key points. And, you have your headings, subheadings, and paragraphs for a complete package.
3. Formal Cover Page Blue Vertical Design
Maybe you would prefer to stay away from a cover page that includes a photo. If so, this basic option from Hloom might be more your style. With a simple blue vertical line design, the cover page also has spots for the title, subtitle or abstract, date, and the author’s name.
4. Report Cover Page Dark Blue Weaves
Hloom has another good option in a darker blue. This one really highlights the title of your report with large font right in the center. Other great features of this page are the additional text areas. You can include a subtitle, date, or your company motto at the top. Then, at the bottom is a place for the report’s author or your summary.
Templates for Educational Essays and Term Papers
5. Student Paper Cover Page
For students who have the flexibility to format their cover page as they like, this Microsoft Office template is an excellent option. You can pop in a photo or other image and then add the report title, student name, course name, instructor name, and date. And, of course, it is easy to remove those areas that you do not need.
Like the business cover letter templates from Microsoft Office, this one includes a second page for help with the report. Headings, subheadings, and a bulleted list are there for convenience. But, if you are required to submit your paper in a specific format like MLA or APA, you can just use the cover page.
6. Student Report With Cover Page
For a more compact cover page option that also includes that helpful second page, Microsoft Office gives you this nice template. Like the other cover page for students, you can use a photo or image that enhances your report topic. Insert your title and subtitle and then your name, course name, and date.
The second page has headings and subheadings with a bulleted list to assist you in starting your report, research paper, term paper, or essay.
7-9. APA-Style Cover Pages
When your instructor requires an APA cover page to match your paper, Hloom has a few templates. Each of these options provides the correct line spacing, font size, and margins as well as Times New Roman for the font style and a running head.
The first template is intended for a paper with just one author. It is plain and simple with places for your title, name, and affiliation or institution name.
These two are both suitable for a two-author paper. You will notice that the only difference is the affiliation. One is for authors within the same institution and the other is for authors with different affiliations.
10. Collaborative Cover Page
If you have a paper with more than one author, but are not restricted to the APA format, check out this template. From Microsoft Office, you can enter an image or photo, add your title and abstract, and then include more than one author. You can also fill out the areas for class, semester, instructor name, and date.
And take advantage of the second page to start your paper off right with the convenient formatting. For additional student templates, take a look at these helpful tools15 Checklist, Schedule, and Planner Templates for Students15 Checklist, Schedule, and Planner Templates for StudentsOur planning templates will help you keep track of classes and homework. Whether you're a student or parent, preparing for the school year will be a breeze.Read More.
Creative Cover Page Templates
11. Book Background Cover Page
When you want to go all out and a book theme is the right way to do it, take a look at this Hloom template. The cover page has an old-fashioned look with the yellowed paper. You can add your title and a nice-sized summary.
12. Purple Lined Cover Page
Do you like the larger area for the abstract and creative design, but not necessarily the book theme? This purple vertical lined cover page from Hloom is stylish and simple at the same time. Add your title and summary with a bit of colored pizzazz.
If none of these templates fit your needs exactly as you like, maybe an all-purpose template10 Templates to Save Time at the Office10 Templates to Save Time at the OfficeAre there documents that you write over and over again? Whether it's meeting agendas, invoices, or status reports, templates could make your work easier. We have compiled 10 template ideas to save you time.Read More is for you. You can use these cover pages for business or educational documents. And, remember, you can remove any text blocks that you do not need.
13. Abstract Design Cover Page
From Template.net, this is a handsome and professional option. The abstract-designed blocks at the bottom include a spot for the year which is selectable once you enable the template for editing. You can complete the title, subtitle, author, and company areas as they apply.
14. Text Background Cover Page
For an educational cover page, this template is also from Template.net. Enter the title, subtitle, date, and author. You can enter the date easily from the drop-down calendar when you click on the area. What makes this one cool is that the background is editable text. So, you can enter your own words or letters for a unique look or remove it completely.
15. Basic Cover Page
When basic is best for your report or paper, Template.net has this neat and clean option. There are no fancy images or photo spots; just a splash of color in the line separating the title and subtitle, which can be removed if you choose. Locations for the company name, author, and summary are centered and evenly spaced.
Did You Find the Perfect Cover Page?
Hopefully one or more of these cover page templates are just what you needed, for business or education. If what you really need is tips for templates on your MacHow to Create Impressive Pages Documents and Templates on MacHow to Create Impressive Pages Documents and Templates on MacThe price isn’t the only reason to give Pages a spin — it's packed with ready-to-use templates that will make your work look fantastic.Read More or those that help your meetings run smoother5 PowerPoint Templates for Efficient Meetings5 PowerPoint Templates for Efficient MeetingsDo you also spend too much time in meetings? Use these PowerPoint templates to ease your preparation and make your meetings more efficient. You can customize all slides to your needs.Read More, we have you covered.
If we helped you find the exact cover page template you needed or if you can recommend additional resources, let us know in the comments below!
Image Credit: morning-light/Depositphotos
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