Creating Effective Group Projects in an Online Classroom

“To go fast, go alone. To go far, go together.”

– African Proverb quoted in Together is Better by Simon Sinek

The Group Work Challenge

I have been fortunate in my teaching career to work on classes that have creative, meaningful and interesting group projects. The projects my students work on require most of the semester to complete and are heavily weighted in the final grade. For the instructor, learning to manage high-stake group projects has a large learning curve and takes time to perfect. I have had many sleepless nights and heartache trying to perfect the group project. Furthermore, group projects in an online setting can seem daunting to both the student and the instructor. Group projects can fall into the trap of only one student doing the majority of the work or alternatively all of the students performing subpar work with the misguided belief that someone else will do the work. Problems from group projects can lower grades, lower satisfaction and motivation in a course. The question then arises, why bother with group projects when there are so many pitfalls? Group projects allow for students to work on larger, more complex and interesting problems. Instructors can also provide more time and meaningful feedback to group work, as groups projects reduce the number of items to grade in large classes. Importantly, group projects can provide real world skills such as collaboration, delegating tasks, and conflict resolution. Online collaboration tools are important and can help instructors implement projects, however, they are only tools and do not make projects successful. Quality project management and quality teaching practices are the core of project success.

Effective Teaching Practices to Make Group Work Successful

  1. Provide structure and guidance with mini assignments.
  2. Make clear assignment descriptions, objectives and rubrics.
  3. Create a bonding/icebreaker assignment.
  4. Require a group contract and assign group roles.
  5. Give control of the topic to the group.
  6. Be engaged and available.
  7. Check-in with non-student collaborators.
  8. Provide room for improvement with drafts and checkpoints.
  9. Require students to log activities or use Google Docs.
  10. Consider giving individual grades or individual assignments to the group project.
  11. Assess student learning and include peer/self-assessments.
  12. Provide online collaboration tools.
  13. Share group projects with the class and require individuals to view and comment on other projects.

Online Collaboration Tools


  • Learning Management Systems (e.g. Canvas):
    • Create group webpages
    • Monitor progress and student interactions.
    • Students can post announcements and have discussions.
  • Slack:
    • Similar to texting. Group members can send direct messages to individuals.
    • Non-student collaborators can join.
    • Separate channels for groups can be created.
    • Files can be shared.
    • Apps are available for both mobile and computer devices.
    • Integration with Dropbox and Google Docs.
  • Google Hangouts: Can be used for video chat and messaging.
  • Zoom:
    • Video messaging and group/individual video calls.
    • Individuals can share their computer screen to go over documents.


  • VoiceThread:
    • Students can post video presentations and comment on peer presentations.
    • Create an icebreaker activity.
  • FlipGrid:
    • Students can post short video introductions of themselves and comment on peer postings.
  • Padlet:
    • Students can post links to project documents or videos. Peers can comment on posts.


  • Learning Management Systems (e.g. Canvas):
    • Create modules with an overview of the project and deadlines.
    • All of the assignments can be imbedded within the module.
    • Due dates and reminders can be posted.
  • Asana:
    • A project management platform.
    • To do lists can be created.
    • Reminders can be sent.
    • Can be used as a communication tool.


  • Google Docs, Forms and Sheets:
    • Create and save documents on the cloud.
    • Multiple individuals can work on the same document at the same time.
    • Time history of individual work is recorded.
    • Google sheets is the google version of excel.
    • Google forms is a way to create surveys.

Additional Instructor Resources

  1. Buck Institute for Education has project based learning resources, such as project examples, rubrics, and student handouts.
  2. Eberly Center at the Carnegie Mellon University has wonderful examples of group roles, group contracts and peer/self-assessments.
  3. TLI Tool Buffet at CSU Channel Islands has a list of useful online tools for teaching.

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