I have my students work in groups fairly frequently.
Some of the most critical skills in my courses involve seeking and giving feedback on works in progress, and functioning in collaborative community. Sometimes students work in pairs, sometimes in groups as big as five. They might trade short portions of work for quick review, or spend hours discussing longer works.
In hybrid and online classes, I want this work to continue, so I need ways to assess it that don’t rely on my circling among working groups in a classroom. After all, my online students are working in places and times of their own choosing, often long after I (a professor of middle age and a fairly boring life), have gone to bed!
How can I know that the groups met? How can I find out what they did, what difficulties they encountered with the course concepts, what questions they need answered so that we can go forward?
My initial thoughts involved having students fill out a group report sheet, something that would ask the questions I had about their work and required the signatures of all present at the meeting.
That was okay, but they hated filling out the sheets and frankly, I didn’t much enjoy reading them. They felt lifeless and led me to think the group work was failing.
But when I talked to them about their group work, they were excited and articulate.
Hmmm. Maybe the group work isn’t the problem. Maybe the reporting is the problem.
When I design pedagogical experiences, I consider students my “audience.” So I asked myself, as I always do with anything I create to be read or experience by others, what does my audience value and how can I use that to achieve my purpose?
Eventually, I landed on the notion that students love selfies and video and to watch their peers’ productions of the same.
So I revised my group report assignment, which took very little effort.
Now, instead of writing group reports, my students film their reports on a phone or laptop webcam, at the end of their group meeting.
They have a specific list of questions from me which each person must answer in the course of the video. They simply set the camera running, and pass the camera around as they answer them. A group of four might create a video of six minutes or so (I have a maximum limit of 8). They simply upload the video to one of their Google Drives and share it with me for viewing.
What a hit! Students tell me they enjoy making the quick video reports, but as important, I love them–for several reasons.
First, students do a more complete job of articulating answers to my questions than they ever did using written forms–even though the questions are the same!
Second, I get to enjoy their personalities, which really come out when they create a video.
Third, because they are talking into a camera and I can observe non-verbal behaviors, I have found that I get a better sense of what they really do and don’t understand as they articulate their answers to my questions.
Fourth, I learn their names much faster if I do these early in the term.
Finally, reviewing the videos is actually fun for me. The students are more relaxed and often very funny as they talk to me from a coffee shop or a dorm basement. It takes me less than a half an hour to review an entire class’s worth of reports and it is a delight.
Next time you need groups of students to turn a report about their activities, consider having them create an informal video report, guided by a set of questions you devise. See what you think of the results.