Part 9: Spring 2019 Labs

154 Rubrics – 02.01.2019

Despite dangerously-icy sidewalks on February 7, 2019, ten participants skated in to discuss effective group work strategies at the Active Teaching Lab. Attendees shared approaches to promoting cooperative learning among students through purposeful group formation and facilitation. 


  • Share the learning objectives with students — not only the academic goals of the activity but also the social skills involved. This helps communicate that developing group dynamics are an intentional part of the activity, and important in the discipline.
  • Try CATME to quickly yet purposefully form groups based on a number of variables, including skill sets, schedule, or major.
  • Provide a recommended time frame for completing steps of the project, with 5-minute progress update meetings at those suggested times to promote accountability. For a more hands-on approach, require work to be submitted in stages.
  • Embrace students’ tendencies to divide and conquer for part of the assignment (e.g. prep, research) and use in-class time for steps that naturally lend themselves to group collaboration (e.g. brainstorming, problem solving, final decision making).
  • Be proactive to avoid common pitfalls. For example, to prevent one student from dominating discussion or doing the majority of the work, jigsaw with roles (editor, researcher, manager) and/or form groups with intentionally diverse abilities related to the tasks. See Roberts and McInnerney’s “Seven problems of online group learning (and their solutions)” (2007) for more ideas.
  • Provide opportunity for reflection to promote growth. Ask students to reflect on what did and did not work well the next group assignment gets better. See ideas for group work reflection activities from the University of New South Wales to get started.
  • Communicate to students that peer feedback on their contributions to the group proves useful for future letters of recommendation.
  • For more group work tips, check out UW Extension’s guide to group work.

To see group activity ideas, the pedagogical framework of group learning, and Canvas how-tos, visit the session’s activity sheet.


The Active Teaching Lab is a Faculty Engagement program with sessions held on Thursdays from 1:00-2:00pm and Fridays from 8:30-9:45am in the Middleton Building (1305 Linden Dr.), room 120. Check out upcoming Labs or read the recaps from past Labs. We build interdisciplinary conversations that are more emergent than a presenter and more dynamic than a panel — a conversation with colleagues sharing challenges, solutions, and experiments on topics selected by a variety of stakeholders.

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Active Teaching Lab eJournal Copyright © 2016 by DoIT Academic Technology and the UW-Madison Teaching Academy; Jennifer Hornbaker; John Martin; Julie Johnson; Karin Spader; Margaret Merrill; Margaret Murphy; and Jeffrey Thomas. All Rights Reserved.

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