Group work: Monitoring

When should I monitor the group progress and process?

It’s important to monitor both the progress of the groups in terms of moving towards the intended outcomes and the ways in which groups are working together. Just offering to be available if there are problems may not be sufficient; some groups may leave everything until the last minute and may then discover differences which are difficult to resolve, for instance.

You need to schedule time to monitor group activities. This may not appear in your timetable so make sure that you document the time you need and agree it with the HoD as part of the time allocation for the unit.

If you are seeing the whole class regularly for other sessions, then you could use one of these sessions about half way through the group activity in which you can cover some element of the task (this could be about content or group work process). During the session, get the students to fill in a feedback form which evaluates their progress. See'How should I monitor the group progress and process?' below for ideas on what should go in the form.

If the groups are meeting at scheduled times in the week, in rooms you have booked for them, then this task may be reasonably simple. However, if you are leaving them to make their own arrangements for meeting then you will need to work out how you are going to see or contact them.

You can use online communication tools to monitor what’s happening. If you are using the university Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), then you can set up discussion areas for the individual groups, which you can monitor. If they are meeting mainly face to face but still have access to the VLE, then set them a task of posting a short progress report by a certain date.

Alternatively you can ask for emailed progress reports from each group by a certain date.

How should I monitor the group progress and process?

What do you need to know at different stages of the task?

It’s a good idea to monitor in order to:

  • Identify problems, blind alleys, freeloaders;
  • Provide support (collective or individual) where and when it is needed;
  • Provide formative feedback and encouragement;
  • Spread out the assessment load.

You could do this via any of the following approaches:

  • Ask students to use a self-assessment form like this one on the Lancaster University website at regular intervals. This could be done online or on paper during a lecture session (see one-minute papers). This would just let you scan through an identify any obvious problems; even if the responses are anonymous you will get an idea of problems and can suggest some generic solutions, rather than picking on individual groups.
  • Ask students to use a self-assessment form like this one suggested by Mike Heathfield. In the original use of the form (Heathfield, M. 1999), it was attached to the assignment submission but it could be adapted for use after group meetings.
  • Ask for regular staged group reports which will contribute to the final grade. These would work best if they are on elements of the task. So if the overall task is to display a poster summarising the group’s work, then the staged reports might cover the preliminary research which is to be done and then the outline of the poster. This will also help to focus the work of the group.
Jenny Moon’s guide to group work gives students some scenarios to work with if they are having any difficulties with the process of group work.

What should I do if there are problems with individual groups?

In response to what groups say, you could offer ‘drop in’ sessions to help improve the situation, for instance on particular issues such as roles, or to clarify parts of the academic task.

Faculty Student Support officers (SSOs) may be able to work with individual groups to help them to work better together.

If the working relationship in a group has irretrievably broken down then you may need to have a back-up assessment plan in place – either individual assignments, or something completed by sub-groups.

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