Teacher Tap

Cohort Groups and Teamwork

Cohort groups and teamwork are particularly useful for young adult and adult learners. Group work fosters the development of trust, attachment, and validation. This sense of social presence is particularly important in online learning environments.

Cohort Groups

Establishing Cohort Groups

While some groups may be formed for specific activities, others may be semester or program-long relationships. Cohort groups are often associated with long-term relationships. In some cases, students form a tight-knit learning community reaching beyond coursework.

Research shows that cohort groups can reduce attrition, increase critical thinking skills, provide emotional and academic support, and motivate students in online learning programs. They are most effective when a sense of community is nurtured through a combination of structured experiences and ongoing activities such as shared courses.

Consider the following activities to foster cohort group development:

Forming Teams

Many courses form temporary teams for specific course assignments such as a discussions or cooperative activities. Although a dozen people can easily participate in a discussion, groups of four to seven work best best for cooperative or collaborative assignments.

Although some students may prefer to choose their own groups, this can be difficult and frustrating for some students. Look for ways to provide choices, yet make select quick and easy.

Topical Interests. Establish a list of categories, subjects, or topic or other divisions. Ask students to join a group. If one group fills, you can open another group on a similar topic or ask them to take a second choice. For instance, students might select from a list of novels.

Natural Groupings. In some courses, students naturally divide based on personal or professional interests. For example, teachers might be divided into elementary and secondary.

Discussion Groups. You may provide self-selected choices of discussion assignments. For instance, students might choose to participate in one of three discussions on Week 1. Then in Week 2, a student may interact with a different set of students depending on his or her choice of discussion group.

Assigned Groups. If you choose to assign group, consider random assignment. Or, go down the class list such as Anderson through Daniels is Group 1.

Student Generated. Ask students to form groups. This can be effective, but time consuming. Some students feel uncomfortable with this approach.

exampleExplore Examples
Think about ways to organize library patrons for online learning experiences. For example, you might have a large group of parents interested in reading topics. You might organize a group focusing on the special needs of boys and reading, another group exploring storytelling, and a final group examining the topic of bibliotherapy.

Designing Group Assignments

Groups can serve many functions in an online class. In some cases, group members may be interdependent. For instance, they may collaborate on a single report with a single group grade. In another activity, students may be work independently with grades on individual postings and replies. It's essential that students understand the goal of the assignment and how it will be assessed.

Explore the following list of assignments that involve group work. Think about how groups might be formed and how the activity might be assessed.

Establish a positive atmosphere for community building.

Design ongoing activities to establish and maintain a sense of community.

apply itApply It!
Examine your online course.
Design activities that will help establish community at the beginning of the course.
Identify a few ways that you will nurture community throughout your course.

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