Demystifying Successful Group Projects

Concurrent Session 5

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This discovery session features examples of group projects created and used by faculty working with the University of Wisconsin Extension's division of Continuing Education, Outreach, and E-Learning (CEOEL). Participants will come away with practical strategies for implementing online group projects based on examples from our degree programs and evidence-based best practices.


Eileen Horn is a senior instructional designer and team leader with the University of Wisconsin-Extension, Continuing Education, Outreach and E-Learning division. She works with faculty and other team members to design, develop, and deliver traditional online courses as well as competency-based programs. She is particularly interested in best practices for using OERs, capitalizing on student-generated content and online collaboration spaces. Eileen holds a Master of Science in Adult and Continuing Education Leadership from UW-Milwaukee and earned her Certificate in Distance Education from UW-Madison School of Education.

Extended Abstract


This session is focused on evidence-based practices for group projects in online courses. The goal of the session is to give participants an evidence-based approach to incorporating group projects in online coursework. It features real-world examples and includes time for interaction and discussion among peers. Research shows that group projects in online courses are fraught with mixed results for both students and faculty (Brindley, 2009; Roberts & McInnerney 2007; & Morgan, Williams, et al., 2014). For example, selecting balanced groups can be a difficult task for faculty (Kagan, 1992). It is proven that group projects can lead to deeper learning, but simply adding them to a course is not enough (Curtis & Lawson, 2001). Group projects can be especially powerful for weaker students, and overall students learn more effectively. In addition to increasing student achievement, group projects also help to create a sense of community within an online course (Roberts & McInnerney 2007; Ouzts, 2006). Group projects do a great job of building off of the community-of-inquiry framework. Group projects give students the platform to interact with other students, helping reduce the sense of isolation in an online course and possibly opening them up to new perspectives. At the same time, with the use of formative assessments, group projects give faculty more opportunities to interact with students. Students gain valuable skills from a group project, ones that they wouldn’t demonstrate in an isolated online course (Roberts & McInnerney 2007). Group projects give students the chance to demonstrate teamwork, negotiation skills, evaluating a team’s progress, assigning roles, and working in a stressful situation.


It is important for instructors and course designers to prepare students for a successful group project. While we can never guarantee that students will have a particular experience in our online courses, there are many things we can do to set the stage for success. This interactive session walks participants through the process of planning for and displaying use of best practices in a group project in a course.

Participants will consider whether or not a group project is right for a given course or task. In this section, instructors and designers answer some questions to determine whether or not to pursue group projects at all. Determining whether or not a task or assessment is a good candidate for group work is a critical first step. Once the decision is made to pursue a group project, the next step is designing it. This part of the session addresses best practices such as timing, expectation setting, and tools. Here many examples from higher education courses are used to illustrate and drive discussion among participants. The session wraps up by offering tips and tricks for instructors to use while teaching a course with a group project. For example, practices related to communicating with students about the project, what tools are recommended to use, and how to best assess students are shared.


Brindley, J., Blaschke, L., & Walti, C. (2009). Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distributed Learning, 10(3). doi:

Curtis, D. D. & Lawson, M. J. (2001). Exploring collaborative online learning. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 5(1), 21–34.

Kagan, S. (1992). Cooperative learning. San Juan Capistrano, CA: Resources for Teachers. Inc. Google Scholar.

Morgan, K., Williams, K. C., Cameron, B. A., & Wade, C. E. (2014). Faculty perceptions of online group work. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 15(4), 37–41.

Ouzts, K. (2006). Sense of community in online courses. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 7(3), 285.

Roberts, T. S. & McInnerney, J. M. (2007). Seven problems of online group learning (and their solutions). Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 10(4).