Q&A: How Do Professors Pair Online Students for Group-Based Exercises?

Q&A: How Do Professors Choose Teams for Online Group Assignments?

Answer: It varies according to teacher, program, and school, so I'll sketch out the most common practices for choosing team members.

1. Random chance - Some instructors pull names out of a hat, or assign every third name or the like to a group.

2. Time zones - Online, instructors often group students geographically, to make it easier if you need to have real time conversations about your projects.

3. Activity level - A team with all the most active people on it will be sure to be lively, but a team with all passive students is sure to fail, especially online. Many instructors mix more active students with a few more passive in each team. If you're active, you were likely intentionally grouped with less active students.

4. Gender - Being online eliminates this to a degree, but there is a tendency for males in groups to drown out female participants. Some instructors therefore group women together, or only put the more assertive female students in groups with men.

5. Student choice - Some instructors, both online and in person, let students choose their own teams. This has advantages (you get people you want), and disadvantages (if no one chooses me, I'll likely feel bad).

6. By background - It is easy to forget college isn't just about mastering the subject matter, but also about gaining exposure to wider range of cultures. Some instructors distribute students from other countries or markedly different backgrounds to promote diversity.

7. By talent/interest - This is the most labor intensive way to shape teams, but perhaps the most useful. In this method, instructors group students by talents and interests. An instructor might intentionally group one student who is good with words with a second student who is good at math and statistics, and a third who is skilled at graphic design.

Greg BeattyGreg Beatty has a PhD in English from the University of Iowa and over twenty years experience in higher education. He’s taught everything from standardized test prep courses and freshman orientation and composition courses on up to serving on doctoral committees. He’s taught in the traditional classroom, correspondence courses, online courses, and hybrid courses. He’s developed curriculum for several colleges (sometimes as sole author, sometimes working collaboratively), and served as a textbook manuscript reviewer for Longman. He’s won grants for course development, and awards for his teaching. Greg has mentored new teachers and co-taught workshops on teaching excellence. He’s also served on a range of committees and college advisory boards, and has served as an area chair for humanities.

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