Group Learning in a Remote Teaching and Learning Setting

Previously in the Learning Cog blog we’ve looked at benefits that students derive from working together in groups. An investigation into group work in MyUni and final grades in semester 1, 2019 found that students who were active group members achieved an average course mark that was over 3% higher than their peers who either weren’t group members or weren’t active within those groups. Furthermore, those extra few percent resulted in a higher grade in a third of cases.

A woman in front of her laptop in a zoom call

This was an extremely positive finding but unfortunately only about one in seven enrolments (14%) was an active group member in that teaching period. This raised the question of whether the higher marks of active group members was perhaps simply because they were more engaged students. What might happen then if more students could be encouraged to become active group members? Would we see this correlation weaken?

With the transition to remote teaching and learning as a result of the Covid epidemic in 2020 we had a unique opportunity to answer these questions. This year, across both semesters, more than one in five enrolments (22%) were actively involved in group work in MyUni. In the MyUni era, which officially began in 2017, no more than 15% of enrolments had been an active group member in any semester. So how did they get on? Well, the average mark among active group members was once again 3% higher than their peers and in 2020 this resulted in a higher grade 30% of the time.

The level of activity by group members (measured in server requests) also rose by over 25% in 2020 compared to the previous three years. It’s interesting to note how students’ use of group spaces in MyUni has changed in 2020. From 2017 to 2019, about 45% of students’ activity related to files and the same amount again for forums. The remaining activity related to wiki pages in the group space. This year, forums accounted for 65% of activity while files (30%) and wiki pages (5%) each saw comparatively less usage though similar actual usage. This is understandable as students likely used discussions and announcements to communicate things they might otherwise have done verbally in class.

Understanding the advantages of group learning is just the first step of course. Creating student groups can take time, particularly if you want to make them heterogeneous based on characteristics like gender, residency and ATAR. For a busy academic this is time that could be better used in any number of ways and so the Learning Analytics team have developed a means of creating the groups quickly and efficiently. Several academics now send the team details of how they would like their groups to be built before the start of each teaching period and save themselves hours of admin. If you would like assistance to create student groups in your course please email the Learning Analytics team and let us know.

A dashboard containing all of the data in this post in a deidentified format is available for you to use if you would like to do so. It allows you to disaggregate by faculty, gender, residency, career and teaching period to help gain further insights. If you would like a copy, please contact the Learning Analytics team. For further advice about creating student learning groups contact a Learning Designer.

Tagged in Learning Enhancement & Innovation, learning analytics, learning design