Distance Learning | School of Professional Studies | Northwestern University

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Canvas Groups

Overview

Canvas’ Groups area allows you to give students a mini-site in the Canvas course. Students can use this space to collaborate on a project, review each other’s work, post to group-specific discussion boards, or study for an exam. Depending on how the groups are configured by the instructor, group membership can be selected randomly, manually, or students can join a group of their choosing. Within a group, members have access to a private homepage, discussions, announcements, pages, files, collaborations, and conferences; many of the same features that are part of the full Canvas course site but in this case only available to the members of the group. Note: while student groups are private to the student group members, instructors can enter any student group and view the group activity.

Guide

In what situations would I want to use the Canvas groups?

You may choose to use Groups:
  • to assign group projects or assignments.
  • if you have a large class, you can break your students up into groups so their discussion groups will be smaller and more manageable.
  • to assign students a problem to solve as a group, then they post their answer to a discussion board.
  • to ask students to do some peer teaching.
  • when you want students to peer review an assignment.
  • if you want to divide the class into teams and have them compete. Competition can be motivating and provide variety in the course.
  • if you want students to learn collaboration skills.
  • if students want to create their own study groups.

How do I connect the groups to an Assignment in Canvas?

Be very clear about explaining the group nature of the assignment in your assignment directions. Then, create a group set (such as “project groups”) then create the groups (such as Group 1, Group 2….). Then, put links to each of the groups in the assignment. This makes it very easy for the student to find their group.

What are the best practices used for a group assignment?

  • Giving clear directions for the groups is vital. You may want to set some preliminary deadlines to keep them on track, or they could be required to turn in a timeline or charter.
  • Assigning roles might be something you choose to do and then ask students to try on different roles for different projects.
  • Write up a clear rubric for the assignment.
  • You may include a requirement to reflect on the group’s performance as part of the assignment. These might be confidential evaluations of each group member’s performance. Make this clear at the beginning, so students are aware of this.
  • Consider grading in two parts--one part as an individual and one part as a group. This can be facilitated in Canvas. For example you post a case study, then ask students to post their solutions and arguments first as individuals (other students can’t see their peers’ responses). Then, they go off to their groups to debate what the group’s ideal response would be and then they post a final answer as a group
  • Be transparent about why you want them to do work in groups. It’s helpful to students to know why you are using this type of learning experience. Explain why it’s worth the extra effort that may be involved.
  • Design activities that encourage group interaction but still provide flexibility for student’s schedules.

Why would students use Canvas groups for study groups?

Many studies show that peers teaching each other is a very effective learning strategy. But that can be more difficult to do in an online environment. If you offer this option to students, please share why you think it might be useful. Teaching each other helps students clarify concepts for themselves. If students indicate that they want a Group student area in Canvas, this will allow them to share docs, notes, and easily email each other. They could use Blue Jeans for a call, then take notes in Canvas.

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