The Moodle Groups tool

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Background

Against a backdrop of reduced resources, great and sometimes conflicting demands are being made of Higher Education institutions. Research into H.E. in the UK indicates that, since the 1980’s, Universities are operating with continually decreased resources; student numbers have increased, large group teaching has become the norm in many institutions and disciplines, and that there is a much increased student-to-staff ratio. (Gibbs et al, 1996; Gibbs, 2006; Hounsell, 2007)

Students require rapid and timely feedback (Yorke 2007, Yorke 2005, Scheeler et al 2006) while the Leitch Review (2006) asserts the need for H.E. to provide transferable skills for the ‘information economy’; that Information Technology, Knowledge Management, and virtual collaborative working skills can contribute to graduate employability.

How can already established technologies meet these demands?

Moodle allows for participants in any course space to be easily deployed into smaller groups. Using the Groups tool, a cohort may be divided according to tutor, seminar, subject, or project groups. The number or size of groups is unlimited, and membership is not restricted to a single group within a course.

The most effective use of the Groups tool is in conjunction with the Forum, Wiki or Assignment activities. Only a single instance of an activity needs to be created, not one for each group, so course development for group activities is rapid.

For example:

A course delivered by six tutors requires the cohort of 180 students to submit an online assignment in Moodle. Each tutor is responsible for the marking and feedback of assignments for 30 students. With the Groups tool, students are automatically deployed to six groups, while the tutors are assigned manually. Only a single instance of the Assignment activity is created, streamlining both the set-up of the assignment and the distribution of marking.

Moodle offers great flexibility when setting up groups:

Visible groups – students can view other groups’ activities but cannot participate in them

Separate groups – students have no access to other groups’ activities. Each groups works in private

Automated population – groups can be set up to automatically add students to them, upon their first log-in to Moodle

Control of number/size of groups – the larger group can be divided into a specific number of groups, or groups of a pre-determined size
What are the main advantages of small group work supported by Moodle?

Dividing a large cohort into smaller groups has a number of advantages;

For students


    * Affords opportunities to work more closely together
    * Encourages participation by overcoming location, outside commitments or group dynamics
    * Is less reliant upon face-to-face meetings
    * Peer review within groups, both formal and informal
    * Streamlines production of output; a single shared and editable document rather than multiple copies owned by each student

For tutors

    * Ease of allocation of marking; supports multiple markers/tutors
    * Ability to monitor and provide feedback on group progress
    * Marks can be allocated to the Group and its members
    * Flexible control over groups visibility of other groups’ activities
    * Can be used to provide access to a particular resource to a subset of students

Examples of the Moodle Groups tool

Forums


    * Allowing students to work privately in small groups
    * Posting group meeting minutes
    * Sharing and editing output documents
    * Sharing files, links and other resources
    * Extend discussions before or after face-to-face meetings
    * Ease of tracking and marking group/student performance

Wikis

    * Wikis perform better, both pedagogically and technically, when used in small groups
    * Producing a collaborative document; annotating text, adding links and comments, creating and sharing interactive media
    * Allowing students to work privately in groups to produce an output file which can then be shared with whole cohort after marking
    * Ease of tracking and marking group/student performance

Assignments

    * Tutors can easily view submissions, feedback and grade group by group
    * Tutors can be assigned to a group – and receive notifications only of submissions of that group
    * Multiple files of both individual and group submissions can be viewed
    * Used to give feedback and grades for offline activities such as presentations – marks can be aggregated with those from other activities e.g. quizzes

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