UNF Center for Instruction and Research Technology

Instructional Design

Online Collaboration Assignments


Unlike traditional classroom learning opportunities, online learning spaces provide additional experiences for learners to interact and collaborate. In the article Reasons Why Collaborative Online Learning Activities Are Effective, Michael Higley (2021) mentions that developing effective collaborative online activities begins with understanding how learners process information when online. Educators of online learning environments must focus on instructional and pedagogical best practices in order to deliver effective online instruction.

Incorporating collaborative activities in an online course will lead to more positive student outcomes. Collaborative group interactions facilitate active learning, shared knowledge, and promote overall social interaction. Collaboration also models how to work with others in real-world situations. Collaborative activities prepare learners for the workplace, including learning how to share ideas, express opinions, and manage time (Higley, 2021).

When deciding to add group assignments to a course, instructors should clearly define how the learning activity is relevant to students and why working together will be beneficial. Instructors should then thoroughly describe the various requirements and specific online tools for participating in the activity (Thomson, 2014). Once students understand why they are being asked to do group work in a course, instructors must then ensure that the group work is truly collaborative. For example, having students write a paper together does not necessarily require collaboration. Many group assignments can easily be divided to where the students never have to confer, compromise, or solve problems together to create a final product. 

In Practice

Canvas optimizes student collaboration by enabling groups established in People to communicate through their own group-designed sites within Canvas – complete with pages like Announcements, Discussions, Files, and Conferences (Dice, 2014). Canvas also enhances collaborative efforts by offering Google Doc integration in Collaborations.

To promote collaboration in Canvas, try these strategies:

  • Assign groups in People to enable students to manage their project materials and correspondence through their own group-designated Canvas sites.
  • Have groups present an artifact – image, concept map, or slide – in Conferences to explain and apply a concept or skill.
  • Ask students to post 1-2 minute videos showcasing their major projects in Discussions, and have students provide feedback to their classmates.
  • Create a wiki by integrating a Google Doc in Collaborations for students to compile resources relevant to course topics.

(Excerpt taken from Engaging Students in Canvas.)

The following example showcases a group project in which students must collaborate. For more ideas on implementing collaboration assignments, check out 6 Online Collaboration Tools and Strategies for Boosting Learning.

Collaboration Project Example

To begin, create an assignment in which the students choose predefined roles in their group. Include criteria for collaboration in your grading rubrics. While there might be a student who asks to complete a group paper alone, it’s more difficult to split up an assignment in which each role carries the weight of work that can be easily completed by one person, but not so easily that one person can take on several roles.

Consider a group research project with 3-5 students per group. Students can decide on a problem to research and maybe complete a Six Thinking Hats activity on their issue to demonstrate their understanding. One or two students in the group could find research articles related to the problem and construct a short literature review. One student may choose to do this, but a discussion of the literature review and the articles can be a requirement to ensure the entire group understands the background literature.

From there, you can require students to create a survey to gain information. They then must collect survey data about a particular topic from multiple people and places in their community. Require a student in the group to write a Methods section in the paper explaining where they collected all of the data. All students in the group could be required to submit the completed surveys and upload those documents with personal images of the location in which they obtained their survey data.

Another student can take on the role of calculating the results of the data and to construct a written report. Require a final discussion about the data to assist students with writing Conclusion and Implications sections of their paper. Finally, a student from the group could create a presentation of their report in a short 2-5 minute video or narrated PowerPoint.

Assigning reflective discussions or evaluative forms throughout the project would help students identify and analyze the collaborative skills they learn while working together. This kind of group assignment would not only force students to work together and collaborate, but they would also gain valuable life skills to apply later in their careers. A group project of this magnitude calls for a dedicated instructor with solid facilitation skills, thorough instructions, and detailed rubrics to evaluate student progress and performance.


Higley, M. (2021, May 12). Reasons why collaborative online learning activities are effective. eLearning Industry. https://elearningindustry.com/collaborative-online-learning-activities-reasons-effective

Thomson, S. (2021, May 12). 6 online collaboration tools and strategies for Boosting Learning. eLearning Industry. https://elearningindustry.com/6-online-collaboration-tools-and-strategies-boosting-learning

Dice, M, Jr. (2014, November 13). Groups in Canvas. The Canvas Post. Retrieved from www.lmsblog.it.northwestern.edu

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