Don’t use the Moodle groups setting for online team work

When designing eWorkshops in Moodle, I never use the groups setting in forums. The ‘groups’ setting means that participants can only see the work done by their own team. Instead, I create a separate forum for each team. Learners are not blocked from accessing other teams’ work.

This often surprises fellow e-course designers.

I’m sometimes challenged for keeping the forums open and visible to all. What’s the point, other designers say, if learners can just copy the work of their peers?

Others think it’s an oversight. Perhaps I am not aware of the group setting? I then have to explain it’s not an oversight but a strategic design decision.

So why then should we NOT hide the other teams in participatory eWorkshops?

  • Hiding groups/teams makes sense in a highly competitive environment, but not in the kind of learning environments that are appropriate for adult learners and those I’m keen to create.
  • When team forums are hidden, it’s quite disconcerting for people to see three quarters of the whole group ‘disappear’. The page ends up looking empty and the community spirit, which a facilitator has been able to nurture, fades away. Even the use of a plenary forum does not take away the feeling of a void.
  • Those of you who think that openness will lead to straight copying, rest assured. Considering the tasks have been smartly designed (i.e. problem-based learning), participants really don’t feel the urge to copy, but are rather keen to come up with their own answers. A peek in another team forum might give some inspiration, but I have hardly ever observed copying. When you treat people like adults, they tend to behave like adults.
  • Once feedback is provided to each team (in the respective team forums), I often observe participants having a quick look at other teams’ work and feedback. This exposes them to different approaches to solve the task and therefore causes deeper learning.

Like so many features in a typical LMS, the group tool is designed by techies and/or school/university teachers. Keep this in mind when you design eWorkshops for adult professional development. The tool might be well designed but inappropriate for your target group and cause your participation rates to fall dramatically.

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3 Comments. Leave new

  • Rebecca Ritchie
    July 13, 2016 12:54 pm

    Have you considered using the ‘visible groups’ setting for a forum? Students can see other groups forums but not contribute to them.

    • Thanks Rebecca – good point that probably needed an additional explanation in my short article! I don’t use the visible group setting either. It looks very messy when teams are doing much more than discussing a particular point (which in collaborative problem-based learning they always do). When participants do real ‘work’ the forum threads are always set up to support this. If all teams are using the same forum link – even when they see where their team is working and can’t post in other teams’ space – it is really challenging to also organise the forums in a clear way for more in-depth tasks. It works for a short structured discussion or a brainstorm but nothing more complex. Hope this makes sense. Thanks heaps for raising this!

  • George Yorke
    July 13, 2016 11:04 pm

    Thanks Anouk. This is very useful and also share the same opinion. Adult should be open and transparent. There is no need hiding anything from any group.


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