Group work: What got into us?

meet the team
This is us. The Group.

For the past 10 days, our group has been running an online seminar for the other students on our module.  There are four days to go and we’ve had a range of insightful contributions from our wonderful learners and there have been no major problems.  Given that we had just two weeks to write and research the seminar, I’m feeling proud of what we’ve achieved.  The seminar is a reflection of the way our group has collaborated, shared ideas, shared workloads, listened to each other, and communicated well.  It definitely wasn’t an accident.

You mean you liked working in a group?

I think it’s safe to say that, at the outset, as individuals we were sceptical about working with randomly assigned members of the course who we didn’t know particularly well (although we didn’t admit that to each other to begin with), but we’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well we’ve made it work.  We were all completely engaged with it and finished creating the seminar early.  Unheard of.

Was our behaviour a result of our own perfect personalities, well-organised lives and studious effort for a good mark?  Or was it a result of the pedagogically sound, carefully designed activity?

And as I reflect on that, my mind turns to the experience we designed for our own learners during this two week seminar.  Have we done enough to interest and engage them?

Hew (2016) identified five factors that lead to successful learner engagement in an online course (in his case MOOCs).  I’ve used his template to reflect on why we were so engaged and motivated when creating our seminar, and to predict if the seminar we’ve created might be as engaging.  The table evaluates how well both activities satisfy the elements which engage and motivate learners online.

What made our group task so engaging, and is our seminar as good?

strategies for engagement
Strategies for promoting online engagement. Table adapted from Summary of Strategies Used in successful online courses (Hew 2016, p329)

My (completely subjective) scores for engagement:

SBOSE Group work task: 23/25   –  Our Group-designed Seminar: 20/25

The exercise of comparing both activities against Hew’s criteria for engagement demonstrates that our group’s motivation was not purely down to us.  All the elements to engage and motivate us were in place, and unless my perspective is wildly off the mark, our seminar should successfully engaged our learners.  Both activities provide the key elements:  problem-based, active learning tasks, plenty of opportunity for peer interaction, support from a visible course team, and relevant information and resources.

Of course, this is just one aspect of student engagement.  Many other factors contributed to the success of the group work, not least the scaffolding (Stavredes, 2011) which has taken place over many months, indeed since the start of the course.

Did you take part in our seminar?  How was it for you?  Let me have your scores for engagement!


Hew, K. F. (2016) Promoting engagement in online courses: What strategies can we learn from three highly rated MOOCs. British Journal of Educational Technology, 47(2), 320.

Stavredes, T. (2011) Effective Online Teaching: Foundations and Strategies for Student Success. Jossey-Bass.  Available from: [Accessed 12 February 2016]



  1. What a brilliantly honest and open reflection, Anna. Hew’s model of learning engagement offers you an excellent opportunity for self-critique and a uniquely systematic way of engaging in the elements that are believed to offer a suitable online experience. Your posts throughout the blog continue to be well-focused and in-step with the module activities. A great blog theme, too! Well done.

  2. Dear Anna
    This was an interesting post, not least of all because you took an objective look at comparing your own student-led seminar with Hew’s factors which affect learner engagement. Not only does the evaluation give you an idea of how the seminar will perform in terms of engagement, but you have already identified areas which could be improved or introduced, when you design another online piece of work.

    You blog posts relfect your own experiences within the course, showing also your learning, and your engagement with the underpinning literature. As you progress, you will become more familiar with the range of views and opinions (for example, digital natives/immigrants versus residents/visitors) and you can start to explore the evidence for and against each standpoint, in order to make your own decision as to where you stand.

    Well done.

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