The Group Learning Document

All, Teaching Tips

SheepAs I’ve blogged before, I am very interested in collaborative learning projects and not so much in the static, academic paper that exists nowhere in the real world. I am interested in creating writers, thinkers, and problem solvers and that is why I created the Group Learning Document assignment which was inspired by many members of my PLN including (especially?) Cathy Davidson.

I actually have several versions of the assignment which vary according to the goals of the different classes I teach, but in a nutshell the Group Learning Document (GLD) assignment is collaborative, crowd-sourced learning. In my professional writing class, our GLD includes resources, tips, and tools that the students will use to create their class projects. In my First Year Seminar, our GLD includes resources, tips, and tools that a first-year student can use to survive and succeed in college. In my Writing II class, our GLD includes explorations of the key ideas included in our course reader that will inspire the students’ class projects.

I love this assignment because it is crowd-sourcing at its best. No one (including or especially me) has to bear the burden of covering all the possible tools or readings. But I also love that it is student-driven and gives students the agency to craft an assignment that helps them and serves their individual needs. The broad shape of the assignment is determined by me, but ultimately students are the masters of their own fate. I believe they learn so much more from creating their own tutorial than if I had simply shared one I created, plus they are much more willing to accept responsibility for their own work when it is actually their work and not something they saw as busy work. Finally, I love that the Group Learning Document assignment gives students access to a much larger group of teachers and mentors. They learn from each other and from their research in ways that are both broader and deeper than I could make happen if my voice was the only one leading our conversation. That is true 21st century learning at its best. I believe the GLD assignment gives students the agency and the tools to continue to seek and create knowledge long after they leave my classroom.

While the assignment varies, the essential process remains the same. As a group we brainstorm and create a list of possible topics and ideas that we should include in our group resource. For example, in professional writing we discuss the various class projects students are contemplating and then determine what they need to know to successfully complete those projects. This leads to GLD topics including how to create a blog, how to create a web site, and how to design a portfolio as well as sharing various tools that could support those projects. In Writing II, we use a required reader including many important humanities readings. For the GLD, each student picks one reading (that intersects with their interests and goals) that they are responsible for summarizing and introducing to the class using a discussion prompt they have crafted. In FYS, we brainstorm a list of important college survival and/or success tips based on lessons they have learned the hard way or problems they are still trying to solve.

The GLD contributions are created in a workshop atmosphere with students receiving formal feedback (from their peers) at least twice and informal feedback throughout the process. I am available as a resource, guide, and coach as necessary, but often spend a lot of time just pacing the sidelines while they handle the actual work. I do keep my eye on the projects to ask questions, offer suggestions, or just give a gentle nudge, but generally the students are getting enough good feedback and are invested in the project enough that I have to do little more than answer questions.

How could you use the GLD assignment in your classroom? What benefits and drawbacks do you see to this assignment? Do you already have your own version of a crowd-sourced, collaborative project?

Photo: Luc De Leeuw via Compfight

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