Adapting Group Projects and Software Skills to Online

Working in groups remotely can be difficult for students. Join Professor Drake as she shares her experiences with online groupwork for CIV550!

Session Details

There are many challenges with working in groups remotely. Students may be in different time zones, each student has access to different levels of computing power, communication is less responsive, and so much more. However, there are some advantages to online groupwork. Professor Drake will be showcasing her work with CIV550 - a course where students used R, OTTHYMO, and HEC-RAS to develop complex and insightful Hydrologic and Hydraulic Modelling projects. 

If you have any questions or concerns, or if you're wondering what best software is the tool for you, feel free to schedule a consultation with us!

Missed the Session? Watch it Here!

You can also watch this session, Adapting Group Projects and Software Development Skills Training to Online Teaching, on MyMedia.

Webinar Agenda

  1. Challenges with Remote Learning
  2. Strategies for Online Course Project Planning
  3. Strategies for Teaching Software Skills Online
  4. What to Keep
  5. Student Experience

Professor Drake and CIV 550

Professor Jennifer Drake is in charge of CIV 550 - Water Resources Engineering. This graduate-level course typically has two major deliverables. The first major deliverable, the Watershed Assessment, involves students conducting research and using ArcGIS to visualize and estimate water flows. The second deliverable focuses on Hydraulic Modelling using HEC-RAS.

As both these projects are done in groups, the shift to online learning introduced new challenges both both students and instructor alike.

Challenges with Remote Learning

Remote teaching is difficult because we lose a lot of tools we had while face-to-face.

  • Need to adapt in-person training and troubleshooting
    • In previous years, around a total of 6 hours of training over two weeks were provided to students (in-person) to teach them how to use ArcGIS. This level of support is difficult to achieve when students are learning remotely and scattered across different time zones.
  • Unsure of students at home access to computing power
    • Previously, all students had access to lab computers for their projects. However, not all students have enough computing power at home, especially as modelling software is demanding and requires sufficient computing power.
  • Lack of opportunities for informal Q & A lost
    • Typically, lecutures were informal and involved a lot of Q & A, but this does not translate well remotely.
    • Students were also able to work side-by-side in the computer lab. One group asking for help would attract other groups, so information was shared easily
  • Completely unsure of the time commitment / workload of working remotely in groups
    • This is the first year of remote learning, so we are completely unsure of the time commitment required

Strategies for Online Course Project Planning

  • Devote class time to discuss setting up homework spaces and working remotely in teams
    • For instance, working from your bed is not an effective way to do your work!
  • Survey students about group work preferences and location or time zones
    • Students can indicate if they have a partner preference in mind, or if they didn't know anybody in the course
  • Implement checkpoint submissions for large projects
    • Keeps students on track
    • Allows for flexibility in course planning
  • Maintain an active Q&A discussion board
    • Assists in informal discovery learning (this closely replicates in-person learning!)
    • Answers common questions consistently
      • Students can scroll through comments to see if they were doing something wrong without realizing
    • Can rotate through the teaching team to ensure timely responses
    • If using Quercus discussion board, be sure to start a new thread for each new course topic or project deliverable! This can help avoid clutteredness and makes information organized.
  • Re-evaluate course project
    • Deadline flexibility
    • Make sure that project mirrors the lecture content
    • Limit writing length
  • Ensure free student access on software used in class
    • Consider using open source software or obtaining licenses on proprietory software
  • Consider oral exams to have personalized interactions with your students about what they learned and their contributions to the project
  • Set and communicate clear instructions and marking scheme for all course deliverables
  • Ask for suggestions and actively respond to student feedback 

Strategies for Teaching Software Online

Almost every upper year course introduce the use of new software applications to solve problems. In Professor Drake's course, they used R, HEC-RAS and OTTHYMOS. Here are her strategies for teaching these new technologies to her students remotely. 

  • Film short 5-15 min demo videos for asynchronous consumption
  • Use Q&A boards to answer questions
  • Create a competitive game environment to encourage software learning and participation
  • Arrange meetings to deal with programming challenges
  • Check-in with students and ask them for suggestions

Group dynamic is very important! To maximize team workflow, it's good to:

  • Set expectations for your team
  • Have regular (weekly) meetings
  • Use organization tools such as project charters

To encourage equal contribution, we added:

  • R (coding) questions on the midterm to encourage all students to understand the lab
  • Questions about individual contributions during the oral exam
  • Check-ins with students and asked them for suggestions

Image result for project charters

From Prof. Drake's Slide presentation during the session.

What to Keep (even when things get back to normal!)

  • Video demos and other asynchronous learning materials on software applications can be recycled in other classes and future years
  • Using discussion boards to answer questions instead of responding to individual student emails can be a huge time saver for both the teaching team and students.

Image result for discussions canvas

Student Experience

Professor Drake also invited two of her students to share their experience taking CIV550 online this semester.

Brenden Lavoie, a 4th year Civil Engineering student, enjoyed the course project because its application can be applied to the real world and even came up in one of his job interviews! He also reflected that it was helpful that Professor Drake was actively seeking and listening to student feedback.

Laxin Zhang, agreed that she enjoyed the project because it was a way to connect with classmates during remote learning. Her team followed the team charter and had regular meetings every week to make sure they were on track. Brenden and Laxin both expressed that the discussion board was very helpful because replies from the teaching team were quick and responsive and it resolves common student problems. Teams, Messenger, and Discord were all mentioned as great tools to connect with classmates and the rest of their cohort!

Have a Quercus (or EdTech) question? Please contact FASE's EdTech Office.