Setting Up Collaborative Teams

In my last post, I looked at how I set my students up in the Google environment. In this post, I want to look at how I assigned students to teams.

The easiest way to assign students to teams is to simply assign them randomly and wait for the fallout. Left on their own, students have a tendency to socialize, not work toward a common goal. A group without a leader is likely to flounder aimlessly until the very last minute. A group without any technology skills will often implode. To be effective, the groups need to be an appropriate mixture. I needed Batman AND Robin (and maybe Batgirl). They had complimentary skills…experience and youthful enthusiasm….brains and support. Teams that have these types of complimentary skills, are most likely to succeed.

To gauge what each student was like, I created a survey in Google Forms. In a later post I’ll look at the mechanics of how this is done. In this post I want to look at the questions I posed and how I used the responses to assign groups.

In the first two questions, I asked each student about their level of college experience.


Each group needs to have several levels of college experience. New college students do not have a good sense of how much time coursework can take. By mixing new college students with more experienced students, groups will not wait until the last minute to work on their projects. But this mixture is not a one way street. Recent high school graduates are more likely to have participated in collaborative learning in their high school courses. They are more likely to embrace group work than more veteran college students.

survey_02These questions are designed measure each student’s attitude toward mathematics. I like to balance the more negative attitudes in groups with positive attitudes. It is also useful to set the tone for the semester by having student remember a moment when they were successful in mathematics. Studies show that students learn better when they have a positive attitude about what they are learning.


This is the most important question in the survey. Each group needs to have one leader in the group. I also do not want a group of five leaders all together. Like other questions, I want to balance of leadership to make sure each group moves forward.

survey_04Each person in the group should have the same idea of how their group will operate. I match students with similar responses. I do not want a student who expects to meet with other students to be matched with students who do not want to meet face to face. These questions help me to discover how they expect to collaborate and to put them with students that have similar expectations.


Spreadsheets are a very important part of my College Algebra class. I teach students how to work with them in the class. However, groups with prior technology experience function better than groups without that experience. Less experienced members can learn from more experienced members. I seed students with good technology skills throughout the teams so that each team has a technology “expert”.

survey_06The earlier questions help me to focus on the characteristics that typically make teams successful. But there are other things I need to consider. A student might be 7 months pregnant or have National Guard duties. These complications can have a big impact on the team. I ask this question to learn of these difficulties. Having them think about what it means to be in an effective group is also useful. They think about the complication now and not in a month when it might have a bigger impact to the team. It gives them the opportunity to plan for complications instead of react to them. If the student chooses to share this information with their team, the team can plan in advance for issues that might arise.