Assignments in active blended learning - VU University Amsterdam (2023)

In group work, students work together as a team. They collaborate. Working together is essential. In one way, students acquire knowledge by working together on something; in another way, learning to better work together can be a goal in itself in group work.

When to opt for group work?

Research agrees: group work is an effective and efficient way to teach students certain things. But what exactly does group work teach the students? Check if your course unit has anylearning objectivesthat students best achieve by working together in a group. For example:

  • (meta) cognitive goals: actively listening to and thinking along with fellow students, reflecting critically on their own understanding, identifying misconceptions, clarifying confusion, exposing conflicting statements, summarising and explaining topics in own words, developing, adjusting and following up on plans, etc.
  • cooperation skills: communication, management, leadership, etc.
  • social skills: giving feedback in a non-threatening and supportive way, taking into account the suggestions of others, etc.

Does your course unit have these kinds of learning objectives? Then group work is obviously a good option. But remember that group work is, above all, acollaborative task. That means that students must work together to deliver a product; therefore, the work cannot be split randomly amongst group members and cannot be carried out by one person without the input from other group members. So think carefully: does the assignment generate useful collaborative tasks that will lead to learning? Or is it only a time-consuming task that makes it difficult for students to consult with each other without adding any value? Group work will then result in disengaged and dissatisfied students.

How to design group work?

As a lecturer, determine the following elements before starting the group work. That way you get a good picture of the group work and make conscious choices. Then you clarify your choices to the students.

Start with clear objectives

  • What do your students need to know and be able to do once they’ve completed the group work? See above for examples of common learning objectives in group work. Check out the course competencies of your course unit and translate them to concrete, clear objectives for the group work. Achievable goals, authentic problem statements and appropriate complexity increase students' motivation to actively participate in the group work.
  • Based on the objectives, determine what the task should look like and what resources the students need to receive. Avoid free assignments: they facilitate free-riding behaviour. Also, use these objectives as a basis to develop the assessment format and criteria. After all, the assessment method determines the way the group functions. Read more about how to assess group work.
  • Finally, remember to clearly indicate on thecourse sheethow the marks for end-of-term and continuous assessments are calculated and what portion of the exam mark they carry. Always mention on the course sheet that as lecturer-in-charge, youare ultimately responsible for the final grade of the group work. For example, if it is really necessary, you may deviate from the mark given by others (e.g., fellow students or external parties) or from the pre-arranged calculation key (e.g., if, according to that key, each group member should get the same mark). In such a case, always provide sufficient justification.

Group composition

Decide how to organise and divide the groups. Also, determine the size of the groups.

Format of the groups

Make a considered choice between possible group formations:jigsaw, the master system,interdisciplinary group work, complementary group work,project work, parallel-group work,problem-based learning... How group work is organised has an influence on what students learn during group work, e.g., endurance, ways to deal with conflicts or to build knowledge collaboratively.

Anycompetitionbetween the groups can be motivating and stimulating. Also give each group a clearidentity, for example, by assigning a different research topic to each group. Both elements promote a team spirit.

Group size

A group offour to six peopleis ideal. According to theRingelmann effect, the greater the group, the lower the individual performance.

If you choose larger groups, make sure that individual contributions are visible to avoid free-riding behaviour. For example, ask students to keep a logbook and to draw up and submit an allocation of tasks, follow up in the interim, organise peer feedback or assessment, etc. You can also give students roles which may vary throughout the group work. Examples are:

  • organisational roles such as chairperson, reporter, equipment manager, timer, mediator, etc.
  • substantive or field-specific roles as a customer-manager employee, pupil-parent-education minister-director-teacher, builder-architect-contractor, lawyer-accused-judge-civil party-prosecutor, etc.

Organize groups

Considerforming randomgroups. For example, students should learn to work with people whom they do not know very well. That in itself can be an educational experience, but it is also recommended when students have to judge each other in group work and you want to minimise the impact of friendships.

For heterogeneous groups, if possible. Heterogeneity can mean:

  • differences in intellectual skills, prior knowledge, etc.
  • differences in task-related skills, interpersonal skills, knowledge of group dynamics, etc.
  • differences in areas of interest, balance between men and women, etc.
  • Heterogeneous groups are a powerful tool for students to learn to deal with differences and to learn to exploit the added value of diversity. A heterogeneous group creates a variety of new perspectives that stimulates thinking.

Do not change the group composition during an ongoing assignment(unless it is part of the group formation, for example, ajigsaw). If different assignments are offered in a course unit,change the group composition with each assignment. That way, students are more motivated to take on different roles within the group processes and connect with different group dynamics.

How to supervise group work?

Provide interim feedback. Students generally find that very meaningful. Feedback is motivational as it provides students insight into their own learning process and functioning. In group work, especially when it comes to long-term assignments, it is advisable to organise interim contact moments with the different groups.

If you are the evaluator of the group work, it is better not to guide the group work yourself. Leave the guidance to other lecturer(s), assistants or external persons. Also schedule different feedback moments. There are different forms:

Scheduled contact moments

A weekly contact moment is especially relevant for students who participate in group work for the first time. A rigid follow-up motivates and lowers the threshold. In the beginning, leave enough room for the students to ask additional questions about the assignment. Towards the end you will notice that the contact moments are more focused on the content. Ask the students to write a report on the contact moment after each meeting. That is an added value for both the supervisor and the students. Writing down agreements facilitates later follow-ups as you can refer to them at a later stage.Depending on the assignment and the experiences of the students with group works, you can also choose to provide only one or a few contact moments, rather than one a week.

Supervision and intervision

In supervision and intervision, you have a process-oriented conversation with less focus on the content of the task. When that conversation takes place under the guidance of a supervisor (read: counsellor), there is talk of a supervision interview. When the group is composed of equivalent interlocutors, there is an intervision conversation.

Consulting credit

In the case of consulting credit, each group is entitled to a predetermined number of hours of guidance. Whenever they are stuck, groups can make an appointment with a supervisor. By limiting the consulting credit, you encourage students to think for themselves and actively look for solutions.

What are the different phases of group work?

The instruction phase

During this phase, you explain the assignment to students: What is involved? Why did you choose group work?

Info about the assignment

  • Introduce the topic, activate prior knowledge and evoke interest in the topic and assignment. This can be done, for example, by presenting a lecture, organising a study visit or inviting a guest speaker.
  • Explain the assignment and provide instructions on the working method. What method(s) can students handle for the assignment, how much time can they spend on certain phases, what roles should they distribute amongst group members? The least experience students have in collaboration, because, for example, it has not yet been brought up in the programme, the more guidance you offer as a lecturer.
  • Clarify what is expected from students in terms of the assessment. What is being assessed and how, and what are the assessment criteria and instruments? What are the assessment points and what are the (interim) deadlines? Who are the assessors?
  • Also, indicate what the guidance will look like. Who can the student approach with questions and when? Who can they contact if they don't find a solution for an unproductive group member?
  • Provide time to deal with students' questions about the assignment. It is not recommended to change the assignment during the process. Take any issues with you to the next time you organise the group work.

Info about working together

  • Specify why collaboration is necessary for the assignment and what its added value is. If learning to work better is an objective of the assignment, clarify it to the students. What collaborative skills should students develop?
  • Encourage students to put a plan of action on paper. This plan includes how they want to approach the task, who carries which responsibilities, what their short-term, interim and long-term objectives are, the minutes of the meetings, etc.
  • Allow students to get acquainted with working in groups by, for example: giving a small assignment in which each student plays a role, providing training in meeting techniques or applying a practice case study, etc.

The implementation phase

In the preparation phase, you’ve already determined who will give guidance and when. During the implementation phase, guidance is task-oriented, then relationship-oriented, depending on the stage the group is at. At the start of the group work, task orientation will prevail, but do not lose sight of the relationship orientation.

Interventions for taks-oriented guidance

Answer questions from students and steer the group where necessary. Depending on the level of students and the experience in group work, you can provide relevant resources, give references or guide the students in their research.

Interventions relationship-oriented guidance

  • Often students don't know how to work together and that is also something they need to learn. By creating a setting during guidance moments that promote interaction, you teach students how to have a greater impact on the group’s performance. For example, make sure that several students can voice their opinion or occasionally ask questions around the group. Watch out for cross-talking and encourage out-of-the-box thinking.
  • Observation of groups can also provide input for relationship-oriented guidance. Give students feedback on their way of working together through a review. Especially if collaboration or social skills are part of the objectives of the assignment, such a review is relevant.
  • Finally, during a guidance moment, you can also ask students to rate themselves, each other and the general group functioning.

The reporting and assessment phase

Finally, students need to report on their process and product, so that you can evaluate both elements as a lecturer. This reporting and assessment can be done in different ways.Learn more about how to assess group work.

What are the points of interest in group work?

How do you deal with dysfunctional groups?

In group work, problems such as free-riding (piggybacking), social loafing (the individual contribution decreases as it becomes less visible) or other (social) conflicts between group members. By making conscious choices when you design the assignment, you can largely avoid these problems:

  • An authentic problem statement with clear and achievable objectives increases the motivation of students.
  • A well-thought-out group composition ensures that individual contributions from each group member are necessary and visible.
  • Appropriate guidance and monitoring ensure that you can detect and resolve problems early.
  • An adequate assessment takes account of the contributions of all group members. For example, consider the group process, a group presentation, the attitude of students, the individual input, peer assessment in which students rate each other, etc. Learn more about how to assess group work.

What do you do if, despite the above measures, students indicate that there is conflict amongst each other that they cannot solve by themselves as a group? Here are some tips:

  • Intervene in relationship conflicts, not in constructive conflicts. In the case of relationship conflicts (e.g., interpersonal contradictions, tensions and hostilities...) productivity of groups can decrease very quickly. Allow constructive conflict relating to task-related aspects. This stimulates discussion, promotes a critical view of problems and lead to better decisions. Conflict-free teams have the risk of becoming apathetic and stagnating.
  • Don't ignore the signal. It is advisable to intervene as a supervisor. If not, the productivity of such groups will decrease significantly.
  • Avoid splitting up the group. Instead, listen to the students' complaints and especially, check what the problem is by talking to all group members. Take on a neutral position so that the group members can solve the conflict and continue to work on the assignment constructively.
  • Dig deeper into factual and concrete information in discussions, filter emotions from the conversation. Ask about the distribution of tasks and how it is working out for the group members. Don't be guided by the version of one part of the group; talk to all group members. Always obtain the objective facts to decide which steps to take to move forward.
  • Solutions for group conflicts can often be found in a change of role distribution, the clear demarcation of the sub-assignments and responsibilities of the group members, individual guidance of (a) group member/group members, etc. What solution do the students themselves propose?
  • Don't feel compelled to give students an immediate answerwhen students don't find a solution or propose a doubtful solution. Solutions such as excluding a group member or dissolving a group can have major implications. Ask the students for a moment of reflection and tell them you will get back to them later with an answer.
  • Dissolve a group only if there is no other option.
  • Only deviate from a group mark or calculation key if there is no other option. By mentioning on the course sheet that you as lecturer-in-charge remain ultimately responsible for the final mark of the group work (see also UGent test principle 15), you can, if absolutely necessary, deviate from the mark given by others (e.g., fellow students or external companies) or from the proposed calculation key (e.g., if, according to this key, each group member receives the same mark). As a lecturer, always ensure you can justify the final grade.

Information above based on the work of theUniversiteit Gent. VU Amsterdam made small amendments and additions to fit with the VU Amsterdam context.

Want to know more?

Bulteel, L., Van Damme, J., Braeckman, L., Defloor, T., Gemmel, P., & Maes, L. (2010). Quality evaluation policy in master's programmes.

Clement, M., & Laga, E. (2005). Index cards teaching practice. Antwerp: Guarantor.

Cohen E.G. (1994). Disigning groupwork: Strategies for the heterogeneous classroom (2nd ed.). Teachers college, NY: Teachers college press.

Davis, M. H., & Karunathilake, I. (2005). The place of the oral examination in today's assessment systems. Medical Teacher, 27(4), 294-297.

Ebbens, S., & Ettekoven, S. (2005). Collaborative learning. Noordhoff Publishers BV.

Hoogeveen, P., & Winkels, J. (2008). The didactic workbook. Van Gorcum Publishers.

Kallenberg, A.J. (2003). Learning (and) teaching in higher education. Boom Royal Publishers.

Pauli, R., Mohiyeddini, C., Bray, D., Michie, F., & Street, B. (2008). Individual differences in negative group work experiences in collaborative student learning. Educational Psychology, 28(1), 47-58.

Valke, Martin. (2018). Educational science as design science: from learning to instruction: part 1. Leuven: ACCO.

Watkins, R. (2004). Groupwork and assessment: The handbook for economics lecturers. Economics Network, 1-24.


Is Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam hard to get into? ›

Its overall acceptance rate for international students is somewhere around 4.3 percent, although this varies greatly from course to course. Is Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam a good university? Yes, it is a great university.

Does Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam teach in English? ›

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam offers hundreds of English-taught courses at both the Bachelor's and Master's level, ranging from arts & culture and social sciences, neurosciences and computer science, to economics and business administration.

How many students does VU Amsterdam have? ›

Students and programmes

In the 2021-2022 academic year, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam had a total of 31,704 students. The number of bachelor students was 19,381, the number of master students 12,323. Of these, 5,190 were international students.

Why should I study at VU Amsterdam? ›

VU Amsterdam is a unique university with faculties in the humanities, STEM, social sciences and medical sciences. Our education and research are closely linked. We combine our top position in research with a strong social orientation, which has resulted in an excellent international reputation.

Is Vrije Amsterdam prestigious? ›

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is one of the top public universities in Amsterdam, Netherlands. It is ranked #207 in QS World University Rankings 2024.

What GPA do you need for Vrije university? ›

Application Requirements:

Minimum GPA of 3.0. Students should submit their official academic transcripts from institutions last attended in. Proof of English language proficiency.

What is the grading scale for Vrije university? ›

The Dutch grading scale runs from 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest grade possible and 10 being the highest. A 6.0 or higher is a passing grade and a grade of 5.0 or lower is a failing grade. Grades of 5.5 are always rounded up to 6.0.

What is Vrije university ranked in the world? ›

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam ranks 121th in the World University Ranking 2023, published by Times Higher Education. This is six places lower than last year's position (2022 edition - position 115).

Is vu or UvA better? ›

Academics: UvA is state funded - traditionally it was the leading university of the middle class = it's the go to college for the local teenagers. The VU is more specialized for certain exact-science sectors (this isn't the case in medical sectors are they combined their academic centres for them).

What is a passing grade in VU Amsterdam? ›

Dutch grades range from 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest). Grades of 5.5 and higher are passing grades. The highest grade, 10, is very rarely awarded. An 8 is considered a high mark and a 7 is more common.

How much does vu amsterdam cost for international students? ›

Tuition Fees
Fall 2023 Tuition Fee€6,995
Spring 2024 Tuition Fee€6,995
2023-2024 Academic Year Fee€13,490

What is the acceptance rate for VU Amsterdam for international students? ›

University of Amsterdam admissions are competitive with an acceptance rate of 4%. The university admits some of the most brilliant students from across the world. University of Amsterdam is home to 41,000 students including 8,126 students pursuing bachelor's programs and 6,845 master's programs.

Is Amsterdam a good place for international students? ›

Studying abroad in Amsterdam provides students with a safe multicultural atmosphere that's easy to travel by bike, train, or car. In addition, universities in Amsterdam offer a wide variety of courses for students looking to study Dutch, film, art, design, medicine, and so much more.

How prestigious is University of Amsterdam? ›

The UvA is ranked among the top 10 best universities in Europe in the US News rankings of Best Global Universities, and ranks 38th worldwide.

Do I need to know Dutch to study in University of Amsterdam? ›

Is learning Dutch necessary to study in the Netherlands? As an international student pursuing higher education in the Netherlands, learning Dutch is not necessarily required. However, it can significantly enhance your experience and offer several advantages.

What is the acceptance rate for Vrije Universiteit? ›

Vrije Universiteit Brussel's acceptance rate range is 20-29% making this institution a very selective higher education institution.

What IB score is needed for Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam? ›

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in Netherlands requires students to maintain a minimum IB of 33 in order to stand a good chance to get admission into Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Students must also participate in other activities like sports, lead some projects, community services to improve chances of admission.

What GPA do you need for Vrije Universiteit Brussel? ›

You have or will soon have a bachelor's degree in engineering sciences of at least three years, or consisting of at least 180 ECTS credits or equivalent (such as 130 US credits or semester contact hours). You have overall above-average grades, which in the US grading system means level B or a GPA of minimum 3 out of 4.

What is the easiest university to get into in Amsterdam? ›

The easiest Dutch university to get into is the Fontys Hogescholen (Fontys University of Applied Sciences). For a little background, this educational institution houses more than 44,000 students on campus, and they have a wide range of degrees and programs offered to local and international students.


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