Case Study: Supporting Online Group Work

The Instructional Design team worked with Dr. Kelly L'Engle, Assistant Professor in the Population Health Sciences department, to bring her project-based course, Program Planning and Evaluation, online as part of the online Masters of Public Health Program.

During the course of the semester, Dr. L'Engle's students worked together in groups to complete assignments which built up to an ambitious final project – a proposal for a community healthcare program in response to an urgent need in a particular community of their choice.

In the face-to-face version of the class, students worked intensely with one another to develop and share ideas in class within groups. The challenge in bringing this class online was to create groups that effectively communicated solely through technology.

Kelly L'Engle, Professor

“It was a pretty major shift to go from in-person, or face-to-face teaching, to online teaching for this class. The class is based on a team learning environment. There are a lot of in-person, face-to-face activities, and it was important to be able to take these group learning, face-to-face opportunities and translate them into the online environment. ”

Xavier Gomez, Former Senior Instructional Designer at USF

“Kelly's class was project-based, and all group work, so the question is, how do you support group work for online students who have never seen one another, who have never met in person, yet they have to develop a substantial project proposal together? And that was our challenge.”

Leveraging Educational Technology

Canvas Learning Management System

The integrated group function in Canvas enabled student team members to collaborate and communicate successfully, effectively supporting student-centered learning through peer-to-peer and group interaction. The use of group discussion boards maximized student engagement and called extensively upon students' critical analysis skills. Dr. L'Engle could see direct evidence of the application of learning gleaned from the discussion boards on students' individual and group assignments, validating their effectiveness.

Zoom Video Conferencing

Video conferencing also played an important role in enabling group communication and teacher-student interaction. USF's Zoom Video Conferencing was utilized by groups for video meetings, enabling them to talk and see one another, which supported peer learning and strengthened their group work via social connection. They were able to share information with one another via the Zoom share desktop feature as well as to record their meetings for instructor review. Dr. L'Engle scheduled one-on-one meetings with her students to assess their progress and assist with any problems.


In a group project-based class, peer-to-peer learning is critical to student success. Kelly found that students who had completed the course had valuable advice to impart to new students to help them surmount the challenges of collaborating with a group in an online class. To connect these students and enable this peer learning, Dr. L'Engle asked several experienced former students to record short videos in which they shared with current students their strategies for successfully approaching, organizing and completing their group projects and assignments. These were shared throughout the modules of the course.

In addition, the Instructional Design team completed a three-part video case study on a successful student team from the previous semester. Students could watch these videos and get a real sense of how other students had tackled the challenging final project. The videos detailed one former student group's process from start to finish, further supporting the current online students as they tackled their group projects in this online version of the class. Click here to see one of the videos.

This course represents a range of techniques and responses to an instructional challenge. The end result was a productive collaboration, balance of instructor goals and student needs, and the implementation of innovative instructional design, technology and multimedia in service of greater student engagement, support, and success.