Last updated: August 13, 2020

From “Break-out Rooms,” “General Zoom Discussions” to “Group Projects” 

"Designated Roles for Students Working in a Group” aims to provide some guidance on how to structure group discussions in Zoom as well as course group assignments where group interactions are the focus of the learning experience. The suggested roles below encourage equitable intellectual exchange, foster respectful group conversation, and promote student accountability as well as nurtures student’s development of good individual and collaborative skill sets. 

When students have designated roles—whether assigned by the professor or decided by the students themselves in the group—it will foster positive interdependence that in turn helps all students to contribute productively. In addition, designated roles can help students to develop stronger communications skills, plan and manage time, foster inclusive discussion, and learn how to break complex tasks into steps. 

Some possible roles and responsibilities—which professors can merge, tailor, and adapt according to the course assignment and/or discussion objectives—could include some or all of the following:

  • Devil’s Advocate: Raises counter-arguments and constructive objections by respectfully introducing alternative explanations and solutions for group consideration.
  • Documentarian: Takes notes summarizing group discussions and decisions.
  • Facilitator: Moderates group discussion and keeps the group on task. 
  • Group Liaison: Serves as group’s spokesperson by summarizing group work to class and/or professor (i.e. main point of contact via email), etc. 
  • Harmonizer: Strives to create a positive team atmosphere by welcoming diverse expression of ideas while aiding the group to reach consensus. 
  • Prioritizer: Responsible for keeping the group on track by (re)focusing on the important issues; is mindful of not being derailed by the details of the discussion and/or assignment.  
  • Timekeeper: Keeps the group aware of time constraints and deadlines for meetings.
  • Wildcard: Assumes the role of any missing group member and/or steps in wherever needed as the discussion and/or assignment evolves.

For more information, please see:

Barkley, E.F., Cross, K.P., & Major, C.H. (2005). Collaborative learning techniques. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., and Smith, K. (1991). Cooperative learning: Increasing college faculty instructional productivity (ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 4). Washington, DC: The George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.

Millis, B. J., and Cottell, P. G., Jr. (1998). Cooperative learning for higher education faculty. American Council on Education, Series on Higher Education. The Oryx Press, Phoenix, AZ. (on order)

Smith, K. A. (1996). "Cooperative Learning: Making 'Group work' Work" In Sutherland, T. E., and Bonwell, C. C. (Eds.), Using active learning in college classes: A range of options for faculty, New Directions for Teaching and Learning No. 67.

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