Group Work in Google Apps

NC State students report that one of the ways faculty could improve online courses is through building in more student-student activities (DELTA, 2015). While group work can be daunting for online faculty, there are many tools that can make it an effective use of students’ (and your) time. Google Drive contains multiple applications that are useful for group work in online classes. The most frequently used include Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, and Maps. Google Apps offers numerous advantages for teaching and learning, including extensive sharing options, collaboration capabilities with editing and commenting features, an autosave feature and 15 GB of storage, viewable revision history, and core apps already integrated with Unity accounts.

How to Get Started

How to Set up Group Work

The easiest way to set up group work in one of the Google Apps is to assign a student leader for each group who will create a file that the group will share throughout the assignment. Another student may lead for the next group assignment. Instruct them on doing this with the steps below:

Step 1: Open the file you want to share

Step 2: Click the blue “Share” button in the top right corner

Step 3: In the “Add people and groups” in the sharing box, type the email addresses of the people (your group members plus me) you want to share with

Step 4: Choose the type of access you want to allow by clicking the dropdown arrow to the right of the text box–in our case, you will choose “Editor”

Step 5: Click “Send”–the users will receive an email letting them know you’ve shared the file with them (Google, 2016)

Note: The steps are very similar if you would prefer that the group share a folder instead of a file. You can also use Google Groups to set up a course group and then share documents, folders, and so on with the group. Note: Google Groups can also be created outside of Wolfware for non-course groups.

Best Practices & Strategies

  • Design tasks that make sense as group work rather than individual assignments; if the student would benefit more from doing the work alone, consider other activities for group work (Bart, 2010)
  • When designing the group work activity, here are some possible categories for group work:
    • A debate or research on controversial issues for which there is no right answer
    • Analyzing current events or case studies that allow multiple perspectives
    • A “jigsaw puzzle approach”–when each student contributes one part rather than trying to evaluate a plethora of resources individually (Bart, 2010)
  • Ensure that the group is small enough to have all members participate (around 3 or 4 is a good number)
  • Record a screen capture of you talking through how to open Google Drive, share a file, etc.–this helps students see and hear exactly how to approach group work and helps decrease confusion if they are new to Google Apps
  • Include a rubric to ensure clarity; see an example
  • Maintain a presence to let students know that you are aware of their activity, but don’t be overly active, as this can limit students’ active participation (Pearson, 1999; Rovai, 2007)

Require group evaluation forms after each group assignment; see an example

Google Workspace Strategies


  • Have students create a unit outline or study guide as a group
    • Student Directions: After reviewing the sample outline created by the instructor, draft your own outline for the unit in a Google Doc. Then, put your draft into your shared group folder and review each group member’s outline. Discuss the connections among the concepts with your group, and create a group outline that combines the best parts of each outline.
  • Have students use a Google Doc template (or “forced copy” document) that you create to brainstorm a proposal for a group project
    • Student Directions: Fill in the template with as many responses as you can by Monday. Don’t worry about editing your ideas; just get your ideas down on the page. By Wednesday, make sure everyone in the group has made comments about the direction they would like to see the project take.
  • Have students use Google Slides to create a group project presentation -consider creating a template for students to use. Create a forum for groups to discuss, plan, and turn in a link to their Google Slide presentation.
    • Student Directions: Using Google Slides, develop a presentation to demonstrate your group’s understanding and application of the unit topic. Be sure to check out the template as a guide. You should show evidence of how your group divided up or shared the work in creating the presentation in the forum post when you submit a link to your Google slideshow. Each group member should be responsible for at least one slide.  If group members do not participate, then the rest of the members will have to do more work, and this will be taken into consideration.  For example, you may discuss in the forum how you will share and divide the work to be done, or you may post comments in Google Slides that show your group’s discussion of what to include on each slide, or you may do both. Do not discuss in outside emails.  If you choose to meet in person or in chat, then please provide me with a summary of your discussion and attendance at the meeting.


  • Bart, M. (2010). How to design effective online group work activities.Faculty Focus. Retreived from
  • DELTA. (2015). Student evaluation of distance education services. Retrieved from
  • Google. (2016). How to share. Drive Help. Retrieved from
  • Gracieux, M. & Giro, A. (2014). Create, share, and communicate with Google Apps. Workshop, North Carolina State University.
  • Pearson, J. (1999). Electronic networking in initial teacher education: Is a virtual faculty of education possible? Computer & Education, 32(3), 221-238.
  • Rovai, A. P. (2007). Facilitating online discussions effectively. Internet and Higher Education, 10(1), 77-88.