Students are given a problem to solve. This problem can be just about anything from esoteric philosophical issues to mathematics. The goal is to come up with a solution to the problem. In some cases, the solution will be tested and reported on.


Stern, M. (1995). Visions for a sustainable city: Owings Mills, MD.

Goals and Objectives

The goals of group problem solving are to develop the students ability to solve problems in the given context. Goals can also include building team skills, experience testing solutions, evaluative skills among alternatives, etc. Sample objective statements include:

During and after performing the Group Problem Solving activity, students will…

  • develop group problem solving skills,
  • interpret facts and propose solutions,
  • recognize key facets of a problem situation,
  • identify motives creating a problem situation,
  • outline a course of action,

…as determined by successfully attending to 80% of rubric items.

Materials and Resources

The instructor must present the students with the problem. This may include access to numerous background materials. The instructor should also provide a group discussion area for each group and clear guidelines on their activities.

Guiding Questions for this Lesson

As with most activities, the guiding question will depend on the purpose. For example, if group skills is the primary purpose, the guiding questions might be how well can students work together to resolve issue x? Another guiding question might be, how effectively can a student group address the given problem?

Lesson Outline and Procedure

  1. Either pre-select of allow self selection of students into groups. Groups of 3-5 are usually effective in online education activities.
  2. Present students with the problem to be solved and any background materials needed to begin solving the problem.
  3. Provide time for group formation. Follow the groups communications very closely at the beginning to make sure that everything starts off well.
  4. If it is a long process, have the groups submit progress reports.
  5. Final group solutions may be submitted to the instructor or the class for peer review and comments.
  6. In some cases, students may test out their solution and report on the results as a stage 2 process to the group problem solving activity.
  7. Assess both individual and group performance.

Teaching Strategies

  • Group work is a fickle fiend in online education. Resources are provided below regarding effectively implementing online group work.
  • If groups have already been used in the course, the same groups may be maintained to reduce group formation time.
  • Do not present the students with too much information at the beginning. In other words, give them enough to guide them to the solution without actually telling them the solution.
  • Use problems that have multiple or complex solutions so as to more effectively make use of group synergy relationships. Easy problems do not require group work.


What accommodations may be needed for students with disabilities or other special needs? The primary accommodation will involve communication changes as needed for those with disabilities to actively and effectively participate in the group activity. Other accommodations may be needed depending on the nature of the problem to be solved.


The time required to complete a group problem solving exercise can very widely. Small groups could be formed in a synchronous session and given 10 minutes to come up with a problem solution. In most cases, for a class activity involving group work, at least 3 days should be given for group formation in an online course. An additional week may be needed for the group to meet and address the problem. 3-5 more days would be needed for the group to compose and submit a problem response. These would be average times that will vary by the needs of the exercise.

Ideas for Lesson Evaluation and Teacher Reflection

How did the students like the lesson? End of semester evaluations should ask about the usefulness and learning accomplished through such activities. Also, the conversation that occurs during the activity will help guage how the students are enjoying various aspects and whether they are learning and/or participating.

Questions the instructor should ask when evaluating the lesson include: Were the students engaged in efficiently working together? Does the solution actually address the problem? Is there creativity in the solution? Is the solution feasible? How quickly did they arrive at a solution?

How was student learning verified? Participation can be assessed in discussion sessions. A rubric can also be set up to help guage the quality of final work.

Sample rubrics for group work available online:

Useful Online References on Group Work in General

  • Austin, D., & Mescia, M. D. (n.d.).Strategies to incorporate active learning into online teaching. from
  • Lopez-Ortiz, B. I., & Lin, L. (2005, February). What makes an online group project work? Students’ perceptions before and after an online collaborative problem/project-based learning (PBL) experience. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(2). from

A Few Books with Information on Group Work Online

  • Harasim, L. (2007). Assessing online collaborative learning: A theory, methodology, and toolset. In B. H. Khan (Ed.).Flexible learning in an information society. pp. 282-293. Hershey, PA: Information Science Publishing.
  • Horton, W. (2000).Designing Web-based training. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Ko, S., & Rossen, S. (2001).Teaching online: A practical guide. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
  • Nicolay, J. A. (2002). Group assessment in the on-line learning environment. In R. S. Anderson, J. F. Bauer, & B. W. Speck (Eds.). Assessment strategies for the on-line class: From theory to practice. pp. 43-52. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  • Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (1999).Building learning communities in cyberspace: Effective strategies for the online classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  • Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (2001).Lessons from the cyberspace classroom: The realities fo online teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  • Salmon, G. (2002). e-tivities: The key to active online learning. London: Kogan Page Limited.