Supporting Faculty in Designing for Online Collaboration and Group Work – Sharing the PSTC Model :)

Collaboration and group work can be challenging, especially when it is done as part of an online course. I’ve been teaching online and using collaborative group projects since about 2006 and have learned a lot. In 2012/2013 I gathered what I had learned, designed a process, and conducted a small research project with my students to see if this process worked. Here is an chapter excerpt:

“Anecdotally, I knew that providing students in online and blended courses with comprehensive support for successful completion of collaborative group work was important. Based on the survey results and the student presentations provided by every group at the end of the course, the design model discussed in this chapter, the Phases and Scaffolds for Technology and Collaboration (PSTC) online and blended course design model, supports student learning, student success, and student satisfaction.” (Parra, 2013)

Here is the breakdown of the PSTC Model.

Phases, Scaffolds, and Technology for Collaboration Model


(based on

16-week Schedule)



Student Activities Technology & Scaffold Examples
Phase 1


Unit 1

Weeks 1-2


Role Model

Master Learner



1.     Introductions, icebreaker, and/or orientation activities

2.     Develop basic technology toolkits

3.     Prepare for group work

4.     Form groups

5.     Review group work resources

6.     Practice group work communications and tool use

1.     LMS Forum and web conferencing tool

2.     Getting Started Guide

3.     Collaboration Survey

4.     LMS Group Sign-Up process & tools

5.     Group Work Guide

6.     Small group collaboration tools such as Skype & Google Docs

Phase 2


Unit 2

Weeks 3-5


Role Model

Master Learner


1.     Practice group work communications and tool use

2.     Complete a group work form/contract

3.     Complete a fun low risk collaborative group activity to understand group dynamics and practice collaboration skills.

1.     Small group collaboration tools

2.     Group Work and Roles Guide and class template [contract]

3.     Activity guide and class template [activity] with instruction for use of fun emerging technology like Twitter, memes, etc.

Phase 3


Units 3-5

Weeks 6-12





1.     Work on the Group Projects

2.     Submit group artifacts or progress reports

3.     Attend online class meetings or review recordings to discuss relevant topics, group work, Q&A, etc.

1.     Small group collaboration tools

2.     LMS assignment tool

3.     Class chat or web conferencing tool

Phase 4


Units 5-6

Weeks 13-16





1.     Turn in final products (slides, site, documents, etc.)

2.     Practice group presentations

3.     Present group projects in online class meeting

1.     LMS assignment tool

2.     Small group collaboration tool or class web conferencing tool

3.     Class web conferencing tool


Parra, J. (2013). Developing technology and collaborative group work skills: supporting student and group success in online and blended courses. In P. Blessinger  (Ed.), Cutting-edge Technologies in Higher Education, Volume 6 Part G – Increasing Student Engagement and Retention in e-Learning Environments: Web 2.0 and Blended Learning Technologies. Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

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