Group work roles
Group work roles define tasks for group members in collaborative pedagogy. Educational strategies and tactics can define roles for participants, both for presential and online activities. These are also called roles for group work or collaboration rules. The rational is that students groups function more efficiently and effectively when members have specific roles. Roles can be designed to trigger specific socio-cognitive processes, e.g. cognitive conflicts that will make people question their assumptions. Roles can be given out for shorter activities or longer ones that can span over several weeks. In the latter case, roles also can be rotated among group members.
Strategic division of roles also exists in other contexts, e.g. management models, and also can inspire education.
Defining and assigning roles
The procedure for define roles could include three steps
- Define the roles that are needed with respect to (learning) goals to be achieved and group dynamics that is desired
- Explain roles to students
- Design activities that capitalize on outcomes within groups, between groups and at the class level
Typically, in an educational context, these roles do not define all the work that will be done. Roles rather just ensure that each group member adopts a specific coordination task.
Most common roles for groups of three to four
A small group of three should have a leader and a scribe. The third one depends on the nature of the project.
|Role name||Alternative names||Function|
|3a. Presenter:||Summarizer, spokesperson||
|3b. Reseacher:||Librarian, resource collector||
|3c. Specialist:||(depends on the task)||
Most common roles for larger groups
(one person can combine more than one role in smaller groups)
|Role name||Alternative names||Function|
|Critic:||Sceptic, thinker, challenger||
|Resource collector:||Librarian, researcher||
|Time keeper:||Time/objective keeper||
In addition to the roles above, work itself must insured. It can be distributed among the group members and/or given to specialists, e.g. makers, data analysts, technicians,....
List of general group work role models in education
Below we include lists of roles found on the web (randomly picked and sorted for now).
Most text is quoted as in the original, but we changed the formatting and also omitted text like "Is responsible for" that introduces role functions.
Collaborative Learning Guide
Source: Collaborative Learning Guide (PDF) handout, Illinois State Board of Education, retrieved July 10 2017.
De Laat & Marten  in a CSCL study defined the following roles (p. 16 ss). “These roles focus on tasks required to support the overall collaborative learning and tutoring process. By giving each member some explicit responsibility for the community’s coordination of their collaborative learning a heterogeneous community is created that may be able to accomplish something that an individual could not achieve alone (Johnson and Johnson, 1999a).”
Doing Cooperative learning, group roles
Source: Group Roles, Arhive, National Institute for Science education, retrieved July 10, 2017.
Source: The following two groups of roles have been copied from Student Roles, Teaching Entry Level GeoScience, retrieved July 10, 2017. This list is based on the "Doing CL, group roles" above.
Potential Project Roles
|Leader/Editor:||This student is in charge of organizing the final product of the project, be it a paper, a presentation, etc. That doesn't mean technical details, but of making sure that the project meets the standards set out by the instructor (often as a rubric), plus any extras stipulated by the group. These standards generally include punctuality and completeness.|
|Recorder/Secretary:||This person takes notes whenever the group meets and keeps track of group data/sources/etc. This person distributes these notes to the rest of the group highlighting sections relevant for their parts of the project.|
|Checker:||Someone needs to double-check data, bibliographic sources, or graphics for accuracy and correctness.|
|Spokesperson/Press Secretary/Webmaster:||This person would be responsible for the technical details of the final product and would be ready to summarize the group's progress and findings to the instructor and to other groups.|
Possible Discussion Roles
|Facilitator/Encourager:||This student gets discussion moving and keeps it moving, often by asking the other group members questions, sometimes about what they've just been saying.|
|Timekeeper:||Someone needs to make sure that the group stays on track and gets through a reasonable amount of material in the given time period.|
|Summarizer:||Every so often (perhaps once per question for a list of questions, or at the end for one question), this student provides a summary of the discussion for other students to approve or amend.|
|Reflector:||This student will listen to what others say and explain it back in his or her own words, asking the original speaker if the interpretation is correct.|
|Elaborator:||This person seeks connections between the current discussion and past topics or overall course themes.|
Authentic Tasks, Group Work Roles and Gamification
The following model is described in Gutiérrez et al (2014): 1568-1569.
|Facilitator:||They are the leader of the group. They have to share out the work, encourage their classmates, meditate in the problems and try to keep everyone in the group motivated. At the end of the week, they have to send a justifiable report with a point score for every member in the group (following the criteria proposed in a rubric). Also, they have to keep the blog, and all the sites (social media, YouTube channel, Twitter...) of the group.|
|Historian:||They are responsible to tell the history of the group during this week. They have to do a weekly feature in the blog. We encourage students to use different ways and formats to tell their history.|
|Explorer:||Their work is to look beyond the wall of the classroom, looking for interesting information from social educators, associations, NGOs, secondary schools...They have to comment in the selected web or blogs and write a review in the blog. Also, they have to look at other blogs inside the classroom and make comments in one of them (the most interesting this week).|
|Content curator:||Responsible for compiling and putting in a simplified way (map or diagram) all sources used during the tasks. The sources had to be put in a sequence about the use done. The sources had to be linked.|
|Translator:||Responsible for defining the five most important themes about technology and social education worked in this week.|
|Thinker:||It is one of the most important roles. They are responsible for reflecting the work done during the week. The thinker has to think about how they work and put in common the reflection of every member in the group.|
|Star (2):||The star (two in every group), was responsible for bringing about the outcome of the work done during this week. Every week the products were different.|
Roles in groups
Source: This list is reproduced from Roles in groups, University of Queensland, Student Services, retrieved July 10 2017
Cooperative group role cards
Sound bites : “Do you think it’s time to ask the teacher for help? “I’ll get an extra graphic organizer from the shelf.”
Possible roles on teams
Source: The following list is reproduced from the Assign roles document available through What are best practices for designing group projects? (Eberly Center, Carnegie Mellon University, retrieved July 10 2017).
|Facilitator:||Moderates team discussion, keeps the group on task, and distributes work.|
|Recorder:||Takes notes summarizing team discussions and decisions, and keeps all necessary records.|
|Reporter:||Serves as group spokesperson to the class or instructor, summarizing the group’s activities and/or conclusions.|
|Timekeeper:||Keeps the group aware of time constraints and deadlines and makes sure meetings start on time.|
|Devil’s Advocate:||Raises counter-arguments and (constructive) objections, introduces alternative explanations and solutions.|
|Harmonizer:||Strives to create a harmonious and positive team atmosphere and reach consensus (while allowing a full expression of ideas.)|
|Prioritizer:||Makes sure group focuses on most important issues and does not get caught up in details.|
|Explorer:||Seeks to uncover new potential in situations and people (fellow team members but also clients) and explore new areas of inquiry.|
|Innovator:||Encourages imagination and contributes new and alternative perspectives and ideas.|
|Checker:||Checks to make sure all group members understand the concepts and the group’s conclusions.|
|Runner:||Gets needed materials and is the liaison between groups and between their group and the instructor.|
|Wildcard:||Assumes the role of any missing member and fills in wherever needed.|
Group work role cards
Source: The following elements have been extracted from cards, available at Group work role cards, Makesenstraining, TES, retrieved July 10, 2017.
Source: Teaching Channel (Video).
Assigning Roles for Group Work
Source: Assigning Roles for Group Work, Facing History and Ourselves (retrieved July 10 2017).
Source: The following list was extracted from Cooperative Learning: How to Assign Meaningful Tasks to Group Members, Chad Mannis, Daily Teaching tools, retrieved July 10 2017.
The autors also make the following suggestion for larger groups
|The Data Collector:||collects and records data for the activity.|
|The Checker:||keeps track of the group’s progress toward its goals.|
|The Elaborator:||connects discussions with prior material and activities.|
|The Encourager:||praises and affirms. Records positive comments and actions.|
|The Materials Manager:||gets and returns supplies and materials.|
|The Timekeeper:||monitors time and helps to keep the group on task.|
List of specific role model sets in education
De Bono's thinking hats
According to wikipedia (retrieved July 10, 2017), “Six Thinking Hats is a system designed by Edward de Bono which describes a tool for group discussion and individual thinking involving six colored hats. "Six Thinking Hats" and the associated idea parallel thinking provide a means for groups to plan thinking processes in a detailed and cohesive way, and in doing so to think together more effectively”.
Contents of the following table were extracted from the Wikipedia article:
|Perceived Role name||Description|
|Managing (Blue):||what is the subject? what are we thinking about? what is the goal? Can you look at the big picture.|
|Information (White):||considering purely what information is available, what are the facts?|
|Emotions (Red):||intuitive or instinctive gut reactions or statements of emotional feeling (but not any justification)|
|Discernment (Black):||logic applied to identifying reasons to be cautious and conservative. Practical, realistic.|
|Optimistic response (Yellow):||logic applied to identifying benefits, seeking harmony. Sees the brighter, sunny side of situations.|
|Creativity (Green):||statements of provocation and investigation, seeing where a thought goes. Thinks creatively, outside the box.|
Discussants for a presentation
We use this scenario when students give talks in class. Roles may change according to the nature of the talk. Roles turn, i.e. after each talk the "tokens" are shifted to the next person.
|Perceived Role name||Description|
|Questioner:||Will ask at least one interesting and challenging question|
|Quality evaluator:||Will give a critique of the formal quality of the presentation|
|Academic critique:||Will comment on the academic foundations of the talk|
|Improvement suggester:||Will make at least one suggestion for improvement on the project presented|
Self-Rated Group Role
Nokelainen et al (2003), defined self-rated group roles that models how members could perceive their role in a group. This taxonomy is based on a 52-item questionnaire that includes two scales: 1) group Roles, and 2) social Interdependence.
|Perceived Role name||Description|
|Rejection:||A rejected person feels hurt, if someone disagrees with his/her ideas and opinions. S/he thinks that others dislike him/her or that they are angry with him/her when they disagree with s/he. S/he wants to live without disagreements.|
|Dominance:||A dominant person has a strong opinion of almost everything. S/he likes argumentation and when s/he gets involved in an argument with others, s/he will become more and more certain that s/he is correct, and argue more and more strongly for his/her own point of view. S/he tries to overpower them who disagree with s/he.|
|Encouraging:||The factor describes a person who gives power and belief that work of group members is worthwhile. S/he expresses his/her willingness to cooperate with other group members. S/he encourages all members to participate and gives support in difficult situations. S/he is always ready to help if someone needs his/her help.|
|Conforming:||A conformist is a person who facilitates group work. Group members have influence to his/her opinions. S/he conforms easily to the group's norms, rules and decisions. Ability to adapt different situations reduces conflicts inside the group.|
|Sharing know how:||Groups need these kinds of persons who share their information, ideas and opinions. Sharing know how promotes group work. This kind of person is open and cooperative with entire group. S/he wants to promote the success of all members and the group as a whole by sharing his/her resources for good of the group.|
|Avoidance:||This kind of person tries to avoid conflict situations and individuals who argue with him/her. S/he keeps his/her ideas and opinions to himself/herself when others might disagree with him/her. In conflict situations s/he
stays quiet. If s/he stays quiet in Web-based courses s/he does not exist for other members of the group.
Social interdepence can be represented with a three factor solution (1) Individualistic, (2) Competitive, and (3) Cooperative.
List of models in management
The model of Belbin (2011) aims for balanced teams that include individuals with specific capacities, ie. strengths that combined, create a succesful team. Capacities also include allowable weaknesses.
Contents of the following table were taken from Wikipedia's Team Role Inventories page. We divided entries intro strengh and weaknesses.
|Completer-Finisher (CF):||The Completer Finisher is a perfectionist and will often go the extra mile to make sure everything is "just right," and the things he or she delivers can be trusted to have been double-checked and then checked again. The Completer Finisher has a strong inward sense of the need for accuracy, and sets his or her own high standards rather than working on the encouragement of others.||They may frustrate their teammates by worrying excessively about minor details and by refusing to delegate tasks that they do not trust anyone else to perform.|
|Co-ordinator (CO):||A Co-ordinator is a likely candidate for the chairperson of a team, since they have a talent for stepping back to see the big picture. Co-ordinators are confident, stable and mature and because they recognise abilities in others, they are very good at delegating tasks to the right person for the job. The Co-ordinator clarifies decisions, helping everyone else focus on their tasks.||Co-ordinators are sometimes perceived to be manipulative and will tend to delegate all work, leaving nothing but the delegating for them to do.|
|Implementer (IMP):||The Implementer takes their colleagues' suggestions and ideas and turns them into positive action. They are efficient and self-disciplined, and can always be relied on to deliver on time. They are motivated by their loyalty to the team or company, which means that they will often take on jobs everyone else avoids or dislikes.||Implementors may be seen as closed-minded and inflexible since they will often have difficulty deviating from their own well-thought-out plans, especially if such a deviation compromises efficiency or threatens well-established practices.|
|Monitor Evaluator (ME):||Monitor Evaluators are fair and logical observers and judges of what is going on in the team. Since they are good at detaching themselves from bias, they are often the ones to see all available options with the greatest clarity and impartiality. They take a broad view when problem-solving, and by moving slowly and analytically, will almost always come to the right decision.||Monitor evaluators can become very critical, damping enthusiasm for anything without logical grounds, and they have a hard time inspiring themselves or others to be passionate about their work.|
|Plant (PL):||Plants are creative, unorthodox and generators of ideas. If an innovative solution to a problem is needed, a Plant is a good person to ask. A good Plant will be bright and free-thinking.||Plants can tend to ignore incidentals. The Plant might be caricatured as the absent-minded professor/inventor, and often has a hard time communicating ideas to others. Multiple Plants in a team can lead to misunderstandings, as many ideas are generated without sufficient discernment or the impetus to follow the ideas through to action. Plants can also create problems with the timing of their ideas. The fact that the team has decided on a valid way forward and is now in the implementation stage will not stop the Plant from coming up with new solutions and disrupting the implementation process.|
|Resource Investigator (RI):||The Resource Investigator gives a team a rush of enthusiasm at the start of the project by vigorously pursuing contacts and opportunities. He or she is focused outside the team, and has a finger firmly on the pulse of the outside world. Where a Plant creates new ideas, a Resource Investigator will quite happily appropriate them from other companies or people. A good Resource Investigator is a maker of possibilities and an excellent networker.||
Has a tendency to lose momentum towards the end of a project and to forget to follow things up.
|Shaper (SH):||The Shaper is a task-focused individual who pursues objectives with vigour and who is driven by tremendous energy and the need to achieve. For the Shaper, winning is the name of the game. The Shaper provides the necessary drive to ensure that the team is kept moving and does not lose focus or momentum. Shapers are people who challenge the team to improve. They are dynamic and usually extraverted people who enjoy stimulating others, questioning norms, and finding the best approaches for solving problems. The Shaper is the one who shakes things up to make sure that all possibilities are considered and that the team does not become complacent.||Shapers could risk becoming aggressive and bad-humoured in their attempts to get things done. Shapers often see obstacles as exciting challenges and they tend to have the courage to push on when others feel like quitting.|
|Specialist (SP):||Specialists are passionate about learning in their own particular field. As a result, they are likely to be a fountain of knowledge and will enjoy imparting this knowledge to others. They also strive to improve and build upon their expertise. If there is anything they do not know the answer to, they will happily go and find out. Specialists bring a high level of concentration, ability, and skill in their discipline to the team, but can only contribute on that specialism.||Specialist will tend to be uninterested in anything which lies outside its narrow confines.|
|Team Worker (TW):||A Teamworker is the oil between the cogs that keeps the machine that is the team running smoothly. They are good listeners and diplomats, talented at smoothing over conflicts and helping parties understand one another without becoming confrontational.||Since the role can be a low-profile one, the beneficial effect of a Teamworker can go unnoticed and unappreciated until they are absent, when the team begins to argue, and small but important things cease to happen. Because of an unwillingness to take sides, a Teamworker may not be able to take decisive action when it's needed.|
The Star Roles Model developed by [Bene & Sheats] defines, according to [ Wikipedia] the “positions managers and mentors adopt when guiding direct-reports and mentees”. The model distinguishes between inner guidance (based on insight that the mentor has about the mentee) and outer guidance more related to context.
The following list was extracted from Star Roles Model on July 10 2017.
|Mentor role name||Function|
|Greater Expert:||bringing in own knowledge and sharing this with the person being guided/mentored - having the comfort and knowledge to advise technically, procedurally and personally - based on experience and sourced knowledge|
|Critical Partner:||brings personal challenge and structured dialogue to the interaction relies on socratic questioning to help the other person realise the truth of the situation and challenge their thinking with the aim of expanding the dialogue and their sphere of consideration.|
|Sympathetic Ear:||provides a non-judgmental sounding board for the mentee to discuss issues and challenges - establishes a secure conversational environment and falls into the 'friend/confidant role|
|Background Champion:||works within the organisation to secure wider support, input or change to assist the mentee in achieving their aims - lends their name and weight to the issue and is happy to be quoted as support for the work|
|Role Model:||bases conversations around challenge on their own direct experience and personal approach to problems - gives mentees steer through "I would..." conversations that educate through replication of their own success rather than self exploration and learning|
|Cultural Navigator:||imparts detailed, personal knowledge of the cultural flows and key figures within the organisation - uses personal experience and opinion of individuals, teams and departments to shape a route through the challenge for the individual|
Mintzberg management roles
Mintzberg defined 10 roles for managers. These can be taken by on single manager but also inspire role distribution in team work.
Negotiator: represents the organization at major negotiations.
|Figurehead:||symbolic head; performs a number of routine duties of a legal or social nature.|
|Leader:||motivates and activates subordinates; performs staffing, training, and associated duties.|
|Liaison:||maintains a self-developed network of outside contacts and informers who provide favors and information.|
|Mentor:||seeks and receives a wide variety of special information (much of it current) to develop a thorough understanding of the organization and environment; emerges as the nerve center of internal and external information for the organization.|
|Disseminator:||transmits information received from outsiders or from other subordinates to members of the organization. Some information is factual; some involves interpretation and integration of diverse value positions of organizational influences. Disseminating what is of value, and how, is a critical informational role.|
|Spokesman:||transmits information (plans, policies, results, etc.) within and outside of the organization; serves as an expert on the organization's industry.|
|Entrepreneur:||searches the organization and its environment and initiates improvement projects to bring about change; supervises design of certain projects as well.|
|Disturbance Handler:||takes corrective action when the organization faces important, unexpected disturbances.|
|Resource Allocator:||allocates the organization's resources; makes or approves of all significant organizational decisions.|
Cited with footnotes
- De Laat, M., & Lally, V. (2005). Investigating group structure in CSCL: Some new approaches. Information Systems Frontiers, 7(1), 13–25. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10796-005-5335-x
- Barkley, E.F., Cross, K.P., & Major, C.H. (2005). Collaborative learning techniques. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- R. Meredith Belbin, (2011) "Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail (3rd ed.)", Human Resource Management International Digest, Vol. 19 Issue: 3, https://doi.org/10.1108/hrmid.2011.04419cae.002
- De Wever, Bram; Hilde Van Keer, Tammy Schellens, Martin Valcke, Roles as a structuring tool in online discussion groups: The differential impact of different roles on social knowledge construction, Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 26, Issue 4, Emerging and Scripted Roles in Computer-supported Collaborative Learning, July 2010, Pages 516-523, DOI:10.1016/j.chb.2009.08.008.
- Eschenbach, E. A. (1997). Using peer evaluations for design team effectiveness. age, 2, 1. PDF
- Gutiérrez, I., Castañeda, L. & Serrano, J.L. (2014). Authentic Tasks, Group Work Roles and Gamification: Constructivist Strategies For Teaching and Learning Emancipated Students. In J. Viteli & M. Leikomaa (Eds.), Proceedings of EdMedia: World Conference on Educational Media and Technology 2014 (pp. 1567-1573). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). https://www.learntechlib.org/f/147688/
- 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.
- Johnson DW, Johnson RT. Learning Together and Alone: Cooperative, Competitive and Individualistic Learning. Boston: Allyon and Bacon, 1999a.
- JohnsonDW, JohnsonRT. Making cooperative learningwork. Theory into Practice 1999b;38(2):67–74.
- 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.
- Nokelainen, P., Niemi, H. & Launonen, A. (2003). Modeling Self-Rated Group Role and Social Interdependence Profile for Computer-supported Collaborative Learning. In D. Lassner & C. McNaught (Eds.), Proceedings of EdMedia: World Conference on Educational Media and Technology 2003 (pp. 1617-1624). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). https://www.learntechlib.org/p/14054
- 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.
- Strijbos Willem-Jan & Maarten F. De Laat (2010) Developing the role concept for computer-supported collaborative learning: An explorative synthesis, Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 26, Issue 4, Emerging and Scripted Roles in Computer-supported Collaborative Learning, July 2010, Pages 495-505, doi:10.1016/j.chb.2009.08.014