Managing Groups and Groupings

Visualising how groups and groupings work in Moodle

An olympic metaphor: at the Olympics, there are different sports (gymnastics, swimming, track) and many countries. There are two ways to think of an Olympian athlete: by the sport they compete in, and by their nationality. To be part of the United States Olympic Team, you must first be a swimmer, a gymnast, or a runner. You cannot be in the US Team without first being an athlete in a specific sport. The sport is your group. Your country is your grouping. You must belong to a group before joining a grouping.

Why use groups and groupings?

Groups and Groupings can be used to manage student cohorts, facilitate group work and/or restrict access to activities, resources or topics within a Moodle space.

  1. Managing Cohorts – groups at the ‘course’ level can be used to enable several student cohorts to use the same Moodle space. For example, you may want to keep the student groups separate if you are teaching the same unit twice in the same semester or if you are teaching the same unit in different modes (face to face or at a distance).

  1. Facilitating Group work – groups can be used to create different ‘workspaces’ within a single Moodle activity. If, for example, you are running small group projects in your unit then each project team can be set up as a group. Adding a single forum, wiki or any other activity set to work in groups mode will provide a workspace for each team.

Groups can be separate or visible. For example, using groups with a discussion forum allows teachers to restrict interaction between students.

  • Separate groups mean only students in the same group can see and participate in discussions within the forum.
  • Visible groups allow students to see other group’s discussions, but only participate in their own group’s discussions.

Enabling either separate or visible groups on an assignment submission allows staff to filter the student submissions to see only those from a particular tutor group. With visible groups, students can see which other groups are doing the same activities as they are; with separate groups, they do not know that other groups are doing the same activities.

  1. Restricting access to resources or activities – If you want an activity or resource to only be available to certain students then groupings and groups can be used to restrict access to resources or activities within a Moodle space. For example, if you set up a forum for students who have requested additional support then you can add those students to a group and make it only available to them. A grouping containing the group of students can be used to restrict access to the forum. The support forum will not be seen by any other students.
  1. Managing extensions when anonymous/blind marking is enabled – You can create a group to include all those who have an extension and map the extension details to that group.

Important note on retaining anonymity and maintaining student privacy:  It’s important to avoid naming the group ‘Extensions’ as students can see Groups and their members from the Participants page. Instead use a generic Group A or Group 1 name.  Also, do not put student names in the name of the groups as this obviously breaks anonymity.

Managing groups at the ‘course’ level

There are two steps to setting up Groups at the ‘course’ level, rather than applying them for each activity, resource or topic.

  1. Set the Groups Mode 

Go to the Settings tab in your Moodle space and scroll down to the Groups section of settings.

The Groups mode has 3 options:

  • No groups – There are no sub-groups, everyone is part of one big community
  • Separate groups – Each group member can only see their own group, others are invisible to them
  • Visible groups – Each group member works in their own group, but can also see other groups’ activities

The groups mode defined at ‘course’ level becomes the default mode for all activities within the space. Each activity that supports groups can also define its own group mode, though if the groups mode is forced at ‘course’ level, the groups mode setting for each activity is ignored.

  1. Create a Group(s) and populate with students
  • From the Participation tab in your Moodle space select Groups from the drop-down menu.
  • Add a group name and optional description (displayed above the list of group members on the participants page), enrolment key and picture (displayed on the participants page and next to forum posts)
  • Click Save changes.
  • Select the group to which you want to add participants, then click the Add/remove users button.
  • In the Potential members list, select the users you want to add to the group. Multiple users may be selected by holding down the SHIFT key while selecting.
  • Click the Add button to add the users to the group.

Tip: Try to choose short names for your groups. Long names can disrupt the display of the group population form, obscuring the ‘Add/remove students’ button.

Facilitating Group activities

There are two steps to setting up Group Activities.

  1. Setting the Groups mode for a Moodle activity can be done with editing turned on, and editing the settings for the given activity, under the Common module settings section.

If you have set the Groups mode at the ‘course’ level, then this is the default setting for the groups mode.

  1. Create a Group(s) and populate with students – see above for instructions.

Restricting access to resources, activities or topics

This is another to way to control which students see which content.

Restricting access to resources or activities

There are 3 steps.

  1. Set up a Grouping
  • From Participants tab select Groupings from the drop-down menu.
  • Click the Create grouping button and give your grouping a suitable name e.g. Option2 Students.
  1. Now create a Group(s) and populate your Group with students (as above).
  1. Add your Group(s) to your Grouping.
  • Return to the Groupings page and click on the ‘show group in grouping‘ icon under the Edit menu for your newly created Grouping.
  • Click on the Group your created in step 2 (in the Potential members box) to select it and click Add.
  1. The final step is to add your access restriction to your chosen activity or resource.
  • With editing turned on update the activity/resource setting by clicking the Edit menu.
  • Under common module settings select separate or visible groups mode and then select the grouping.

Restricting access to a whole topic using a grouping

You can edit a topic to access the ‘restrict access’ options, allowing a particular Group or Grouping to see that topic.

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