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Collaborating Online: How to Get the Most From Group Work

Oct 22, 2009 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Group work online has many of the pitfalls of group projects in traditional classroom settings: it’s entirely possible for group members to disagree, for tasks to be undefined and the process to be disorganized, for several people to drop the ball, and for one person to wind up doing all the work.  

Sometimes, an online setting can make these problems worse—but team work in online classrooms doesn’t have to be a headache. Here are a few tips on how
you can get the most from group projects in your online classes.

Don’t be afraid to take a leadership role

Some groups never get off the ground because of lack of leadership. When one person is more driven than others in the group, that person may wind up doing all the work—because they have the skills needed to make an excellent contribution, but don’t have the leadership abilities needed to get others involved. Bear in mind that to get the most out of group projects, it’s not enough
to do the work yourself—you also have to be able to get others to work with you if needed.

Student At Computer



Make sure everyone knows what the final project will look like

One problem with group work—especially in online settings—is that it can be difficult to pin down a group vision for the project. It’s more difficult in group work because the group doesn’t meet face to face—you may be communicating via email or forum instead, which can cause communication lags. If you sense that your group’s vision is not matching up, do your best to offer a clear outcome. It’s crucial to define this early on.

Make each person responsible for certain segments

Once you have agreement on what the project will be, break the tasks up and delegate them to each person. In a group, all must agree on the final vision—but each person can have autonomy in completing their own section. Make sure each person understands what they’ll be responsible for and when to have it finished.

Give each person more time than is needed

When it comes to turning in work on time, your group members may commit to a quick turn-in date that they can’t fulfill.  Bear in mind that online students often face more time commitments than traditional students do—and your group members are also full-time parents and employees. Ask each person about their other commitments, and give each person more time than you think they’ll need to turn in their segments of the project. This will allow them more latitude to deal with home or work emergencies that come up, with less risk of missing the deadline.

Group Working

Most online schools will provide an area online where group members can upload files and communicate privately about their projects.





When you’re communicating with people via forums and email, it can be difficult to coordinate activities. You’ll be facing delays in response, lost emails and other issues that can delay the project. Whenever possible, try to arrange a time when all group members can communicate via an Instant Message program or video chat—or even over the phone. Real-time communication may be more difficult to schedule, but it will make your project move forward more efficiently.

Use software to your advantage

Most online schools will provide an area online where group members can upload files and communicate privately about their projects. Use this area to keep tabs on the project; encourage students to upload their sections of the project here instead of emailing it to separate group members, so that everyone can see the project at once and make comments or suggestions where all other group members can see them. 

Online group work can be a hassle, as it can be in the traditional classroom—or it can be enjoyable and educational. When in a group project, you don’t just have your own contribution to worry about—you have to be sure your group is willing to work as a team, and that may require you to take a leadership role. If other group members aren’t carrying their weight, find out why—maybe their offline work schedules are extremely demanding or they’re coping with a family emergency—and renegotiate workloads and deadlines accordingly. With communication, a clear vision and strong leadership, group projects shouldn’t be a headache.






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