Editor’s Note: Online classes often require group projects to complete mid-terms or weekly assignments. Online group learning can make adult students feel uneasy – especially if it means being judged or graded on group projects.
Our student issues blogger, David Handlos, shares his tips for successful online learning when it comes to group work for students.
For me group projects were one of the toughest parts of my first online classes. Just like “pop quiz”, the words “group assignment” filled me with dread.
Coordinating hectic schedules, interpreting mixed messages from team members, and a mad scramble to pull everyone together to meet group projects deadlines can make group work online a nightmare.
My first online group project earned a passing grade, but it was the toughest part of class for me, and we all spent far more time on that assignment than expected.
Since then, I’ve learned 5 tips for helping online students succeed:
How to Make Online Group Projects More Bearable
1. Know Your Team and Instructor
Getting a little personal with each team member can make it easier when it comes to sacrificing time to achieve a common learning goal.
Also, get to know your online instructor and his or her teaching strategies. Engage him or her in an email dialog. Test how quickly they respond to questions, so you know what to expect.
Note all the options you have for getting in contact. Do they have a phone number, or keep steady office hours? Does anyone on your team live near campus so they could meet face-to-face if needed?
2. Find A Specific Weekly Time to Meet
Plan phone meetings at least once a week to keep everyone in sync. The meetings can be short, but any more than a week without contact can thwart efforts to stay on track.
3. Find Someone to be the “Voice” of the Project
The project comes from multiple authors, but give it one uniform voice in the final draft. Once the elected “voice” has edited together all the content, have them submit it to the group for review. Group members can then make edits or insert ideas to polish the final assignment.
4. Agree on the Tools That You’ll Use to Collaborate
This led to a nightmarish downward spiral, as one of us would lose track of which documents were “current” and we’d waste whole evenings poring over the drafts.
Today, many collaborative learning options are available, whether its text or voice or chat via Gmail, conference calling with Skype or TalkShoe, or document-sharing with DropBox, collaborating online is much easier. Pick and agree on the collaboration and tracking methods before starting.
5. Double-duty: Assign Every Person’s Role on the Project One Backup
All we could do was wish him the best, then frantically find a way to get his tasks done. Every virtual team I’m on since then has someone ready to step in and complete a crucial role if another team member can’t. Some emergency could always sneak up on one of your classmates, so plan ahead.