Online group work provides several advantages to students. Two major advantages include:
1. Increased socialization and connectivity with classmates. Some activities that could help groups become more connected include posting pictures, sharing details about themselves (e.g., work experiences, hobbies), and starting a discussion board to discuss non-classroom topics (e.g., current events, items of interest).
2. An opportunity to develop and practice group and team skills, including problem-solving, project management, and asynchronous and synchronous communication.
What other advantages does online group work provide your students?
Understanding individual personalities can help students (and faculty) handle unproductive situations within group work. Elearners identify five personalities that can cause distribution to group dynamics and provides suggestions for working with those personalities within a group.
Students can complete a Team Style Inventory to find out their dominate and preferred personality when in a team or group setting.
One common problem groups experience among team members is the “free-rider” or social-loafing team member. Wikibooks identifies several causes of social loafing. Some things faculty can do to reduce social loafing from occurring within a group include:
- Create appropriate group sizes for the project.
- Make individual contributions meaningful; create task interdependence among group members.
- Promote the use of tools that capture individual contributions to make each student’s contributions more visible (e.g., wiki, Google Docs)
- Encourage groups to have a progress-checker, to hold members accountable for contributions and to remind them of deadlines and expectations.
Another problem experienced by groups is a dominating group member. The following site provides a useful table of Assertive vs. passive vs. aggressive behavior .
Each member of an online group will have his or her own expectations of how the project should be completed and how it develops. Students might find it worthwhile for their group to establish a set of norms, or common expectations, early in the group work so that each group member has a similar understanding of issues. Some considerations include:
- How will the group function? Will someone serve as the group leader or will everyone be responsible for keeping the group moving forward?
- When will the group meet? Will the group meet asynchronously, synchronously or a combination?
- What technology will the group use to support the decision making process of the group (e.g., E-mail, Blackboard Group Discussion Board, Blackboard Group Chat, Voice-Over-IP, Telephone Conference Calls)?
- What technology will the group use to support the resource-sharing process of the group (e.g., e-mailing resources as attachments, posting resources as attachments to the Blackboard Group Discussion Board, posting resources to a wiki)?
- What technology will the group use to support the creation of the group paper (e.g., e-mailing versions of the paper as attachments, posting versions of the paper as attachments to the Blackboard Group Discussion Board, hosting the paper online using a Wiki or GoogleDocs)?
- When will tasks be completed? Will the group stagger the completion of the various tasks or will it all be completed at once?
- Who will complete various tasks? Will individuals be assigned to different tasks or will the group work collectively on all tasks?
Instructors can encourage groups to develop these norms early in the group project by making it a required activity after the groups are formed.
Collaborative tools, such as the group wiki tool in Blackboard, could be used for the members to collectively develop the norms.
The following resources may be worth sharing with your students as they prepare to work as a member of an online group. Please share others that you use as a comment.
When should we use group work?
In the Faculty Focus article “How to Design Effective Online Group Work Activities,” Mary Bart writes that we should “design tasks that are truly collaborative, meaning the students will benefit more from doing the activity as a group than doing it alone.” Her articles goes on to quote Jean Mandernach:
“Too often we give students an activity and call it group work when in reality it’s something they could do on their own. Then we get frustrated when they don’t work together and just do the work on their own.”
The article recommends group work for assignments for which:
- “There’s no right answer, such as debates, or research on controversial issues.”
- “There are multiple perspectives, such as analyzing current events, cultural comparisons, or case studies.”
- “There are too many resources for one person to evaluate, so a jigsaw puzzle approach is needed with each student responsible for one part.”
Be sure to check out the “Online Group Work Instructor Checklist” at the end of the article.
How do I assess individual contributions?
Use technology. Promote the use of tools that capture individual contributions through versioning. Examples of tools provided by UIS:
Implement peer evaluation. Allow group members to evaluation one another and themselves and incorporate this evaluation into the final grades for the group project.
- Google Forms can be used to collect data in a spreadsheet for analysis and grading. View a sample form.
- Asking each student to fill out a worksheet and submit it through the assignments tool in Blackboard is another option. View a sample worksheet.
Often group conflicts aren’t revealed to the instructor until the end of the project. Encouraging or requiring progress reports or feedback from students at specific intervals may help you to identify trouble spots.
For semester-long projects, a mid-semester feedback form is useful. In “Online Groups and Social Loafing: Understanding Student-Group Interactions,” Piezon and Donaldson suggest including multiple evaluation points so that “group members are aware that their contributions are salient and being observed by others. Members who are performing poorly are given several opportunities to increase their performance.”
Another strategy is to prevent conflicts by keeping the groups on track and on task by requiring small deliverables for the project throughout the semester.