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.
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:
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 could be used for the members to collectively develop the norms.
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:
Unfortunately, group conflicts sometimes 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.
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.
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?
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:
Be sure to check out the “Online Group Work Instructor Checklist” at the end of the article.