How do you feel when thinking about past group projects? While experiences vary – whether positive or negative – group projects are part of many programs. Studies show that group projects can help students develop a host of skills, such as collaboration, that are increasingly important in the professional world. Additionally, positive group experiences have been shown to contribute to student learning, retention and overall college success, according to the findings of the National Survey of Student Engagement and research focused on student success and retention.
“Collaborating with others in solving problems or mastering difficult material prepares students to deal with the messy, unscripted problems they will encounter daily, both during and after college,” according to the survey.
While group projects are important for students, group projects for online courses can be challenging because of distance and time zones between team members. Here are some proactive steps that can help improve your group project experience as an online student.
Honor each other’s time and academic commitments with clear communication
Establish communication early on to reduce confusion and uncertainty. If you are able to form your team, choose peers who have similar schedules and time zones to make communication easier. Once you have your group, establish future times to meet. Also, decide on a communication platform like WebEx, Google Hangouts or Skype ahead of time that the entire group can use. Establish a purpose for each meeting which will allow the group to maximize everyone’s time. Consider scheduling extra meetings towards the end of a deadline to address any unforeseen problems or tasks.
Identify a leader to stay organized
Assign a leader to your group who feels comfortable with the role. A leader’s role is not to decide everything about a project. Rather, their role is to help facilitate teamwork and keep the team organized. As a group, delegate each project component and respective deadlines between teammates. Remember to consider individual skills and interests during this time. Identify what is needed, in what order, and when it’s needed so that you can plan accordingly. Using Trello or a spreadsheet as project management tools can make staying organized easier.
Communication, organization and accountability will help team members stay focused on working towards goals effectively. It may require some time to set expectations, but the experience and success of the team will improve dramatically if the team is dedicated to be proactive from the start.
For more tips for online group learning, check out the resources below.
Astin, Alexander. (1984). Student Involvement: A Development Theory for Higher Education. Journal of College Student Development. 40. 518-529.
Caruso, Heather & Woolley, Anita. (2008). Harnessing the power of emergent interdependence to promote diverse team collaboration. Research on Managing Groups and Teams. 11. 245-266. 10.1016/S1534-0856(08)11011-8.
Mannix, E.A., & Neale, M.A. (2005). What Differences Make a Difference? The Promise and Reality of Diverse Teams in Organizations. Psychological science in the public interest : a journal of the American Psychological Society, 6 2, 31-55.
Tinto, V. (1998) Colleges as Communities: Taking Research on Student Persistence Seriously. The Review of Higher Education, 21, 167-177.