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10 Student Suggestions for Surviving Online Group Assignments


“Completing group assignments online can be really tricky. What are your tips for the other teams?”

This was the question I asked my online students in a live session earlier this month. They are about midway through the design and development of their own online learning projects as members of small groups, and have already made great progress. The discussion was an enlightening source of student-to-student advice, which inspired me to share some of the best tips with you here, along with a few resources to help you navigate your group assignments.

  1. Make sure everyone has a voice. Whether your group is small or large, it can be challenging for some members to be heard. Take the time to solicit feedback from everyone at each stage of the project and decision-making. It’s equally important for each member to understand that his or her contribution was considered, even though it may not be the one selected to move project forward.
  2. Meet early (and often) to divide up the work. Take a look at the due dates in your course and the details of your group project. Consider meeting weekly, even daily if it’s helpful to your team, to assign tasks and make sure everyone understands the next steps and their responsibilities. And do this well before things need to be submitted to your instructor so that there is time to ask for clarification when needed, as well as to review and revise before uploading your work.
  3. Assign individual roles. While it may seem like a good idea to have everyone in the group involved in every task, it can be helpful to at least determine a “lead” person in roles such as project manager, editor, recorder, spokesperson, or others more specific to your project. Additional examples of project roles are provided by Performance Learning Systems and Carleton College.
  4. Select useful tools to get the work done. What are you and your team members familiar with and what is available in your course site? Work with your instructor to see what you may have access to though your school and learning management system. There are also many free web-based options available, such as Google Drive and Skype, that provide you with work space for collaboration and real-time conversation.
  5. Let everyone know when there’s a problem. If you find that you need more help with your assigned tasks, more time to complete them, or don’t understand what you should be doing, let your team members know as soon as possible. Every student in the group will experience a bad day or a bad week during the academic term, but letting them know early on will allow more time for everyone to react. Then be ready to pitch in later in the term to help others out when they need it.
  6. Be proactive. This is particularly helpful as it relates to communication. Don’t wait for someone else in your group to tell you what you need to do or to remind you to check in on the progress being made. Mark your calendar with key dates and take the initiative to be an active participant – asking questions, sharing resources, and contributing to the final product.
  7. Someone needs to take charge. It’s not realistic to expect that everyone in the group will have a leadership role or that no one will (your instructor doesn’t expect this either). In order to keep things moving forward and on schedule, allow a leader to emerge and coordinate the group effort. You may not be the leader in this project, but you may be in the next one. All roles and work performed are critical to meeting the project goals.
  8. Plan around your schedule. Take time early in the course to compare your upcoming employment and family obligations, as well as the projects required in other courses you may also be taking. Make your teammates aware in advance if you know, for example, that you will be traveling during the project timeframe.
  9. Pool your resources. Take an inventory of what your project will require in terms of time, skills, and resources (e.g., software, hardware, access to materials), and play to team member strengths. Everyone will be able to contribute in different ways and you may discover hidden opportunities relevant to your group assignment.
  10. Be flexible. Things always come up, the schedule is subject to change, and not everything your group tries will work out as originally planned. Remember that the course, through your group project, offers opportunities to practice and develop new skills through a range of experiences. Embrace the fact that you and your teammates will have to make adjustments and modifications as you go.

What is your advice for online students working in groups? Add your lessons learned and success stories to the list!

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Image credit: Gavin Llewellyn, Flickr, CC:BY

March 18th, 2013 written by (learn more about our authors)

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